Teaser Auf Spurensuche in Gesprächen

Is the glass half full or half empty?

02. July 2019 / general

There is no objective answer to this question. Your response doesn’t actually say anything about the glass itself but it reveals a lot about your attitude. Since the Stone Age, man has essentially had a deficit-oriented perspective since this was vital in order to survive. Today, this is more harmful than beneficial – but fortunately, it is possible to change that mindset. After all, the question of whether we are optimistic or pessimistic has a major influence on our life.

If I asked you to complete the sentence “The world is full of …”, what would you say? According to the late German management trainer Vera Birkenbihl, the most common response to this question in Germany and Switzerland is ‘idiots’ or ‘problems’. In other words, we certainly don’t see the world in the same way as Henri Matisse, who said: “There are flowers everywhere for those who want to see them.“ Why is it that the majority of people see more problems and shortcomings than chances and opportunities?

When we are frightened, the brain triggers a stress reaction that causes us to not only perceive the problem but to also focus on it excessively. That might have made a lot of sense in the Stone Age when we had to either flee from or fight a saber-toothed tiger – but fortunately, we are no longer confronted with such problems in the modern world. And yet: The way we react is still the same, with a very negative impact – not least on our health.


Negative thoughts make us ill

A study by the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health revealed that optimistic women have around a 30% lower risk of suffering or dying from cancer, heart complaints, a stroke or some other serious medical condition. This is because negative thoughts activate a specific region of the brain – the amygdala. This is where feelings such as fear, unease, etc. arise. The risk of getting seriously ill is greater among people in whom the amygdala recovers only slowly because they have a large number of negative thoughts. It is no wonder that Albert Einstein once said that negative thoughts are a man’s only real enemy.

Conversely, you can say that measured optimism (the realistic form without artificial excesses) makes people more resilient. The psychiatrist Dennis Charney from the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York interviewed 750 war veterans who had not developed any depression or post-traumatic stress disorders – in other words, individuals who appeared resilient. Charney found that their most common characteristic was optimism. When faced with difficulties from time to time, optimists try to solve them and to improve the situation they find themselves in. And if the issues cannot be solved, they learn to accept the reality more quickly and to move forwards. This reveals that they have more balanced personalities and are more resistant to stress. That is not all: Optimists tend to eat healthier and engage in more sporting activities.


Happiness begins in the mind

You might want to say: Yes, that is true – but how can I change my mindset if I have that negative basic attitude? Starting with the most important point: If our brains are on ‘negative autopilot’, we can reset them. It is possible to replace bad habits with new and better patterns of behavior. We can learn from mistakes and crises and become calmer and more composed. Here are some tips on how you can ‘reprogram’ your brain:



With all these methods, the most important thing is: Practice, practice, practice. It takes a lot of discipline and tenacity for the brain to understand that it has to switch from negative to positive mode. Begin with something small and then move on to bigger topics. You will sense a real change over time as you become less stressed and see your self-confidence, calmness and energy grow!


©  Claudia Kraaz

Buch: Claudia Kraaz – Nachhaltig leistungsfähig bleiben
Nachhaltig leistungsfähig bleiben – Praxis-Tipps für den Business-Marathon

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