Marc Wallert – Don’t lose your head: Positive thinking can be deadly!

20. July 2020 – Mandy Weinand

Yes, positive thinking can be deadly! And I say that, Marc Wallert, as a self-confessed optimist. Why? Because I experienced it first-hand 20 years ago – and survived – after 140 days of being held hostage in the Philippine jungle.

And what was true back then in the jungle is also true of the current Corona pandemic. Today, we are all hostages: Corona restricts our freedom of movement, up to and including quarantine. We cannot escape the threat, we do not know how it will develop and when it will end – just like back then, in the jungle. In such unsafe situations, people threaten to lose their heads.

Marc Wallert: Positive thinking helps!

First comes the shock. People get into fear and panic. Optimism helps here. To make us optimistic, we thanked hostages every night for what was positive that day – no matter how hard it was – the weather, a portion of rice, our survival, etc. After this evening ritual I was noticeably more confident, the spiral of fear in my head was stopped by positive thoughts. My optimism might even have saved my life in the jungle, because it has a positive effect on my health – demonstrably!

Optimism is considered a source of strength in crises. But I have also come to know and recognize it as a source of danger: Positive thinking can be deadly!

After weeks of captivity, a Spartan rice diet, life-threatening battles and threats of decapitation, our situation improved significantly. We were allowed to move more freely than before, received food from local civilians and a guard even trimmed our beards once. International journalists were given access to us. Our hostage camp seemed to open. The kidnappers gave us hope for a quick release: “Maybe tomorrow”. We thought “It’s over!” and were optimistic, almost euphoric.

Does that sound familiar these days? Yes, we are currently in the same phase, the most critical. Since the relaxation of the Corona rules, we are allowed to meet people again, go shopping and also go to the hairdresser again. Relief and optimism are spreading. For many people the crisis is already over. I learned in the jungle: we must not become careless and let hygiene slide. Otherwise we risk more corona deaths. In addition, a second lockdown would destroy many professional lives. Such a setback is psychologically difficult to cope with. In the jungle, he was life-threatening.

Our hoped-for release was not granted.

We were shocked. Some hostages clung to rumors again. “You’ll be released next week”, they said, but even this date passed – with almost fatal consequences. Again and again disappointed hope plunged some of the hostages into depressive states and suicide attempts. Others remained optimistic even now, still believing in a quick release. This was equally dangerous as they became careless. One hostage carelessly strolled to the jungle toilet, stumbled, pulled a bloody wound on her hand. Disciplined hand washing? Too tedious, no need, we’ll be out soon anyway. Result: An inflammation and 40 degrees fever – without medical care in the jungle life-threatening.

It’s like the jungle in Corona. The crisis is not over yet.

Our captivity as hostages of the virus will not end until we have a vaccine. Until then, patience and discipline are required. So keep your distance and wash your hands rather than shake them, so that it actually ends well. We need it now more than ever: the art of not losing our heads. Let’s stay positive without becoming frivolous. That’s how we will regain our freedom.

Learn from Marc Wallert which jungle strategies you, your team and your company use to get through crises and emerge from them stronger.


Marc Wallert

Expert Resilience, Agility, VUCA world and Teamwork