Cat Mental Contrasting

Mental Contrasting

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In Rethinking Positive Thinking, Dr. Gabriele Oettingen tells us:

“Back in 1990, when my research was first beginning to show that positive fantasies were not helping people achieve their wishes, I was disappointed. I had embarked on studying dreams not merely because I found them interesting, but because I had hoped that dreaming might help people who were having trouble achieving wishes large and small. It was difficult to focus my work on fantasies knowing that they made individuals continue to struggle, so I wondered if there was anything I could do to the process of dreaming to turn things around and make dreams more helpful for achieving wishes. In particular, since positive fantasies tended to relax people, was there a way that I could use dreaming to wake them up, get them into gear, and motivate them to succeed? I reasoned that the best way to get people up and moving was to ask them to dream and then to confront them right away with the realities that stood in the way of their dreams. I called this confrontation ‘mental contrasting.’ If I could ground fantasies in a reality through mental contrasting, I might be able to circumvent the calming effects of dreaming and mobilize dreams as a tool for prompting directed action. … Our study suggested that mental contrasting could help people do both things: engage even more forcefully when it made sense to engage, disengage even more forcefully when that made sense. It functioned as a self-regulation tool, helping people allocate their energy more efficiently so they didn’t merely pursue wishes, but wisely pursued them.”

It turns out that positive fantasies by themselves are not helpful unless our goal is to relax and feel calm. But if we are serious about achieving our positive fantasies we need to rub them up against reality with some mental contrasting. Then we can engage or disengage based on those realities that stand in our way.

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