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The Upside Of Down

I read a book recently called, “Rethinking Positive Thinking: Inside the New Science of Motivation” by Gabriele Oettingen. She shares some compelling research that shows the benefits of seeing the upside and the downside of the goals we say we want to accomplish.

She discovered the majority of people who just think positive thoughts are not able to generate enough energy to take the actions necessary to get from where they are to where they want or need to be. ‘Dream it and achieve it’ is a nice concept, but it doesn’t work if you’re not motivated or committed to fight through the obstacles to make your dream come true. Her research suggests positive thinking by itself creates a temporary state of happiness and lethargy.

Individuals that took part in her research were asked to visualize about something they wanted to achieve. As soon as the subjects finished thinking about their goal, their motivation and energy levels declined dramatically. Instead of those people being fired up and having a sense of urgency to do the work required to reach their objective, it turns out they just ‘fooled’ their brain into thinking the goal was already achieved. They experienced positive feelings, but they were not inspired to take positive action. While some people are able to use positive thinking to ‘fake it till they make it,’ the great majority of people need more than just positive thoughts.

Most of our co-workers, clients, family members and friends also need the ability to create realistic plans to overcome all the problems that could prevent them from reaching their goals. She calls this process ‘mental contrasting’ and it has been proven to help individuals achieve extraordinarily high levels of performance.

We all have challenging and worthy goals to achieve, and no matter how talented you are, something is going to happen on your road to success that has the potential to stop you from reaching your destination. We have to learn to work our way around, over or through the expected and unexpected obstacles along our path. Plans have to be adjusted. Strategies have to be revised. Positive action has to be taken on a consistent basis, especially during those times when we don’t feel like doing what needs to be done. Just thinking positive thoughts might help us get started, but we need mental contrasting to win the race.

Another benefit to her point of view is that it helps individuals and teams to pick the right goals. Too often, people set or are given goals they feel are unrealistic. Leaders have to help people stretch, but it does no good to establish a goal that someone knows they can’t reach. All people should be engaged in a cause where they feel their unique talent gives them a good chance to win. We can’t afford to have teams of disengaged people wasting valuable time, energy and resources because they believe their goals are ‘unattainable.’ No motivational talk, cheerleading or punishment will get someone to consistently do what they believe can’t be done. It’s not enough that the leader believes the mission is possible. Unless each member of the team is confident the goal will be achieved, the only things that will be produced are great excuses and poor results.

I do think it’s important to note that some leaders are very good at focusing on the negative aspects of their work and don’t spend much time accentuating the positive. If you are one of those leaders, these links will be helpful to you. Remember, the glass is not half empty or half full…it’s both.

Lead The Positive Way Today! Bill Durkin


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