Why Do I Have Trouble Making Positive Choices?

Have you ever wished for something greater in your life, only to find yourself unable to actually meet your goals? In some instances, does it even feel wrong for you to have success of any kind? There is some new research that may explain these thoughts and provide insight into how to make more positive choices.

Rethinking Positive Thinking for Making Choices

According to author Gabriele Oettingen in her book “Rethinking Positive Thinking:  Inside the New Science of Motivation,” dreaming or wishing for a positive future outcome may actually be a detriment. In an interview with the New York Times, she talks about how, if all you think are positive thoughts, the brain tricks you into thinking that you have already achieved your goal. This prevents you from thinking objectively.

Using WOOP to Make Positive Choices

In order to reach your goals and fulfill your dreams, you need to actually figure out ways to overcome challenges. Oettingen talks about using mental contrasting techniques, such as WOOP, to accomplish this. This stands for:

  • Wish
  • Outcome
  • Obstacle
  • Plan

By using this strategy one can dream big, but also identify the challenges ahead to realistically reach that goal. Once that is accomplished, you can develop a road map to achieve success.

Finding Obstacles to Making Positive Choices

Unfortunately, many people who come to therapy experience the opposite of positive thinking. Usually, all they think about are the obstacles that are in their way. They can’t hold on to positive feelings of achievement. Instead, they start thinking of the next obstacle, despite the fact that they may have just overcome a previous obstacle.

If people who come to therapy could identify the barriers that are keeping them from success and address them on their own, therapy would be unnecessary. However, for many people this isn’t working. People who show up in therapy are the ones thinking about the obstacle, but are still suck in the mud. The question then becomes why is it so hard to change?

Negative Reinforcement as a Barrier to Positive Choices

Experience has taught them that, if they do feel good about themselves, it is a bad thing. Maybe they had a parent who was hypercritical, reinforcing the belief that they are a failure.  For instance he or she may have heard:

  • “You’re not smart enough to get into college.”
  • “You can’t do that, you don’t have the strength.”
  • “You deserve what you get.”

Over time, they learn that they are not supposed to be successful or even feel that they deserve to fail. If they do achieve something, then they will believe that it wasn’t real. On some level, they feel it is not okay for them to have something good happen to them.

What to Do to Make Positive Choices

In other words, the article mentioned above only addresses half of the picture. The starry-eyed person who is complacent and never takes the initiative to reach a goal, may benefit from the WOOP technique. However, the individual who can’t feel good about her successes even when she overcomes the obstacles that could keep her from achieving her goals, requires a different strategy. Working with a therapist who can help you identify the ways you undermine yourself, and why you do so, can help you hold onto good feelings about yourself and make more positive choices.

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