Rethinking Positive Thinking - Gabriele Ottingen

Rethinking Positive Thinking - Gabriele Ottingen

Video Book Summary

Download all of the Mind Maps here.

Book Summary Notes

Rethinking Positive Thinking

“What is your dearest wish? What dreams do you have for the future? What do you want to be or do?" 

"Imagine your dream coming true. How wonderful would it be. How fulfilling."

"What holds you back from realizing your wish? What is it in you that stops you from really going for it?"

"Rethinking Positive Thinking is a book about wishes and how to fulfill them. It draws on twenty years of research in the science of motivation. And it presents a single, surprising idea: the obstacles that we think most impede us from realizing our deepest wishes can actually hasten their fulfillment.”

Rose colored glasses with the lens cracked..

The cover of this book uncovers what we're going to learn today!

How dreaming or 'seeing the world with rose colored glasses' can cause us to lose our motivation..

Gabriel is going to explain step by step how the way we normally wish, dream, set goals or whatever you might call it actually undercuts our energy to achieve them!

This is serious stuff..  Do you find yourself setting goals and almost immediately not following through on them?

This is so common you wouldn't even believe it! 

Most people blame themselves for not having 'willpower' but what if I told you it was a flaw in the process not in you?

That's what we're going to talk about today!

Not only that..  But we're going to go over a new process!

One that is going to leave you more energized and ready to accomplish your dearest wish..

Don't Just Dream

“If you want to unwind, you can take some deep breaths, get a massage, or go for a walk—but you can also try simply closing your eyes and fantasizing about some future outcome that you might enjoy."   

"But what about when your objective is to make your wish a reality? The last thing you want to be is relaxed."

"You want to be energized to get off the couch and lose those pounds or find that job or study for that test, and you want to be motivated enough to stay engaged even when the inevitable obstacles arise."

"We’ve seen that the principle of ‘Dream it. Wish it. Do it.’ does not hold true, and now we know why: in dreaming it, you undercut the energy you need to do it. You put yourself in a temporary state of bliss, calmness—and lethargy.”

Do you want to make your wish a reality?

Gabriel shares some great research about the negative impacts about merely wishing.. 

Here is the just of it!

  • “More often than not, we are the exact opposite of electrified. It never ceases to impress me that we can measure a decline in energy and motivation almost instantly after a fantasy of wish fulfillment passes through a person’s mind.”
  • “By fooling our brains into thinking we’re already successful, we lose motivation and energy to do what it takes to actually become successful.”

This is something I see so often with coaching clients!

  • Week one we'll get on the call and they tell me all of their dreams, desires and wishes..  
  • They talk about the businesses they want to start, the projects they want to work on and the life they want to live!
  • Great..  Now it's my job to help them achieve those dreams!  But what's the secret?

Often the ones who have the most well thought out dreams and focus on them consistently are the ones that come back the next week disheveled and disappointed in themselves..  

Honestly, before I read this book I didn't understand the process..  But now that I do we're using the tools in this book on EVERY SINGLE coaching call!  

Let's turn those dreams into reality..  not simply make ourselves feel good!  Right?

The exercises are starting in the next note..  But here is what we need to understand before we get there!

  • Dreaming, Wishing and Goal Setting themselves aren't 'bad or useless' they are only a part of the process though!
  • We cannot allow ourselves to simply wish..  As it causes us to be LESS motivated to actually achieve what we want to do!  
  • Don't get me wrong though!  Wishing is a part of the process..  We need to know what we want!  Just don't stop there..  


“Back in 1990, when my research was first beginning to show that positive fantasies were not helping people achieve their wishes, I was disappointed. I had embarked on studying dreams not merely because I found them interesting, but because I had hoped that dreaming might help people who were having trouble achieving wishes large and small. It was difficult to focus my work on fantasies knowing that they made individuals continue to struggle, so I wondered if there was anything I could do to the process of dreaming to turn things around and make dreams more helpful for achieving wishes." 

"In particular, since positive fantasies tended to relax people, was there a way that I could use dreaming to wake them up, get them into gear, and motivate them to succeed?"

"I reasoned that the best way to get people up and moving was to ask them to dream and then to confront them right away with the realities that stood in the way of their dreams. I called this confrontation ‘mental contrasting.’"

"If I could ground fantasies in a reality through mental contrasting, I might be able to circumvent the calming effects of dreaming and mobilize dreams as a tool for prompting directed action.”

“Our study suggested that mental contrasting could help people do both things: engage even more forcefully when it made sense to engage, disengage even more forcefully when that made sense. It functioned as a self-regulation tool, helping people allocate their energy more efficiently so they didn’t merely pursue wishes, but wisely pursued them.”

Wishing by itself leads us to the opposite result of what we're looking for!  

Enter 'Mental Contrasting' a genius exercise created by Gabriel herself!  (This is such a great tool). 

  • Step 1: Set your Wish or Dream
  • Step 2: Name what's standing in the way

Ever wonder why you're MORE motivated when someone tells you that you can't do something?  

  • This is one reason I became an Entrepreneur!  Whenever someone tells me I can't do something it lights me on fire..  
  • I thought that it's because I like to prove people wrong  (ha) but now I wonder if it's something different.. 
  • They have shown me the obstacles! Thus forcing me to mentally contrast my wish to reality..  
  • Apparently it pays to not ignore the haters!

So let's do it!  

  • Step One: What is your dearest wish?  
  • Step Two: What is standing in your way?


“As time passed and Peter conducted more studies, he came to realize that forming a plan for how to attain a certain goal—what he termed the ‘implementation intention’—had a more powerful effect if it took on the particular form of an ‘if-then’ statement: ‘If situation x arises, then I will perform response y.’"

"Let’s suppose Jim feels inexplicably anxious when his regional manager stops by his office, so it’s difficult for Jim to start up a conversation or ask a question." 

"Jim’s implementation intention might be ‘If I become nervous talking to my regional manager, then I will remind myself that I’m the top-performing salesperson in the district and my sales have increased since last year’; or ‘If I become nervous talking to my regional manager, then I will excuse myself for a moment, take a few deep breaths to calm down, and return to the conversation.”

Now that we know what obstacles are in the way..  What will we do if they happen?  

This is such a great strategy..  IF THEN is a big part of my daily life as a marketer!  Maybe some of you can relate. 

  • Inside marketing you might say "IF someone opens this email" then send them "This sale" for example. 
  • I hadn't thought about using that in my own life..   But it's already paying dividends since I read the book!

Here are a couple examples I have used..

  • IF [I feel like snacking at night] THEN [I will brush my teeth and take a book to bed early]
  • IF [I feel lethargic or want to procrastinate] THEN [I will do 20 squats and get back to work]
  • IF [I feel myself getting upset] THEN [I will take 3 deep breathes standing tall]
  • Take some time!  Let's make a few IF THEN statements for your life. 

IF [Obstacle] THEN [I will overcome in this way]

IF [Obstacle] THEN [I will overcome in this way]

IF [Obstacle] THEN [I will overcome in this way]

Do you ever have conversations with yourself in the moments around when your obstacles come up?

  • Most of us are like 'yeah all the time' multiple times a day!
  • Those conversations are BURNING willpower at an astounding rate.. Leaving us vulnerable to giving up on our plan!
  • This is one of the secrets of the IFTT (Implementation Intentions) process..  
  • If we DECIDE what we'll do when the inevitable obstacles come up..  We can save our willpower for when the ones we don't see coming happen!


“As I started to teach mental contrasting with implementation intentions as a single, unified tool, I realized that we needed a better name than ‘MCII.’ The name WOOP—Wish, Outcome, Obstacle, Plan—came to us almost by accident in the course of fielding a study."

"We liked how accessible WOOP was and how well it captured the key steps. As a tool, WOOP is what psychologists call ‘content neutral,’ that is, it can be used to help with any kind of wish you might have, short term or long term, big or small. If you’re a professional, you can use it to reach a new milestone in your career, improve your skills—whatever you can think of. If you’re a student, you can apply it to study more productively. If you’re a mom or dad, you can apply it to handle challenging situations with your children more effectively. Anyone can use it in his or her personal life for any purpose—for instance, to form closer relationships with others or improve health.” 

The WOOP strategy (Wish, Outcome, Obstacle and Plan) for achieving your dreams!



What do you want to see in your life?  

Try to imagine something challenging yet doable

Play around with timeframes; year, month, week or day.


What is the number one thing you will benefit you will receive when this is achieved?


What is an obstacle that stands in the way of you achieving this? 

*This obstacle should come from within you..  External obstacles we don't always have control over. 

Example: Anxiety, Apathy, Loneliness or Conditioned Response


What can you do to overcome that obstacle?

What is one effective thing you could do?

Here is how Gabriel puts the exercise in the book!  Try it out right now.

  • “On a blank sheet of paper, name the wish in three to six words."   
  • "Identify the best outcome (also in three to six words) and write it down. Now let your thoughts lead your pen, taking as much paper as you need."
  • "Then name your obstacle and write it down. Imagine the obstacle, again letting your thoughts wander and lead your writing."
  • "To create a plan, first write down one specific action you can take to overcome the obstacle. Write down the time and place where you believe the obstacle will arise. Then write down the if-then plan: ‘If obstacle x occurs (when and where), then I will perform behavior y.’ Repeat it once to yourself out loud.”

Now it's our turn!  Give it a try. Pick one category in your life.

(Health, Wealth, Love or Happiness) are good places to start.

Name your wish in 3-6 words

[           ]

Identify the best outcome in 3-6 words

[           ]

Name your obstacle(s)

[           ]

Write your plan 

IF [Obstacle] Then I will [Action]


“We are just beginning to rethink positive thinking, evolving the new science of motivation and mobilizing it to improve individuals’ lives and address social problems. But what we do know is very clear." 

"To make the most of our lives, we must face up to the role we play in hamstringing our own wishes. Doing so isn’t complicated, but it is profound and life changing."

"With WOOP and mental contrasting, we motivate and empower ourselves to take action when it will really benefit us and those around us. We unleash powerful forces within us so that we can change habits of thought and behavior we’ve had for years."

"It sounds like magic, and it feels like magic, but the science shows it’s real. Wishing you good luck on your journey of discovery, I’ll end with two vital questions that I hope you never stop asking yourself: What is your dearest wish? What holds you back from achieving it?”

Are you trying to make the most of your life?

First we need to know what is your dearest wish?

  • Important to note here..  This takes some time to figure out for most of us! 
  • There is a lot of programming that goes on in society telling us what our 'wishes' should be..  
  • Long walks, journalling and meditation are often the best place to start with this process in my experience. 

Second we need to know what's holding us back!

  • Often times it's ourselves hamstringing our own wishes as Gabriel says here..
  • These are obstacles we need to watch out for and the WOOP process is one of the best ways I have found to identify and prepare for them!

Quick note: The WOOP Process is Time Scalable..

  • Whether you're setting a 5 year goal, 1 year goal, 1 month goal or a goal for today WOOP can help!  
  • In fact I have been playing with the idea of chunking up my WOOPs..  I'll leave you with this. 
  • What is my 5 year wish?  What is my 5 year outcome?  What are my 5 year obstacles?  What are the plans to overcome those? 
  • Then take those long term goals and ground them in a daily practice..
  • What is my wish today?  What is my outcome today?  What are my obstacles today?  What are my plans today?
Back to blog