First published in 1952, Norman Vincent Peale’s The Power of Positive Thinking birthed a philosophy rooted in the belief that a positive outlook attracts a positive outcome and that visualizing the positive while rejecting negative thinking will increase your chances of success and wish fulfillment. Having spent more than 20 years studying how optimism affects accomplishment, success and general well-being, New York University psychology professor Gabriele Oettingen believes that positive thinking alone can actually prevent us from achieving our goals.
Based on studies that she and others carried out, Oettingen came up with mental contrasting, an approach to reaching goals that involves “juxtaposing our dreams with the obstacles that prevent attainment.” In Rethinking Positive Thinking, Oettingen offers advice on how to apply the method to your life and introduces a simple four-step process with the handy acronym WOOP (Wish, Outcome, Obstacle and Plan).
Say your wish is to go jogging after work. The outcome might be feeling balanced. The obstacle could be feeling tired when you get home. Once you’ve articulated the obstacles, make a plan to work around it. Although Oettingen overplays the science, her practical advice is worthwhile, and the method makes sense.
by Gabriele Oettingen