Friday, August 21, 2015

Pessimism Is Good For You

The constant admonitions to “think positive!” aren’t as useful in achieving your goals as we once thought. Of course, fatalism isn’t much help, either. But tempering one’s optimism with a real-world dose of pessimism may do the trick. The Science of Us from New York magazine presents the psychological research showing that positive thinking can get in the way of getting where we want to be. (via Digg)

1 comment:

mi3 said...

Sorry for this wall of text but I just hate it when I see something like that. When I hear "surprising scientific finding", I become very suspicious, because that usually is clickbaiting. So I had to check ... and now I have to vent, cause that video says almost the opposite of what the actual research says.

Technically what her own research (and others that she cites) shows is that people with positive expectations for the future show consistently better results than those with negative ones - e.g optimists cope better that pessimists. You can see her exact words in the 2nd paragraph on page 6 (172) of the very same paper mentioned in the video. Here it is That is contrary to what is stated in the video.

However people, who engage into idealized fantasies about success - something similar to the "name it and claim it" bullshit - often fail. One of the possible explanations is that the former believe in their own capability of achieving the goal - so they are more likely to act, while the latter (especially if, as her research shows, they are pessimists - because types of fantasies don't significantly affect results for optimists) become more discouraged by the idealised fantasy, because it seems more and more out of reach and they do not have an incentive to act.

What is more, if I have understood correctly while skimming through one of her more recent papers, she doesn't universally reject positive fantasies (she also calls them "free fantasies"), but instead has focused on how to use them in a productive way - by using "mental contrasting": First imagine the positive future - using the fantasies, then point out why it is not a reality right now. She in fact says that starting with negative thoughts (what she calls "reverse mental contrasting") "fails to elicit goal commitment".

I have not read all of her work, nor the other studies that she cites and I do not know if she is right. Besides, she has recently went on the "positive thinking" market and I also don't know if that is some kind of a marketing strategy or just someone misunderstanding her book. What I know is that the video does horrible job at presenting her ideas.

Thanks for bearing with me:)