Table of contents:

"This will definitely not happen to me": why are we too optimistic and how it threatens
"This will definitely not happen to me": why are we too optimistic and how it threatens

The future may turn out to be completely different from what we imagine.

"This will definitely not happen to me": why are we too optimistic and how it threatens
"This will definitely not happen to me": why are we too optimistic and how it threatens

Most people think that they will never fall victim to a disaster. Or that they are unlikely to ever be attacked by a maniac. Smokers are sure that lung cancer certainly threatens them less than other adherents of the bad habit. And aspiring businessmen expect their startup to be successful and not fail like similar projects. Let's figure out why this is happening.

What is the essence of the problem

It is not just self-confidence that evokes such reasoning, but the impact of cognitive bias - deviations towards optimism. This error in thinking leads us to overestimate the likelihood of a positive outcome in a situation. It is because of her that students often rely on too high salaries after graduation, and workers underestimate the time it takes to complete the task.

All healthy people are prone to biased optimism. In one study, participants were asked to rate their chances of facing difficult life situations. For example, with the likelihood of getting cancer. They were then shown real statistics on how often this happens, and then asked to revise their grades.

If a person assumed that his probability of getting sick was 10%, and then saw the real statistics in 30%, he remained with the original opinion. If initially he indicated a higher risk, for example 40%, then, seeing the real figure, he changed his estimate to a lower one.

That is, in both cases, the participants tried to indicate the least possible probability.

However, the same study found that people with depression were less likely to drift toward optimism. Conversely, they tend to be negative.

What makes us too optimistic

There are several factors that cause us to overestimate the outcome of the case and our own abilities.

Low prevalence of phenomena

It seems to us that if usually an event happens rarely, then nothing like this will happen to us. An example is a hurricane, flood, or serious illness. In addition, we are confident that other people are more likely to experience this than we are.

However, we are no longer so optimistic when it comes to a common problem: seasonal viruses, refusal for an interview, or divorce.

The ability to control the situation

We usually don't worry too much about a problem if we think we can prevent it. For example, the development of alcoholism or being fired from work are those things that we can avoid on our own.

But it is precisely because of preconceived optimism that we do not always try to do this.

At the same time, we are much more concerned about something that we cannot control in any way - an attack by a criminal or a robbery.

Frivolity and low probability of a problem

The tendency towards optimism is less when the event is perceived as very undesirable. As a result, we are more afraid of a heart attack than some less significant, but more common problem like tooth decay.

However, if the likelihood of a heart attack seems to us minimal, then we think that this will not happen to us. So, having learned that cardiovascular diseases are more common in overweight people, a slender person is instantly convinced that he is not in danger.

Also, stereotypes and prejudices play an important role here - for example, that only drug addicts are sick with AIDS.

Self-esteem and the need for recognition

People with high self-esteem tend to overestimate their abilities. Because of this, they may have unreasonable self-confidence.

The bias towards optimism is even more pronounced if a person feels that he has control over the situation.

If a person, on the other hand, lacks self-confidence, biased optimism may arise from the desire to create and maintain the desired image. He convinces himself of his future success and tries to prove it to others.

What can be the consequences


An optimistic bias is often associated with risky behavior: neglect of safety rules, unprotected sex, delaying a visit to the doctor, careless handling of finances and bad habits.

Scientists confirm that people most prone to this distortion are more likely to smoke and save less than those who manage to contain it.

Biased optimism is also a frequent source of frustration.

As an example, we can take a student who realizes that he prepared poorly for the exam, but expects a good result. If he doesn’t get it, he’ll be even more upset than if he hadn’t been so positive in the first place. Such situations can lead to a loss of motivation, the appearance of self-doubt and even depression.


Despite the dangers posed by this cognitive bias, it also has positive aspects. Research shows that people who are optimistic live longer and have better health. So, their risk of dying from cardiac arrest is 30% less. And even more likely to live longer than 65 years.

Usually optimists have strong immunity and are less likely to suffer from infectious diseases. This is because expectation of positive results reduces stress and anxiety, which can negatively affect health.

Biased optimism in certain situations can be salutary for the human psyche.

Scientists have also linked this cognitive bias to career success. By overestimating their abilities, people often actually achieve what they might not have gotten if they hadn't been so self-confident.

This is explained in terms of evolution. If a person thinks that a task is too difficult to undertake, he will be inactive. But sometimes it’s more rewarding to try and fail than not to try to do something at all. Especially in a competitive environment. Our brain is, as it were, specially tailored for optimism, so that we often try to use our capabilities and less often give up.

How to deal with this thinking trap

  • Learn to look at life rationally and assess your abilities objectively. Strive for healthy optimism.
  • Try to gather all the information about the problem or situation. Thinking wisely will not save you from risks, but prepare you for them. Once you start doing something, don't ignore the possibility of failure. Always prepare a plan B.
  • Don't avoid anxiety and worry. In reasonable amounts, stress is beneficial: it allows us to mobilize all our strength in an emergency. In some cases, pessimism can make us work faster and harder.
  • You pull yourself back every time it seems to you that you will “definitely do better”, this “will never happen” to you and this is “definitely not about you”. The fight against thinking errors begins with their awareness.