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Article 22

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In Part 18-21, I listed some of the best books I have read for managing and developing people. They are:


  1. First, Break All The Rules, Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman, Gallup Organization [ref. 1]
  2. Discover Your Strengths,  Marcus Buckingham [ref. 2]
  3. Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, Carol Dweck – recommended by Bill Gates! [ref. 3]
  4. The Happiness Advantage: The Seven Principles of Positive Psychology That Fuel Success and Performance at Work, Kindle Edition, Shawn Achor [ref. 4]
  5. Rethinking Positive Thinking: Inside the New Science of Motivation, Kindle Edition, Gabriele Oettingen  [ref. 5]

I also promised I will provide a summary of these books in subsequent articles.  Here is the FOURTH one.

In this article I will discuss and summarize Gabriele Oettngen’s book, Rethinking Positive Thinking: Inside the New Science of Motivation.

I will begin with an excellent summary from the Amazon book Review: [ref 6]

“The solution isn’t to do away with dreaming and positive thinking. Rather, it’s making the most of our fantasies by brushing them up against the very thing most of us are taught to ignore or diminish: the obstacles that stand in our way. ”So often in our day-to-day lives we’re inundated with advice to “think positively.” From pop music to political speeches to commercials, the general message is the same: look on the bright side, be optimistic in the face of adversity, and focus on your dreams. And whether we’re trying to motivate ourselves to lose weight, snag a promotion at work, or run a marathon, we’re told time and time again that focusing on fulfilling our wishes will make them come true. Gabriele Oettingen draws on more than twenty years of research in the science of human motivation to reveal why the conventional wisdom falls short. The obstacles that we think prevent us from realizing our deepest wishes can actually lead to their fulfillment. Starry-eyed dreaming isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, and as it turns out, dreamers are not often doers. While optimism can help us alleviate immediate suffering and persevere in challenging times, merely dreaming about the future actually makes people more frustrated and unhappy over the long term and less likely to achieve their goals. In fact, the pleasure we gain from positive fantasies allows us to fulfill our wishes virtually, sapping our energy to perform the hard work of meeting challenges and achieving goals in real life. Based on her groundbreaking research and large-scale scientific studies, Oettingen introduces a new way to visualize the future, called mental contrasting. It combines focusing on our dreams with visualizing the obstacles that stand in our way. By experiencing our dreams in our minds and facing reality we can address our fears, make concrete plans, and gain energy to take action.

In Rethinking Positive Thinking, Oettingen applies mental contrasting to three key areas of personal change— becoming healthier, nurturing personal and professional relationships, and performing better at work. She introduces readers to the key phases of mental contrasting using a proven four-step process called WOOP—Wish, Outcome, Obstacle, Plan—and offers advice and exercises on how to best apply this method to daily life. Through mental contrasting, people in Oettingen’s studies have become significantly more motivated to quit smoking, lose weight, get better grades, sustain fulfilling relationships, and negotiate more effectively in business situations. Whether you are unhappy and struggling with serious problems or you just want to improve, discover, and explore new opportunities, this book will deepen your ideas about human motivation and help you boldly chart a new path ahead. [ref. 6]

The WOOP Method is a four step process developed and proven in a wide variety of settings over 20 years of Oettingen’s research on a wide variety of topics, such as weight loss, hip replacement surgery, class grades, dating, fashion,  managing managerial stress, time management, etc.  This book is a fascinating piece of research by Oettingen, I recommend you get a copy and read it a couple of times and then share it with your Human Resource Manager for including the WOOP method for organization wide people development.

As you read the book, you will recognize how the author and her team identify the issues, missing steps in this process and very carefully develop the entire process. Their thought process is akin to understanding the physio-chemical mechanism of a chemical process. The rigor is amazing.  The four steps must be executed in the chronological order below:

  1. Wish – Make a wish
  2. Objective – create a well-defined objective
  3. Obstacles – identify obstacles to attainment of the objective
  4. Plan – create a plan using If …, Then construct

Here is a simple every day example to illustrate the method.

Example WOOP Method

  1. Wish – I wish I could lose some weight.
  2. Objective – I wish I could lose 10 pounds of weight in three months  by February 28, 2017
  3. Obstacles 
    1. I will quit morning exercise program
    2. I will start eating some desert everyday
    3. I will stop walking in the evening
    4. Etc.
  4. Plan 
    1. If I skip an exercise day, then I will put my exercise pants and tee shirt near my bed at night to remind me next day morning that I should go to for my exercise right away.
    2. If I eat a desert on weekday, I will only eat a ½ piece of a small desert.
    3. If I miss walking in the evening, then I will walk 30 minutes longer the next day.
    4. If …, Then …
  5. If necessary tweak the list of obstacles and Plan.


  1. Most of the time our wishes are fuzzy.  Positive thinking is highly promoted in popular self- help literature, e.g. Secret, The Chicken Soup of the Soul, Power of Positive Thinking, etc. Oettingen showed for the first time that the very act of wishing and imagining/dreaming/thinking about it saps our energy away and can be demonstrated quantitatively by a drop in systolic blood pressure!
  2. Make the wish SMART, Specific, Measurable, Achievable, and Timely. If you skip this step the method does not work!
  3. Imagine, identify and list all the obstacles that will prevent you from achieving your objective. The technical term for this is Mental Contrasting. If wishing produces negative energy, what can we do to produce positive energy that will help us achieve our goal.  By asking this key question and validating the findings through extensive laboratory experimentation, the author identified identifying-the-obstacles is a requisite step. Also quite often once this list is made the subject concludes that the goal is not worth pursuing, which is okay.
  4. Develop a proactive plan to overcome the various obstacles. The technical term for this is Intentional intentions. Surprisingly walking through this step results in tapping into and engagement of the subconscious mind. Now both the conscious and subconscious mind are cooperatively working towards the same objective.

Run a Google Search for The WOOP Toolkit for Educators, a 14 page free PDF for several simple examples. [ref. 7]

Now it is Your Turn:

  1. When will you read the Rethinking Positive Thinking: Inside the New Science of Motivation
  2. How will you summarize your new learning? 
  3. How will you use the learning to massively increase your productivity? 
  4. Your teams’ productivity?


So crank up your Product Development engines… Let us speedup new product development and growth rates. And let the fun begin!



  1. First, Break All The Rules, Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman, Gallup Organization. See also http://www.gallup.com/press/176069/first-break-rules-world-greatest-managers-differently.aspx 
  2. Discover Your Strengths, Marcus Buckingham. See also https://www.gallupstrengthscenter.com/ 
  3. Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, Carol Dweck – recommended by Bill Gates
  4. The Happiness Advantage: The Seven Principles of Positive Psychology That Fuel Success and Performance at Work, Kindle Edition, Shawn Achor 
  5. Rethinking Positive Thinking: Inside the New Science of Motivation, Kindle Edition, Gabriele Oettingen 
  6. Amazon Review https://www.amazon.com/Rethinking-Positive-Thinking-Science-Motivation/dp/1617230235
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