I blog because I’m a defensive pessimist


Last month, this blog turned ten years old.

Why did I start blogging and keep blogging for that long?

Frankly, I have lots of theories on that, but this morning’s theory — literally, the theory of the moment as I read it just a moment ago — is from an article on NYTimes.com called, “Just Me and My Pessimism in the ‘Race of Truth.'”

The article is by Gina Kolata (who, no doubt, has the greatest name ever that rhymes with an umbrella drink) and explores the psychological strategy that keeps some competitors in the game, even if they’re not that great at the beginning.

It’s called “defensive pessimism,” which, I might say, is an incredibly lousy label, from a marketing perspective — marketers would boil it down to something like, hmm, let me think, “Just do it.”

In short, it refers to the way in which some athletes who participate in competitive sports “downplay their ability and expectations” so they aren’t “crushed” if they do poorly. And, if they do better than expected, they get a big payoff.

Read this following quote. It could change your life:

Dr. John S. Raglin, a sports psychologist at Indiana University…has done studies of track-and-field college athletes who employ the defensive pessimism strategy, comparing them with optimists who think they’ll do well. The pessimists performed just as well as the optimists. On the other hand, the type of anxiety (felt by those who are focused on performing well, compared to the best participants) is a reason many people steer clear of competitive sports altogether — even a reason many avoid walking into gyms, said Ralph A. Vernacchia, director of the Center for Performance Excellence at Western Washington University. “What you are looking at is a social comparison,” he said. “In sports, it is very visible. There are times, they are posted on Web sites, everybody sees them.” And many people “never get started because they are so fearful of what can go wrong,” Dr. Vernacchia said. The trick is to take the first step, he added. If you are the slowest in the race, you can train and do better next time…”

As I’ve said on many occasions, I was lucky to start blogging before there were people who declared themselves experts on what blogs should be, and set rules and guidelines how one should write on a blog — or on the web, for that matter.

I was lucky also to start blogging before people thought of it as a competitive sport.

While I didn’t know I was practicing “defensive pessimism” (I thought I was “just doing it”), I know now (thanks Dr. John S. Raglin) that my decision to never compare the size of my readership to that of, say, Robert Scoble . is what has likely kept me blogging all these years. Like my approach to exercise (I’m the slowest jogger you’ve ever seen), I’ve never cared about how many people read a post on this personal blog. I’m just jogging. This is not a race. There’s only 12 people who read this crap, anyway. See, defensive pessimism in practice.

Over time, I’ve been amazed by what this blog has led to: It has no business plan, but it has led to some very significant business opportunities. Unlike blogs my firm helps manage for clients, this blog doesn’t follow rigid search engine optimization practices, but Google seems to like it. And while I’ve never once considered it a “technology” blog, links to this blog regularly turn up on tech-oriented aggregation services and, more important, I’ve been able to meet and become friends with some very savvy tech innovators and thinkers.

Unlike other aspects of my life and work where I go into a competitive situation pumping myself and others up with an optimistic expectation and belief in our potential to do well, I’ve never seen my blogging as a competitive sport.

Or, perhaps I actually have, but strictly in a defensively pessimistic way.

Oh well, who cares? I doubt anyone has read this far down anyway.

[Photo: turlemom4bacon (Flickr, cc)]