How to inspire even the most persistent pessimist…

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Literally libraries of psychological or systems-based work have been published on the topic of how to inspire people, and one might argue that there might not be much new to say.  Indeed, this is the purview of many a retired CEO of a large and usually successful corporation, and the resultant gems of knowledge become branded and disseminated as a new pulp fiction. It is, therefore, with trepidation that I undertake to offer a few observations on a matter where many might feel there is really not much to say…simply pick your philosophy and stick to it.  Yet, the duty of inspiring others falls on all us willing to take the challenge, in any situation that might present, as a worthy mission to support the healthy brain or should I say mind?

Inspiring a persistent pessimist is not for the faint-hearted. At its core, he or she espouses the most eloquent parts of chaos theory, whereby all endeavors trend towards an almost inevitable calamitous outcome.  And more, precedents are all to support the pessimist’s view are all too handy, and can be portrayed almost as universal truths. As a challenge, think of how long it would take to come up with five examples of perfection as opposed to 5 examples of disasters. Still working on it? Therefore, to inspire in a sea of expected pessimism requires serious preparation.

Fortunately, I do not encounter many pessimists, and so preparation for such encounters are all the more difficult.  Since simply ignoring the pessimist would not be an effective way to “inspire” and nor would contravening argument, those strategies should be abandoned quickly.  Avoiding paradoxical intent – agreeing with pessimistic ideas just to get the other person to flip into inspiration does not usually work well, and may simply foster anger and resentment as he or she might, simply, feel patronized or ridiculed. Muttering to oneself or to others why the pessimist does not see reason is equally unhelpful.  So, what are few useful tools to counter the pessimist and create inspiration? The pneumonic for mine is PICNICS for Perspective.

Positive Inquiry: An important key to inspiring is listening creatively.  This does not mean trying to find a clever way to outwit the person with pessimistic ideas. But to listen carefully to understand the underlying reasons for the train of thought. A useful tool would be to elicit positive inquiries, make clarifications and appropriate reflections, and program-in later scheduled discussions.  It is often best to keep the discussion at a minimum on each occasion and to prepare for the next encounter remembering where you left off. Obviously, this is a painstaking approach but typically it allows for time for reflection and alternative views to develop.

Creating Nuance: In Greek mythology, the goddesses of inspiration were the nine muses who infused life into literature, the sciences, and the arts. The muses were the daughters of Zeus and Mnemosyne, the very personification of memory. Put another way, the mother of inspiration is “memory”.  The muses were thought to be water nymphs with a seductive quality. In much the same way, inspiration involves ensuring that a creative nuance is instilled – “it might not be just quite so”. Often drawing on important parallels from literature, science, or the arts, this allows a different perspective to develop organically. Providing musical perspectives is, often, also helpful, and inviting compositions that provide uplift of the soul.

Intense Commission: This approach requires developing common goals or an over-riding passion. This can take many forms, whether it be of a need to be involved in joint sport or challenge, or even undertaking a common mission.  Short goals that provide uplift of mood in others that can be witnessed can “lighten” even the hardest to change optimist.  Intense commission works on the “glass half-full” rather than the glass “half-empty”; indeed, it seeks to fill the glass.

Sewing Perspective: Perhaps most difficult to pull-off is the appropriate sewing of perspective.  Using examples that encourage or orthogonal perspectives to pessimistic ideas can help to change outlook. This is the process of encouraging the pessimist to “let go” and try to trust in the outcome.

In my view, combatting pessimism is important. To support the healthy brain, being of positive mind-frame helps to embrace challenge with a higher likelihood of success, and reduces the opportunity for accidents. Even though affairs can “always get worse”, in truth, the reality is, typically, less harsh than the imagination of what might happen. With mindful exercises to remember the rule of 8 (always think of 8 positive things to counter 1 negative that might come to mind) provides balance.  This exercise also can work as part of self-discipline in the 2-minute recess per hour that I have detailed before as a way to provide the “right” mental training attitude. Following your own PICNICS for Perspectives should keep you prepared for even the most ardent proponents of Murphy’s pessimistic law.



Disclaimer: The view expressed by the author are not intended to provide advice or to help diagnose or treat a mental condition or disease.  The ideas are offered to amuse and provide an alternative view to way we all live.