Being Pessimistic Is Good For You, According To Science — As Long As You Don't Go All Debbie Downer About Things

I've gotten the whole "visualize your own success" and "just think positive" advice so many times over the years. And you know what? Barf. I know you all got that from watching too much Oprah and reading The Secret; but just because something works for Oprah doesn't mean it will for us mere mortals! My skepticism on the matter — not to mention my sometimes grumpy nature — meant I was thrilled to see that the New York Magazine series "The Science of Us" recently tackled the issue head-on. And guess what? Turns out pessimistic thinking is actually good for you and your goals — as long as it's in reasonable amounts.

In Episode 6 of "The Science of Us," the age-old notion that optimism begets success is challenged when taking look at research from German psychologist Gabriele Oettingen, who has studied the psychology of negative thinking since the 1980s. During her 1991 study, Oettingen asked a weight loss group to predict how well they thought they'd do during the program. In the end, she found that the people who were initially pessimistic about how they'd do lost a whopping 24 more pounds than those who predicted easy success. Her results seemed to be clear: Optimism can sometimes actually hold people back.


Oettingen soon found this wasn't just true for matters of weight loss — for all different types of goals, people who were down on their ability to do well did better than those who imagined themselves being successes. (And that's as far away from The Secret as you can get, I think.) As for why, Oettingen has a theory: Apparently, imagining all the good things you want is so fun that it makes the actual work of getting there seem all the more arduous. Oettingen also offers some warnings about being too pessimistic (because yes, it's possible), and explains a process she calls W.O.O.P. that can help you conquer your dreams and live your best life. See here:

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I don't know about you, but from now on, I'm definitely planning to use W.O.O.P. to try and set goals for myself. Sure, it's not as fun as just imagining yourself rich, famous, successful, intelligent, and beautiful, but it actually might be more likely to get you there in the end. Science: even more powerful than Oprah. (Somehow!)

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