Learned Optimism or Learned Pessimism? It’s Your Choice!

by David Ryback, Ph.D.

Pessimists may indeed feel more anxious about social acceptance. They may feel more anxious about many things not going well, big and small. Psychologists have a term Learned Optimism or Learned Pessimism?for such individuals when they suffer from this in the extreme – neurotic. We don’t like that term because it connotes something very bad, when all it’s meant to point out is that some people have a greater tendency to become anxious about small things than others. For example, some people tend spend much more time on their work than they need to in order to ease their fear of being fired because they don’t appear “perfect”.

In the workplace, this tendency can come across as undue attention to details that are clearly irrelevant to bottom-line success. Sometimes it comes across as a control issue, particularly when foisted on underlings. For example, if the boss is a stickler for details that don’t matter in most people’s opinions, then it appears much effort is misplaced and subordinates feel frustrated about wasting their energy when more important things are being ignored.

In addition, the pessimist at work may find it difficult to be mindful of others emotions because he or she is so preoccupied with personal decision making that there’s little energy left to listen to associates’ points of view. Pessimists are more likely to rely on the Status Factor, insisting that things be done according to how they’ve been done in the past and not tinker with new ways of thinking. The optimist, on the other hand, is eager to hear others’ viewpoints, expecting the best from associates’ input. Here the Awareness Factor reigns supreme. The optimist at work doesn’t worry about controlling trivialities that don’t add to the bottom line. He or she looks at the long run and asks, “How much of a difference will this make next week, next month, next year?”

Optimism, appropriately experienced, can do wonders in the workplace. Expect success, and you’re more likely to achieve it. Even when bad times come our way, as they inevitably do, the optimist will be less disheartened than the pessimist.

If you found these tips from David Ryback, Ph.D. of value and are a PMP looking to earn PMI PDUs, you might be interested in his self-paced, downloadable courses at PDUs2Go.com.


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