Saturday Morning Rounds October 26, 2019 - Rethinking positive thinking

Posted by BossB, MD on October 26, 2019
BossB, MD

Saturday Morning Rounds
A weekly round-up of everything that captured our attention over the last 7 days

What we're reading

Rethinking Positive Thinking: Inside The New Science of Motivation by Dr. Gabriele Oettingen, PhD

You might be surprised to see us, who so often talk about Positive Psychology (and are coming off of a week during which we just attended a pos psych conference!) sharing a book about the downfalls of positive thinking.

But here's the thing - negative emotions and cognitions can be incredibly powerful tools to achieve positive results, and this book shares some of the most ground-breaking research into behavior change that we've ever seen. Here's a quick video overview of the central idea:

Essentially, when we rely upon positive thinking alone it:

  • Saps the energy needed to actually achieve our goals
  • Predicts low physical and mental health
  • Predicts diminished well-being

However, when we contrast positive thinking with negative visualization - thinking about what obstacles will stop you from achieving your goal and then making a plan for how you'll overcome them - the results are honestly astounding (AND they're context-independent AND they're stable over long time horizons - even for weight loss!!!):

And what's more - these types of results help for everything from explicit tasks like studying for a test or exercising to interpersonal ones like job-searching and negotiations or approaching one's crush or even increasing tolerance and social responsibility towards members of prejudiced groups. 

Why does it work? The short answer is that it targets behavior instead of attitudes and beliefs - the latter being the focus of most psychological interventions. It literally programs you, in a sense, to do the right thing at the exact right time.

Their website is chock-full of research, tips for deploying the tool, and more.

Who we're following

Dr. Angela Duckworth, PhD (@angeladuckw) is a researcher, author, teacher, Founder & CEO of The Character Lab (@TheCharacterLab) and all-around badass + great human being. As a researcher specifically she's been responsible for most of the research on WOOP in educational contexts. Her life's mission is to use science to help kids thrive, and in pursuit of that goal she's uncovered a number of truths about human nature and success that all of us can apply.

BBMD tip of the week

Use WOOP (Wish, Outcome, Obstacle, Plan)! Here are some tips:

  • Visualization and imagination are important for this, so try to:
    • Really envision and define your wish
    • Then make it real by transporting yourself to the positive outcome using as many of your senses as possible
    • Literally try to see yourself hitting the obstacle
    • And then just like an athlete would, visualize yourself perfectly executing your plan
  • The best wishes are challenging but feasible, and achievable in a relatively near-term timeframe (think 4 months, preferably 4 weeks, or less)
  • The positive visualization part of this (Wish, Outcome) is important because it:
    • Fosters creativity
    • Defines your goals
    • Recruits your sub/unconscious to help in the process of clarifying what you really want
    • Helps you prioritize based on (a) feasibility and (b) energy around the outcome (ie if your outcome is kinda "meh" you might consider re-thinking your wish)
  • For the "Obstacle":
    • Ask yourself "what is it in me that will stop me from achieving this goal?"
    • Try to dig a layer deeper - here's an example dialogue:
      • "What is it in me that will stop me from achieving this goal?"
      • "I'll procrastinate"
      • "What's driving the procrastination?"
      • (a) The task seems so big that I don't know where to start or (b) I fear failing or (c) I don't really care about it that much
      • Not all of the above are likely to be true, so that "digging deeper" part should have some directionality to it - you'd be saying the ONE example of the above that's most true, not all three
  • For the "Plan":
    • If you're reading this you're probably already great at that - trust yourself and do you
We'd love to hear where you choose to apply this tool and how it goes! You can reach us via email or Twitter if you'd like to share :)

Quote we're contemplating

“We would be wrong to jettison our dreams, just as we are wrong to blindly assume that simply dreaming something can make it so.” - Gabriele Oettingen

As always, please let us know your requests and suggestions on Twitter. Which section above is your favorite? What do you want more or less of? Just send a tweet to @BossB_MD and put #SaturdayMorningRounds in there so we can find it.

Have a wonderful weekend, y'all!