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5 Ways to Turn Pessimism into Healthy Optimism

5 Ways to Turn Pessimism into Healthy Optimism

My father once asked me whether I knew what the difference between an optimist and a pessimist was? I said no, and he told me that in a difficult situation a pessimist says “it absolutely can’t get any worse than this”, while an optimist says that “oh, yes, it can!” Being an optimist myself, I found this to be quite amusing.

The majority of people are very aware of the fact that living as an optimist is far better than being a pessimist. Indeed, how can having a such a negative vision of the surrounding world serve us any good? However, despite most of us understanding this, our behavior is far from optimistic. As we grow up, we become more responsible, we get into the work life, people around us fall sick, taxes, children growing up, etc. Life just seems to get more difficult with every coming year. We can all agree that being a pessimist just seems like the easier choice.

The goal is not to blindly believe in a better tomorrow, but to understand why tomorrow can be better than today. Permanent happiness is nonexistent, at least not in Western society. To be honest, happiness isn’t even what optimism is about. Instead, happiness is something that arises from healthy optimism, from the understanding that the world is not trying to make our life more difficult for us. Optimism with a portion of realism is what we should aim at. To understand it better, let us look at some examples of how the mentality of a pessimist differs from that of an optimist.

1. Taking risks

At first glance, it may seem that when it comes to taking risks, being a pessimist might actually be a good thing. A risk means potential failure, and therefore it is good to analyze all of the possible dangers and to be aware of them beforehand. This way we are able to prepare for them to the best of our ability. However, the problem with this is that pessimists tend to focus on dangers a lot more than on the success itself, which hinders the whole risk-taking process. Moreover, if the chances to succeed are not high enough, the risk may never be taken.

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Optimists, in this case, focus on success and look for ways to achieve it. With healthy optimism, the potential dangers are also seen, but they are just not perceived as critically even if they do occur. If it happens, it happens – is the usual attitude.

Lastly, because the dangers are not given as much value as they are given by pessimists, bigger risks with more significant outcomes can be made. As the saying goes, “nothing ventured, nothing gained”.

2. Temporary vs permanent

A very common characteristic of pessimism is to see problems as permanent. For example, imagine a business situation where the sales have dropped for whatever reason. A pessimist will most likely think that the sales have dropped for good. This will result in excessive panicking and a potential withdrawal from the market. At other times the business owner may just give up.

An optimist in the same situation will give it some time before making any radical moves. That patience and belief in a better future not only reduces the amount of stress, but also allows space for readjusting to the situation and learning a lesson from it. Instead of panic, a new strategy may come into place, creating more opportunity for further success.

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3. Generalisation

Have you ever noticed how one single problem may freak a person out to the extent that they become hysterical? Or have you ever heard people say that their day sucks because everything seems to go wrong? If so, most likely this person has a pessimistic approach to life.

With pessimism, people often generalize problems and make them a lot bigger than what they really are. Whenever a problem occurs, they tend to see a whole lot of other problems added on to it too.

With optimism, a problem that had occurred stands on its own. It is a problem of a specific situation, and nothing more. It is also dealt with in isolation from other problems. This, once again, reduces the amount of stress, anxiety and confusion, and allows for a quicker solution to come.

4. Me vs they

With pessimism, a lot of what happens in the world is directly linked to the person that is observing it. For example, if someone gives a pessimist a funny look, they may take it personally and think that the one looking has something negative to think or say about them. An optimist in this situation will either not care, or think that the person may simply be having a bad day.

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Another example is related to driving a car. A pessimist, making a mistake on the road, will often say that all the other drivers are wrong, and might even call them names. An optimist minds his own business and puts more focus on the road instead of the driving skills of others.

5. Being open and honest

The same people that focus more on the negative, are the same people that have troubles trusting others. When it comes to a loving relationship, pessimists usually need more time to get accustomed to the other person and to trust them. While they are not necessarily selfish, they may have troubles believing in one hundred per cent honesty of the other person. Therefore, it is safe to say that if a relationship gets tough, you would rather be in one with an optimist.

Pessimists tend to anticipate some kind of hidden agenda from others. For example, one person may be helping another with a move to a different city, or with teaching them a foreign language. The one helping might want to ask for money for either the petrol that was used for the move, or for the many hours spent helping to learn the new language. A pessimist in this moment might disregard all of the value and help received, and instead focus only on the part where they have to pay that person. They think that the money was the main reason why they were helped.

An optimist in this case not only focuses primarily on the valuable information and help received, but also on paying the person before they even ask for it. Optimists understand that help from others is worth a lot and that people offering it need to be thanked in some way, be it money or help in return.

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Even though the benefits of optimism are apparent, people have a hard time living it. Optimism is not something you follow once in a while, but rather a lifestyle. And while many people focus more on the negative, the majority of people are a mix of the two, which is also not bad.

However, if you feel that you belong more to the first group of people, I urge you to reconsider your world views. Use the above examples to be aware of the way you look at life. Not only will optimism help you to experience more joy, peace and happiness, but you will be able to positively affect the people around you.

More by this author

Victor Stepanchikov

Software Engineer, Blogger, Personal Development Freak

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Published on November 18, 2019

How to Think Critically: 5 Powerful Techniques

How to Think Critically: 5 Powerful Techniques

Critical thinking is the art of filtering through information to reach an unbiased, logical decision that guides better thought and action. It can be learned through powerful techniques listed in this article.

Before you read further, it is important for you to know that critical thinking is a state of mind, not a tool or strategy.

If you are bogged down in the trivial day to day matters of your professional and personal life, learning skills to develop your ability to think critically can help you rise above these issues and focus your energies where they are needed – to solve problems and accomplish objectives.

It stands to reason that the better the learning techniques, the better critical thinking and reasoning will be. My experience in helping people grow means I know exactly what is needed to teach critical thinking (hint: it’s not just pondering over the problem).

There are 5 powerful techniques that form the base of critical thinking:

  1. Analytical thinking
  2. Communication
  3. Creativity
  4. Open-mindedness
  5. Problem-solving

Once you learn the techniques listed and start employing them in your daily life, you’ll quickly start to notice a change in the way you approach problems and consequently, how you resolve them too.

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1. Analytical Thinking

Analytical thinking is the gathering and breaking down of information into small bites that help make sense of it.

To use it for critical thinking:

  • Be very clear on why you need the information. This is to recognize your limitations and employ foresight to overcome them.
  • Gather information from as many sources as you can: peers and experts, podcasts, relevant literature and any other place you can think of.
  • Rephrase questions multiple times to get different perspectives on data available and possibly arrive at different solutions.
  • Break down the data into factual subsets and relate each to the issue at hand.
  • Think on paper to make new connections. Write, doodle, make mind-maps or use spreadsheets. Data presented visually can help you make new connections make sense of emerging patterns.
  • Tidy up the workplace. Once data has been gathered, your workspace and your brain will both be cluttered with excess information. Neaten the physical space and clear your mind with meditation. The change in focus will help you view the information in a new light, potentially helping you reach newer, better conclusions.

Want more information and tips on adopting this powerful technique? What Are Analytical Skills and How to Strengthen Them For Success has all the information you need.

2. Communication

Communication is a key technique for critical thinking as it gives you access to the thoughts of people around you.

Data can be communicated through audio and visual means and in many cases, through careful observation of body language:

  • Ask for different points of view and seek justification for the same thing. When you invest in the matter, you will be able to explore all options to reach the best solution.
  • Listening without interrupting and only asking questions or voicing concerns once the speaker is done helps you make better connections.
  • Be 100% focused on a verbal or written discussion, you can better hear/read the opinions of the people involved.
  • Paraphrase the speaker/writer’s point of view and ask for affirmation. This enables you to pay full attention and use the input to think critically.
  • In a meeting, subtle communication cues are given by the body language of fellow attendees. An imperceptible frown, a small nod, pencil tapping etc. will all give you clues to what they are really thinking, just in case their actions are not in sync with their words!
  • Active observation, where you are watching and listening intently helps you know what to make of the information that is being passed around. It gives you clues to the general opinion about the topic under discussion and opens up new possibilities.

The information you gather through such communication will be invaluable in thinking critically to arrive at a decision that is holistic and unbiased.

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3. Creativity

Critical thinking is an art, and like any art form, its lifeblood is creativity. To really learn critical thinking, you need to include elements of creativity in the process!

  • Brainstorm with your team in an all-new location or work-shadow an industry expert to step out of your comfort zone. You could be surprised by the ideas that flow at a picnic or a game of billiards!
  • Gather data and tabulate it in the form of colorful, eye-catching charts, graphs and mind maps. The simple exercise makes your mind bring data together in different ways and presents them so multiple unique conclusions can be reached, giving you the flexibility to choose the best one.
  • Play brain games such as Sudoku or chess to appreciate how different factors can be manipulated to reach a preferred outcome. These games help make connections between previously disconnected nerves, giving your brain the power to find multiple pathways to answering problems.
  • In a similar vein, you can forge new neural connections by learning a new skill, a new language or even a new recipe!

I break down creativity in my other article What is Creativity? We All Have It, and Need It. If you want to be good at critical thinking, you need to adopt creativity!

4. Open-Mindedness

It’s easy to say you’re open minded but is your mind really open?

To get an idea,

  • Be brutally honest about your strengths and weaknesses, and how these will impact the matter at hand.
  • Hear an opinion that conflicts with your own without forming a response before the opinion is fully voiced.
  • Acknowledge that there may be more than one approach to solving a problem and that they may all be right in some way.
  • Consider your true feelings when you will implement any required changes.
  • Disregard your long-held beliefs and assumptions and let go of habits.
  • Imagine the decision-making factors placed on weighing scales. Are they balanced?

Open-mindedness is a powerful technique for critical thinking. New possibilities can be uncovered, helping you resolve personal and professional matters in a manner that doesn’t frustrate you or alienate the other party.

5. Problem-Solving

Critical thinking is heavily dependent on problem-solving. An effective critical thinker will be a problem solver with the foresight to anticipate roadblocks and negative outcomes, and the experience and presence of mind to resolve them quickly and move on.

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One of the most effective problem-solving methodologies is the 5 Whys Analysis. Invented by Sakichi Toyoda, the founder of Toyota Motors in the 1950s, it has been used successfully by the automobile giant to get to the root cause of problems.

The idea behind this is simple: start with the end problem and keep asking why until you get to the root cause of it.

The general idea is that asking why 5 times from the effect is enough to get to the cause, hence the name. However, the methodology does not limit the questions to 5, and why can be asked as many times as need to peel away the layers until a satisfactory answer is reached.

To use the 5 Whys Analysis, start off by listing the problem and writing why in front of it. The next point in the list should be answer to the first why with another why in front of it. Continue answering the question asked above followed by a why until you’ve asked the question 5 times and answered it six times. 99% of the time, the last answer will be the root cause of the problem stated in the first point.

For example, consider the a commonly given scenario where a vehicle does not start.

  1. Vehicle will not start. Why?
  2. Battery is dead. Why?
  3. The alternator is not functioning. Why?
  4. The alternator belt has broken. Why?
  5. It was old and worn out. Why?
  6. The car is not maintained according to manufacturer’s recommendation.

By this example, it is clearly demonstrated that 5 whys were asked to reach the root cause of the problem.

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The 5 techniques discussed here are important for effective critical thinking. When employed regularly they will become a habit and will definitely improve your critical thinking skills so you can get better at predicting and resolving issues that concern you and your environment.

Over the years, the 5 Whys Analysis has been adopted by millions to reach the root cause of their personal and professional problems. Industry giant Six Sigma has also incorporated the 5x Why Analysis in the Analyze phase of their DMAIC methodology.[1]

Final Thoughts

Is critical thinking a new-fangled notion? Not at all. Its history can be traced back to Socrates who questioned commonly held beliefs. This practice was carried forward by leading scholars and thinkers from different times such as Aristotle and Plato, Colet and Moore, Descartes, Galileo and Newton.[2]

Today’s world is dependent on critical thinking to resolve all sorts of issues. It is now indispensable for issues ranging from personal relationships to professional jobs and those involving the global community.

The 5 techniques discussed here are important for effective critical thinking. When employed regularly, they will become a habit and will definitely improve your critical thinking skills so you can get better at predicting and resolving issues that concern you and your environment.

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Featured photo credit: Mariya Pampova via unsplash.com

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