Pessimism: The Half Empty Glass

In the movie Groundhog Day, Phil Connors is trapped in time, living the same day over and over again. In the clip below, as he laments his situation at the bar, a local worker asks him if he is a ‘glass half full’ or ‘glass half empty’ kind of a guy. It has become one of my favourite films. This is a movie I watch from time to time to remind me of the very many possibilities that exist within each and every day. The outcomes can be very different even if the stimuli are exactly the same. In this way, we create our reality. Phil, a TV weather man, goes on to eventually see things differently. He finally becomes a ‘glass half full’ kind of guy and his life changes as a consequence.

It is a good question to ask yourself, so go ahead: are you a ‘glass half full’ or a ‘glass half empty’ kind of person? In other words, are you an optimist or a pessimist? Sometimes, I ask this question at my workshop events and do you know something? The optimists will generally reveal themselves quite happily, but the pessimists usually don’t. Often, they prefer to call themselves ‘realists’ rather than pessimists. It is not really surprising. There is a whole raft of literature that advocates the benefits of positive thinking, but there are not many books that seriously promote the power of negative thinking.

The fact is that positive thinking works! If you think about a situation positively, if you learn to smile in difficult situations and if you always look for the good in everything, your life can and will change. I actually remember a person I once worked with who said to me one day, ‘my life changed when I stopped looking down at the world and started looking up’. It is a wonderful principle that holds the power to transform your life too. Perhaps the classic study on this subject is the Pygmalion Study. The study has been repeated many times and it always produces the same results and this is now known as the Pygmalion Effect.

In the above study, they took a group of school kids and told them they were all above average intelligence and that they were expected to do very well in their final exams. That year, they were all model students. They got their homework in on time and paid attention in class. Needless to say, they all did very well in their final exams. What this study tells us is that, if we can elevate our expectations about some situation, we simultaneously increase the chances of things turning out the way we want. This same principle has become the cornerstone of modern sports psychology. Of course, it is not a substitute for effort or skill, but in many sporting situations, it is mental strength that separates the winners from the losers.

Now, if it is true that positive thinking actually works as I have suggested, then why does the attitude of pessimism persist within society? It is a good question and I would like to offer a Darwinian explanation: I believe this attitude prevails because of its usefulness. Yes, that’s right, it is useful … sometimes. Let me explain a little more: what the pessimist brings to a discussion is a kind of hard-nosed reality check. That’s why so many of them prefer to be called realists. When everyone else starts to get carried away by an opportunity that looks very bright and rosy, the pessimist is there to provide a reality check. That’s the service they provide to humanity and that’s why the behaviour persists in groups despite its clear disadvantage to the individual.

One more thing to think about is that most pessimists believe that they are right. And … they are! Things don’t turn out well for pessimists. They are using exactly the same principle as optimists, but in reverse. The problem is that they just don’t see it. They think that’s the way reality is and have not awakened to the possibility that much of what they are getting out of life is their own creation. That’s why you need to watch this film if you are a pessimist. Before any attempt at personal change, I believe you need to be mentally convinced that a change is necessary. Watching this movie may help you to understand that if you want to improve things in your life, you should consider working with yourself, and, in particular, with your mind.

Pessimism is an attitude and, I believe, it is learned; often, passed down from parents or other role models. Now that’s good news because, my understanding is that such an attitude can be unlearned too, and that’s what the film Groundhog Day is really all about. So, if you are a pessimist, or a realist if you prefer, then why not try a different outlook for just thirty days. Do you think you could do that? It would make a great 30 day trial wouldn’t it (see [link id=’549′]) Just thirty days of positivity. Why not try it and see what results you produce? If you like the results, you can try it for another 30 days and, before you know it, you will be busy writing a new script for your life.

One thought on “Pessimism: The Half Empty Glass

  1. Angela Thomas

    I enjoyed reading your blog, it’s funny how it relates to myself. It was very inspiring and I’m going to work on myself and think positive for 30days.


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