A Pessimist’s Guide to Being an Optimist

UPDATED: January 30, 2023
PUBLISHED: May 19, 2015

When you think health, what comes to mind? Gym? Salads, hold the dressing? Sure, physical fitness and diet are part of being healthy, but that’s not all of it. Your mental state influences your overall well-being, too. And the true measure of mental fitness is how optimistic you are about yourself and your life. 

Optimism is the “state of having positive beliefs.” It’s synonymous with certainty, confidence and elation; enthusiasm, happiness and idealism. Pessimism is the “belief in bad outcomes.” And it’s synonymous with cynicism, despair and gloom; hopelessness, melancholy and unhappiness.

Afraid you might be more of a pessimist than an optimist? You can learn how to control your thinking in very specific ways so that you feel terrific about yourself and your situation, no matter what happens.

You may not be able to control events but you can control the way you react to them. Here are three basic differences in the reactions of optimists and pessimists:
1. Control your reactions and responses. 
An optimist sees a setback as temporary, while the pessimist sees it as permanent. The optimist sees an unfortunate event as a temporary event, something that is limited in time and that has no real impact on the future. The pessimist, on the other hand, sees negative events as permanent, as part of life and destiny. 

2. Isolate the incident.
An optimist sees difficulties as specific, while the pessimist sees them as pervasive. This means that when things go wrong for the optimist, he looks at the event as an isolated incident largely disconnected from other things that are going on in his life. 

For example, if something you were counting on failed to materialize and you interpreted it to yourself as being an unfortunate event, just something that happens in the course of life and business, you would be reacting like an optimist. The pessimist, on the other hand, sees disappointments as being inescapable. To him they are indications of a problem or shortcoming that pervades every area of life. 

3. Don’t take failure personally. 
Optimists see events as external, while pessimists interpret events as personal. When things go wrong, the optimist will tend to see the setback as resulting from external factors over which one has little control. 

If the optimist is cut off in traffic, for example, instead of getting angry or upset, he will simply downgrade the importance of the event by saying something like, “Oh, well, I guess that person is just having a bad day.” The pessimist, on the other hand, will react as though the other driver has deliberately acted to upset and frustrate him. 

The hallmark of the fully mature, fully functioning, self-actualizing personality is the ability to be objective and unemotional when caught up in the inevitable storms of daily life. The superior person has the ability to continue talking to himself in a positive and optimistic way, keeping his mind calm, clear and completely under control. The healthy personality is more relaxed and aware and capable of interpreting events more realistically and less emotionally than is the immature personality. As a result, the optimistic person exerts a far greater sense of control and influence over his environment, and is far less likely to be angry, upset or distracted. 

So, resolve to be an optimist. Remember to:

• Remind yourself continually that setbacks are only temporary, they will soon be past and nothing is as serious as you think it is. 

• Look upon each problem as a specific event, not connected to other events and not indicative of a pattern of any kind. Deal with it and get on with your life. 

• Recognize that when things go wrong, they are usually caused by a variety of external events. Say to yourself, What can’t be cured must be endured, and then get back to thinking about your goals.

Find out what other characteristics separate positive people from everyone else here.

Brian Tracy is chairman and CEO of Brian Tracy International, a best-selling author of more than 70 books, and a professional speaker.