Rethinking Positive Thinking

In the midst of research and development for my current project, I stumbled across WOOP (Wish Outcome Obstacle Plan) – a scientific strategy that people can use to find and fulfill their wishes and change their habits.

Created as a result of over 20 years of scientific research and has proven effective across ages and life domains. Research finds that dreaming about a desired future leads to low investment and little success, regardless of life domains, such as health, work, and interpersonal relationships. In order to benefit from positive thinking about the future people need to incorporate in that positive thinking a clear sense of reality.

“The solution isn’t to do away with dreaming and positive thinking. Rather, it’s making the most of our fantasies by brushing them up against the very thing most of us are taught to ignore or diminish: the obstacles that stand in our way.”

While optimism can help us alleviate immediate suffering and persevere in challenging times, merely dreaming about the future actually makes people more frustrated and unhappy over the long term and less likely to achieve their goals. In fact, the pleasure we gain from positive fantasies allows us to fulfill our wishes virtually, sapping our energy to perform the hard work of meeting challenges and achieving goals in real life.

Mental Contrasting (the Wish, Outcome, and Obstacle part of WOOP) is a visualization technique that incorporates this sense of reality: It helps people to gain insight into their wishes and to clearly identify the obstacles that stand in the way of realizing these wishes.

WOOP is an evidence-based self-regulatory strategy that people can use effectively on their own to change their behavior across everyday life (e.g., health, school, work, play, relationships) and across the life cycle (e.g., from childhood to old age). It combines focusing on our dreams with visualizing the obstacles that stand in our way. By experiencing our dreams in our minds and facing reality we can address our fears, make concrete plans, and gain energy to take action.

WOOP is a conscious exercise leading to strategic automaticity: The Wish, Outcome, and Obstacle part of WOOP builds nonconscious associations between future and reality and between the obstacles and the actions to overcome the obstacles. These associations provide energy and foster the mastery of set-backs. The Plan-part of WOOP further helps to overcome difficult obstacles by strengthening the association between obstacles and actions even more.

Rethinking Positive Thinking: Inside the New Science of Motivation dives deep into WOOP and MCII. I intend to implement this strategy






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