Summary of Rethinking Positive Thinking

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Psychology professor Gabriele Oettingen offers an antidote to common beliefs about positive thinking, goals, desires and the human mind. Some of the information she shares will be familiar to those who read actively in these fields, but much of it will be new, especially to the average reader. For that reader, though, this could have been a bit shorter, perhaps by tightening the accounts of the discovery process. (Given that, busy readers might want to focus first on Chapter 6.) Oettingen walks you through the “Wish-Outcome-Obstacle-Plan” (or WOOP) process as a path to logical reasoning free of over-optimism. Her exploration will help you approach life more realistically and get out of your own way. getAbstract recommends her research on positivity to anyone who’s trying to reach a goal and everyone interested in the workings of the human mind.

About the Author

Gabriele Oettingen is a professor of psychology at New York University and the University of Hamburg. She has published more than 100 articles or chapters on the effects of future thought.

 

Summary

The “Cult of Optimism”

Books like The Secret and contestants’ attitudes on reality competition shows like American Idol reflect a common worldview – that imagining your “deepest wishes” makes them more likely to come true. This reflects a larger cult of optimism pervading contemporary culture. Pop culture champions “dreaming and dreamers,” and politicians all tout the “American Dream,” which promises success to everyone. These beliefs rest on the premise that thinking positively and focusing on the future can carry you through a tough today and garner superior results tomorrow. Considering the strength of these sunny beliefs and how common they are, especially in the West, you may wonder if they are true and what effect they have on people’s lives.

Past studies of optimism suggested it is usually well founded. Martin Seligman, who started “the positive psychology movement,” argued that people are likely to base their optimistic beliefs about the future “on past experiences of success.” In this model, optimism is simply logical. Those who have performed well in one area expect to keep succeeding. However, some people visualize successful futures without...


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