Discover more from 3 Points by Brian Sullivan
[DON'T!] Just think positive thoughts
Mental contrasting and how it can help you achieve your goals
The start of a New Year inevitably brings new goals and desired behavior changes with it. Whether it is goals for your team, professional goals, or even improving your own diet and exercise, there may be something unexpected getting in the way: Positive thinking.
Dr. Gabrielle Oettingen is a professor at NYU and University of Hamburg and leader in the science of motivation and goal-setting. Her research found that positive thoughts and images about future success predict low effort and low success. Essentially Oettingen found that, “Positive thinking fools our minds into perceiving that we’ve already attained our goal, slackening our readiness to pursue it.”
The good news? Her research also found a proven way to spur behavior change and goal pursuit: Mental Contrasting.
1. What is Mental Contrasting? Dr. Oettingen found that there are 4 ways we think about our future.
Indulging is when we only imagine the successful attainment of our goal. As mentioned above, this hinders our ability to achieve our goal.
Dwelling is the opposite of indulging. It is when we only imagine the obstacles keeping us from attaining our goal.
Reverse Contrasting is when we first focus on the obstacles in front of us first, then successful attainment of our goal. When we focus on the obstacles first, it doesn’t place them in the context of attaining our goal.
And then there’s Mental Contrasting which is when we first focus on the attainment of our goal, then we imagine the obstacles that stand in the way of achieving that goal. As you’ll read, this has been proven to be effective.
2. Dr. Oettingen and her associates have been researching Mental Contrasting for over 20 years and have plenty of findings to support it. Research has found that the use of Mental Contrasting helped people attain goals to be healthier, improve their social behavior and improve academic performance.
More recently, a team of researchers including Oettingen sought to study the use of Mental Contrasting in athletic performance. The study included 134 DanceSport (competitive ballroom dancing) athletes, and they found that the couples that used mental contrasting for an upcoming performance performed better at the upcoming DanceSport competition, compared with couples who engaged in other modes of thought.
3. Try out Mental Contrasting on your goals with the WOOP (Wish, Outcome, Obstacle, Plan) framework. Give it a go for yourself and then your team (research found that teachers who had first-hand experience using WOOP were more effective teaching it to their students).
Wish: What is something that you want to make happen? This should be both challenging and attainable.
Outcome: Give yourself some time to imagine the best possible outcome. Imagine vividly what it would feel like to make your wish happen. How would you celebrate? Who would you share it with?
Obstacle: What is holding you back from attaining your wish? Think internally, what is it inside of you that could hold you back? What thoughts, emotions or behaviors could keep you from attaining your wish? Now’s the time to use that self-awareness from the last newsletter 😉.
Plan: What can you do to overcome your obstacles? Make an If-Then Plan: If (Obstacle Occurs)… Then I will (Your plan).
As always - Don’t hesitate to reach out with any reactions from this newsletter!
Want a deeper dive? Check out https://woopmylife.org/