Despite decades of post-hippie-era positive-thinking advice. The path to those improvements it turns out, is a little more complicated.
And in-fact, what we all might need is of all things, A little Pessimism…
In more than 20 years of theorizing and experiments across many different types and nationalities of goal-seeking groups, Gabriele has discovered that there is a real down-side to Pure positive-thinking.
Whether it was weight-loss candidates, students, medical patients, job-seekers, all of them exhibited an interesting phenomenon: The ones that were a little bit pessimistic were the ones that succeeded.
The subjects that engaged specifically in Positive Fantasies, but nothing more afterward, ended up failing more often.
Part of the reason she theorizes this happens, is that when you do that:
1) It relaxes your body & mind (so much so that it’s been shown to actually lower people’s blood-pressure),
2) Part of this action makes your subconscious feel as if you’ve already done it, and you’ve already succeeded; -Even though your conscious mind KNOWS this is not the case., and
3) This makes you lose energy and avoid taking the actual painful steps toward doing something; your mind just glosses over them entirely and spaces-out.
So in a way, the old Schedule/Process/Discipline mules that yell at you: “Thinking about something just isn’t the same as actually DOING it!” are actually right! -Even at a subconscious level.
AHA! -But the story doesn’t end there! The good doctor then flipped her hypothesis around and just for the sake of validation, tested the opposite-case, finding as you might imagine, that people who were A LOT bit pessimistic and little-to-zero optimistic in their thinking of course had poor outcomes, too.
-> Which led her to a very interesting middle path and the current solution she recommends, Called WOOP! -Which Stands for Wish, Outcome, Obstacles, and Plan.
What WOOP consists of is this:
1) Envisioning your [near & dear] Wish,
2) Describing the exact & best Outcome in concrete terms [yes, yes, here she’s telling you to fantasize. just wait…],
3) Tallying up any and all [internal & external] Obstacles to achieving that Outcome,
4) Then come up with a Plan that has prepared If-Then actions for overcoming or avoiding the pre-identified obstacles.
The Plan is specifically-important when it comes to navigating, because it’s been shown in studies to raise the probability of success a lot.
And while Dr. Oettingen is not against Positive Fantasies or even daydreaming, as she acknowledges they do serve good purposes in many situations like exploration and imagination, you have to move past the first step of the idea/positive-fantasy and use a Mental-Contrasting Framework like her WOOP structure if you want to actually have a good result.
The other benefit she notes about the system is that it gets you thinking about more concrete tasks you can actually be doing, and the process of articulating all of this frequently results in:
1) Mental housekeeping,
2) Liberating resources in your life,
3) Discovery of the means to overcome the obstacles you outlined, and
3a) Involuntary, automatic, subconscious work on obstacles once articulated.
Powerful stuff. Very much worth a look.
JUMP BONUS!-Dr. Gabriele Talks About Woop At The DLD Conference:
Check out the details at the Links:
Video, “The Positives of Negative Thinking”, by NYMag’s The Science of Us
Photo, “Plus One”, by Kenson Lai
Video, “DLD Women 14-Rethinking Positive Thinking”, by Digital Life Design Conference & Dr. Gabriele Oettingen
• Source: NYMag
• More Coverage: NYT-The Problem With Positive Thinking | Podcast Interview (linked) At SciAm | Gabriele’s Website on the WOOP procedure | iTunes Store-WOOP App | Gabriele’s Book On Amazon