“Wishing won’t make it so.”
How often have I wished I could wave a magic wand over my child, a suffering friend, a confounded client, or even over my own head to make all our dreams come true? I keep a “magic wand” in my office that sometimes provides comic relief while talking with clients who are wrestling with challenges and wishing for different circumstances and unrealized dreams.
The problem is that while it is good to have dreams and make wishes, simply having those thoughts and desires in our minds rarely translates into reality. Despite what some New Age gurus and positive thinkers have taught us (think The Secret) just visualizing the dream or wish isn’t enough even if you cut out really awesome pictures for your vision board. New research indicates that you actually have to do something to make the dream a reality!
In her book Rethinking Positive Thinking- Inside the New Science of Motivation, author Gabriele Oettingen presents research demonstrating that imagining your dream coupled with focusing on the obstacles to obtaining your wish is a more effective way to make that dream come true. She tells us we are likely to be far more successful when we employ what is known as mental contrasting - imagining barriers along with our dreams. This new research tells us we shouldn’t be afraid to focus on what stands in the way of our happiness because when we face those impediments we are motivated to overcome them. Tying our dreams to the obstacles that get in the way helps us commit to our goals.
Research subjects who were instructed to simply imagine they had already achieved their desires rarely got their wishes. They weren’t motivated to take necessary actions to actually obtain their desires because in their minds they already had them. In short, as they advertise in the New Jersey lottery, “You’ve got to be in it to win it!” If you want to win the lottery you can't just imagine you won, you have to actually buy a ticket! Most of our wishes aren’t going to be magically granted without us taking some action no matter how very much we want, desire, and visualize them. What is especially helpful about mental contrasting is how it helps us look inside ourselves to see how we might be contributing to the barriers to our dreams, then figuring out how to make changes that can overcome those barriers.
I read the book (okay, most of it!) which is chock full of examples of the many different research hypotheses and methods employed to support this advice to shift how we can use positive thinking to our benefit. There were also real-life examples of how to use mental contrasting. To be honest, it was a bit dense for me, but those who really want to drill it down will enjoy the book. The good news is that Professor Oettingen has given us a quick and easy way to implement these findings in our own lives right now!
Many people have found success with a little app called WOOP. Now, I admit I’m not much of an “app” person. A lot of folks my age aren’t comfortable with these little icons on our smartphones that are supposed to make our lives easier. But this one is different. It is free and very easy to use.
WOOP stands for the four steps of this effective new method of positive thinking:
Wish – what is it that you desire?
Outcome – what is the best outcome if you achieve this desire?
Obstacle – what is it that may get in your way? (Look within.)
Plan – what can you do to overcome the obstacle standing in the way of your wish?
Using the WOOP app, people have successfully attained their physical, social, and academic desires. Want to know more? Visit https://woopmylife.org/en/home for details including videos with Professor Oettingen teaching people how to WOOP. Visit the app store on your phone to download WOOP. Fun Fact: Gabriele Oettingen is not just a professor at New York University; she’s a German princess! May all your wishes come true!