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Kathryn Hoban

Legislative Aide - Michigan Senate, National Society of Collegiate Scholars

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Optimism and Pessimism: The Impact of Outlook on Outcome

Do you consider yourself an optimist or a pessimist?
What do you think are the drawbacks and benefits of each?
To what extent do you think your outlook impacts your actions?
Tali Sharot talks about the blame that optimists and pessimists place on either themselves or other factors. To what extent do you blame internal or external factors regarding your success or failure?

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    May 16 2012: Its safer to be an optimist as future is uncertain & optimism helps us keeping the blood-pressure under control. We hardly have an option otherwise. Life is transient, its better to believe in rebirth. Pessimism tend to play the game in an manner that reduces the happiness quotient for all participants. I am not a psychologist but being a marketing pro i have concluded that pessimists have poor sense of belonging & friendship. An optimist is part of the solution whereas a pessimist could be good critic.
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      May 17 2012: Thanks for your comment, Gurinder. A marketing pro would have an interesting perspective in regards to optimism and pessimism. Could you tell me a little more on how they differ in the marketing world? Does one take more risks than the other? Is one easier to work with?
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        May 18 2012: Hi Kathryn, Consumer profile is central to a good marketing strategy, therefore we spend our lifetime in trying to study basic personality types & evolution of personality of consumers. An optimist is generally someone who would believe in what others have to offer & be the first to try new product. A pessimist would remain a prisoner of post purchase dissonance and would require more effort to be convinced into buying products. Risk taking ability of a person depend upon both external & internal factors. An optimist being a believer would take more risk than a pessimist. But it does not mean that a pessimist is n economic buyer. A pessimist requires intensive selling effort and therefore is a expensive proposition for sellers. Pessimists take time to adjust to change & whereas an optimist would love to experiment. Team play requires that most of the participants trust each other and work toward common goal which is difficult for a pessimist. Hope this answers your inquiry.Thanks for asking.
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    May 16 2012: I'm a realist which is pretty much a pessimist.

    The upside of optimism = ignorance is bliss. The downside of optimism = ignorance is no defence.

    The upside of pessimism = you won't be disappointed (too often). The downside of pessimism = early heart attack.

    If I can, I'll blame external factors. If I'm honest, I blame myself.
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      May 17 2012: Well, you definitely have a realistic perspective on the upsides and downsides of each. =] Thanks Scott!
  • May 16 2012: Optimism is the wise choice. Life throws a lot of challenges at us like the punches of a professional boxer; we fight personal battles that sometimes come with the force of natural disasters.
    But such is life and we have to live it with courage.
    Optimism builds faith instead of fear. We should build on our strength in our minds.That is the power of words. Words that drives us and fire us up to victory.
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      May 17 2012: This is a quite eloquent support of optimism. Thanks Feyisayo!
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    May 25 2012: This is a perceptive question. I spent most of my life as a realist which I think is in the middle and based on evidence but since I had two brain bleeds which resulted from a surgery on my spine, everyone is certain I am an optimist. I survuved against the odds but when you are busy suviving you just get busy and do what has to be done. If I am honest, though, I must be an optimist- I gave birth to and raised 5 kids!
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    May 18 2012: I consider myself both an optimist and a pessimist.
    The "drawbacks" are non-existent, its "benefits" of each are synergised and amplified if you are both at the same time.

    This is much evident in Edward de Bono's Six Hats, he states that whatever decision we make, it is ultimately an emotional one. And in order to sooth and direct the emotions successfully and adequately, one must be aware of the facts, the dangers (pessimism) & the possibilities (optimism).

    My general outlook would be "Happy Go Lucky", "nonchalance" and "readiness/preparedness".
    I'd show nonchalance towards one's anger, sadness, disappointment or the likes.
    I'd go about doing whatever I can so that when (s)he comes round,
    I'd be there to ask what needs to be done or any help needed to move forward, together.

    I connect with people this way, one person at a time, it keeps me happy all the time.
    Waking up every morning, staring into the sky smiling, and to everyone I meet.
    Sometimes, when I think that this is too good to be true, I label myself pessimistic.

    So, am I an optimist or a pessimist? I'm a pessimistic optimist.
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    May 16 2012: Do we have to blame something to be an optimist or pessimist?
    How about taking whatever happens as it is and move forward?

    Like how Tali Sharot described, it's about fine-tuning the estimation of expectations to a realistic level.
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      May 17 2012: My apologies, please let me clarify.

      I may have been wrong to use "blame", as it has a rather more accusatory tone than I wanted to convey. I based this question on two beliefs; first, that all outputs are the product of both internal and external inputs, and second, that all individuals strive for optimization. For instance, if you recieved a 12% on a test you had been studying for since the start of the semester, chances are there was an external problem. You knew the material, but maybe you marked down the wrong form on the Scantron and were graded for another test altogether. I don't believe that anyone would just accept that score and move forward. More likely, they would ask to have the test re-scored with the correct form, as an external factor negatively impacted their internal effort. While most situations do not have a "re-score" option through which an individual may immediately better their situation, recognizing past problems, whether in personal choice or situation, is an important part of learning from experience and avoiding the failures in the future.

      Therefore, I believe that rational individuals take themselves and their surroundings into account while trying to optimize their own standing, which is the basis of the question.
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        May 18 2012: I believe that we could be both rational and irrational at the same time.
        It's not an easy juggle however, once one gets the hang of it, it's pretty easy.

        As mentioned above, it's about fine-tuning these factors, internal, external or in-between.

        Porcupines hug for warmth, but they can't hug to closely, they would hurt themselves, or if they don't hug enough, they are unable to create enough warmth.

        Another example would be judging. Judge the behavior, not the person.
        Judge their techniques, executions, and not for how they are feeling at that moment.

        Back to expectations, one must know what part truly affects the outcome, like not attributing the day's non-success to waking up on the wrong side of the bed. If that's so, one must learn to be happy the moment they get out of bed.

        Whether one is Proactive & Reactive can almost be attributed by internal & external factors respectively.

        Being proactive or reactive could still lead to failures, however there's one fundamental difference.
        A reactive behavior would most probably lead to making the very same mistakes/failures over and over again. Whereas, a proactive behavior would achieve new mistakes/failures different from the previous, bringing him/her closer and closer to a success, or a string of successes.
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    May 16 2012: Obviously everyone says optimistic.

    But the fact is no. WHen you advise to someone, u will be optimistic. But when you are the hearing end, you will defnly feel pessimistic.
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      May 17 2012: Thank you, Ramesh. I think that differentiating between when an optimist or pessimist is speaking and listening is important. There could be discrepancies between their words and actions. That would be a fun study to do. Thanks again!
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    May 16 2012: As the joke goes....

    The optimist sees the glass half full. The pessimist sees it have half empty. The opportunist drinks all there is and is never thirsty.

    Sometimes people think too much. What if I simply have all there is but carry a bigger glass just in case I find a little more. I am not saying we should settle for anything. As I tell my firends "Just enough sucks." However I do appreciate what I have and am prepared to make do with what is available.

    As for your question...Better to be a realist. You can go into a situaation hopeful and looking forward to great success but still be aware enough to know that failure is a distinct possibilty

    .As for blame, the old saying applies....Fool me once shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. One thing is for sure, we have to be prepared to take advantage of our opportunities when they present themselves. We cannot control certain things but if we are prepared to deal with the problems as they arise we should, more often than not, be fine.

    Put a little money aside.
    Carry an extra pen.
    Be careful of who you call friend.
    Have some extra supplies.
    Use your people wisely.
    Etc.

    And you will rarely guess on the outcome...because that is what optimism and pessimism is...guessing.
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      May 17 2012: That joke about the glass is one of my favorites. I sometimes hear it with "the thirsty man" thrown in there instead, but really, what's the difference? Opportunism always provides a new view on pessimism and optimism because it disregards both in favor of making the best of the situation. Thanks Frank!
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    May 15 2012: I'm an optimist and I think that I take on bigger challenges because I have the belief that things will turn out well. Optimism is a form of courage, but it also means one finds oneself in situations where the difficulties around making something work feel insurmountable. In my experience you need determination to get through that point, where an optimist without determination could be sunk.

    Pessimism (when it is foresight and not just naysaying) has the benefit of avoiding difficult situations rather than overcoming them as the determined optimist must, its a path of least resistance model. Pessimists have the benefit of never being able to be proved wrong, but they have the drawback of not being able to inspire or motivate others through their belief. Its hard to lead or innovate from a pessimistic point of view.
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      May 17 2012: I appreciate your bringing up determination and the role in plays in accomplishment, as that quality certainly matters a lot in creating outcomes. So optimists are able to go through hardship because of their determination, while pessimists try to reach the same ends through avoiding the hardship? Thanks for your comparison, Margeigh!