Sunday, November 2, 2014

Gabriele Oettingen

MANY people think that the key to success is to cultivate and doggedly maintain an optimistic outlook. But the truth is that positive thinking often hinders us.

Why doesn't positive thinking work the way you might assume? As my colleagues and I have discovered, dreaming about the future calms you down, measurably reducing systolic blood pressure, but it also can drain you of the energy you need to take action in pursuit of your goals. Positive thinking fools our minds into perceiving that we've already attained our goal, slackening our readiness to pursue it. 

What work[s] better is a hybrid approach that combines positive thinking with “realism.” Here’s how it works. Think of a wish. For a few minutes, imagine the wish coming true, letting your mind wander and drift where it will. Then shift gears. Spend a few more minutes imagining the obstacles that stand in the way of realizing your wish.

This simple process, which my colleagues and I call “mental contrasting,” has produced powerful results in laboratory experiments. When participants have performed mental contrasting with reasonable, potentially attainable wishes, they have come away more energized and achieved better results compared with participants who either positively fantasized or dwelt on the obstacles. 

Mental contrasting spurs us on when it makes sense to pursue a wish, and lets us abandon wishes more readily when it doesn’t, so that we can go after other, more reasonable ambitions. we found that people who engaged in mental contrasting recovered from chronic back pain better, behaved more constructively in relationships, got better grades in school and even managed stress better in the workplace.

--from "The Problem With Positive Thinking,Oct. 24, 2014, New York Times

Gabriele Oettingen, a professor of psychology at New York University and the University of Hamburg, is the author of “Rethinking Positive Thinking: Inside the New Science of Motivation.”