Blog 12/20 – Ulrich Schnabel

Published on in General

About our Blog 2020

After receiving very positive feedback on our blog contributions in the last years, we would like to continue this still young tradition of the Liechtenstein Academy Blog also this year.

Also in 2020, it is important for us to consider very different perspectives in order to offer you the most stimulating possible offer. This year, we have been able to attract six well-known guest authors, who, with no editorial filters, write about their personal thoughts. Look forward to new and surprising insights from Michael Bursik, complex issues, simply explained by Ulrich Schnabel, philosophical insights from Dr. Ina Schmidt, astute thoughts by our language and legal expert Carlos A. Gebauer, exciting topics around the many topics of working in the digital era by Sibylle Mäder as well as constructive considerations of our health expert Christoph von Oldershausen.

We wish you a stimulating read.

Your Liechtenstein Academy team

Instead of cursing the darkness, light a candle - How to resist psychological gravity

We are living in a dark time right now – both in a real and figurative sense. On the one hand, the days are short, there is little sun and a lot of darkness; and on the other hand, the Corona pandemic darkens the event horizon and slows us down on many levels. How do you keep the mood up? What can be done to ensure that the outer darkness does not darken the psyche as well?

If you ask experts on mental well-being, you will get all kinds of tips: That you should enjoy every ray of sunshine because light is also good for the psyche; that social exchange and cohesion are important, especially at times like these (if necessary, via Skype or Zoom); that it helps to eat well, exercise and ­– if you are sitting in your home office – to give the day a structure that provides clear working hours as well as recovery phases (so that the brain does not get stuck in permanent tension mode).

Perhaps the most important tip, however, is the seemingly most unspectacular one: Take a first step ­– however small it may be. This is because the first step is often the hardest. In the face of adverse external circumstances, you can feel paralyzed, depressed by the feeling of futility weighing heavy. What should we do against Corona? Isn't everything just going down the drain? Doesn't the future look hopeless anyway? It is as if in such cases a psychological gravity is at work, which naturally pulls our mood down and makes us sink exhausted to the sofa in the evening, where we feel sorry for ourselves.

It is not easy to resist this. Those who see themselves as victims of external circumstances often find it difficult to come out of this passive attitude. This is why the first step is so important. The art is to take a step even when you don't know exactly where the journey is going, when there is no solution in sight. Particularly in uncertain situations there are usually no patent solutions – that is precisely the characteristic of uncertainty. So instead of (looking in vain) for a master plan, it makes more sense to first shake off the paralyzing feeling of powerlessness and to experience yourself again as independently acting and effective in small activities.

In fact, research shows that every experience of self-efficacy triggers positive feelings and thus weakens negative feelings such as fear, worry or despair. At the same time, self-efficacy strengthens the feeling of our own dignity and inner freedom: we no longer experience our self as a victim of a situation, but as a creator. And that is an enormous difference.

The actor Joachim Meyerhoff, who suffered a stroke some time ago, provides a vivid example. At first it was a shock for him. But when he was driven to the hospital, he began to fight for his dignity and self-efficacy: Already in the ambulance, he recited to himself endless passages from Goethe's Faust: «Oh, vanish ye gloomy / Arch’d ceilings on high! / And let in the roomy / Expanse of the sky! ...». That was like an invitation to his own brain not to tip over, Meyerhoff recounts, «as if one were shaking it by the collar». Later in the hospital, he even danced ballet at night in the corridor of the intensive care unit to make fun of the stroke. «I didn't want to be the beater of my symptoms,» says Meyerhoff. «It's about the sovereignty of interpretation. Is the disease telling me, or am I telling the disease?»

With this, he has formulated a central insight: Is the crisis telling me or am I telling the crisis? Who has the sovereignty of interpretation and mental control? In difficult situations this inner change of perspective is crucial. Instead of just staring at the crisis like a rabbit at a snake, it is about regaining inner freedom and shaping the situation in a constructive way.

«Positive appraisal style» is what psychologists call it: the ability to reassess a situation and gain something good from it. And the latest studies show: Those who manage to do this are psychologically less burdened even during the Corona restrictions. In other words, if you don't just complain about the limitations, but counter them with something positive – more time for cooking or baking, for sports, family or hobbies – you can literally reverse the psychological gravity. If nothing else works, you can at least put your own experiences into words and write down what you have experienced. In fact, research shows that writing helps too. Is the crisis telling me or am I telling the crisis?

In fact, the importance of self-efficacy was already recognized by the Chinese philosopher Confucius and poured into the wise expression: «Instead of cursing the darkness, it is better to light one small candle.» And often the way out of a crisis begins with the simple question: How can I create a little light?

About the author: Ulrich Schnabel