18 new studies show that you can increase the chances you’ll reach your goals through a thought-technology called ‘mental contrasting’.
How to Practice Mental Contrasting
First, vividly imagine all the glorious benefits you’ll experience once you reach your goal. Then, with equal intensity, visualize all of the stupid obstacles that could get in your way. Don’t let those obstacles bring you down. Associate them with activities that will help you overcome them.
Apparently, when people face obstacles, they tend to avoid them. Obstacles feel gross, irritating, or scary. So our brains associate the challenges accordingly as something to stay away from.
But, if you practice mental contrasting, you’ll be less likely to associate obstacles with avoidance and more likely to think of them as ingredients you need to julienne for your delicious goals.
A study investigated this. Participants were asked to reflect on an interpersonal concern, such as a conflict with their partner. They were to specify a positive consequence they’d experience if the concern resolved – such as feelings of warmth and harmony. Then, they were asked to specify a word that represents an obstacle to this result – such as jealousy – then a word that represents a behavior they could put in place to override this obstacle – such as distraction. Finally, they imagined the positive consequence and the obstacle as vividly as possible.
One control group was given a variation on the same instructions. They imagined the obstacle before the benefits of attaining their goal. Yet another control group was told to imagine random stuff.
After this exercise, participants got to decide whether a string of characters was a legitimate word or not. Before each string appeared, another word was presented subliminally (that is, too rapidly to register). The target word was the behavior – such as ‘distraction’, and the prime was either the obstacle- such as ‘jealousy’, or another word.
Those that engaged in mental contrasting recognized the behavior more rapidly if followed by the obstacle.
The obstacle was more associated with the behavior.
When individuals enjoy positive fantasies only, they neglect vital information. In particular, they feel motivated to overlook complications and other insights they perceive as undesirable.
Yet, with mental contrasting, ideas that epitomize challenging realities or obstacles get translated by the brain as ideas that epitomize inspiring future possibilities. Consequently, individuals become more aware of how the challenging realities are obstacles to future possibilities. Their motivation to override these obstacles thus increases.
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