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Rethinking Positive Thinking

Gabrielle Oettingen highlights compelling research showing that just focusing on the positive imagery around succeeding at a goal can actually get in the way of succeeding at the goal. According to Rethinking Positive Thinking, focusing only on attaining our goal can trick our brain into acting as though we had already achieved the goal. Instead, we need to combine the positive imagery with attention to potential obstacles and how we plan to deal with these obstacles.

Oettingen has come up with a model that she calls WOOP - Wish, Outcome, Obstacles, Plan that can help people to pay sufficient attention to the concrete details of how to move towards a goal while dealing with obstacles that are likely to get in the way. This is important, as if there weren't obstacles in the way, we would probably have achieved our goal. For example, without a concrete plan of what to do when the waiter presents the daily specials in a restaurant, someone planning to have a healthy meal might find themselves ordering the special extra-large steak rather than the planned upon salad. Old habits require minimal effort while trying something new can take significant effort. Planning ahead for possible obstacles and having a concrete plan can make it easier to catch ourselves before falling back on the old habit we are trying to change.