Anyone who has a tendency to imagine the worst-case scenario — What if he dumps me? What if I get fired? What if I fail the GRE? — has had an annoyingly unruffled friend or acquaintance say, "Calm down. Worrying about it won't help anything." Well, my pessimism-plagued pals, science has finally provided us with the empirical ammo we need to combat that tired platitude.
A new study in the journal Emotion looked at the outcomes of people waiting for test results. Those who tried to suppress their fears actually ended up becoming more aware of them. On the other hand, waiters who opted for defensive pessimism (hoping for the best and preparing for the worst) shifted their anxiety away from an outcome they had no control over through proactive coping — using the possibility of failure as motivation to come up with contingency plans.
And, guess what: When the moment of truth came, worriers who failed their tests were much better prepared to deal with the disappointment, and already equipped with a plan for what to do next. Defensive pessimists with positive results also got more joy and satisfaction from their victory than their worry-free counterparts.
Conversely, those who anticipated a positive outcome or just weren't concerned during the waiting period were paralyzed by unanticipated negative results, and underwhelmed if they got good news.
So, don't fight the urge to come up with contingencies while you're waiting for a proverbial ax to drop. It's the passive procrastinators that'll feel the weight of disappointment if it doesn't work out. And if it does, you'll savor your triumph that much more.