Instead of your glass half-full, try it completely empty

“If you view the glass as half-full, you’re an optimist,” the old saying goes. “But if you see it half-empty, you’re a flat-out pessimist.” We take this metaphor to be a truism, pushing ourselves to see our cups as full as possible.

But what if we’d be better off with a completely empty cup? It reminds me of the famous parable:

A university professor went to visit a famous Zen master. While the master quietly served tea, the professor talked about Zen. The master poured the visitor’s cup to the brim, and then kept pouring. The professor watched the overflowing cup until he could no longer restrain himself. “It’s full! No more will go in!” the professor blurted. “This is you,” the master replied, “How can I show you Zen unless you first empty your cup.”

Looking at the glass-half-full metaphor differently, perhaps we need to empty it out instead filling it up. If our cup is so full that we have no room for new ideas, we become resigned to never learning new things and ultimately run the risk of irrelevance. On the other hand, Eastern philosophy teaches the power of the beginner’s mind: with nothing already in our cups, we are free to fill up with fresh ideas, teachings, and knowledge.

Telltale signs that you should empty your cup a bit include phrases like, “We’ve always done it that way” and “That’s just the way it’s done around here.”  Keep a close eye out for, “We already tried that in the past,”  a signal that your cup runneth over with the poisons of conventional thinking.

If we want to enjoy sustainable success in these tumultuous times, we need to clear out the old approaches to make room for the new. Let’s focus on what’s possible, instead of only the world as we already know it. Open-mindedness is a key ingredient in your efforts to conquer tough challenges and seize new opportunities.

So the next time someone accuses you of being a “glass-half-full” person, offer them your full portion so you can savor your empty cup instead. Let’s pour out traditional thinking to make room for a Big Gulp of new possibility.