Anticipation and Dread

In surveys, people say that Friday is their favorite day of the week. It ranks above Sunday, even though Friday is a work day and Sunday isn’t. Why is that? Anticipation. Friday brings the promise of the weekend, while Sunday represents the end of the fun filled weekend and the start of the work week. In fact, there’s a term for it: the Sunday Evening Blues.

Anticipation is one of life’s pleasures; we humans love having something to look forward to so much that we actually put off pleasure on purpose so we can enjoy the fact that something pleasant is coming. Comedian Jerry Seinfeld did an entire bit about being next in line at the bank. (He enjoyed it so much that he let several people in line behind him go first; being next was better than being actually served.)

The opposite of anticipation is dread. We dread events in the future that we think will cause pain or distress. The more vivid your ability to imagine the pain or distress, the more dread you’ll experience. Some people (you know who you are) have perfected the ability to envision a bleak future.

Optimists tend to believe that bad things are less likely to happen (to them, anyway.) When they are likely to happen, optimists believe that events will be less bad than anticipated. It comes as no surprise to learn that optimists and pessimists prepare for the future in very different ways.

Take the fear of a layoff, for example. Optimists will often underestimate their likelihood of being laid off. They may see the warning signs and read the same industry news as everyone else, but they interpret the data in a more positive way. While this will keep their stress level manageable, they may also not be prepared if they do lose their jobs. They may not have updated resumes or applied for positions in other divisions. On the other hand, they tend to be upbeat about their prospects for new employment.

Pessimists will prepare for a layoff, even when there’s no evidence that their job is in danger. Pessimists prepare for the worst, but they also dread events longer and more intensely. The low level stress over long periods can take a toll on their health and even make them less productive at work. If their performance or attitude declines, their fear about being laid off may become a self-fulfilling prophesy.

Every day, we must decide how to manage risk without becoming debilitated by worry and dread. Here are some thoughts on preparing for the worst while hoping for the best.

First, try to look for good news when you can. A recent study suggests that media viewers worldwide turn to particular broadcasters to affirm — rather than inform — their opinions. The study mostly applied to political opinions, but I believe in viewer bias. If you expect bad news, it’s easy to find. If you expect good news, you can find it too – these days, you just have to work a little harder. Maybe, just maybe, the reverse is also true: that if you watch enough good news, you’ll start to feel better and expect even more good news.

The same goes for office gossips. Avoid them and stick to your own work. Their opinions may or may not be informed, so don’t let them bring you down.

Step up your networking. Connect to people in other departments if you’re working; use your free time to reconnect with people you haven’t seen in a while. Your network will be your most important resource for finding your next job if you need one; don’t wait until you’re laid off to reach out.

Lastly, go on a spending diet. You can do any harm by bringing your expenses down and saving more. Financial experts recommend that you have about six months’ worth of savings in the bank in case you lose your job, and you can start on that today.

Remember that there’s room for both optimists and pessimists in the world. Both optimists and pessimists contribute to our society. The optimist invents the airplane and the pessimist the parachute. (courtesy: Gil Stern)

2 thoughts on “Anticipation and Dread

  1. Like a true Optimistic-Pessimist I wish to share “It’s Good News Week” with you. Just follow the link:

    All you need is the same sense of humor that gave me a laugh when I read this from you: “You can do any harm by bringing your expenses down sand saving more.” (Say what?)

    You seem rushed today. You need a weekend to relax. 🙂


    1. Thanks for catching what I hope is a rare typo. I’ve fixed it, and plan to relax all weekend. 🙂


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