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Optimist or Pessimist – Which Are You?

We all know the slightly abstract way of gauging an optimist, right? Their glass is half full, whilst the pessimist’s glass is half empty.

We all know the slightly abstract way of gauging an optimist, right?  Their glass is half full, whilst the pessimist’s glass is half empty.  Then along come a new breed of realists who point out that the glass is twice as big as it needs to be.  But what does this really tell us about people’s attitude to life and their experience of it?

I believe that our attitudes and experiences are strongly linked.  Our expectations often set the marker for our achievements and thus our future expectations.  So wouldn’t it be a good idea to expect the best out of each situation?  According to many people, the answer is a resounding ‘No!’  They claim that it’s better to anticipate the worst so that they can prepare for it.  That way, they believe, they retain more control over their circumstances and are less likely to make a mistake.  Perhaps there’s an element of logic and truth to this way of thinking, but what are these people missing out on? 

Aren’t mistakes supposed to be one of the best ways of learning or discovering something new?  There is a whole world out there full of potential errors that some people are quite happy to make in order to get ahead, whilst others hardly dare to venture out from their front door and risk changing the status quo.  This is all about the concept called the ‘comfort zone’.  Some people have huge areas of comfort and therefore confidence and each new experience stretches it, whilst others find theirs shrinking with each pessimistic thought in a downward spiral.  Of course, these people don’t readily label themselves as pessimists.  Instead, they proudly state that they are very cynical (invariably spoken with a grave tone of voice and a tiny shake of the head).  It gives the impression of wisdom and shows they can’t be fooled easily.  To me, it suggests a history of hardship in some way – enough to have taught them to stop trying or believing and to create barriers instead. 

Surely we are all born with natural optimism?  Most young children want to believe in Father Christmas and the tooth fairy and some even reckon they’ll grow up to be an astronaut.  And yet somewhere along the line, so many of these innocent believers lose sight of their aspirations and start to question everything (okay, so the huge lie about Santa probably doesn’t instil much confidence in them about how disappointing adulthood can be).  Perhaps they’ll tell themselves they will lose their race on Sports Day, which of course happens because they make themselves so miserable that they drag their feet.  Then when they inevitably come last, a pessimist is born.  The following year, they don’t even enter the race because they already know they’ll lose.  And maybe for the rest of their life, that person will never question such deeply-held beliefs.

Perhaps that’s too simplistic an explanation for everybody, but it’s an example of how scepticism creates self-fulfilling prophecies.  What beliefs do you hang onto that hold you back from being the best you can be?  Yes, there is a chance of making a mistake and yes, people might even witness it.  But does that really matter?  Even if they laugh, it’s probably just their own mixed up feelings of relief that it wasn’t them and respect that you tried.  But what if you succeed?  A pessimist might never know…

I’ve spoken to many pessimists (sorry; cynics or realists as they prefer to be called) in my consulting room.  In fact most of my clients start out that way.  Some of them don’t even believe in hypnosis and yet they find themselves confessing that I’m their last hope (and even that isn’t spoken in a hopeful-sounding way).  Of course, hope is entirely different from expectation – hope suggests that a positive outcome is not likely, perhaps even resting in the hands of fate.  It is my job to lift them from their pit of negativity before we can even begin discussing their potential for improvement.

I explain that optimists are more likely to see opportunities in their life because they have their eyes open to them.  It’s a bit like walking along a street expecting to come across a coin.  You would keep an eye on the pavement until you found one.  Someone who believes there are no coins to be found would be less likely to look so carefully and would possibly fail to see those same coins.  So maybe a few coins won’t make you rich, but it’s the principle of seeking out the positives that is important.  Now, a pessimist might say they don’t want to be disappointed if a coin isn’t there (or they miss out on that promotion, or whatever the issue), but who is more likely to bounce back and try again – the optimist or pessimist?  Surely even if you fail, you are one step closer to success next time?  Especially if you choose to learn from your mistake and alter your technique for the future.  After all, if you always do what you always did, you’ll always get what you always got. 

Why wait for fate to deliver things for you?  I happen to believe in some things being destiny, but I don’t believe in wasting time or opportunities just because something has yet to land neatly in my lap.  Why hand over your personal power?  Superstition is a prime example of this.  Some people can’t walk past a lone magpie without automatically launching into a string of set words and a little jig (supposedly the antidote to their impending ‘sorrow’ is to say “Hello Mr Magpie, how are you today?” whilst turning on the spot three times – if you’re driving at the time, I guess you would forego the turning part and just say, “One, two, three” instead).  If you have no idea what I’m talking about – good!  Don’t get involved with the whole magpie thing, I’m sure it causes more road accidents that anything else… which of course, would explain the ‘One for sorrow’ very nicely!  But seriously, whatever happened to accountability?  Acknowledge that you are responsible for your life and automatically you take control and therefore power.  Blaming external events or people is like giving away your power.  If it had nothing to do with you, how can you possibly change it or improve it?  We can all take control of our thoughts, feelings and actions once we realise it is simply another choice we make.  Do you choose to be an optimist?

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