Pessimistic Thinking: See the Upside of the Downside

Dr. Disaster“The nice part about being a pessimist is that you are constantly being either proven right or pleasantly surprised.” – George F. Will, Columnist & Author

Studies have shown that Pessimistic Thinking can be a detriment to your health, a symptom of depression, a disadvantage in the popularity contest, or even a precursor to failure. In 2002, a study published by scientists at the Mayo Clinic showed that people who expect misfortune don’t live as long as those with a more optimistic way of thinking. In a 2004 study, Dutch scientists discovered that self-described pessimists often had higher rates of cardiovascular death than optimists. So as you can see, the outlook for pessimistic thinkers is not so optimistic.

Understandably, you may ask why Pessimistic Thinking is even targeted as a way of thinking. This valid question has a complex answer. It may help you to consider that Pessimistic Thinking is also a form of “realistic” thinking. When making an important decision, a rose-colored, optimistic view can blind you to obvious problems. A dose of reality from the pessimistic thinker can save you and those working with you from preventable failure by revealing areas of risk you might not otherwise see.

Secondly, you will inevitably work with a pessimistic thinker. Learning to appreciate this person’s input will broaden your understanding and patience for this thinking style. And, finally, at some point you might lead a person or a team that’s focused on the downside – and possibly weakened because of it.


As a Thinker…

Can you effectively weigh risks and pinpoint trouble spots before they happen?

As a Team Member…

Are you able to see the positive traits of your pessimistic teammates, while helping them move past the threat of failure?

As a Leader…

Can you build an environment that enhances this team member’s ability to contribute in his own unique fashion?


The new economy is going to continue to require us all to exercise the pessimistic part of our brain so we can see the upside of the downside. If you are needing a bullet-proof solution, monitoring for unforeseen dangers, evaluating a team’s unrealistic expectations or identifying or minimizing risks, pessimistic thinking is going to be your key to your success. If this is not your strong suit, I recommend strengthening an underutilized area of your brain you may have forgotten you have or identifying and leveraging those who excel in this area. Doing things the old way or ignoring preventable failures is not a choice. See the upside of the downside – reveal areas of risk. This essential form of foresight can lead to success!


© Jennifer Whitt, Inc 2011. All rights reserved worldwide.

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