In this article we look at how you can harness the power of positive AND negative thinking in your training goals. This is called "mental contrasting", a technique coined by motivation psychologist Gabrielle Oettingen that brings together your long term goals with your short term realities.
We're used to hearing if you want to achieve something "just think positive" and you'll be there in no time. But the problem with positive thinking on its own is that while it bolsters up your confidence of success, it does not prepare you for the obstacles you will encounter on the way.
That's where 'negative thinking' is helpful in being realistic about the obstacles and temptations you will meet on the path to your goal and preparing yourself to overcome difficulties.
In an example of how mental contrasting works, Oettingen studied a group of obese women enrolled in a weight loss program and asked the women what they thought about their chances of success in losing the weight. Unsurprisingly, the women who thought that they would succeed lost a lot more weight than those who thought they would fail. But she also asked the women their expectations for what the weight loss process would be like. The women who thought they would have a hard time not giving into temptation to eat junk foods lost an average of 46 pounds MORE than the women who thought it would be easy.
Applying mental contrasting to our example goal of "having a better side piercing kick" from our previous article in this series: you will need a positive attitude to your chances of success and believe that you can do it, AND ALSO be aware of obstacles in the way which could include time to practice, other commitments, etc.
The key to making mental contrasting work is that both sides need to work together:
- positive thinking about your ability to succeed and chances for success
- realistic thinking about the difficulties you could face.
When you have positive thinking without realism your overconfidence and big picture thinking may blind you to the reality of the detail, and when you have realistic thinking without positivity the thought of the possible obstacles can weigh you down.
But when you have the two together, you have a superior combination of confidence AND preparedness which will help to lead you toward success.