Take a moment to close your eyes and imagine yourself arriving at your dream home after a wonderful day of work at your dream job. Maybe you see yourself as a successful entrepreneur living in a gorgeous house with jaw-dropping landscaping…
WAIT. STOP. ERASE IT FROM YOUR MEMORY.
Psychologists have found that fantasizing about future success could create less of a drive to actually attain it! Who would have imagined that fantasizing about the future could ruin the chances of it happening? That is quite the terrifying thought, especially considering humans are a species of avid dreamers constantly preoccupied with future-driven decisions. Psychologists have conducted experiments that demonstrate how different ways of fantasizing about future dreams could potentially alter the course of people’s lives. Studies show that dreaming about future success induces a taste so sweet that it diminishes the motivation to attain it, and neglects the difficult realities that may transpire along that path to success. If you want to fantasize about your dreamy future without it reducing your motivation towards making that future a reality, psychologists suggest that practicing mental contrasting is likely to reap you desired success.
Mental contrasting is the concept of taking a future goal and envisioning it in a positive light, followed by thoughts featuring the negative aspects of reality.
This phenomenon was researched in experiments done by Gabriele Oettingen, where she tested fantasy along with sobering reality, and the results are intriguing. Oettingen creates an experiment where over one hundred participants must create a way to solve a problem, and she groups them in three situational categories: indulgers, where only positive visions are anticipated, the dwellers, who think about the negative aspects of a current situation, and the “contrasters,” who first imagine the positive future, then think about the negative aspects of reality. It was especially important that the participants stated their expectations of success in solving the problem.
Researchers found that the mental contrasting group had the highest success rate of taking responsibility and creating a goal for the problem, but only if their expectation for success was high.
If their expectation for success was low, they had a difficult time creating plans of action and took less responsibility. The results make sense in the way that when you believe something is attainable, it is easier to create a plan of action than when you think something cannot be done. In essence, fantasy is more likely to become a reality if a goal is created along with a plan of action. But what are the steps necessary to creating an attainable goal? People are not limited in what they could dream for, so how can a person ensure that their goal is feasible and will lead them to their desired result?
According to Oettingen and Gollwitzer, there are specific ingredients necessary in creating a recipe for success. One important ingredient is that people must frame a certain goal in their mind that will maximize their ability towards attaining it. For example, let’s say you really want to become a great chef. To successfully attain this goal, you must imagine the positive outcomes of becoming a great chef, such as the satisfaction you will feel by making people happy with great food. You must focus on this positive outcome, and avoid thinking about ways in which people will not like your culinary creations. It is important to imagine positive results instead of thinking about ways to prevent negative ones if you want to reach your goal.
Being open to learning new things is also an important aspect to setting a performance goal.
If you keep an open mind and tell yourself that you will learn a new recipe instead of setting a high expectation by thinking “this new recipe will be the best one I’ve created yet,” you are likely to become disappointed in the process if you do not meet that criteria. Disappointment often leads to faltered motivation and eventual failure. Focusing on learning a skill rather than on meeting a performance goal will guide you towards natural mastery and success.
Another necessary component in goal setting is having intrinsic goals, which means anticipating internal rewards rather than external. The satisfaction from the hard work put into preparing a delicious meal is an example of an internal reward, instead of seeking an external reward like winning a prize. Finding happiness within yourself rather than seeking it from the outside world will sustain your motivation to achieve.
Promotion, learning and intrinsic reward are three integral components to goal setting, along with a high expectation of success.
If you implement the ingredients but ultimately do not expect any success, you are setting up a recipe for disaster (pun intended). Mental contrasting will come into play at each step of striving for your goal. Believe that you will become a great chef, but then also think about how much time it will take to get there. Get excited to learn that new recipe, but also remember that mistakes create room for growth. Embrace the pride in that first perfect meal, but don’t forget that other meals may not taste as good. Fantasizing about a dream but approaching it with practicality makes it easier to adjust your goals in a way that will transpire into relishing success.