January 23


5 thinking models by Vera F. Birkenbihl

By Laura Bacher

January 23, 2021

The psychologist and motivational trainer Vera F. Birkenbihl has developed numerous techniques to activate neuronal connections in our brain and to create new conjunctions. She named multiple thought models: These are explanatory models that help us understand how certain things happen in our brains, which gives us more insight and makes thinking and learning more accessible. We will briefly introduce the most well-known thought models here.

1. The Ball-in-the-Goal Effect

  • Purpose: Management, Education
  • Interesting for: teachers, trainers, managers, educators

Vera F. Birkenbihl assumed that the direct recognition of whether you are right or wrong is enormously essential for the learning effect. At school, test results are only available days after the exam. The problem is that the learning effect is missing. Psychologists also talk about the “critical half-second” in which the learning effect occurs.

Vera F. Birkenbihl liked to mention this example: When a soccer player takes a penalty kick, he immediately knows about his success. Either he scored a goal, or he didn’t. Because of the immediately visible result, he learns quickly.

“Every mistake has a built-in lesson.” Vera F. Birkenbihl

2. The Island Model

  • Purpose: Management, Communication
  • Interesting for: executives, teachers, trainers, everyday life

“If you want to communicate better, you can’t stay sitting on your island. You must try to find overlaps with the islands of the others. We have not learned to respect that other people have other islands and love them as much as we love ours.” Vera F. Birkenbihl

Each person lives on his or her island. This island stands for your past, present, and future, which determines the communication of the “island inhabitant.” If you want to communicate well, you have to build a bridge to each other’s islands. However, most people find this problematic because they assume that their world is the only one or the right one. This thought is how most communication problems arise. The bigger your thinking island is, the more (partial) overlaps with your interlocutors occur. According to Vera F. Birkenbihl, if the conversation partners come from two different islands, so to speak, and there are hardly any similar opinions, experiences, or world views on the topic of conversation, you can often observe that both communication partners try to force common ground. Usually, the conversation ends in an unpleasant discussion.

“You see the world not as it is, but as you are.” Mooji

The “Zweinigung,” another model by Vera F. Birkenbihl, is based on the island model. A “Zweinigung” is a kind of compromise if two parties cannot find an agreement. One is then at least agreed that there is no agreement.

“With the same environment, everyone lives in a different world.” Arthur Schopenhauer

3. The Knowledge Net

  • Purpose: Learning, teaching
  • Interesting for: teachers, trainers, students, parents/educators

The number of associations we come up with is based on our current knowledge net. Every neuron (every memory, experience, word, etc.) has connections to thousands of other neurons. Everything we have ever learned is part of our metaphorical knowledge-net.

Each unit of knowledge represents a thread that is networked with numerous others. If a piece of new information finds something similar or familiar in the knowledge net, it gets stuck. This process makes the knowledge network a little denser, and the next time a piece of information is found, the probability that it will get stuck in the web is higher. Therefore, the more we already know (about a specific topic), the more comfortable we learn. If the information finds nothing similar, it flies through the net and is lost. So new knowledge can only tie up to existing knowledge.

Important: Our brains do not create threads of knowledge from memorization (e.g., isolated vocabulary). Only those who understand and grasp the meaning will weave the cord and let it grow and become thicker. Thus, the new is not transported in one ear and out the other but moves into our gigantic “inner archive” (as Vera F. Birkenbihl liked to call the long-term memory). Once it is stored in the archive, we can always recall and reactivate it.

“The successful man is sitting on the train of life and does not spend the rest of his life standing at the station. Vera F. Birkenbihl

4. The 5-stage Energy Model

  • Purpose: Learning, teaching, profession, everyday life
  • Interesting for: parents, managers, teachers, trainers

Sometimes we feel weak and tired without really knowing why. Vera F. Birkenbihl found an explanation in her energy model. According to Birkenbihl, you can divide the energy balance into five levels:

  1. A-Energies: These are the energies the body needs to function, such as breathing, digestion, perception, etc.
  2. B-energies: You use these energies for personal issues, especially for self-esteem. Birkenbihl also uses the question: Am I ok?
  3. C-Energies: Energy that we use for thoughts about the future or the past. If, on the other hand, we live in the present, we do not need C-energies.
  4. D-energies: We need this energy for our work, household chores, personal hygiene, or sports training.
  5. E-Energies: E stands for Expand and Discover. These energies contribute significantly to development, change, and self-realization.

These five types are distributed over our total energy (100%), starting with A-energies. If one area takes up too much space, other areas above it are reduced in size. In extreme cases, only the existentially necessary minimum remains.

For example:


20% 45% 15% 15% 5%

When we are sick, we need so much A-energy that we hardly have anything left for the other areas. If our self-esteem is shaken, we need more B-energies, etc. E energies usually have the least or no power at all.

What can you derive from this for burnout prevention and stress management?

  • Provide the body with regular breaks (A-energies).
  • • If personal issues are currently arising (B-energies), you should be aware of this and be less involved in other areas.
  • Daily life activities should be fun for you; otherwise, it costs too much energy (C-energies).
  • Good time management, letting go, and accepting help to be able to take time for other things in life (D-energies).
  • Divide your energies so that there is room for new things in life (E-Energies).

“A living energy potential.” Vera F- Birchbihl

“A person who must primarily worry about satisfying the needs of status does not yet have […] enough strength […] to realize himself. He ‘realizes’ only his outer shell, so to speak, his packaging.” Vera F. Birkenbihl

5. The Learning Mountain

  • Purpose: Learning, teaching, profession, everyday life
  • Interesting for: parents, managers, teachers, trainers

Learning activities are fundamentally different from accumulating theoretical knowledge. According to Vera F. Birkenbihl, anyone who wants to learn a skill/activity must climb a (learning) mountain: At the very bottom, you are in the beginner’s area, followed by the advanced, and finally the professional and master area. Beginners have to learn incidentally, i.e., playfully and by trial and error. Ascending from bottom to top, more and more intentional learning (with explanations and improvements) is possible.

Learning skills of all kinds must always start at the lowest level. At this beginner level, the focus is on playful trying and learning without criticism and fear. In this learning phase, the children only have a loose knowledge network and can fall back on little or no previous knowledge. Therefore they cannot grasp improvements. Nevertheless, schools teach almost exclusively theoretical knowledge. Natural sciences are presented as theoretical knowledge, foreign languages via isolated vocabulary cramming, and grammar rules.

In the next phase, diligence is of great importance. The more a person is interested and develops the neuronal connections, the more distinct the conjunctions become, and the better he/she becomes in an area. In the professional area (at the top of the learning mountain), feedback is essential for progress because we understand precisely what and how to improve.

“It is not what I say that matters, but what the other person hears.” Vera F. Birkenbihl

Brain-Friendly shows how you can learn foreign languages brain-friendly and effortlessly with the exciting MOVIE language courses based on the Birkenbihl Approach: 

Laura Bacher

About the author

Laura has been a big fan of foreign languages since her childhood. She grew up bilingual - English and German - and through international vacations, she got a taste of many other languages.

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