Do the negative expectations of others bother you? They sure bother me. Possibly because I consider myself a card-carrying member of the Recovering Cynics Club and I don’t like being triggered! I recently saw a post on Facebook that triggered me big time. It said simply “Gotta remind myself not to get excited about things that will never happen!!!!!” (Yes, those 5 exclamation points were all included.) 

My reaction went from, “Oh gosh, is she okay?” to hopping onto Google and reading some research around the impact of negativity on our lives. I wanted to share all the reasons why the young lady in question should consider a more “glass half-full” approach and of course, I wanted the citations to back up my argument.

Turns out, I was shocked. And possibly wrong. There were several well-written, well-sourced articles about the positive impact of a negative outlook. 

According to this very well-sourced article from the January/February 2018 issue of The Atlantic, 

“Decades of research have found that positive thinking isn’t always so positive. In some cases, pessimists fare better than those with a sunnier disposition.”

What? How could this be? 

The Positive Impact of Negative Expectations

It turns out that an optimistic, positive outlook can lead us into trouble in our relationships, on the job, and leave us less safe and less healthy. It’s not that positive expectations are themselves dangerous, but the rose-colored glasses can leave us less prepared for surprises.

Imagine, for example, that you are wildly optimistic. You might be one of those people who doesn’t evacuate from the Kilauea volcano because you just don’t think anything bad could happen. Something like lava might have to be creeping up your front lawn to get your attention.

In contrast, imagine the people who see danger around every corner. Yes, I’ll grant you that’s a rough way to live. And, they are the people most likely to survive a disaster.  

All of this made me think of Drew*, a client who saw nothing but closed doors and lost opportunities when it came to his career. We’d butted heads more than a few times over my concern about his negative attitude.  How could this new knowledge about the positive impact of negative expectations help someone like him?

Three Ways to Harness Negative Expectations in Your Job Search

It turns out that by expecting a bad outcome you can help pave the way for a better one. Here are three ways to do that:

  1. Imagine everything that could go wrong in an interview. Write it down, e.g., there could be a traffic jam and you’ll be late, you’ll be wearing the wrong clothes, you’re unprepared for a question, etc. Now, next to each item, make a note of precisely what you need to do to make sure that doesn’t happen, like “allow more than enough time…” (Here’s a good interview prep list for your reference.)
  2. Imagine that you truly don’t know anyone to network with. Where would you start if you had a school assignment to meet one new professional in your field? What would you have to do? Where could you go? Make a list of everything you could possibly do to meet one person.
  3. Imagine that you don’t have the skills and traits to get the job you want. Think about it, what if that were true? What steps could you take to address that and build your skills? What job might you be qualified for instead that you could take in the meantime? Where could you learn more? Who could help you? What would it take to get there? Write down everything you can think of that could possibly be done to address the situation.


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When you’ve finished this exercise you are going to realize several things. First, it’s probably not quite as bad as you were thinking. Second, there are things, a lot of things, you can do to set yourself up for success. Finally, if you are going to choose to go down the rabbit hole of negative expectations go ahead, and keep going right through so you’ll know that you’ve done everything you can to avoid disaster. Chances are good that if you harness your negative thinking in this way, you could wind up with some very positive outcomes.