Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Gabriele Oettingen: Rethinking Positive Thinking (2014)

Gabriele Oettingen's Rethinking Positive Thinking: Inside the New Science of Motivation (New York: Current, 2014) alchemizes New Thought into New Science. Using the scientific method, Oettingen examines and refines ideas that have been around for quite a while, albeit in more mystical terms. Consider Florence Scovel Shinn (1871-1940), for example: "As one door shuts another door opens" -  in both "Intuition or Guidance," The Game of Life and How to Play It (1925) and "Success," Your Word is Your Wand (1928). 

Oettingen (with various assistants and collaborators) has conducted numerous studies that consider how effectively -- or ineffectively -- positive thinking works.

One of her conclusions seems to suggest a continuum spectrum, with positive thinking not-followed-up-by-action (dreaming only/"indulging") at one end, and negative thinking (nightmaring only/"dwelling") at the other. Indulging results in inaction, while dwelling results in paralysis. With indulging, one imagines great accomplishments to the point of not wanting to actually work toward the reality of such accomplishments; with dwelling, one is paralyzed with inaction because of perceived obstacles or excessive worries that may block one from achieving anything.

Oettingen brings up psychological contexts and possible origins (name checking William James and Sigmund Freud, for example) for our personal outlook and action styles, but that's not necessary to understand (or agree with) in order to deploy her suggested plan of action. Her suggestion? Utilize positive thinking but energize it with a technique she calls WOOP: 

Wish (what is your wish?) + Outcome (a good outcome if your wish were to become reality) - Obstacle (what's blocking your wish fulfillment?) = Plan (Outflank obstacle: If/then . . .). 

Using WOOP helps you focus on just about anything, for it is, as Oettingen states, "content neutral." 

Simple example. Suzy wishes to meet Sarah for brunch downtown. Ideal Outcome: they rendezvous, enjoy brunch and conversation and it's not too expensive. Obstacle: possible traffic issues, parking, eatery could be crowded, it's too pricey. Plan: do some research ahead of time about all of the above. If Highway 5 is closed, go via Route 23; if parking is full or the eatery is too crowded, go to a pre-considered backup place. In other words, have some kind of pragmatic plan, with alternative backup plans in reserve. 

WOOP can help one refine more grandiose wishes, too. Buddy may wish to make a billion dollars in one year, but there's a major obstacle to this wish's fulfillment: reality. Once he sees reality as a serious obstacle, he may determine on a more realistic wish: maybe save $1,000 in "x" amount of time. A personal obstacle Bobby has toward saving any $ is, perhaps, "impulse control." So, Bobby works with a partner on an if/then plan that will result in his actually saving $ toward his goal.

I've tried the WOOP technique now for a couple of weeks. So far, it's simple, direct, and works for just about anything.  I've already tweaked several either/or if/then decisions -- big and small -- simply by mind-mapping with WOOP. It's fun, it works, and it even lets you play "the game of life" with a little more cohesion.

Today's Rune: Possessions.  


Barbara Bruederlin said...

We likely already do this without really thinking about it, but I can see how it's important to be mindful of the process. I never considered the pitfalls of daydreaming though. There goes my favourite activity!

Charles Gramlich said...

At least some behavioral suggestions to aid in the positive thinking arena. I like that.