“Think positive!” quotes are nowadays found everywhere, but contrary to popular believe, positive thinking about the future leads to poor performance and success. Research over the past 15 years finds that dreaming about a desired future leads to low investment and little success, regardless of life domains, such as health, work and interpersonal relationships. In order to benefit from positive thinking about the future people need to incorporate in that positive thinking a clear sense of reality.
Mental Contrasting (the Wish, Outcome, and Obstacle part of WOOP) is a visualization technique that incorporates this sense of reality: It helps people to gain insight into their wishes and to clearly identify the obstacles that stand in the way of realizing these wishes. WOOP is an evidence-based self-regulatory strategy, that people can use effectively on their own to change their behavior across everyday life (e.g., health, school, work, play, relationships) and across the life cycle (e.g., from childhood to old age).
WOOP, which stands for Wish Outcome Obstacle Plan, is a conscious exercise leading to strategic automaticity: The Wish, Outcome, and Obstacle part of WOOP build nonconscious associations between future and reality and between the obstacles and the actions to overcome the obstacles. These associations provide energy and foster the mastery of set-backs. The Plan-part of WOOP further helps to overcome difficult obstacles by strengthening the association between obstacles and actions even more.
“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 called “mental 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.
We created the WOOP to and through college app to support students on their way to and through college. See http://www.wooptoandthroughcollege.com/
We also created the WOOP business app. Download the app to your Phone.
Gabriele Oettingen is a Professor of Psychology at New York University and the University of Hamburg. She is the author of more than a 100 articles and book chapters on thinking about the future and the control of cognition, emotion, and behavior. She received her Ph.D. from the Ludwig Maximilian University in Munich and the Max Planck Institute for Behavioral Physiology in Seewiesen, Germany.
Her major contribution to the field is research on the perils of positive thinking and on Mental Contrasting, a self-regulation technique that is effective for mastering one’s everyday life and long-term development. Gabriele Oettingen’s work is published in social and personality psychology, developmental and educational psychology, in health and clinical psychology, in organizational and consumer psychology, as well as in neuropsychological and medical journals. Her findings contribute to the burgeoning literature on life style change and businesses and institutions have increasingly become interested in the application of her research.
Her first trade book, RETHINKING POSITIVE THINKING: Inside the New Science of Motivation will be
published by Current, an imprint of Penguin Random House, in October 2014.
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