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Yes, we can. Well, perhaps we can. But maybe not… .

August 10, 2009
Bonn, 7. August 2009
Dear Sir or Madame,
Barak Obama was certainly very successful when he decided “Yes, we can!” He became President of the United States. But what about us lesser mortals? If we tell ourselves we can really do something, does it work for us too?

I’ve always been sceptical. In fact I’ve always really hated those self-proclaimed gurus who tell us that if we want something badly enough, all we have to do is believe in ourselves and shout “chacka chacka” and we’ll achieve it. How on earth could that help you walk across hot coals, paraglide or get a pay rise?

So I was delighted to read that I have been proven right! Despite what those self-help books say, repeating positive statements will not help you feel better about yourself. On the contrary, it could make you feel a lot worse, new research reveals.

Positive thinking can have a negative effect

Apparently, if we praise ourselves, or “big ourselves up” as it’s called in modern jargon, then realise it’s not working, we start concentrating on how untrue the claim is. Then we start comparing ourselves, negatively of course, to all those people who can get what they want in meetings or stand up and talk to a full auditorium and so on.

According to Joanne Woods at Waterloo University, Ontario, Canada we’d be a lot happier if we admitted to our true feelings and if we found out what we were really good at and concentrated on that instead of trying to achieve goals we’re just not cut out for.

Part of her experiment consisted of getting people to repeat statements like, “I am a loveable person,” to themselves and then measuring their mood. There was usually an effect, but it wasn’t always positive: in some cases the test persons felt much worse about themselves because at the bottom of their hearts they didn’t really believe they were lovable.

Actions get results, not thoughts

What it boils down to is that the only way you can be sure to succeed is if you are fully prepared and more. As my singing teacher used to say, “If you want to perform to 100 percent on stage, you have to perform 120 percent in rehearsal.” I think it’s good advice. Then when you tell yourself “I can do it!” you are telling the truth. And you might even end up shouting “chacka, chacka”.

With my very best regards

Jean Lennox


lesser mortals – Normalsterbliche
self-proclaimed – selbsternannt
pay rise – Gehaltserhöhung
despite – trotz
on the contrary – im Gegenteil
research – Forschung
to reveal – enthüllen

and so on – und so weiter
claim – Behauptung
to be cut out for something – für etwas geeignet sein
to admit to something – etwas anerkennen
to boil down to something – auf etwas hinauslaufen
ruthless – rücksichtslos

mustard – Senf
versatile – vielseitig

Word of the week “cut”

“Cut” is a very versatile word. Here are five ways you can use it.

to be cut out for something – für etwas geeignet sein

My colleague goes camping every year, but I’m not cut out for that kind of life. I prefer hotels.

Concentrate on things you’re good at, not things you’re not cut out for.

cut and thrust – Widerstreit

John decided to go into teaching. He had had enough of the ruthless cut and thrust of the business world.

to cut the mustard (or “cut it”) – den Erwartungen entsprechen (“es bringen”)

I didn’t cut the mustard as a football player so I went into business.

This CD player doesn’t cut it.

cut and dried – klar und deutlich

The merger is not as cut and dried as everyone thinks.

to cut one’s teeth – erste Erfahrungen sammeln

Betty and Marge cut their teeth at a fast-food chain before opening their own restaurant.

Keep up to date with new idioms on a regular basis with Business English Today.

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