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Positive Thinking Fails

Visualize it and it will happen. Right? Recent neuroscience suggests not so much. In fact, visualizing the achievement of a goal may actually lower your chances of reaching it.

Mental Contrasting: Path to Personal Transformation

In the realm of personal development and coaching, mental contrasting is a dynamic technique that holds the potential to catalyze profound transformations in one's life. Mental Contrasting keeps our brain motivated in pursuit of a desired goal by reminding the brain we have yet to achieve it.

Persons who imagine a goal and think it will be easy to achieve are far less likely to achieve that goal than those persons with a similar goal who believe its achievement will be difficult. The reason for this surprising result is that when we visualize ourselves achieving the goal without considering obstacles (positive thinking) our brains can’t tell the difference between imagined success and actual success. When we imagine success, our brain believes we’ve achieved our goal and loses motivation to pursue it. Positive thinking on its own, saps our motivation!

WOOP! In her book, Rethinking Positive Thinking, Gabriele Oettingen offers a strategy to improve the likelihood of achieving our goals using the acronym, WOOP - Wish, Outcome, Obstacle, Plan. First, we clarify what we wish to achieve-the desired habit or goal. Next, we reflect on the outcome and how we will feel when we achieve this goal. Then, we identify any obstacles like self-defeating thoughts or external challenges. Finally, we develop a plan to overcome obstacles with the help of If/Then statements.

WOOP in Action Let’s say I want to improve my diet by eating more fresh vegetables (Wish). I imagine how I will feel eating healthier (Outcome). I may lose weight, lower my blood pressure, feel more energetic. Then I consider the challenges (Obstacles). I might have negative self-talk like, “Will eating more vegetables really help me feel better? Cleaning and cutting vegetables is a hassle. I’m too busy to do the preparation.” Finally, I plan for overcoming obstacles with If/Then statements. If I open the refrigerator, I will eat two carrot sticks. If I go grocery shopping then I will buy vegetables for snacks. If the storage container of vegetables in the fridge is running low then I will cut more celery and carrot sticks.

Our brains love If/then statements. These statements are like planting a decision in our brains before we make it.

You Got This! Mental contrasting is a potent technique that combines the art of envisioning with the practicality of problem-solving. It's about dreaming big and then strategizing diligently. By mastering mental contrasting, you can progress toward your goals with clarity, purpose, and resilience while thriving in the face of life's challenges.

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1 Comment

Tom Pietz
Tom Pietz
Sep 19, 2023

that example is exactly what we do and lived out today. I like the WOOP , woop woop!

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