The Power of Pessimism 

There is a big, happy, smiling, cloud shading our world from the UV light and it’s called positive thinking. It very well might be the same cloud from the Mario video game franchise, but I’m not sure, I’m not a scientist. Positive thinking or optimism is as American as apple pie, and Oprah Winfrey is serving us the slice with her gentle, warm, you-can-do-it-too Oprah smile. Go ahead, take the slice and grab the chair over there next to Tony Robbins. I know you want to, I want to. Positive thinking works well because we the people enjoy the idea of feeling good and believing life gets better everyday. It’s a great legal drug that’s being pushed on us and we all take the drug eyes-wide-open, hearts on our sleeve, smiling as we inject the sweet medicine into our veins.

Self help books and pop culture have made a fortune prescribing optimism and the benefits are well, what can I say? They’re beneficial. The popular narrative is when you think positively, your dreams will come true, you’ll wake up with a million dollars and you’ll start farting rainbows. Myself, a born realist, was enticed by the sheer thought of farting a rainbow. Thus I swallowed my pride and became an optimist. I do not regret it.

However, it wasn’t until very recently that fate struck his forceful hand and I read a Carl Jacobi quote that said “Invert always invert.” As my eyes soaked in these iron words, it was at this exact moment that my brain began to ponder and then I knew I was fucked. Not in a bad way, not in a sexual way, and not even in a good way. I was mind fucked, my beliefs had been challenged and my eyes were jarred opened to the power of pessimistic thinking.

So welcome to the dark side my friend, the pessimistic side, the side where the forecast is bleak and you just miss the morning cut off for breakfast at McDonalds. I’m here to walk you through the benefits of pessimistic thinking in relation to goal setting, problem solving and trouble shooting. To appreciate the value of pessimistic thinking I’m first going to address how positive thinking can fail us. 

How Positive Thinking Can Fail Us.

When we optimistically set goals for ourselves, or optimistically seek to solve problems, our heart is in the correct place but our mind isn’t. Essentially, what we are doing is blowing hot, helium air up our ass and waiting to float. I’ll be fair, who doesn’t like the helium treatment? I won’t judge you. I’m a converted optimist remember? Pinky promise. I even go to the meetings damnit! We drink and laugh with our optimistic, grab-the-world-by-its-balls friends and ignore our the tingly, subtle pain in our Achilles heal. I’m here to tell you that there is a chink in the amour of positive thinking. Positive thinking can fail us in two ways, as it doesn’t prepare us for the worst case scenario, and it doesn’t motivate us to work harder.

Most are aware of the expression “Hope for the best, but plan for the worst” Most also fail to apply this expression. The problem with only thinking positively, is when you filter out the worst case scenario, and if you ever fall into it, it lives up to it’s title: The worst case scenario. Once you are in the worst case scenario, there isn’t any amount of positive thinking that can lift you from the icy depths. You will find yourself surprised, frustrated, hurt and your heart will suffer greatly. Yes, positive thinking is a great tool to ease your mind but addressing the issues head on is the only way to climb out, and it’s an uphill, rocky, unforgiving climb.

Hey Bro. So I totally just meditated that I’m the man, and I’m going to make a million dollars today. After I catch some waves, I can just go to the bank and it’ll magically appear right? Wrong. Bro. An issue with positive thinking is although it’s great to envision what you want as it forces you to work towards your goals; we often miss the key word, work. Many die-hard optimist thinkers succeed in identifying their goal but fail to work towards their goal. No amount of positive or wishful thinking will make anything magically appear. Sorry, no refunds. It’s when you actually begin to work towards your goals, is when you start to notice the coincidences and the opportunities start to “Magically” appear; don’t tell Houdini. By focusing in on what you want with laser precision, you can then intelligently work towards achieving your goals. Pretty crazy right? They don’t even teach that at Hogwarts anymore.

How To Positively Pessimistically Think.

Pessimistic thinking has gotten a bad wrap for years. Hell, I’ve even been the guy that wielded a pitchfork, a torch and led a million man march to a pessimist’s house with optimistically dark intentions…

Reading the quote “Invert always invert” has completely flipped the switch on me and it was a forceful flip. It forced me to factor in pessimistic thinking or in other words, inversion thinking.

So what is inversion thinking? Inversion thinking is looking at problems from the perspective of what is the number one thing I can do to guarantee that I wont reach my desired outcome.

This is beautifully simple logic which shows the true power of pessimistic thinking in relation to goal setting, problem solving and trouble shooting. It allows us to clearly identify our worst cast scenario, which then in turn provides us with a game plan to achieve success. After all, if you spend your time avoiding failure you are sure to win!

Let us use the example of trying to loose weight. Cliché’ I know. Common? Yes. If you wanted to guarantee that you wouldn’t lose weight what would you do?

  • Eat junk food
  • Never workout
  • Drink soda
  • Never eat healthy food
  • Never be active
  • Spend your free time watching TV

Inversion thinking clearly lists the steps of what exactly to do if we don’t want to achieve our goals. The path to success is usually the opposite of what we wrote down. If you wanted to be healthy you would

  • Not eat junk food.
  • Workout
  • Not drink soda
  • Eat healthy food
  • Be active
  • Watch less TV

You see, knowing exactly what not to do gives us the clearest plan of what exactly to do. This is the merit of pessimistic thinking. This is a cool little hack can also be applied to every situation.

Another benefit of pessimistic thinking is, well, what was the scientific expression for this? Ahh yes, it forces you to pull your head out of your ass. No lube. As stated earlier it is a GOOD thing to know what you want and pursue it with an unrelenting drive. It’s a GREAT thing to be realistic about your approach. Shades of pessimistic thinking allows one to realistically come up with a game plan to achieve your desired results. By no means am I saying be extremely negative and sour with your outlook on life. That in no way shape or form can ever be beneficial to you. Ever. I’m saying use pessimistic thinking so you can set achievable goals opposed to unrealistic goals. It forces you to pull the helium air out of your ass and start working with a guided, tailor-made plan.

Let’s Meet In The Middle and Hold Hands

That’s so 2015 right? The meeting in the middle part that is. There are two sides to every coin, there is good and evil, there is positive and negative energy, there is yin and yang and there is math class and gym class. Knowing that there are two sides to everything is my blessing and my curse.

When it comes to goal setting, problem solving and trouble shooting, the key is to acknowledge both perspectives. Truly apply the expression “Hope for the best but plan for the worst” Truly have a positive outlook on life but be aware of what can go wrong. Truly hope for a better tomorrow but address your pitfalls today. Even the stars in the sky rely on the darkness to magnify their beauty. Most importantly, always address where you can go wrong and work your ass off so it doesn’t happen. Work always wins.

Comment, share, and let me know how pessimistic thinking has helped you, or combat my views. I don’t care. But I will respond.

127 thoughts on “The Power of Pessimism 

  1. Your posts are captivating and do not disappoint in the slightest. There was me thinking, ‘blimey, this is super long, I bet I’ll stop reading half way through’……but I didn’t, I made it to the end because I thoroughly enjoyed every single word. Your humour is comforting and provides familiarity.

    I agree with all you have said, apart from leaving out the lube. I think that in the case of someone who is particularly pessimistic and can never see the good in anything, somewhere half way between would be a good starting place.

    I’m positive for about 95 % of the time, that might not be entirely correct if I’ve not had much sleep but for the most part, I’m happy and bouncy like Tigger and I work damned hard for what I want. My experiences have taught me to be more introspective though. I do tend to go into things with more thought about the possible downfalls and scenarios where everything might go ‘tits up’ and then get up at dawn and work until dusk until I’m where I want and need to be.

  2. It’s not unlike doing a safety audit before using my chainsaw. Looking at the area I’m to work for potential hazards; overhanging branches, trips, falls, slippery areas etc. Thinking of the worst possible scenario for needing to be evacuated in a helicopter. Then I take the necessary precautions to ensure (to the best of my ability) that I have removed all hazards, safeguarded the area, told someone where I am and what I’m doing. Worn full kit and taken the time to safeguard my life and that of those around me. If I didn’t think about all of that, I wouldn’t pick up the chainsaw in the first place. I still have the greatest of respect for that piece of machinery.

  3. Yeah, in parts, but not exclusively, as a brony, I know this so well. People get their happiness fix and then go back to their misery until their next fix. They are on the run from unpleasantness, thus they basically become happiness-fanatics, and when you see through their self-convincing act, you see the dark fears that you thought plagued YOUR mind. It’s denial. Weakness. It lets the problems of the world be and grow and gives them a rainbow paint.

    This also kinda reminds me of this extremely valuable website:

    “Hope for the best, but plan for the worst.” is the worst, because hope is personally disempowering, and planning for future events shapes your mind and thus actions towards bringing them about, so if you plan for the worst, you might see your plans not go to waste, heh. But I get your point. Balance is health. Acceptance of what is is power over reality.
    I personally like to say: Leap of faith is not helpful, because faith is so misunderstood (or just the wrong word). If you expect to succeed, failure will hit hard. But if you are OK with failing and can continue nevertheless, that is empowerment.

    There are more dimensions to all this though, for example the whole flawed idea of never giving up (which ironically can lead to suicide). I might blog about that in more detail later. If I feel like it.

    What you mention about coincidences ‘magically’ appearing: You can have the opposite. It depends on your personal journey. Life will give you feedback and you have to observe the patterns and learn from that. If life keeps punishing you for trying, try giving up and see what happens. You might be surprised how difficult it can be to make the mind sincerely give up. At best it might come up with some bullshit fakery of having given up, but it’s still actively trying an approach.

    Pessimistic thinking is not the solution. The solution is ridding yourself of the mind’s deceptions. I’m still dealing with the remnants of a cynical pessimistic attitude. It manifests reality because it is powered by emotion. The mind provides the program, the heart provides the electricity. The mind has a built-in superiority-complex because it needs to suppress the truth that it is nothing. It thinks it is running the world, but it is made by everything that is not the mind.

    “After all, if you spend your time avoiding failure you are sure to win!” Oh no, very much not. At least not generally applicable. Avoidance disempowers and sets a bad focus. It feeds energy into that which you want to avoid.
    The diet example is also bad because the donts are only there as contrast for telling you the dos, so that’s mostly just a word game. You still end up trying to do what leads to success, and actually doing that is the tricky thing for many people.

    I don’t feel like writing in more detail about my personal experience at this point, but I can say that one man’s poison is another man’s medicine, and like the Dao De Jing does so often point out, higher wisdom often seems paradoxical.

    1. Really interesting perspective and certainly a mouthful. Different perspectives give color to the rainbow, I like the where you said “The mind provides the program, the heart provides the electricity. ” Such a great way to put it!

  4. Alright dude, this is a great blog. Having been raised a solid pessimist, It took an engineering degree and years of observation to slide over as far as being a realist. I would like to point out one very positive aspect of remaining a pessimist. It is simply that one is rarely disappointed in the outcome because the expectations aren’t so high, and occasionally one is elated to have a success. For me, it’s led to the idea that since the odds are against me I have to work about five times harder than I should to get the results, I’m after. I’m not bummed out about it, I just don’t expect much so when things go my way, I’m elated… yet anticipating what could still go wrong.

  5. This is really great. So many blogs are so centered around being optimistic ALL. THE. TIME. I get that your life might be fabulous and you might be so excited for this, or so thankful for that, or so blessed… but sometimes you need to put your nose to the grindstone and actually work for something. In my mind, pessimism, realism, and a strong work ethic go together hand-in-hand. Solely being optimistic won’t achieve anything. Thank you for the healthy dose of perspective!

    1. Hey, it was my pleasure to serve you that dose! Refills are free. I completely agree with everything you said. Thanks for stopping by!

  6. I cannot agree more with you. I do feel optimism is a highly publicised tool these days. But somewhere we have forgotten that optimism is meant to keep our spirit and not to let complacency creep in.

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