Friday, November 07, 2014

Positive thinking can sabotage desired outcomes.

The point is a simple one - imagining success in attaining a goal can make one strive less diligently towards it. Gabriele Oettingen has summarized her research over the past 15-20 years on how this plays out in different areas of endeavour, in a new book “Rethinking Positive Thinking: Inside the New Science of Motivation.” (I know this because she has done what now seems imperative for for getting one's ideas to briefly rise about the noise level facing readers in the general public: she has done a marketing piece in The New York Times - another example of this is Graziano's piece on his theory of consciousness also in the "Gray Matter" NYTimes series - to which I devoted an extended MindBlog post ).

Oettingen's NYTimes piece gives links to her studies showing that women in a weight reduction program who imaged successful completion of the program lost fewer pounds than those who imagined themselves less positively, and that students instructed to imagine a great week ahead report feeling less energized and accomplish less than students instructed to write down any thoughts about the coming week. She then notes experiments on what she suggests as the most effective strategy, combining positive thinking with realism by mentally contrasting them.

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