Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Positive Thinking Isn’t All It’s Cracked Up to Be

I don’t want to be a Debbie Downer as you’re starting to get into the Holiday spirit. But, I couldn’t resist sharing Gabriele Oettingen’s recent piece about The Problem With Positive Thinking.

Obviously you don’t want to walk around shrouded in a black cloud of negativity. However, research has shown that being eternally optimistic can be just as debilitating as being overly pessimistic. Say what?
Experts say that fantasizing about “happy outcomes” all the time calms you down, and significantly reduces systolic blood pressure. Sounds good. So, what’s the problem? According to Oettingen, being overly optimistic can also “drain you of the energy you need to take action in pursuit of your goals.” She also argues that positive thinking tricks your mind into believing that you’ve already achieved a goal, thus “slackening your readiness to pursue it.”

Think about that if someone on your team is always playing devil’s advocate or if someone in your family isn’t always in the Holiday spirit.

The power of mental contrasting

So, you need to be on edge all the time if you want to hit your goals and keep competitors at bay? Well, that’s not the right approach either.  Oettingen says you need a “hybrid approach” that combines positive thinking with “realism.”
Here’s how it works: Think of a great client outcome such as landing an ultra-wealthy new client who came to you via a current client’s referral. Spend a few minutes imagining how your wish came true. Go ahead and let your mind wander. Then, spend a few minutes thinking about the obstacles that might prevent you from achieving your wish—for instance, you don’t have the infrastructure in place, or you don’t have a specialist in fine art and antiques on staff, or you don’t have someone who’s fluent in Spanish and Dutch. That’s what researchers call “mental contrasting”—and research shows this approach outperforms excessive optimism or excessive pessimism.

Here’s why our firm finds mental contrasting so powerful. On one hand, it really motivates you when it truly makes sense to pursue a dream hard. At the same time, it allows us to abandon our dreams more readily when a new project or idea just isn’t going to work out. That frees us up to go after other clients, projects or innovations when an eternal optimist would just keep “plugging away.” Mental contrasting works in dieting, exercise, sports, romance, war, business and most other human endeavors.

As Oettingen explains, “ Like so much in life, attaining goals requires a balanced and moderate approach, neither dwelling  on the downsides nor a forced jumping for joy.” What she didn’t explain is how to know where and how to draw the line between plugging away and cutting your losses so you can move on to more productive pursuits. More on that next week. As regular readers know, we’re big on starting your New Year’s resolutions early.  

We wish you and your family a safe, happy Thanksgiving. Just don’t expect to sail through the Holidays without some traffic, flight delays, family friction and extra pounds. That’s not being negative. That’s just being realistic. Save you energy and focus on the good stuff.

Best, HB

Our blog has more, as does the FREE Resources page of our website.

TAGS: Gabriele Oettingen, Problem With Positive Thinking, mental contrasting, early New Year’s resolutions.  

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