First Friday Book Synopsis

"…like CliffNotes on steroids…"

Success! Why Expectations Beat Fantasies


Image credit: balt-arts

Here is an excerpt from PsyBlog, a website that features scientific research into how the mind works. Its author is Jeremy Dean, currently a researcher at University College London, working towards a PhD, having previously completed an MSc in Research Methods in Psychology at the same institution. The studies he covers have been published in reputable academic journals in many different areas of psychology.

To read the complete article, check out others, and sign up for email updates, please click here.

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Are you building castles in the sky?

Psychologists have found that fantasising about future success can be dangerous.
We all have fantasies about the future. It’s only natural to dream happy dreams about how things might go right.

We often hear from self-help gurus that just this type of happy dreaming is a good source of motivation. If we can picture our future success then this will help motivate us.

Loosely speaking there is some truth to this: positive thinking about the future is broadly beneficial. But psychologists have found that visualization and fantasy can be tricky customers and research carried out by Oettingen and Mayer (2002) shows why.

Fantasy versus expectation

The researchers wanted to see how people cope with four different challenges that life throws at us: getting a job, finding a partner, doing well in an exam and undergoing surgery (hopefully not all at the same time).

Across four studies the researchers examined how people thought about each of these challenges. They measured how much they fantasised about a positive outcome and how much they expected a positive outcome.

The difference might sound relatively trivial, but it’s not. Expectations are based on past experiences. You expect to do well in an exam because you’ve done well in previous exams, you expect to meet another partner because you managed to meet your last partner, and so on.

Fantasies, though, involve imagining something you hope will happen in the future, but experiencing it right now. This turns out to be problematic.

The researchers found that when trying to get a job, find a partner, pass an exam or get through surgery, those who spent more time entertaining positive fantasies did worse.

Take those looking for a job. Those who spent more time dreaming about getting a job, performed worse. Two years after leaving college the dreamers:

• had applied for fewer jobs,
• unsurprisingly had been offered fewer jobs,
• and, if they were in work, had lower salaries.

On the other hand those who entertained more negative future fantasies were more likely to achieve their goals. Similar results were seen for the other goals.

Although positive fantasies were associated with failure, positive expectations were associated with success. People who had positive expectations about finding a partner, recovering quickly from surgery and passing an exam, did better than those whose expectations were negative.

Recall that expectations are built on solid foundations while positive fantasies are often built on thin air.

Why positive fantasies are dangerous

The problem with positive fantasies is that they allow us to anticipate success in the here and now. However they don’t alert us to the problems we are likely to face along the way and can leave us with less motivation—after all it feels like we’ve already reached our goal.

It’s one way in which our minds own brilliance lets us down. Because it’s so amazing at simulating our achievement of future events, it can actually undermine our attempts to achieve those goals in reality.

This isn’t to say that thinking positively about the future is problematic or that fantasy in itself is dangerous, just that a certain type of positive fantasy thinking is associated with poorer performance.

So that’s a warning about the dangers of visualization and fantasy in goal-achievement, onto more positive findings about motivation and success in future posts.

I expect.


Friday, April 22, 2011 Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

How to Commit to a Goal

Here is an excerpt from PsyBlog, a website that features scientific research into how the mind works. Its author is Jeremy Dean, currently a researcher at University College London, working towards a PhD, having previously completed an MSc in Research Methods in Psychology at the same institution. The studies he covers have been published in reputable academic journals in many different areas of psychology.

Image credit: Angie Torres

To read the  complete article, check out others, and sign up for email updates, please click here.

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Psychological experiments demonstrate the power of a simple technique for committing to goals.

Here’s a brief story about why we all sometimes get distracted from the most important goals in our lives. Perhaps you recognise it?

You are thinking about changing your job because your boss is a pain and you’re stagnating. As the weeks pass you think about how good it would feel to work for an organisation that really valued you. You think this might be a good goal to commit to but…

Work is busy at the moment, the money is OK and your home-life is also packed. And don’t even mention the economy. When do you have time to update your CV and start exploring the options?

Apart from anything else you’ve been thinking about learning a musical instrument. With the lessons and hours of practice there wouldn’t be any time for interviews.

A few months pass. You forget about changing your job and start to fantasise about learning the piano. Wouldn’t it be wonderful after a hard day’s work to immerse yourself in music?

Unfortunately everyday life intervenes again and you do little more than search online for the price of electric pianos. Then you wonder if what your life needs is…and so on.

After six months you come back full circle to changing your job, still without having made a real start towards any of these goals.

Written like this, with six months compressed into a few paragraphs, it’s obvious the problem is a lack of goal commitment; although in reality, with everyday life to cope with, the pattern can be more difficult to spot.

One major reason we don’t achieve our life’s goals is a lack of commitment. This article describes psychology experiments that suggest how we can encourage ourselves to commit to beneficial goals that could change our lives.

Reality check

In a previous article we saw some of the dangers of fantasising about the future. Here, in a series of experiments by Gabriele Oettingen and colleagues, fantasy is involved again, but this time combined with a sobering dose of reality (Oettingen et al., 2001).

The researchers divided 136 participants into three groups and gave them each a different way of thinking about how they wanted to solve a problem, in this case it was an interpersonal one.

Indulge: imagine a positive vision of the problem solved.
Dwell: think about the negative aspects of the current situation.
Contrast: first imagine a positive vision of the problem solved, then think about the negative aspects of reality. With both in mind, participants were asked to carry out a ‘reality check’, comparing their fantasy with reality.

Crucially, participants were also asked about their expectations of success in reaching their goal.

The researchers found that the contrast technique was the most effective in encouraging people to make plans of action and in taking responsibility but only when expectations of success were high. When expectations of solving their interpersonal problem were low, those in the mental contrast condition made fewer plans and took less responsibility.

The contrast condition appeared to be forcing people to decide whether their goal was really achievable or not. Then, if they expected to succeed, they committed to the goal; if not, they let it go.

Using this technique, the same thing happens to emotions as well as thoughts. In a second experiment the mental contrasting had the effect of committing people emotionally to the goal if they thought they could succeed, or letting the goal go if they didn’t. Both those who indulged or dwelled made no such emotional investment.

A third experiment found that people in a mental contrast condition were more energised and took action sooner than those who only entertained positive or negative fantasies on their own. Once again people didn’t commit themselves to goals they didn’t expect to achieve.

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To read the  complete article, check out others, and sign up for email updates, please click here.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011 Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

   

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