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If you’re a defensive pessimist, one of the best things you can do for yourself is to learn how to prepare for rejection…
I tend to see myself as confident rather than anxious. I know what I’m good at. I work hard. I have faith in my abilities.
That said, I’m also a defensive pessimist — by which I mean I spend a lot of time planning how to deal with things if they go wrong. This characteristic makes my husband crazy because he’s a strategic optimist. He expects the best of every situation and actively avoids thinking about what might go awry.
But here’s the deal: neither of us is wrong. Researcher Julie Norem, a psychology professor at Wellesely College, helped develop the theory of defensive pessimism in the 1980s and is author of the book The Positive Power of Negative Thinking.
Here’s what she says about the two very different personality types:
My experimental research shows that if defensive pessimists try to raise their expectations, or avoid playing through a worst-case analysis, their anxiety increases and their performance suffers. If strategic optimists set lower expectations or play through possible outcomes, their anxiety increases and their performance decreases.
So, as with many aspects of life, the most important skill is to know yourself. To achieve that, I suggest you take Norem’s fast and easy-to-do quiz. (I scored 53, leading Norem’s software to conclude that I qualified as a defensive pessimist. But I could have told her that already…)
Note that defensive pessimism is quite different from dispositional pessimism, which is the tendency to believe the worst all the time. Defensive pessimism, on the other hand, is more like being a girl or boy scout: you’re simply prepared for anything.
Optimism has health benefits, for optimistic people, of course, but trying to force positivity if you’re not wired that way is a bad strategy because it causes anxiety to increase.
If you’re a writer who’s a defensive pessimist, let me make a suggestion. You might want to steel yourself against the kind of rejection you’re likely to encounter when you submit your work to bosses, colleagues or publications. Do this by using the Rejection Generator.
A no-cost tool aimed at reducing fear of rejection, the software generates rejection letters for you so you can “practice” the feeling of rejection. It helps that the letters are funny.
Here are three I received:
Here’s a hint: If you’re trying to make a character seem relatable and sympathetic, maybe don’t have them use the term “manservant” to describe their household employee. And while this story was not for us, we do believe you have an excellent career in Republican politics ahead of you.
I hope that you are not offended by our offering of Hall & Oates’ “Out of Touch” as your rejection song.
You’re not going to believe this, but we accepted a story with this exact same premises yesterday. Crazy, isn’t it?
Maybe a listen to Green Day’s “Redundant” will make this rejection easier.
I’m completely in awe of this story. So many nights I tossed and turned, unable to sleep, until your submission crossed my desk. I fell sound asleep on top of the stack of papers, until my co-editor woke me up, a solid eight hours later. I felt refreshed for the first time in years; then I picked up your story again and was instantly drowsy. In the interest of public health, we must reject your submission. We are unable to return it, however, because I drooled on it. My apologies.
Please listen to “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)” by The Eurythmics as your rejection song.
To receive letters like these, all you have to do is go to the website and choose a rejection option (there were seven choices the week I tried it), then enter your email address. (Warning: if you start scrolling around the site you’ll face a rather aggressive pitch to become a paying reader. You do NOT have to pay to use the generator. Also, check your spam or junk email box for your reply because that’s where mine ended up.)
Note that the rejections stay the same for a week at a time and different “guest rejectors” (published authors) prepare them.
The creators of the Rejection Generator recommend using their service regularly to maintain a high RI, or rejection immunity. So, go inoculate yourself!
Are you a strategic optimist or a defensive pessimist? How does it affect your writing? We can all learn from each other so, please, share your thoughts with my readers and me in the “comments” section below. Anyone who comments on today’s post (or any others) by July 31/16 will be put in a draw for a copy of Far From the Madding Gerund, by Mark Liberman and Geoffrey Pullum. Please, scroll down to the comments, directly underneath the “related posts” links, below. Note that you don’t have to join the commenting software to post. See here to learn how to post as a guest.