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Why Pessimism is the Key to Success

2 min readJanuary 14, 2021

Did you know that pessimism may be the key to your success?

Don’t get me wrong. Self-confidence is good. Optimism is essential. If you aren’t confident enough that’s a different issue. However, if your self-confidence isn’t tempered with a bit of negativity it will hold you back.

I consider myself to be an optimist. People would say I’m not lacking for self-confidence. However, I’m also a bit of a pessimist. When I screw up, which happens regularly, I’m my own harshest critic. I’m not afraid to expose my faults to the light and learn from my mistakes. In fact, the blind-optimism and “Yes I can” self-talk preached by so many Success-Win-Hustle Motivation Gurus act as a barrier to self-improvement.

The Dunning Kruger Effect

The Dunning Kruger Effect is a prime example. Researchers (the aforementioned Mr Dunning and Mr Kruger) first identified this cognitive bias in which people exaggerate their capabilities based on a limited set of experiences.

To compound the problem, those afflicted by this effect don’t possess the emotional intelligence to recognize their limitations. The result? A lethal cocktail of hubris and ignorance. Sellers with self-confidence who won’t learn and don’t improve.

I’ve written before about how widespread this phenomenon is in sales today. If you’re immune to self-criticism, you become immune to learning. In which case, how can you ever get better?

This is where pessimism becomes your ally. Research suggests a combination of ambition and healthy negativity is the recipe for peak performance.

The ability to cast a critical eye on your capabilities is the first step toward self-improvement. This can’t happen if your starting point is one of unquestioning self-confidence. So, like many things in life, the path to self-improvement is not an all-or-nothing proposition

For sales professionals, possessing self-confidence and optimism are essential. They fuel your resilience and propel you forward when you encounter the inevitable setbacks. They are indispensable in helping you inspire your buyers to take action. However, you also need your pessimism and negativity.

Use them to help you realistically evaluate your performance and assess your capabilities. This gives you a path to improving.

My default operating mode is that of self-confidence. It just feels better to wake up every morning and be optimistic about the day ahead.

Yet a dash of pessimism is always close at hand keeping me on the right track.

Follow Andy on LinkedIn.