Life & Philosophy Productivity & Work

Rethinking Positive Thinking

Positive thinking is encouraging but it’s also prohibitive. By fantasizing about our goals and wishes, we imprint false beliefs that prevent us from making pragmatic, corrective changes.

In this podcast, NYU psychologist/professor Gabriele Oettingen outlines the four steps for following your dreams: Wish, Outcome, Obstacle, Plan or WOOP.

Here’s the strategy in more detail:

  1. Identify a wish: Identify your most important wish in the next 4 weeks.
  2. Specify the best outcome: Identify the best-case outcome of your wish (eg. You get the girl or the job of your dreams etc.)
  3. Name the inner obstacle: This one is going to hurt. Dig deep and ask yourself what’s actually preventing you from achieving that goal now. For example, are you shy? Do you need more experience? Take a personal consulting point of view and ask yourself the tough questions.
  4. Make an ‘if..then’ plan: If the obstacle comes up, you promise to take this positive action to counter a negative inclination.

Balancing reality with what needs to be overcome is exactly the kind of ‘mental contrasting’ you need if you want to achieve your dreams.

The game of goal setting starts with a deep fantasy but ends with honest reality. What do you need to improve right now? What will you actually do when the challenge comes? Think action, not forced positive hopes.

The WOOP formula doesn’t guarantee success but it’ll make you more confident than you were before. After all, luck is preparedness.

Listen to Hidden Brain: 30: WOOP, There It Is

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By Wells Baum

Wells Baum is a daily blogger who writes about Life & Arts. He's also the author of and four books.