Rethinking Positive Thinking | Gabriele Oettingen

Summary of: Rethinking Positive Thinking: Inside the New Science of Motivation
By: Gabriele Oettingen


Imagine if dreaming about your deepest desires could make them come true. In ‘Rethinking Positive Thinking: Inside the New Science of Motivation’, Gabriele Oettingen explores how positive fantasies can actually hinder progress and even produce negative outcomes. By diving into the role that fantasies play in motivation and its cognitive and emotional effects, Oettingen presents a method called ‘mental contrasting’ as an effective strategy for fulfilling wishes. In this book summary, you will learn about the limitations of positive fantasies, the potential benefits of mental contrasting, and how to adopt the WOOP (Wish, Outcome, Obstacle, Plan) process to transform your dreams into reality.

The Dark Side of Positive Thinking

Our belief in positive thinking may do more harm than good. The cult of optimism that pervades our culture promotes the idea that thinking positively about the future can help us achieve success. However, research suggests that superficially positive fantasies can actually hinder our performance. People may use positive dreams to escape their frustrations or make themselves feel better about situations they cannot change, but this approach may end up making them complacent instead of motivated. Mental contrasting, on the other hand, has been found to be a more effective strategy for fulfilling our wishes. This involves thinking positively about our future while also being realistic about the obstacles we face. By acknowledging the challenges, we are more likely to take action and work toward our goals. So, rather than indulging in positive fantasies, we should focus on mental contrasting and take active steps toward achieving our dreams.

The Power and Pitfalls of Fantasizing

While some schools of psychology argue that living without fantasies is ideal for self-actualization and full psychological development, the author argues that fantasies can be a lifeline for people in irksome, unchangeable situations. Proper understanding of fantasies can lead to positive action, while entertaining positive fantasies can sap a person’s energy to act. Nonetheless, dreaming remains a risk-free way of exploring possible choices and can offer a momentary escape from depressive states. The phenomenon of “mental attainment” is observed, where spending time fantasizing about something makes you feel as if you’ve already achieved it. However, sustaining this pleasant state requires filtering information from the outside world, leading to a distorted view of reality.

Achieving Goals with Mental Contrasting

If you’re struggling to turn your fantasies into reality, mental contrasting may be the solution. Unlike dreaming alone, this process combines visualization with concrete actions that put you in touch with what you need to do in the real world. Researchers found that mental contrasting only motivated action from people who believed they had a good chance of success. This positive finding ensures that you don’t act on every wish that crosses your mind but instead become passionate about attainable plans. Mental contrasting has objective benefits, such as working harder and undergoing actual, observable changes in behavior. Unlike more conventional approaches, mental contrasting also helps people disengage from unrealistic wishes so they can pursue more realistic goals. It even helps people accept and retain negative feedback, translating it into positive action. Mental contrasting lets you finally engage in viable, heartfelt wishes with everything you’ve got.

WOOP Process: Achieving Goals Made Simple

The WOOP process is a step-by-step routine that can help you achieve your goals. This process synthesizes current research and converts it into a practical approach that anyone can integrate into their life. WOOP stands for “Wish, Outcome, Obstacle, Plan,” and it takes time and effort to master but is worth it in the end.

To begin, identify your “wish or concern” and visualize it to hold it in place. Next, envision the positive result you want to create. Then, identify any potential barriers, either inward or outward, that may prevent you from achieving your goal. Once you have identified the barriers, create a plan that specifies a thought or action you can take, and pinpoint the next occurrence of the obstacle, coming up with an if-then statement of what to do if it arises.

Using the WOOP process can ensure that all levels of your mind are brought to bear on attaining what you want, and by following these steps, you can see how all four stages work together to produce a complete and effective approach. Take the time to fill in the blanks on a checklist or index card and practice regularly to create a habit out of this method.

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