The example of the glass half full has long been used to distinguish optimistic people from pessimistic ones. If you see the glass half empty, it is because you tend to focus on the negative things in life, because you wear a pair of gray glasses to see the world. If you see the glass half full you prefer to focus on the positive aspects and, if you are one of the few who say the glass is half full, then you are an objective person, who can see both sides of the coin.
However, the fact is that this perception of the glass is typical of the Western mentality. We Westerners love to analyze facts, break things down to see how they are made inside and dissect reality to arrive at "scientific" conclusions. It is not our fault, we have been taught to see what is happening around us as if it were a series of photographs frozen in time.
Obviously, the reality is not like that, the reality is constantly changing. Everything around us is changing and moving. Indeed, attachment to our static view of things is a major cause of our fears, worries and emotional imbalances. Not being able to accept change and uncertainty injects us with a huge dose of insecurity and anxiety, which we cannot cope with.
The experiment that exposed our categorical thinking
A very interesting experiment conducted by psychologists from the University of Michigan and the University of Hokkaido revealed that we Westerners tend to group objects into "categories", while Easterners tend to group objects in terms of "relationships".
The study was developed with input from some Asian and American university students. All were given a series of photographs from which they had to choose which objects could correspond to each other, as in this example.
Which figure goes best with the bull? Take a minute to reply.
Most Americans chose the "hen" because they included both of them in the "animal" category, as most of us would. However, most Asians chose "grass" because they focused on the relationship between the two: "the bull eats grass".
This experiment, which is part of a series of very interesting studies, shows how culture influences our thinking, reveals that we tend to focus on objects, their properties and categories, as if they were immutable things. On the contrary, Eastern culture prioritizes relationships, context and environment.
Embracing the movement will help us make better decisions
Of course, both categorical and relational thinking are important, it cannot be said that one is better than the other. But simply stating that the glass is half full or half empty only means affirming a fact. Nothing more. It allows you to get an image of the current situation, but it does not help to project yourself into the future.
Without realizing it, we behave this way every day. We simply ascertain the facts, without perceiving the movement. Thus, we only see a part of reality and, what is worse, we neglect precisely the part that would allow us to make good decisions for the future.
When do we apply categorical thinking?
- Whenever we come to absolute conclusions about people or situations
- Whenever we limit ourselves to ascertaining a fact, without trying to look for its causes and without imagining what could happen next
- Whenever we are victims of stereotypes, we attribute labels and behave as if they were absolute truth
- Whenever we criticize and judge, without offering a solution or a way out
- Whenever we think that a problem has only one cause and one solution
To really improve our life we should take a step further. We should not just limit ourselves to seeing if the glass is half full or half empty, but we should also ask ourselves if, as things stand, it is more likely to fill or empty. Only then will we have a more complete picture.
In daily life, we tend to allow categorical thinking and the things that have happened to determine our decisions. We let a mistake from the past determine our whole life. But what we should do is focus on the future and try to imagine what will happen and what we can do to make things better. Looking back and seeing isolated episodes limits our vision, it is as if we spent our whole life looking at a photo. When we look to the future and are able to see things as a whole and in motion, the possibilities that open up before us are endless.