In this world of rabid positivity, who would have thought that contemplating all the stuff that could go wrong is actually a really great way to feed your dreams? And yet it appears to be exactly so. The technique is called mental contrasting and here’s the gist:
You start by envisioning your bright sparkling future. Maybe that little cafe in Rome, a glass of wine in your hand, the handsome man at the next table sending you meaningful glances…but I digress. Whatever your goal is, think about the big benefit you’re going to get from realizing it. Feeling blissful? Great. Now: envision all the obstacles presented by gross reality.
Did your lovely dream-bubble just go poof? Don’t stop there! The point of mental contrasting is to look the obstacles square in the eye so you can plan to overcome them. Studies show that looking at the dark side, even though it feels like it should be a real downer, is actually an incredibly powerful tool.
I’ve always been fond of an exercise I call ‘what’s the worst that can happen’ when I’m trying to get up the gumption to do something I’m nervous about. I’m so thrilled to discover it’s not just some weird personal perversion or a secret desire to be morose. It’s something useful. There are some caveats: the goal has to feel achievable, and you have to follow the order for it to work (dream, benefit, obstacles, planning). Then embracing the dark side does wonders for making your dream come true.
For a more thorough (and scientifically valid) explanation of this technique, try the mother of mental contrasting, Gabriele Oettingen http://bit.ly/15YF1NY or the more easily read Heidi Grant Halvorson: http://blogs.hbr.org/cs/2011/02/get_your_goals_back_on_track.html