Rethinking Positive Thinking: Inside the New Science of Motivation by Gabriele Oettingen challenges the conventional wisdom surrounding positive thinking and introduces a new approach called "mental contrasting." The book is based on extensive research in psychology and motivation and offers practical insights for achieving personal goals. Here are the key ideas from the book:
Positive Thinking's Limitations
Oettingen argues that simply engaging in positive thinking, such as visualizing success and setting optimistic goals, can have limitations. It may not always lead to successful goal achievement.
Mental Contrasting
The book introduces the concept of "mental contrasting," a strategy that combines positive thinking with a realistic assessment of obstacles and potential setbacks. It involves imagining a desired future (the positive) and then contrasting it with the current reality (the obstacles).
Wish, Outcome, Obstacle, and Plan (WOOP)
Oettingen presents the WOOP framework, which stands for Wish, Outcome, Obstacle, and Plan. This framework guides individuals through the mental contrasting process, helping them set achievable goals and develop action plans.
The Power of Mental Contrasting
The book highlights the research findings that mental contrasting is more effective than pure positive thinking in motivating people to take action and overcome obstacles.
The Role of Feasibility
Oettingen emphasizes the importance of considering the feasibility of one's goals. If a goal is both desirable and feasible, mental contrasting can be particularly effective in driving motivation.
Implementation Intentions
The book discusses the concept of implementation intentions, which are specific plans that outline when and where one will take action to pursue a goal. These plans enhance the likelihood of goal attainment.
The "If-Then" Plan
Oettingen introduces the "if-then" plan as a way to link specific situational cues (the "if" part) with specific actions (the "then" part). This strategy helps individuals follow through on their intentions.
Overcoming Procrastination
"Rethinking Positive Thinking" offers practical strategies for overcoming procrastination and increasing productivity. Mental contrasting and implementation intentions play a crucial role in this process.
Adjusting Goals
Oettingen suggests that if individuals find that their goals are not feasible or do not align with their values, they should be willing to adjust their goals and make realistic changes.
Balancing Positive and Negative
The book encourages individuals to strike a balance between positive thinking and considering potential obstacles. By acknowledging both aspects, people can make more informed decisions and set achievable goals.
Applying Mental Contrasting
Oettingen provides examples and practical exercises to help readers apply the mental contrasting and WOOP techniques in various areas of life, such as health, relationships, and career.

"Rethinking Positive Thinking" challenges the notion that positive thinking alone is sufficient for goal achievement. It introduces the concept of mental contrasting, which combines positive thinking with a realistic assessment of obstacles. This approach is supported by research and provides a practical framework for setting and achieving meaningful goals