All these motivational messages out there – whether it be the hippest Justin Bieber song, political campaigns, or my most recent cheesy quote – preach to “dream big!” and “be positive!”. The rare, gleam of positivity is unfortunately one of the most constructive influences we experience during our day. Provided the abundance of depressing headlines and negative media we are continually exposed to (whether we realize it or not), who am I to not advocate that as well? ….but is this fool-proof PMA effective?

Gabriele Oettingen’s (http://www.woopmylife.org) 20+ years of research on the science of human motivation reveals otherwise. The conventional wisdom supporting the no-fail, ruthless, positive thinking-phenomenon falls short by excluding one detrimental aspect in the terms of our processing.

The obstacle.

“The solution isn’t to do away with dreaming and positive thinking. Rather, it’s making the most of our fantasies by brushing them up against the very thing most of us are taught to ignore or diminish: the obstacles that stand in our way.”

“The obstacles that we think prevent us from realizing our deepest wishes can actually lead to their fulfillment.”
Mental contrasting – dreaming + obstaclesThe main idea: If we can visualize our dream, face the realities, devise a plan, and gain energy to take action – we start WOOP’n!

WOOP: Oettingen’s Four Step Process

W – Wish

Ask yourself, what is the most important wish I’d like to realize and fulfill? Could be today, tomorrow, 10 years – take something that is near and dear, challenging but feasible. Formulate in three to four words.

O – Outcome

What could be the BEST possible outcome? I’m talking your perfect world. It could be an emotion, outcome, anything.Now imagine experiencing it. Seriously, let your mind wander.

O – Obstacle

Switchin’ gears on you – what stops you from fulfilling that dream, experiencing that wish? What’s in you that’s holding you back?
In less than four words write down this inner main obstacle.

P – Plan

What can you do to overcome that obstacle? What action can you take?

Think about that behavior you’ll take, and just as you did before formulate a plan in three to four words.

Fill in the blank – If ___(obstacle)__, then I will __(behavior)__.

Not only can you dream big but the power and any fear of obstacle resides in you. A positive thinker is free to think of new ways to solve problems because they are not limited by fear. This process allows you to put forth effort into your most promising endeavors that are both challenging and feasible.

1. Start with the positive fantasy
2. Discover the obstacle within yourself

This is applicable no matter the behavior (could be a mundane daily task or ambitious life goal) and any stage of life (3rd grader or grandparent). Oettingen’s studies proved that programming their nonconscious mind to get what they needed done determined how they acted in a problematic situation. We learned that if we can devote the mental energy before hand, while it might take some initial effort, we have a process in place and we no longer need to decide if we need to eat less or go for that run. The obstacle is linked to the instrument to overcome it.

If you’re striving to swim faster, lose weight, or run a marathon this process nonconsciously associates the future with reality and the obstacle with the means thus providing you the energy and mastery to overcome anything!

What is your dearest wish? What’s standing in your way of achieving it? An obstacle is nothing but a stepping stone!
Now, can I get a “WOOP WOOP”!?

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