Good News For Pessimists: It Could Be Good For Productivity

As science continues to back the connection between mind and body, it might be easy to think that if you tend towards pessimism it’s all bad news. Science is showing us that health and personality are linked, but there are certain ways in which a healthy dose of pessimism, can actually improve things.  

Sure, optimists may tend towards lower cholesterol, lower risk of stroke and stronger immunity, but the news isn’t all bad for those who don’t tend strongly towards the sunny side [1].

Back in the 1980’s when Gabriele Oettingen started researching optimism, she found something interesting. She took a group of women who were trying to lose weight and followed their progress and mindset as they set about their goals. What she found might not have been that predictable: the pessimists actually lost more weight than the optimists [2]. Later research would see the same filter applied to job offers, romantic relationships and even hip replacement surgery recovery.

It appears that if you are all optimism, this can be counterintuitive. A little pessimism can actually be advantageous in certain circumstances because it allows us to foresee what could go wrong, but then plan our way through those roadblocks.

This started Oettingen, now a professor of psychology at the Universities of Hamburg and New York, on a journey of ‘rethinking positive thinking.’ In fact, this later became the title of her book on the topic. “Rethinking Positive Thinking provides scientific research suggesting that starry-eyed dreaming isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. The book then examines and documents the power of a deceptively simple task: juxtaposing our dreams with the obstacles that prevent their attainment.”

The result is a straightforward system of thinking that combines the best aspects of both optimism and pessimism. It is summed up in one word.



Wish, Outcome, Obstacle, Plan [3]. If you wanted to hunt it down in the scientific literature, it goes by another name: Mental Contrasting with Implementation Intentions or MCII.  It comes from 20 years’ research and has been “proven to be effective across ages and life domains [4].” According to the research done on the WOOP/MCII process, it strengthened mental associations, lead to better energy and better performance.

Other research hints that pessimists may live longer due to lower risk taking, and they may have more durable relationships [1]. There are also hints that pessimists may be better gamblers, but you know, take that one with a grain of salt.