Are You a Closet Pessimist?

pessimistMany people I speak with think of themselves in general as optimists, however the behavior they engage in on a regular basis suggests they may really be closet pessimists.

How do you know whether you are being an optimist or a pessimist?

In a book I read eons ago called, Learned Optimism by Martin Seligman, the author offers a scientifically proven argument for the importance of optimism for health, happiness and success. Seligman breaks down optimism and pessimism into three general categories:

  • Permanence
  • Pervasiveness
  • Personalization – this one is most connected to Pat Yourself on the Back!


  • The pessimist views bad events or more accurately, events they don’t like as permanent. “This always happens and won’t ever change.”
  • The optimist views the same events as situational or temporary. You’ll often hear them expressing the sentiment of ‘this too shall pass.’


  • People who make universal explanations for their failures give up on everything when a failure strikes in one area. People who make specific explanations may become helpless in that one area, but not in any others.
  • Optimists believe that bad events have specific causes and are compartmentalized, and that good events enhance everything they do. Pessimists believe that bad events have universal causes, and good events have specific factors.


  • People who blame themselves or who are always finding something wrong with themselves inevitably will create low self-esteem and / or unhappiness. People who blame external events preserve their self-esteem and like themselves better. 
  • Optimists internalize good events and externalize bad events. Pessimists do the opposite.

In my coaching work, I find a lot of people who have turned self-responsibility into self-blame. There is a big difference between the two. I absolutely encourage taking ownership and responsibility for our actions and for any corresponding consequences – it’s very empowering to do so. But self-blame damages your well-being and creates disempowerment and even hopelessness and depression. Where self-responsibility is empowering and focuses on a better future.

In an effort to “improve”, many people keep vigilant attention on what’s wrong with themselves – constantly identifying their own issues, what they need to change, etc. Always remember “the magic ratio,” the 5:1 of positive to negative. Be vigilant in catching yourself doing the things you like or want. When something doesn’t go the way you prefer, look at the external circumstances FIRST, then take positive ownership of your part and get on to what specific action you’ll take to correct it or if that’s not possible, what you’ll do differently in the future.

Then Pat Yourself on the Back for figuring that out 😉

Spread the word!


  1. Please add a twitter and Facebook share button. Want to share.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *