How to Recognize & Release Pessimism in Your Life
Life is hard, right? It’s not always sunny and full of flowers and rainbows. We all go through seasons of life full of grief, struggle, or uncertainty. But we have a choice: We can think positively and hopefully through those seasons, or we can allow ourselves to sink into pessimism.
In order to actually work on your individual pessimism or negativity, you must first recognize some of the common ways that you each engage in negative thinking.
While pessimism can take many forms, some of the most “popular” forms of negative thinking include the following:
Black and white thinking: “I never get it done right.” The world is never all-or-nothing, black-or-white, and neither are you or any situation for that matter.
Mind reading: “She thinks I’m boring and not very exciting.” You have no idea what someone might be thinking about you, and it’s a waste of energy to try to accomplish this.
Telling the future: “There’s no reason I should try submitting my resume, as I know I’ll never get a call back.”
Over-generalization: “My kid threw a tantrum. I’m a terrible mother and he’ll never grow out of this phase.”
Disqualifying the positive: “Haha, you’re so funny,” you may respond if someone compliments you.
Catastrophizing: “My friend hasn’t replied to my invitation all day. I bet he hates me. I will never have a lot of friends.”
Unrealistic expectations: “I will lose 50 pounds a month until I’m skinny.”
Name calling: “I can’t believe I said that in the meeting. I’m such a fool.”
Self-blame: “She didn’t look at me when I was talking. It must be something I did wrong.”
If one or more of the thought patterns above sound like something you say or think, you may be a tiny bit more pessimistic than you realized and it’s time to change that!
Strategies for Releasing a Pessimistic Worldview
Graduating your mind out of pessimism isn’t easy, in part because it’s hardwired into our DNA, warns Dr. Martin Seligman. It all started with the early ages of mankind. To survive the Ice Age and various global catastrophes that got us to where we are now, one distinct type of human survived: The ones who constantly watched for the negative, bad, dangerous things in life, and took action to avoid them.
By simply surviving this long, our collective mindset has been one that required us to dodge saber-tooth tigers and avoid asteroids falling from the sky. Thus, our brains have evolved to be better at recognizing danger, and we tend to more easily embrace negative thinking than we do positive thinking.
“The species that [was] going through the Ice Ages had been bred, and selected, through pessimism,” he humorously notes. “The mentality that said, ‘It's a beautiful day in San Diego today, I bet it'll be beautiful tomorrow’ got crushed by the ice. What got selected for, in the Ice Ages, was bad weather animals, who were always thinking about the bad stuff that could occur. So, what comes naturally to people is pessimism.”
“The problem about pessimism is that, to the extent [that] it's going to be a nice day in San Diego tomorrow, and you're thinking all the time, ‘What a disaster it's going to be,’ you can't enjoy it,” he warns. Pessimism might have served our ancient forefathers well, but it no longer serves us in the same way.
“What needs teaching, because it doesn't come naturally, is optimism,” says Seligman. “When you look at pessimistic people, probably the single [most-telling] hallmark is they think that bad events are permanent and that they're unchangeable. So, what learned optimism is all about is recognizing that you're saying that to yourself, and then realistically arguing against it.”
Now that you know some of the common forms of pessimism, you must take Seligman’s advice of arguing against that inner negative voice.
First, you must label it. Optimistic people don’t deny their feelings, or pretend negative thoughts don’t exist, or turn a blind eye to difficult things in life. Rather, optimistic people filled with self-hope are self-aware enough to notice a bad thought or a negative outlook on life.
And when they do, they push pause on life for just a moment. They let their consciousness recognize, “Hey, this is a pessimistic thought happening within me right now.”
Once you identify a negative thought pattern or a pessimistic habit, don’t set out right away to change that thought pattern. What we resist, persists. If you simply try to ignore, avoid or fight that pessimistic world view, it won’t dissipate. It will absorb your emotional energy and focus, and simply strengthen its grasp on you.
Instead, simply acknowledge that you have it, then focus on whatever it is you’re doing. Set the thought aside and finish whatever it is you’re doing, whether that’s sending that email or submitting that resume or coaching your child through dinnertime.
Once you have a moment, THEN you challenge that thought. Ask yourself probing questions like:
Does this thought even make sense?
Is what I’m perceiving real, or simply my perception?
Is the outcome really that bad? And if it really is a bad outcome, does it matter as much as I think it does?
Does whatever I’m thinking or experiencing truly apply across the board, or is this challenge or obstacle or situation just one moment in my greater life journey?
Are there ways to prove this thought wrong? For example, if I’m thinking that I’ll “never get a job,” have I successfully applied and gotten a job I wanted in the past?
Stand up to the pessimism and look for ways to prove it wrong.
If you can’t challenge it right away, you may need a mental break. Go and do something that relaxes and restores you. Then, when you’re feeling more fully rooted in your inner power, return to this exercise.
The world around you is as it was before you read this post. But perhaps things look or feel a little bit different today. That’s because while the world is as you left it, the way that you’re seeing it and experiencing it is now through a lens of hope and optimism. This is the key to joy and happiness and fulfillment! As you work on expanding your sense of inner self-hope, you invite more positivity into your life and more optimism will exude from your inner energy field.
The content in this blog article was just one part of our exclusive iAchieveToday courses entitled Self-Hope: Optimism For Every Occasion. To take the full course and learn more about optimism, go to iAchieveToday where you can sign up for your membership. This will give you access to 300+ courses, 8 group coaching calls with experts every week, and other tools to help you get immersed in your personal development journey and create a mindset of positivity and light every day.
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