How A Healthy Dose Of Reality Helps You Achieve Your Fitness Goals

August 28, 2019

We are inundated with messages boasting the power of positivity as a technique to manifest what we want. In the era of inspirational Instagram quotes and vision boards, do we run the risk of thinking too positively?

Is positive thinking actually preventing you from achieving your fitness goals?

Gabriele Oettingen, professor of psychology at NYU and author of “Rethinking Positive Thinking: Inside the New Science of Motivation” has evidence to suggest it might be.

The idea is that too much positive thinking tricks your brain into believing you have already accomplished your goal, and you end up putting less effort toward it as a result.

Oettingen isn’t suggesting we should abandon all hope in order to find success, but rather pepper our positive thinking with hints of pragmatism. Basically, we need to get real about what it will take to achieve our fitness goals in order to actually accomplish them.

She calls this technique “mental contrasting.”

“Here’s how it works. Think of a wish. For a few minutes, imagine the wish coming true, letting your mind wander and drift where it will. Then shift gears. Spend a few more minutes imagining the obstacles that stand in the way of realizing your wish.”

- Gabriele Oettingen, "The Problem With Positive Thinking"

Don’t dwell on the obstacles though, that doesn’t work either. The intention is simply to have a plan in place to conquer these obstacles as they arise.

When it comes to working out, you might imagine yourself looking a certain way or reaching a specific athletic milestone. Mental contrasting suggests that you also spend some time considering what difficulties you’ll encounter on your fitness journey. For example, if one of the concerns is that you won’t have always gym access, Zeamo is an excellent solution to have in your back pocket.

Brain on treadmill

This technique has been shown to have an impressive effect. In a recent study, participants who practiced mental contrasting ended up working out twice as long as the control group over the course of four months.

So go ahead, visualize your fitness goals and allow yourself to believe you will achieve them. You can accomplish whatever you set your mind to, and you will! Just be mindful that a healthy dose of reality really is healthy.

For more information on mental contrasting, check out Oettingen's piece in The New York Times.

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