Dream Big! Find Your Bliss & the Money Will Follow! Love Your Job & You’ll Never Work a Day in Your Life!
As career development and helping professionals, how do these phrases make you feel? A little grossed out? A tad enraged?
Coming from a background of working in non-profit, government-funded career centres, in which I supported a diverse population, this feels privileged and misguided to me. Imagine a C+ executive, a single-mother of 3 without a GED, a tradesperson that has returned back home after the Calgary boom went bust. For all of these people, this type of advice seems trivial and at worst, harmful.
But wait... Aren’t we supposed to help people find meaningful work? Connect job seekers to their dream job? If everyone is a genius in the right context, aren’t we the pros that help people find that context?
What’s more, isn’t there movement in our field towards positive psychology? Most of the helping professionals I know believe in the impact of positivity in their clients’ journeys. There is a great deal of research that backs the power of positive thinking. It shows that celebrating small wins and framing things optimistically can lead to more confidence and resilience, which in turn leads to more opportunities.
So is it find your bliss or make a plan? Dream big or get to the grindstone?
If you ask Gabriele Oettingen, a researcher and professor of social and developmental psychology, it’s both.
According to her research, the use of positive thinking by itself can actually be detrimental to achieving our goals. The human imagination is powerful. If we can picture ourselves with the perfect life or the amazing job, our imaginations can trick us into thinking we have already achieved our dream goal. We can stay stuck in the “before” stage, with little motivation. That’s why so many people will talk about want they want, but do very little action to move towards obtaining it.
When we combine positive thinking with a technique called mental contrasting, research shows that people get the job, the grades, the dream goal. This technique teaches people to use a hybrid of positive thinking coupled with realistic goal setting.
Oettingen has developed a mental contrasting tool called WOOP, which stands for Wish, Outcome, Obstacle and Plan. On her website, WOOP is described as “a practical, accessible, evidence-based mental strategy that people can use to find and fulfill their wishes and change their habits.”
Here’s how it works:
Think of a wish. For a few minutes, imagine the wish coming true, the best outcome if your wish were fulfilled, letting your mind wander and drift where it will. Then shift gears. Spend a few more minutes imagining an inner obstacle, like a bad habit or an emotional belief, that stands in the way of realizing your wish. Finally, make a plan, choosing one action you could take to overcome what is standing in your way: “If… (obstacle), then I will … (action or thought).”
The next time a client says: “I’m not into all that positive affirmation, dream it & it will manifest, think happy thoughts, woo-woo stuff.” try WOOP.
Within our OneLifeTools narrative framework, we use this mental contrasting technique and have even included it as part of the new feature in our Online Storyteller, the self-directed Narrative Assessment. Click here if you’d like a free credit to try out this new feature for yourself.