Essential Walk #10: Optimism vs Pessimism

Thoughts on Excellence Free E-Newsletter Series
Volume 22, Issue No. 7b
March 15, 2024

By Dan Coughlin


Pessimism Or Optimism

In MWD (Merriam-Webster Dictionary), optimism is defined as an inclination to put the most favorable construction upon actions and events or to anticipate the best possible outcome.

In MWD, pessimism is defined as an inclination to emphasize adverse aspects, conditions, and possibilities or to expect the worst possible outcome.

Notice how optimism and pessimism are purely internal activities. They are not based on outside facts or realities. They are simply parts of your essence. Someone might argue that they are based on what you can see in the outside, real world. I would counterargue that we find the “facts” we want in the outside world based on whether we are inclined to put the most favorable construction on those realities or to emphasize adverse aspects of those realities. It is in how we look at things.

Consider Recent Situations You Encountered

Review the past 90 days of the various situations you have faced. As you think about each one, consider whether you went into the situation anticipating the best possible outcome or the worst possible outcome. Since you are probably not 100% optimistic or 100% pessimistic approaching any situation, which emotion do you think you were closer to as you approached these different situations?

As you consider the moments that you were optimistic, how would you describe your emotions?

As you consider the moments that you were pessimistic, how would you describe your emotions?

When I’m optimistic, I feel excited about the challenge ahead of me. I feel prepared and hopeful. I feel that I have the wherewithal to have a good, successful experience. I’m confident we will get to a good outcome.

When I’m pessimistic, I feel a bit overwhelmed. I have doubts running through my mind that this is actually going to work out. Sometimes I feel helpless and that the situation is hopeless.

Remember: your essence consists of your thoughts, emotions, and will. At all times you can make choices. In what direction, optimism or pessimism, do you want your thoughts, emotions, and will to be heading in, and why do you want that?

The Upside of Optimism and Pessimism

They both have a real purpose. I encourage you to see the value of both.

With optimism and the anticipation of a great outcome, you are more likely to try things. You will move your thoughts, emotions, and will in the direction of your desired outcome, and this will help you craft the words and actions that will increase the chances that you achieve your objective.

Pessimism will help you see the reasons why you might not succeed. This will help you to identify what obstacles need to be overcome on this journey. That is very useful. However, too much pessimism may squash your essence and keep you from ever advancing in the direction of your desired outcome.

Optimism and pessimism are two very important aspects of your essence. They affect in significant ways your thoughts, emotions, and will. I encourage you to step away from being constantly in motion, really consider the best outcome that you want to have happen, and identify the challenges to achieving that outcome.

Essential Walk Questions for You to Consider

  1. Consider a situation you are going to be entering within the next week. Think about the best possible outcome that could happen from that situation. Now construct in your mind what needs to happen for you to achieve this best possible outcome. Really see this playing out.
  2. Now consider the situation and emphasize the adverse aspects, conditions, and possibilities that could lead to the worst possible outcome.
  3. Visualize how you will overcome the potential adversities and continue toward the achievement of the best possible outcome.

All of this happens within your thoughts, emotions, and will. As you do this, you can begin to optimistically guide your energy toward your desired outcome and avoid or overcome the reasons why you pessimistically think you will achieve the worst possible outcome.

Republishing Articles

My newsletters, Thoughts on Excellence, have been republished in approximately 40 trade magazines, on-line publications, and internal publications for businesses, universities, and not-for-profit organizations over the past 20+ years. If you would like to republish all or part of my monthly articles, please send me an e-mail at with the name of the article you want in the subject heading. I will send you the article in a word document.

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