Glass half empty syndrome and what to do if you have it

You may be sick of hearing people talk about the glass half full versus the glass half empty approach to life.  Unfortunately too many people underestimate the effect their thoughts can have on the way their days, weeks and even years can turn out.

Someone who arrives at work already complaining about how they have too much to do, too little time to do it in and how tired they are (glass half empty), is setting themselves up for a bad day.  Other people are encouraged to commiserate with them and they can find themselves continuing the negative talk and the negative thinking all day long.  When we have already decided that something is going to be too hard to accomplish, it usually will be.  There is very little motivation in this situation to work hard to get the job done.  This is not some magical force that makes things difficult but the way that our beliefs about the situation affect our actions towards it.


Consider the following example of two students preparing for an important exam.

Sally has the mindset that whilst there will be a lot of work involved, she is capable of passing and the effort expended will have been worthwhile when she does so.   Emma, on the other hand believes that it doesn’t matter how hard she studies, she will not pass the exam because she is not clever enough.

These beliefs affect the way these two students approach their studies.  Sally makes a plan of action, breaks up the information into manageable tasks and sets a study timeline which she sticks to.  She knows that the work needs to be done in order for her to be successful.  Emma, who on the other hand, has already decided that studying is a waste of time, half heartedly approaches a couple of hours of study but doesn’t really focus on the content and gives it up because it is too difficult and she knows what the result will be anyway.  She decides that it’s just not worth the effort to try.

Both ladies then sit the exam.  Both of them achieve the result they believed they would.  Was this because they were correct in their assumptions at the beginning?  Is Sally smarter than Emma?   Maybe Sally has more of an interest in the topic and an aptitude for it and maybe Emma does not, but if Sally approached her study the way Emma did, would she still have passed with flying colours?   I think not.  Effort was required from the students in order to pass the exam and Sally put in that effort whilst Emma didn’t.   We don’t know what Emma’s results would have been if she had exerted the same amount of effort as Sally.  Maybe she wouldn’t have passed quite as well but she would certainly have had a much better chance of doing so.

What Emma experienced is due to the effects of what is called a ‘self fulfilling prophecy’.   This is a false belief in something, resulting in a new behaviour, which in turn makes the original belief come true.  Emma believed that she would fail the exam.   This false belief affected her studying behaviour which in turn affected her ability to pass.   Her failure provided the evidence that her initial belief was correct.  She knew she was not going to pass and she was proven right.  Sadly for Emma this experience will affect the way she approaches other difficult tasks in the future.

How can we learn from Sally and Emma?

1) Beware of negative self talk
2) Understand that anything worth achieving requires effort
3) Decide whether or not you are prepared to put in the effort to achieve the outcome
4) Understand that you will not always be successful in achieving the things you desire
5) Focus on the effort you have put in rather than the outcome achieved- nothing is ever perfect
6) Learn from your mistakes and move on

Obviously it is not possible to be happy and content all of the time but the more occasions you can have a ‘glass half full’ attitude, the better the chances of achieving the success you desire.