The Power of Negative Thinking: Using Defensive Pessimism to Harness Anxiety and Perform at your Peak by Julie Norem.

Compare The Power of Negative Thinking: Using Defensive Pessimism to Harness Anxiety and Perform at your Peak (2001) by Julie Norem with Martin Seligman's Learned Optimism.


Buy 'Power of Negative Thinking'


The approach is best expressed by quotes from Dr. Norem's book. See her book for details.
  1. "Preamble to a Contrarian View."

    [p.13] "We need to work to reframe the oversimplified picture that equates optimism with all that is good and pessimism with all that is evil. Addressing the positive power of negative thinking will expose, and encourage us to explore, some of the assumptions we make about positive thinking - and even some of the costs of optimism."

    "Arguing for the benefits of negative thinking ... is not contrary to the aims of positive psychology, which include understanding how people can realize their full potential. Indeed, negative thinking is positive psychology when it helps, as defensive pessimism does, people achieve their goals."

  2. "Accentuating the Negative."

    [p.22] "[When] the psychological task is to manage anxiety so that it not only won't interfere with performance but can actually be harnessed to enhance it, then [one's] defensive pessimism starts to look like a pretty positive form of negative thinking."

  3. "What's it all about: The Problem of Anxiety."

    Anxiety makes us feel uncomfortable, distracts us from thinking clearly and performing the tasks at hand.

    [p.39] "Anxiety ... can lead to a kind of tunnel vision psychologists call 'premature cognitive narrowing,' which happens when we zoom in on a problem so narrowly that we constrain our repertoire of alternative solutions."

    [p.45] "Defensive pessimists are able to use their pessimistic expectations and mental rehearsal to get to the stage where they can do effective planning - and ... they can go from plans to action."

  4. "Why Can't A Pessimist be More Like an Optimist?"

    [p.59] "Our research showed that for defensive pessimists, being happy also interferes with performance."

  5. "Taking Cover: the Avoider and the Self-Handicapper."

    An avoider does not figure out how to plan for and control something that makes him feel anxious. As a result, he does not learn how to reduce his anxieties except by avoiding people and situations that make him anxious.

    A self-handicapper procrastinates and is disorganized. Usually, they are the least likely to be working on whatever is the most important.

  6. "Negative Thinking versus Positive Illusions."

    [p.95] "Defensive pessimists do not tend to think that their top priority should be getting rid of their negative feelings - and they've convinced me they're right. Defensive pessimism involves learning to tolerate negative emotions in order to get things done."

  7. "No Size Fits All: Different Folks, Different Strategies."

    More on the need for recognizing that different people work best with different strategies.

  8. "When Strategies Clash: Same Boat, Different Strokes."

    How people with different strategies can work together both personally and professionally.

  9. "Dark Side, Bright Side, My Side: Prospects for Change."

    [p.215] "Arguing for negative thinking under certain circumstances is very different from arguing against positive thinking. Defensive pessimists do things differently ... even if things that are sometimes harder for them than for strategic optimists, they're fully able to do what they set out to do. They do not need to be cured of their defensive pessimism; indeed defensive pessimism is already the treatment for the anxiety that ails them."


defensive pessimism.
A strategy of imagining the worst-case senarios for each situation.

dispositional optimism. [p.23]
A person's stable tendency toward positive expectations. Contrast with dispositional pessimism.

dispositional pessimism. [p.23]
A person's stable tendency toward negative expectations. Contrast with dispositional optimism.

strategic optimism.
A strategy for dealing with impending events and their associated anxiety by not thinking about them.


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