It's a new year, and I'm sure that you have some new year's resolutions that you want to stay on top of throughout all of 2015. While the beginning of every new year brings with it an optimistic view of our future selves – what we want to achieve, where we'd like to end up, and who we want to be – studies show that having positive expectations about our futures could actually be negatively impacting our capacity to achieve them.
According to Gabriele Oettingen, a professor at psychology at New York University and the University of Hamburg, the more positively people daydream about their futures, the less likely they are at achieving their specific goals in the long-run. In the most recent episode of the Inquiring Minds podcast, Oettingen challenges our traditional notions of positive thinking, bringing up points that she includes in her new book, Rethinking Positive Thinking. The important take-away from the podcast, though, is that one shouldn't not engage in positive thinking; rather, they should engage in a different kind of positive thinking.
Citing a fairly recent study observing the long-term effects of positive, negative, or netural daydreaming about futures, Oettingen notes that those with a tendency to daydream positive expectations led to overall poorer achievement outcomes. As for the reason why this may be the case – that having positive expectations and incessantly daydreaming about such positive outcomes can negatively impact success – researchers found that more positive daydreams could be actively using up more energy (presumably because we're desperately invested in hoping for the best…?).
There is a way to take play with our positive expectations, though. For one, Oettingen says that have a positive expectation of success, but having opposing daydreams that are more realistic or negative (such as daydreaming about getting naked for someone you like, if your goal is to lose weight), then you're actually more likely to achieve those goals. Oettingen describes a strategy for utilizing positive thinking called “mental contrasting” in which you identify your end goal (e.g. losing 30 pounds) and contrasting that with the obstacles that stop you from actually achieving that outcome. She notes, though, that it's important that you first think about your final goal before considering your obstacles – doing the reverse will only it make more likely for you to fail.
Listen to the latest episode of the Inquiring Minds podcast to hear what else Gabriele Oettingen has to say about positive thinking.
(H/T Mother Jones)