“Start each day with a positive thought. What you believe in becomes your truth. If you can imagine it, you can achieve it.” The fashion blogging world is rife with positive-thinking mantras. The Pinterest search results for “positive thinking” are endless.
It feels good to think uplifting thoughts. But research shows that alone, it actually prevents people from getting things done. To be productive, positive thinking needs another element.
The problem is that positive thinking fools our brains into believing we've already accomplished our our goals…
Gabriele Oettingen, a psychology professor at New York University, has studied how our thoughts affect our lives for more than 20 years. Her new book, Rethinking Positive Thinking describes how in one of her first studies on the subject, she encouraged some women to think positive thoughts about weight loss, while she asked others to imagine being tempted and cheating on their diets. A year later, the positive thinkers has loss less weight than the negative thinkers.
Many follow-up studies have shown similar results: fantasizing about happy outcomes actually hinders us from realizing our dreams. The problem is that positive thinking fools our brains into believing we've already accomplished our our goals, and makes us less likely to take the actions required to get there in reality.
So is the answer to believe the worst? Not exactly. Oettingen writes in the New York Times that the trick is to start out with inspiring thoughts, but then consider the work required to achieve your goals. She calls it “positive thinking with realism.”
Think of a wish. For a few minutes, imagine the wish coming true, letting your mind wander and drift where it will. Then shift gears. Spend a few more minutes imagining the obstacles that stand in the way of realizing your wish.”
She backs up the approach with plenty of science including a 2011 study in which she and her colleagues asked two groups of college students to write about their plans for the week. They asked one group to imagine that the week would be great. They asked the other other group to write down any thoughts about the week that came to mind. The students with the happy thoughts reported feeling less energized than those in other group. And the researchers later found that the happy-thoughts group accomplished less during that week. Oettingen published that study in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology.
It might not make for the most pinnable slogans. “Start each day with a positive thought but then get real for a sec” is not super catchy (or is it?). In any case, if, say, you want your blog to reach 20,000 page views by the end of 2014, imagine how satisfied you'll feel when you accomplish your goal, the extra money it could mean from advertising and partnerships, and the increased number of offers that will roll in. Yay happy thoughts! But then imagine the hard work required to get there, whatever that might be: increasing your number of posts per week, better photography, pitching brands more, excellent planning, or maybe all of the above.
It's the best way to ensure your brain doesn't take a snooze in that happy place.
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