Tag Archives: Gabriele Oettingen

Positive Thinking, Mental Contrasting Plus WOOP to Improve Performance

Gabriele Oettingen

Gabriele Oettingen

Positive thinking without implementation strategies is wishful thinking,and is associated poor performance and complacence, found NYU’s Gabriele Oettingen.
She advocates“Mental Contrast” process by considering obstacles and potential ways to manage them, using a mnemonic WOOP:

  • Wish,
  • Outcome,
  • Obstacle,
  • Plan.
Andreas Kappes

Andreas Kappes

Oettingen and University of London colleague Andreas Kappas noted two less effective approaches to goal engagement:

– Indulging by mentally elaborating only the desired future state,

– Dwelling by mentally elaborating only the present reality.

These practices were associated with less goal commitment than Mental Contrast, even when chances of success were good in interpersonal relations, academic achievement, professional achievement, health, life management experiences.

Mental Contrast was an effective self-regulatory technique when coupled with Implementation Intentions (MCII) to improve achievement, interpersonal, and health habits.

However Mentally Contrasting was less effective when perceived chances of success were low.
This approach led to disengagement from goals.

In this case, Indulging in the future goal fantasy or Dwelling only in the present reality both maintained goal commitment.

Probability of Success-Mental Contrast-Indulve-Dwelling

In another study, volunteers who spent more time imagining working in a “dream job,” but who also had lower expectations of achieving this goal, received fewer job offers and lower starting salaries, found Oettingen and Doris Mayer of University of Hamburg.

They differentiated the motivational impact of:

  • Positive expectations for future success, which predicted high effort and successful performance,
  • Positive fantasies, which didn’t increase effort.

Mental Contrasting helped people disengage from unfeasible goals like rehabilitating an ended relationship or achieving an unattainable professional identity.
When chances of success are low, people can use Mental Contrast to move on to more feasible goals.

Mental Contrasting can be used to link thoughts about an undesirable future situation when there’s a high probability of avoiding the negative outcome.
This strategy is useful for people with difficulty generating positive thoughts about future health status or members of “out-groups.”

When facing controllable and escapable tasks, people benefitted from Mentally Contrasting fantasy with reality.
However, when facing tasks that cannot be mastered such as terminal illness, Indulging in positive fantasies enabled people to maintain a positive outlook.

Another way to increase performance is to adopt a “silver lining theory,” that a negative personal attribute is associated with a positive attribute.
Volunteers were informed that:

  • They were impulsive,
  • Impulsivity is associated with creativity.”
Timur Sevincer

Timur Sevincer

Participants showed greater effort-based creativity than those who were given no information or for whom the silver lining theory was refuted.

The silver lining theory increased performance and enabled people to mitigate a perceived negative attributes.
They did this by promoting effortful behavior toward a positive attribute linked to the negative attribute.

Mentally Contrasting a desired future (such as excelling in an intelligence test and writing an essay) with a present reality also increased physiological energization measured by systolic blood pressure and grip strength.

Mental contrasting may trigger energy activation that fuels effort to perform an unrelated task, concluded University of Hamburg’s A. Timur Sevincer and P. Daniel Busatta collaborating with Oettingen.

Philip Daniel Busatta

Philip Daniel Busatta

Coupling Mental Contrasting with Implementation Intentions (MCII) helped economically-disadvantaged children convert positive thoughts about future outcomes into effective action, found University of Pennsylvania’s Angela Lee Duckworth, Teri A. Kirby of University of Washington with NYU’s Anton Gollwitzer and and Oettingen.

Teri Kirby

Teri Kirby

Student volunteers learned to compare a desired future with potential obstacles, then developed if–then implementation intentions to potential outcomes.

More than 75 U.S. urban middle school 10 year olds were randomly assigned to learn either MCII or a Positive Thinking strategy as a control comparison.

Student volunteers who applied MCII tools to their academic goals significantly improved their report card grades, attendance, and conduct, suggesting the value of Mental Contrasting to enhance goal commitment and realization.

Mental Contrasting can be a powerful tool to increase motivation, particularly when coupled with Implementation Intentions.
An exception occurs when the probability of successfully achieving goals is low.
In those cases, Indulging or Dwelling strategies are more effective in maintaining goal motivation.

  • How have you seen Mental Contrasting and considering your probability of success to manage your motivation and performance?

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Action vs Visualization to Improve Performance

Richard Wiseman

Richard Wiseman

University of Hertfordshire psychology researcher and magician Richard Wiseman refuted the popular belief that visualizing desired outcomes achieves results more effectively than direct action.

Lien Pham

Lien Pham

In fact, students who visualized the outcome of a high grade actually received poorer outcomes that those who visualized a better process to achieve a higher grade in research by Orange Coast College’s Lien Pham.

Gabriele Oettingen

Gabriele Oettingen

Similarly, Gabriele Oettingen of New York University asked students to record the duration of fantasies about leaving college and starting a “dream job”.
She found that students who spent more time imagining these positive outcomes, but had lower expectations of actually achieving these goals received fewer job offers and lower starting salaries.

From these studies, Wiseman argued that action rather than imagined rehearsal, fantasy or visualization leads to successful performance outcomes.

Napoleon Bonaparte

This principle was implied by Napoleon Bonaparte more than two centuries ago as he anticipated battle: On s’engage et puis on voit, translated as “You commit yourself and then you see.”

In the 1880s, William James, brother of novelist Henry James and considered “The Father of American Psychology,” asserted that action precedes emotional experience: “You do not run from a bear because you are afraid of it, but rather become afraid of the bear because you run from it.”

William James

This notion contrasts popular concepts, which led to numerous books encouraging people to change their thinking to change their behaviors and feelings.

Since the 1970s, research has focused on whether changing behavior can change feelings.
To test this relationship, James Laird of Clark University asked volunteers to create an angry facial expression by drawing down their eyebrows and clenching their teeth and to create a happy facial expression by drawing back the corners of the mouth.

James Laird

Participants reported feeling significantly happier when they forced their faces into smiles, and much angrier when they were clenching their teeth.

Acting ‘as-if’” and “faking it until you make it” are examples of initiating behaviors to drive emotional and attitudinal change.

Wiseman offered ten actions – not just thoughts – that can lead to feeling better and improved performance.

David Neal

David Neal

INCREASE:

  • Happiness: Smile as widely as possible, extend eyebrow muscles slightly upward, and hold for 20 seconds
  • Willpower: Tense muscles –  Make a fist, contract biceps or press thumb and first finger together
  • Health Eating: Eat with the non-dominant hand to increase “mindful” awareness of eating, based on research by University of Southern California’s David Neal, Wendy Wood, Mengju Wu and David Kurlander of Duke University.
  • David Neal

    David Neal

    Persistence: Sit up straight, cross your arms, from research by Ron Friedman of University of Rochester.
    He found that volunteers who sat with erect posture and crossed arms persisted nearly twice as long to solve challenging problems  as volunteers who didn’t assume this posture

  • Confidence: Adopt expanded chest posture
    Sit down, lean back, look up, and interlock hands behind your head.
    Stand up, place feet flat on the floor, push shoulders back, and chest forward.
  • Negotiation Effectiveness: Use soft chairs
    Joshua Ackerman

    Joshua Ackerman

    University of Michigan’s Joshua Ackerman of  conducted simulated negotiations for a used car, and found that volunteers who sat on soft chairs were more flexible in their negotiations and likely to pay higher prices than those who sat on firm chairs.

  • Persuasion: Nod
    Gary Wells of Iowa State University reported that when volunteers nodded their heads, they were more easily able to learn and retain information with which they didn’t agree or that wasn’t true.
  • Love: Open up
    Robert Epstein

    Robert Epstein

    Cambridge Centre for Behavioral Studies’s Robert Epstein found that eye contact, self-disclosure, sharing vulnerability increase perceived liking, loving, and closeness.

DECREASE:

  • Procrastination: Start for Five Minutes
    Do the task for five minutes, and ask yourself if you want to stop or continue at the end of the time.
    Often, it is easy to continue after 5 minutes.
    If not, stop and begin again for 5 minutes several hours later.
  • Guilt: Wash your hands
    Chen-Bo Zhong

    Chen-Bo Zhong

    Chen-Bo Zhong of the University of Toronto found that volunteers who carried out a perceived immoral act, then cleaned their hands with an antiseptic wipe felt significantly less guilty than others who didn’t wash.

Kim Silverman

Kim Silverman

If magic seems more appealing that intentional action, Wiseman’s psychologist-magician colleague, Kim Silverman of Apple, and the Academy of Magical Arts, notes that ma that magic can change the way we think about our lives:

-Things that seem impossible may be possible,

-Things that are separated and broken may be rejoined,

-There is always a way,

-We can get free from something that holds us back,

-When we feel trapped by a problem, it is just an illusion.

He asserts that magic provides a change of perspective from negative thoughts, and provides a broader perspective because “things may not be as they appear.”

These varied streams of research support intentional action over contemplation and magic to improve mood and initiate positive behavior changes.

-*How can the metaphors of perceptual illusion accelerate problem-solving in complex situations?

-*What counterarguments would you offer to Wiseman?

Related posts :

Action Trumps Visualization to Improve Performance: “Do Something!”

Richard Wiseman

Richard Wiseman of University of Hertfordshire, and a magician before becoming a psychologist, debunked the notion that visualizing desired outcomes achieves results more effectively than direct action in Rip It Up: The radically new approach to changing your life: The Simple Idea That Changes Everything

Citing research by Lien Pham at the University of California, who asked student volunteers to visualize earning a high grade in an upcoming exam or to visualize adopting better study habits.
Pham reported that students who visualized the outcome of a high grade actually received poorer outcomes that those who visualized a better process to achieve a higher grade.

Similarly, Gabriele Oettingen of New York University asked students to record the duration of fantasies about leaving college and starting a “dream job”.
She found that students who spent more time imagining these positive outcomes, but had lower expectations of actually achieving these goals received fewer job offers and lower starting salaries.

Wiseman uses these findings to argue that action rather than imagined rehearsal, fantasy or visualization leads to successful performance outcomes.

Napoleon Bonaparte

This principle was implied by Napoleon Bonaparte more than two centuries ago as he anticipated battle: On s’engage et puis on voit, translated as “You commit yourself; and then, you see”

In the 1880s, William James, brother of novelist Henry James and considered “The Father of American Psychology,” asserted that action precedes emotional experience: “You do not run from a bear because you are afraid of it, but rather become afraid of the bear because you run from it.”

William James

This notion contrasts popular concepts, which led to numerous books encouraging people to change their thinking to change their behaviors and feelings.

Since the 1970s, research has focused on whether changing behavior can change feelings.
To test this relationship, James Laird of Clark University asked volunteers to create an angry expression by drawing down their eyebrows and clenching their teeth and to create a happy expression by drawing back the corners of the mouth.

James Laird

Participants reported feeling significantly happier when they forced their faces into smiles, and much angrier when they were clenching their teeth.
“Acting ‘as-if’ and “faking it until you make it” are examples of initiating behaviors to drive emotional and attitudinal change.

Wiseman offers ten behavioral modifications that can lead to feeling better and improved performance.

INCREASE:

  • Happiness: Smile as widely as possible, extend eyebrow muscles slightly upward, and hold for 20 seconds.
  • Willpower: Tense muscles –  Make a fist, contract biceps or press thumb and first finger together
  • Health Eating: Eat with non-dominant hand to increase “mindful” awareness of eating, based on research by Neal, Wood, Wu & Kurlander
  • Persistence: Sit up straight, cross your arms, from research by Ron Friedman of University of Rochester.
    He found that volunteers who sat up straight and crossed arms persisted in working to solve challenging problems nearly twice as long as volunteers who didn’t assume this posture
  • Confidence: Adopt expanded chest posture
    Sitting down, lean back, look up, and interlock your hands behind your head.
    Standing up, place your feet flat on the floor, push your shoulders back, and your chest forward.
  • Negotiation Effectiveness: Use soft chairs
    Joshua Ackerman of the MIT Sloan School of Management conducted simulated negotiations for a used car, and found that volunteers who sat on soft chairs were more flexible in their negotiations and likely to pay higher prices than those who sat on firm chairs.
  • Persuasion: Nod
    Gary Wells of Iowa State University reported that when volunteers nodded their heads, they were more easily able to learn and retain information with which they didn’t agree or that wasn’t true.
  • Love: Open up
    Robert Epstein of the Cambridge Centre for Behavioral Studies found that eye contact, self-disclosure, sharing vulnerability increase perceived liking, loving, and closeness.

DECREASE:

  • Procrastination: Start for Five Minutes – Do the task for five minutes, and ask yourself if you want to stop or continue at the end of the time.
    Often, it is easy to continue after 5 minutes.
    If not, stop and begin again for 5 minutes several hours later.
  • Guilt: Wash your hands
    Chen-Bo Zhong of the University of Toronto found that volunteers who carried out a perceived immoral act, then cleaned their hands with an antiseptic wipe felt significantly less guilty than others who didn’t wash

These varied streams of research support the call for intentional action over contemplation to improve mood and initiate positive behavior changes.

-*What counterarguments would you offer to Wiseman?

See related post on “bias for action”: