Stacy’s Book Note: Rethinking Positive Thinking: Inside the New Science of Motivation

When I wrote my book, The Lighthouse Method, I wrote it for people who were stuck and discouraged because they didn’t know what they wanted to do with their lives. Gabriele Oettingen summarizes 20 years of her research on why people get stuck pursuing their known wishes and desires in a new book called Rethinking Positive Thinking: Inside the New Science of Motivation (available on my Bookshop and Amazon*). What she found may surprise you but more importantly, might get you motivated!

Here are key take-aways anyone can use in order to fulfill one’s wishes. You can think of them as the necessary ingredients to take action for a positive change.

  1. A wish. It is important to note that simply wishing, creating a vision of what you want, or day-dreaming about a desire is not enough. Oettingen and her colleagues found that while positive fantasies can in the short term provide pleasure and relaxation, in the long term, they can actually prevent you from taking necessary steps to fulfill the wish:

    “Our results likewise suggest that, far from causing something to occur in reality, as many people think, the act of imagining can stop something from coming into being. In particular, by fooling our brains into thinking we’re already successful, we lose motivation and energy to do what it takes to actually become successful.”

  2. Feasibility and/or positive feedback. The wisher needs to believe that the wish can come true. Positive feedback or encouragement from others can certainly help here. But, there are, of course, instances when external forces that can impede your wish from coming true. Oettingen suggests it may be wise to let go of such wishes and find another wish instead.(One note of caution here: Individuals can convince themselves that their wish is unobtainable falsely or prematurely. I find this happens too often; left to their own devices, smart talented individuals will sometimes discredit their own abilities or exaggerate obstacles.)
  3. Mental contrasting. After identifying a wish, imagine the best outcome, consider how it might feel to obtain the wish. Then, ask yourself this question, “What is it in me that stops me from experiencing this outcome?” Grounding the wish in reality and linking it with something that you can actually do is critical here. This helps prevent the lethargy that comes with mere wishful thinking (as mentioned above in #1) from kicking in, because…

    “A nonconscious linkage between the wish and the obstacle would take hold…. the obstacle would serve as a constant an nonconscious spur to take action.

  4. Implementation Intentions. Oettingen draws upon (her husband’s) Peter M. Gollwitzer’s research which found that phrasing a specific plan for goal attainment in the form of an “if-then” statement has a powerful effect. In other words, once you have identified the obstacle within you that prevents you from obtaining your wish, plan out your action to overcome the obstacle in the following form, “If I encounter [obstacle], then I will [planned action].”Again, a nonconscious link is formed this time between the obstacle and the action. And, this link then paves the way for success:

    “Implementation intentions helped people get started on tasks, …protect against distractions, overcome counterproductive but habitual behaviors, and retain the energy to tackle new goals once the goal at hand has been achieved.”

Oettingen put these elements together and created the WOOP (Wish, Outcome, Obstacle, and Plan) Method. To make it even easier for you to implement, she has a free app you can put on your smart phone! You can download it here.

So, what self-made obstacle to your feasible wish will you tackle today?

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*Some of the links on this page are “affiliate links” where I receive a small commission from any purchases at no cost to you. Some of these funds will be donated to organizations supporting women and girls.