Pessimistic Thinking: See the Upside of the Downside

By Jennifer Bridges, PMP (formerly, Jennifer Whitt)

“The nice part about being a pessimist is that you are constantly being either proven right or pleasantly surprised.” – George F. Will, Columnist & Author

Studies have shown that Pessimistic Thinking can be a detriment to your health, a symptom of depression, a disadvantage in the popularity contest, or even a precursor to failure.  In 2002, a study published by scientists at the Mayo Clinic showed that people who expect misfortune don’t live as long as those with a more optimistic way of thinking. In a 2004 study, Dutch scientists discovered that self-described pessimists often had higher rates of cardiovascular death than optimists. So as you can see, the outlook for pessimistic thinkers is not so optimistic.

Understandably, you may ask why Pessimistic Thinking is even targeted as a way of thinking. This valid question has a complex answer. It may help you to consider that Pessimistic Thinking is also a form of “realistic” thinking. When making an important decision, a rose-colored, optimistic view can blind you to obvious problems. A dose of reality from the pessimistic thinker can save you and those working with you from preventable failure by revealing areas of risk you might not otherwise see.

Secondly, you will inevitably work with a pessimistic thinker. Learning to appreciate this person’s input will broaden your understanding and patience for this thinking style. And, finally, at some point you might lead a person or a team that’s focused on the downside – and possibly weakened because of it.

* As a thinker, can you effectively weigh risks and pinpoint trouble spots before they happen?

* As a team member, are you able to see the positive traits of your pessimistic teammates, while helping them move past the threat of failure?

* As a leader, can you build an environment that enhances this team member’s ability to contribute in his own unique fashion?

The new economy is going to continue to require us all to exercise the pessimistic part of our brain so we can see the upside of the downside. If you are needing a bullet-proof solution, monitoring for unforeseen dangers, evaluating a team’s unrealistic expectations or identifying or minimizing risks, pessimistic thinking is going to be your key to your success. If this is not your strong suit, I recommend strengthening an underutilized area of your brain you may have forgotten you have or identifying and leveraging those who excel in this area.  Doing things the old way or ignoring preventable failures is not a choice. See the upside of the downside – reveal areas of risk. This essential form of foresight can lead to success!

One Response to “Pessimistic Thinking: See the Upside of the Downside”

  1. Manvendra Kumar says:

    Hi Jennifer,

    Great article, nicely put. Pessimism is in fact highly perceived as what is described at the start of the article. I personally believe one can be pessimist in his thoughts but can still reflect optimism in his activities. I personally, even in my personal life decisions, use pessimist approach for analyzing overall scenario and then setup action plan to counter the worst possible path. As I speak out my thoughts to my wife, she too many time gets irritated by my thought process and consider it highly pessimist but to the contrary I will be the one who will be holding the optimism till the end with a hope to turn around the things back to normal.

    Being not an psychologist, it is hard to say whether such approach reflects pessimism or optimism but has worked out good for me. As stated it has proved to be a great tool for Risk Management at my workplace as well.


Leave a reply

PMI Logo1 Powered by, Inc. | Copyright © 2007 - 2017,, Inc. All rights reserved worldwide.

"PMBOK, PMI, PMP and REP" are trademarks, service marks or certification marks of the Project Management Institute Inc. Inc. | 3500 Lenox Road, Suite 1500 | Atlanta, GA 30326 | 404-815-4644