Published by Current on October 16, 2014
Genres: Psychology, Self-help
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“The solution isn’t to do away with dreaming and positive thinking. Rather, it’s making the most of our fantasies by brushing them up against the very thing most of us are taught to ignore or diminish: the obstacles that stand in our way.”
So often in our day-to-day lives we’re inundated with advice to “think positively.” From pop music to political speeches to commercials, the general message is the same: look on the bright side, be optimistic in the face of adversity, and focus on your dreams. And whether we’re trying to motivate ourselves to lose weight, snag a promotion at work, or run a marathon, we’re told time and time again that focusing on fulfilling our wishes will make them come true.
Gabriele Oettingen draws on more than twenty years of research in the science of human motivation to reveal why the conventional wisdom falls short. The obstacles that we think prevent us from realizing our deepest wishes can actually lead to their fulfillment. Starry-eyed dreaming isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, and as it turns out, dreamers are not often doers.
While optimism can help us alleviate immediate suffering and persevere in challenging times, merely dreaming about the future actually makes people more frustrated and unhappy over the long term and less likely to achieve their goals. In fact, the pleasure we gain from positive fantasies allows us to fulfill our wishes virtually, sapping our energy to perform the hard work of meeting challenges and achieving goals in real life.
Based on her groundbreaking research and large-scale scientific studies, Oettingen introduces a new way to visualize the future, calledmental contrasting. It combines focusing on our dreams with visualizing the obstacles that stand in our way. By experiencing our dreams in our minds and facing reality we can address our fears, make concrete plans, and gain energy to take action.
In Rethinking Positive Thinking, Oettingen applies mental contrasting to three key areas of personal change— becoming healthier, nurturing personal and professional relationships, and performing better at work. She introduces readers to the key phases of mental contrasting using a proven four-step process called WOOP—Wish, Outcome, Obstacle, Plan—and offers advice and exercises on how to best apply this method to daily life. Through mental contrasting, people in Oettingen’s studies have become significantly more motivated to quit smoking, lose weight, get better grades, sustain fulfilling relationships, and negotiate more effectively in business situations.
Whether you are unhappy and struggling with serious problems or you just want to improve, discover, and explore new opportunities, this book will deepen your ideas about human motivation and help you boldly chart a new path ahead.
I mentioned before that I’ve been doing The Science of Well-Being class on Coursera. Another book the professor, Laurie Santos, mentioned was Rethinking Positive Thinking by Gabriele Oettingen, and she interviewed the author for one of the segments, so I picked it up. If I spend 80% of my reading this year on mysteries and being happy, I think that’ll be a good year.
The blurb above gives a good summation of the book. Oettingen and others have done a lot of research on wishes, how they affect our actions, and what helps us achieve or not achieve them. She shares the results of a lot of studies, mostly college kids – who are probably the easiest to recruit – but other groups too. She also shares individuals’ experiences, people she’s worked with through training sessions or friends.
Interestingly enough, the science demonstrates that it is not necessarily helpful to fantasize about achieving some wish because it makes us feel relaxed, and thus demotivates us. We feel good from indulging in dreaming about success, which can diminish the actual actions we need to take to achieve our goals. Oettingen gives us a new technique for reaching our dreams/goals. Instead, the author argues that mental contrasting is far more effective as a tool to help us achieve what we want in life. Dream about success first, but then contrast it with the challenges that will be necessary to overcome to achieve the goal. Then make a plan to overcome those challenges.
Oettingen calls the technique WOOP (Wish, Outcome, Obstacle, Plan). By examining what you desire, what stands in your way, and how you can effectively overcome the obstacle, you can power up your motivation and ability to accomplish almost any desire, be it weight loss, money issues, or a work problem; or it can help you realize that your wish is just not feasible, or you’re not willing to put in the effort needed. The suggestion is to WOOP some wish every day so it becomes a habit. In theory, as you work on these wishes, you will become more fulfilled and happier.
You can find a lot of information at woopmylife.org, including a kit you can download.