Rethinking positive thinking

By  Engr. Carlos V. Cornejo

The old method of positive thinking was to visualize a goal in life such as landing an esteemed job in a prestigious company and life would just align according to your visualization.  Or if you want to be more specific in visualizing it, imagine yourself working in one of the offices of that company.  If you are a student, positive thinking can be imagining yourself looking at your report card at the end of the semester and seeing an improved grade that is 7 points higher than your previous grade after having visualized carrying out your plan of more study hours every day.

The problem with this positive visualization according to the author of the book, “Rethinking Positive Thinking”, Gabriele Oettingen, who conducted a study on positive thinking for 20 years, is that it fools your mind thinking you’ve already achieved the result and thus lowers your motivation.  It’s focusing too much on the prize without thinking what it takes to achieve it.

Based on her study she found out that, college students who visualized themselves receiving a good grade on a psychology 101 midterm, received a lower grade than students who didn’t participate in the positive visualization exercise.  And college graduates who visualized themselves getting a high paying job received fewer job offers and earned less money than graduates who didn’t complete the positive visualization exercise.

Here’s a better version of positive visualization using the WOOP method or the Wish, Outcome, Obstacle, Plan method.


Wish means asking yourself, “What goal do I want in life, and why is it important?”  The stronger the reason on the ‘why’ question the better motivation it will produce within you.  Then visualize yourself making progress in one of the following areas of your life: physical health, financial security, key relationships, or the problem you are most concerned with now. Then focus on one action you could take today to move you closer to that vision. Make sure the action is feasible and completely within your control.  Examples:  go for a run after work, eat one serving of vegetables with every meal, cook dinner for my partner, etc.


Outcome means asking yourself, “What powerful emotion do I associate with my action? (The action you’ve decided to do in the wish method) Then imagine yourself feeling that good emotion already.  The emotion has to be related to completing the action such as feeling proud, healthy, energized, satisfied, relieved, connected, etc.  The emotion makes the visualization more exciting and motivating.


Obstacle means visualizing and asking yourself, “What are the obstacles to my actions?”  Focus on the biggest internal obstacle you need to overcome to fulfill your wish. If your goal is feasible, then the only thing that can hold you back from achieving is an internal limitation. This means being honest with yourself and preempting the excuses that you’ll come up with during the day to avoid taking action. Examples of obstacles are: getting distracted, too busy, too tired, procrastinating too much, couldn’t resist this food, etc.


Plan means asking yourself “How can I overcome the obstacle to my action?”  Then focus on your response to this obstacle. Consider what has worked in the past, or what you think could work based on advice from others. Then think: “If I notice the obstacle, then I will…[the action you will take to move past the obstacle]”  Examples:  “If I come home tired from work, then I will put on my running shoes and walk outside.” OR “If I experience cravings for junk food, then I will go for a walk and drink a large glass of water.”

As a personal experience I would make use of the WOOP method in writing my next newspaper article.  My “Wish” would be to write the next article.  My imagined “Outcome” would be a strong sense of satisfaction.  The “Obstacles” I have to wrestle with would be feeling too tired and making other excuses to procrastinate.  And my “Plan” to overcome these obstacles would be to write just a few sentences to build some momentum.

This new approach to positive thinking is a better and more effective version because it does not only visualize the prized outcome but also the obstacles that goes with it.  In other words, it’s a more realistic positive thinking.