Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The Virtues of Pessimism

Now those who know me or follow my work will be surprised to find me extolling the virtues of pessimism, but hear me out.  You’re applying to grad school, looking for a job, doing on-line dating, trying to get your article published…There are some ways in which not always thinking on the bright side can soften the blow.

Pessimism protects us from disappointment.  I might not get this job…win this game…get that acceptance letter.  If it happens that you do not, anticipating that outcome does seem to make it a bit easier to bear.  I’m not giving you permission to slack off, just permission to be realistic.

Pessimism helps us anticipate problems so we can take steps to correct things, i.e., defensive pessimism.  Maybe my resume could be more dynamic, my on-line profile might use a little tweaking or my article might do better in a different publication, which means I need to re-work it before sending it out.  All of these are good steps to take to avoid possible difficulties in the future.

Anticipating the worst helps us prepare for it.  Consider the difference between a shocking loss and one we’ve been expecting.  We can get ready emotionally for the tragedy we believe is coming instead of being blindsided.  Getting ready for the worst has practical implications…I’m not going to open that letter alone.  And it affects our emotional reactions as well…. I’m not going to open that letter alone.    A little anticipation can protect us from some of the pain associated with losses.

Truth be told, I have written about how to increase optimism by decreasing pessimism, and I stand by that.  It’s still true that optimistic people are healthier, more resilient and live longer.  But into every life a little rain must fall, and when it does, it really helps to have an umbrella handy.

Rain, The Beatles

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Overachievers, Perfectionists and Supermoms

The November, 2011 issue of Psychology Today has a piece about overachievers.  Included is the supermom.  Psychologist Diane Halpern points out that women still do more child care and work in the home.  Their work outside the home is also on the rise.  It’s proposed that women want to be the perfect wife, mother, worker,  citizen, volunteer, etc.,  because we worry about how others will judge us.  I’d add in sex kitten, soul mate and child therapist explaining why so many of my clients are ready to go completely berserk.  We’re always trying to meet the requirements we’ve internalized about what it means to be a woman today.

According to psychologist Gordon Flett, this is a recipe for exhaustion and health problems, including depression.  Speaking of life balance, you may have to give up something, he points out.

My suggestions:

*Consider what’s important in your life right now and focus on those things.
* Be prepared to let a few things go.  Maybe you’ll pick them up later if they’re really important.
*Ask for support.  Don’t tell me it’s easier to do it yourself.  That’s true only in the short-term.  Long-term, help is good.
*Forget being perfect.  There is no perfect.
*Try not to worry about how others judge you.  People usually care far less about us than we think.  And if they are judging, who has that right?

Think outside the house with the white picket fence.  What does being a woman today mean to you?  What does life balance mean to you?  Why do you care so much about what others think?