All too often, individuals think that to achieve success, one must only wish and work hard towards their dream. However, in Gabriele Oettingen’s book, Rethinking Positive Thinking, Oettingen’s points to how old fashioned ways of positive thinking can actually be restrictive to one’s personal growth and success. Oettingen looks closely at what positive thinking exactly is through the use of solid empirical research, which provide readers with a broader, more useful understanding of motivation. In the book, Rethinking Positive Thinking, Gabriele Oettingen studies the theories and concepts of positive psychology, using data collection through interviews and additional research, to provide evidence of how one can utilize positive thinking in a new, more effective way to achieve success.
In more traditional ways of positive thinking, many people have thought that, through dreaming, we can be inspired to achieve what we really desire; however, Oettingen believes there are other ways to more effectively reach goals. To test this, Oettingen utilized a group of college students, who were randomly assigned to two groups. The first group was instructed to fantasize about their approaching week and it being a very successful, satisfying week, while those in the second group were instructed to record their daydreams and thoughts about the approaching week. The results were surprising, and Oettingen found that those who were instructed to think about their upcoming week in a more neutral, less excitable way were actually more energized and accomplished than those who were told to fantasize. Thus, blind optimism was not a successful motivator for those who fantasized. Instead, fantasizing about results or goals actually leads to a feeling of over relaxation and less drive overall, as if simply by dreaming about the goal, the students’ mind were tricked into believing that they had already attained their wishes and desires.
Through additional research and studies, Oettingen is able to back up these findings further, claiming that there is a psychological basis for these results. For example, studies have shown that just through daydreaming and fantasizing about a desire or goal, one’s blood pressure can be lowered; however, if one were to think about that same desire or goal, their blood pressure is instead increased. Thus, while it may be more relaxing for one to fantasize and/or daydream, it generally leads to feelings that are less energized and driven, and overall feelings that do not lead to focused actions. Due to these findings and data collection, Oettingen hypothesized that, to get people to act on their goals and desires through dealing with obstacles straight away, one can utilize the concept of “mental contrasting.”
To understand the concept of mental contrasting, one can look at one of the studies that Oettingen performed. Using two groups of third graders to study this, Oettingen instructed the children to imagine a candy prize they might receive if only they finished an assignment, and then also added that they were to imagine certain behaviors of their selves that may prevent them from getting this prize. For the second group, Oettingen told them to fantasize winning the candy prize. From this study, Oettingen found that the first group who mental contrasted outperformed those who simply fantasized. Thus, the traditional theme of dreaming to achieve goals was not exactly the most effective motivator, even for children. One can see that, from these studies, one must be mindful of not only their dreams and goals, but also of the real obstacles and barriers that they may face in attaining their goals. Oettingen concluded from this and other studies that, in order to increase one’s chances of achieving their personal successes, they must more realistically think and dream about what they wish to accomplish.
While this may seem like an obvious way to approach real life challenges, according to Oettingen, far less people actually think through their problems this way in the real world. In fact, only one in six persons use this method of mental contrasting in their natural patterns of everyday thinking. While many people often choose to spend years in psychotherapy to explore their mental roadblocks and how they fail to succeed, Oettingen argues that such therapy is useless for the majority of people, and that all they need to do is change their ways of positive thinking.
Oettingen provides a newer way to consider positive thinking that she calls “WOOP,” which stands for “wish, outcome, obstacle, plan.” Through the use of her own empirical data and findings, Oettingen writes that this saying can not only lead to personal successes in the workplace, but in other, less obvious areas of life, such as better eating habits, better control over alcohol drinking patterns, and improved exercise and overall health. This method of wishing, pondering the outcome, seeing obstacles, and then developing a plan is aimed at getting individuals to neutrally fantasize about their wishes and dreams in a way that is realistically healthy and attainable. Thus, when using this plan, people will be more driven to not only work towards their goal, but also to stay driven until they reach their goal.
In conclusion, in the book, Rethinking Positive Thinking, Oettinger re examines what positive thinking really is, and how one can more effectively reach their goals through improved motivation techniques. Oettinger backs up her theories with solid data and research, thus providing readers with the knowledge and understanding of how far reaching positive thinking can be in their own lives.