All of us have felt the sting of rejection. Perhaps you didn’t get into the college of your choice, get a date with someone you had a crush on or got passed by for a promotion. It’s hard to shore up “positive thinking” with not fulfilling a treasured goal. We are told in our culture that it’s important to “think big”, “don’t give up” and “go with our hearts.” Staying the course will prevail.
Take Megan for example. She had done all she could to achieve her dream of becoming a division director for a large firm. “I pictured what it would look like. I followed a development plan that my boss and I had worked on to get me there. I received positive feedback in the interviews… yet I still managed to not get selected,” she bemoaned. Recent research on positive thinking shows that perhaps her enthusiasm actually pushed the opportunity away.
Featured on NPR’s Hidden Brain, researcher Gabriele Oettingen states that positive thinking and visualizing achieving our goals may not be the best advice. Her book, Rethinking Positive Thinking, challenges conventional strategies about goal attainment. Oettingen found “positive fantasies make you feel accomplished and take the energy away.” Instead she offers a model she calls WOOP that uses a “mental contrasting” approach. First, identify your highest wish (W). Second, target the outcome you desire (O), and then ask, “What is the inner obstacle that stands in the way?” (O). Oettingen stresses that when you internalize the role you might play in blocking the achievement of your goal, you enhance the chances of success. Third, it’s imperative to identify your “inner obstacle” and state to yourself, “If that obstacle occurs, then I will _____.” Here fill in the blank with the behavior that you will work on that may be impeding your progress. As you move toward your goal, you strengthen your chances to achieve it by taking responsibility for your part in creating an obstacle. The last step of the WOOP model is to plan (P) your next steps to achieve your goal.
To extend the example, if Megan had used the WOOP approach, she would have discovered a behavior that was sabotaging her success and improved her chances for the promotion. Megan like so many high achievers is prone to the “imposter syndrome.” The imposter syndrome is where despite outward success, a person doesn’t feel adequate. They doubt themselves and internally feel like a fraud, an imposter. This internal block going unaddressed, could have impacted Megan’s confidence and been a factor in her missing the opportunity. Learn more about the imposter syndrome.
Whatever your internal block is, it’s important to ask yourself if you are impeding your own progress toward a long desired goal because you are not self-aware. Discovering your own blocks can come from journaling, feedback from others or just taking time to get in touch with feelings you might be masking in the busyness of the day.