Many people want to focus on the “power of positive thinking,” believing that if you keep your thoughts upbeat and happy, you’ll be in a better state of mind and move towards achieving your goals. But more and more research is emerging that says that is simply not so. Forcing yourself to be positive proves to be exhausting–and a hindrance in getting where you want to go.
Writes Gabriele Oettingen in the New York Times: “Positive thinking fools our minds into perceiving that we’ve already attained our goal, slackening our readiness to pursue it.”
Oettingen, the author of “Rethinking Positive Thinking,” says that dwelling on the negative isn’t helpful, either. Focusing on what you don’t want, to avoid disappointment, isn’t any more useful than keeping a sunny outlook. Like most things, the either/or extreme approach doesn’t get us far. Instead, Oettingen offers a hybrid solution:
“What does work better is a hybrid approach that combines positive thinking with ‘realism.’ Here’s how it works. Think of a wish. For a few minutes, imagine the wish coming true, letting your mind wander and drift where it will. Then shift gears. Spend a few more minutes imagining the obstacles that stand in the way of realizing your wish.
This simple process, which my colleagues and I call ‘mental contrasting,’ has produced powerful results in laboratory experiments. When participants have performed mental contrasting with reasonable, potentially attainable wishes, they have come away more energized and achieved better results compared with participants who either positively fantasized or dwelt on the obstacles.”