Are You an Optimist, Pessimist, or Realist?

How does it affect your Quality of Life?

“The pessimist complains about the wind; the optimist expects it to change; the realist adjusts the sails.” – William Arthur Ward

Have you stopped to consider the above questions? If you have, do you believe your mindset is something you were born with? It’s pretty hard to definitively nail that down. Many studies indicate that we are born with a tendency towards one or the other of these mindsets, but our environment and early experiences will significantly influence those tendencies.

Here’s a quick quiz to help you clarify which mindset you have. Circle the answer closest to your usual response, not what you think is the “right” answer:

  1. Would you buy a lottery ticket?
    1. No, the odds are too great
    2. No, I never win anything
    3. Yes, somebody has to win
  2. Faced with a difficult situation, what do you do?
    1. Give it a try
    2. Give up
    3. It’s a challenge I can figure it out
  3. How do you tend to react to strangers who are friendly?
    1. They’re probably after something
    2. They are an opportunity for a new friendship
    3. I’m cautiously friendly
  4. You’re told a situation is hopeless, how do you react?
    1. I suspected it
    2. I need to look into it further before I give up
    3. I don’t believe it—there are things I can do
  5. If you help others…
    1. I do it because it feels good
    2. They’ll take advantage of me
    3. They will likely show some appreciation
  6. What chance do you think you have of achieving your goals?
    1. I don’t have any goals, I gave up on them
    2. It seems pretty ambitious, but maybe some are doable
    3. I’ve achieved quite a few already so I know I can do more
  7. What was the best day of your life?
    1. Tomorrow, for certain!
    2. The day I was born, it was all downhill from there
    3. Today, if I’m lucky!
  8. Someone close to you—a family member, partner, or friend tells you they want to talk with you. What do you expect:
    1. They have a problem and they want your input
    2. They have a wonderful surprise
    3. They are upset with you
  9. You have a nagging cough, what do you think about it?
    1. It will be gone by tomorrow
    2. Probably just need some rest
    3. It might be cancer

Can you figure out which of your answers describe Optimism, Realism, or Pessimism? (answers at end of this blog)

Think about how your mood or sense of well-being is affected by the response you chose.

The definitions of Optimist, Realist, and Pessimist are below (from Webster’s Dictionary). Depending on how you answered these questions, how would you describe your usual mindset?

Optimist: Commits thoughts and actions to the best possible outcome from any given situation.

Realist: Recognizes what is real or possible in a particular situation: accepts and deals with things as they really are.

Pessimist: Thinks that bad things are more likely to happen or emphasizes the bad part of a situation. “If you expect the worst, you’ll never be disappointed.”

In addition to the above, especially if you consider yourself an Optimist, check out the definition of Pollyanna: often confused with the Optimist: excessively cheerful or optimistic person, characterized by a tendency to be unreasonably or illogically optimistic.

It is likely that you will have a “usual mindset,” that is a more habitual reaction. If you find that your mindset is influenced by a particular situation or relationship, see if you can identify what it is about that situation that triggers your reaction.

Your mindset has a significant impact on your moods, your well-being, and your stress levels—your quality of life. Many studies have documented people’s reactions to events in their lives and the effects on their physical and mental health.

Dr. Martin Seligman, former president of the American Psychological Association and legendary researcher in the field of optimism, discovered that optimism or pessimism lies in the way you explain the events that happen to you. Such “automatic thoughts” often cause us to assess events inaccurately and jump to erroneous conclusions.

Your physical and emotional reactions to events in your life are often the result of the thoughts you choose. “Don’t believe everything you think.” You can control the thoughts you have. If your thoughts are causing you stress (negative thoughts are the biggest culprit), then you are diminishing the quality of your life.

Even in the face of actual bad news—illness, loss of job or friendship or relationship, you can minimize the negative effect on your well-being. Of course you might feel sad, hurt, or disappointed—you are human. However, if you immediately go to worst case scenario and stay there/or dwell on it, you aren’t helping yourself or others who may be involved—including people who will be affected by your reactions..

If you find that your usual reaction to events is diminishing your quality of life, you can change it! You will need to pay regular attention to your negative thoughts, and consistent practice to replace your negative thoughts with positive ones, and it can be done. I speak from personal and professional experience.

Identify your thoughts and what assumptions you make, and expectations you have. It helps to write them down, and keep track of how often you have the negative thoughts and what situations most often generate them. When it’s down on paper, it helps you see them more clearly and objectively. You can use the following format or contact me to download a printed form:

Negative Thought — What Triggered It

My Emotional Reaction — What I Did

Logical Thoughts – What I Could Have Done Instead

“The pessimist sees difficulty in every opportunity. The optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty”. Winston Churchill

The following are some reasons we adopt a mindset. See if you can identify with any of them or other reasons you may have:

The Optimist mindset:
When I think positively, I feel more energetic, motivated, and creative

The Pessimist mindset:
I feel more in control– if I expect the worst, I won’t be blindsided,
I don’t deserve to feel good, be happy, etc.
I inherited it from my parent,
Things have never turned out the way I wanted, so I need to just accept that is my life.

The Realist mindset:
I’m committed to be objective and honest about any situation I encounter.
Being realistic helps me to feel centered and grounded

The Pollyanna mindset:
If I just pretend everything is better than it really is, I won’t keep hurting or have to face unpleasant circumstances.

“Pessimists are usually right and optimists are usually wrong but all the great changes have been accomplished by optimists.” ― Thomas Friedman

Answers to Quiz:
1a–Realist, 1b–Pessimist, 1c—Optimist
2a—Realist, 2b—Pessimist, 2c—Optimist
3a—Pessimist, 3b—Optimist, 3c—Realist
4a—Pessimist, 4b—Realist, 4c—Optimist
5a—Realist, 5b—Pessimist, 5c—Optimist
6a—Pessimist, 6b—Realist, 6c—Optimist
7a—Optimist, 7b—Pessimist, 7c—Realist
8a—Realist, 8b—Optimist, 8c—Pessimist
9a—Optimist, 9b—Realist, 9c–Pessimist

If you have any questions or comments, feel free to contact me.

If you know anyone who might benefit from this article, you are welcome to send it to them.

Best,
Shelli

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