How to Challenge Your Inner Pessimist So It’s as Easy as ABC to Solve Your Career Problem

balloons with smiley faces

Even when it feels necessary to look for a new career, actually, the best thing you can do is to stay away from setting career goals and point your resolve at broader principles instead.


Because ‘things’ are still pretty unpredictable. It’s be silly to box ourselves into a rigid way forward that ‘ought’ to work and persevere because we said we would.

It’d be even more damaging to unleash our harsh inner critic because things we never could control are still somewhat unstable.

The magic sauce for career elevation or redesign is keeping alert to fresh possibilities. 

By looking for ways you can flex and grow your accrued career experience, you are positioned to be uniquely opportunistic as the world opens back up.

Now, this agile approach will work to tackle a career problem you’ve been trying to solve on your own, time and time again.

It works because it addresses the source of the problem directly. In other words, imagine you accurately identify where you have control and focus energy on what you can actually change.

A pattern in action

I’d like to introduce Angela, a one-on-one coaching client of mine, who was in this exact situation.

Just before someone gets to the good stuff – making change happen in their real world – a ferocious blast of self-sabotage shows up. It matters because it’s powerful enough to stop us in our tracks and make us doubt everything we’ve worked hard to understand about what we need to thrive in our career.

It’s frustrating and demoralising for any of us to go around in circles and heart-breaking to watch clients revisit their meanest, oldest stories and get stuck all over again.

It’s how I realised in a session with Angela recently, that it was time to challenge her pessimistic thinking.

While I don’t have a quick fix for you, what we did next is a positive psychology tool designed to foster optimism. I hope you will keep it handy forevermore.

ABCDE of learning optimism 

A: Adversity

Revisit the facts and only the facts. What happened? What triggered your negative feelings? Nothing else.

Angela saw a role advertised that appealed. She read an article about CVs that sent her straight to overwhelm. So, she stopped.

B: Belief

What was your ‘in the moment’ thought? The hard stuff that went through your head? What did A mean to you? 

Angela got trapped by a dark triad of pessimism. She felt she’d done all the wrong things on her career pathway (1: It was personal). She felt she’d never get that dream job (2: It was permanent), and her whole career-life felt like a trap that would last until she retired (3: It was pervasive).

C: Consequences

Describe the consequences – both emotional (how that belief made you feel) and behavioural (how you acted / what you did next).

The cost of her inaction was time spent reading articles and looking at profiles of professionals already in that dream role. Then she got trapped in creative avoidance with her resume (as many of us do). The consequence of all that self-comparison and trying to measure up was toxic enough to cause a complete stop – and that eroded all hope.

D: Dispute

Take each belief and challenge it by looking at the evidence, alternatives and the most likely (impersonal) scenario.  Use these sentence starters to help… 

  • This (belief) isn’t true because… 
    • Angela recognised that her information-gathering had triggered insecurities and doubts linked to her ability in her current role. Her evidence, that she is in fact outstanding at her job, is the positive feedback from her direct leadership that she is valued and does difficult work, well. Oh, and a particularly high bonus too.
  • Another way of looking at this is…. 
    • Those impressive profiles she’d felt so intimidated by didn’t share their niche experience, perhaps those operators would be equally naive in her professional space.
  • The most likely scenario was …. And I can…
    • …That an interviewer wouldn’t expect her to have collected multiple trajectories-worth of career experience but would be curious about her specific pathway and how that skill set could positively impact their business.
    • She can put support in place for the practical CV piece.

E: Energise

Write an alternative, more positive, wholly compassionate belief. And identify an action plan to move forwards.

What single small step can you take towards your goal now? And how do you feel as you complete your ABCDE? 

  • For Angela, this ABCDE of optimism was enough to shift her perspective. She got help to refresh her CV so she couldn’t fall down a creative avoidance trap and had confidence in her paper profile
  • Then applied for the role – knowing that if she got invited to interview (she did) it could become everything she wanted for herself, and if not, she would gain valuable insight to tweak her self-presentation or way forward

Leadership coaching in a pandemic for me was about problem-focused coping. Some things haven’t changed. It’s still important to help people switch off their stress response or dial down emotional reactions to the career-life events they bring to our coaching conversations of course.

After that, it’s about adopting an agile mindset and building forwards rather than linear planning.

Implementing this ABCDE approach will help you think like a realistic optimist whenever something goes wrong, which is just an inevitable and useful part of the progress you want for yourself.

How will you challenge your pessimistic thinking and apply the ABCDE of learning optimism to your career context now you know how?    

First published on Positively 


P.S. if you think your friends would like this too, I’d love you to share it. Thanks.

Warmly, Helen



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