I am a big proponent of the use of imagination to improve the outcomes of my clients. Imagination is a highly underutilized resource for most adults, and one that often doesn’t receive much clout until it is practiced and the effects are experienced. The effects of imagined experience are immediate; what we see in our minds, we get to experience now. Visualize a lovely, relaxing place and you get to feel lovely and relaxed. Visualize an uncomfortable conversation and you get to feel uncomfortable now. How does this connect to our motivation?
Dr. Gabriele Oettingen has done the research to learn more through a series of experiments examined the effects of our imagined experiences. Her findings provide support for a new approach: visualizing the negative with the positive. What she posits is that imagining positive outcome alone may weaken our chances of getting there. So, are we wasting our time with those positive thoughts? No need to disregard them or the visualization process, we just need to harness it in a new way. While fantasizing about a positive outcome creates a positive feeling now, it seems to sap our energy for forward movement thereafter. Instead of sticking with the positive alone, she and her colleagues tested a new approach called mental contrasting. Mental contrasting asks us to imagine not only the positive outcome, but our own behaviors and barriers which may prevent us getting to that outcome. This approach when researched was correlated with significant change in behaviors related to food, alcohol consumption and exercise among others.
Dr. Oettingen and her team have given name to this approach: WOOP, which stands for Wish, Outcome, Obstacle, Plan. This four step process is a guide to visualizing where you want to go, what it would look and feel like to get there, what might trip you up along the way, and how you could overcome those challenges. Want to give it a try? There’s an App for that: WOOP (wish, outcome, obstacle, plan) that Dr. Oettingen and her team designed. http://woopmylife.org/
Perhaps today’s research bite will inspire you to try something different to refuel and motivate. And if the research is right, imagination is the way to get where you want to go.Want some support to dive even deeper? Set up a session by contacting me.