Judith Warner in today's NYTimes writes about politics, but in the midst includes these two paragraphs:
This aversion to joyful anticipation is a feeling I know very well, and not just in relation to politics. Anticipating the worst – from birthdays, other holidays, vacations – is kind of my modus vivendi.
It is a habit of mind so natural and ingrained – and seemingly self-protective – that I’ve never thought to change it. Until this week, when a friend pointed out that, if one were to think like a realist instead of a knee-jerk pessimist, enjoying the moments in life when good things might be about to happen makes sense.
Ms. Warner's passage reminds me of the construct developed by Julie Norem: "defensive pessimism" -- lowering expectations in risky situations and doing lots of planning to avoid the worst. It's a strategy for managing high levels of anxiety. I would echo Ms. Warner's phrase of "seemingly self-protective." The result may be more to protect one from success than from failure! My classmate Caroline Miller reports that it is regret over goals not pursued -- perhaps from anxiety -- that is the hardest hurdle for her coaching clients to clear.
Karen Reivch, Andrew Shatte, Jane Gillham and others however, have offered an alternative approach in their research based on Seligman's explanatory style. This approach involves flexible, realistic, pragmatic optimism with the capacity for putting anxieties in perspective. Their work is is popularly available in The Resilience Factor and The Optimistic Child. It's what I teach when I work with lawyers or educators. I've seen the results and the research on the resilience approach and highly recommend it if anxiety about the future is hampering your enjoyment of life or holding you back from setting and reaching personally meaningful goals.