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Self help: forget positive thinking, try positive action!

02.07.12 | News

The self-help industry is mired in ideas about positive thinking that are at best ineffective and at worst destructive. If you want to be more confident or successful, says Richard Wiseman, the best thing to do is act the part.
For years self-help gurus have preached the same simple mantra: if you want to improve your life then you need to change how you think. Force yourself to have positive thoughts and you will become happier. Visualise your dream self and you will enjoy increased success. Think like a millionaire and you will magically grow rich. In principle, this idea sounds perfectly reasonable. However, in practice it often proves ineffective.
Take visualisation. Hundreds of self-improvement books encourage readers to close their eyes and imagine their perfect selves; to see themselves in a huge office at the top of the corporate ladder, or sipping a cocktail as they feel the warm Caribbean sand between their toes. Unfortunately, research suggests this technique does not work.
In one study led by Lien Pham at the University of California, students were asked to spend a few moments each day visualising themselves getting a high grade in an upcoming exam. Even though the daydreaming exercise only lasted a few minutes, it caused the students to study less and obtain lower marks. In another experiment led by Gabriele Oettingen from New York University, graduates were asked to note down how often they fantasised about getting their dream job after leaving college. The students who reported that they frequently fantasised about such success received fewer job offers and ended up with significantly smaller salaries.
Why should this be so? Maybe those who fantasise about a wonderful life are ill-prepared for setbacks, or become reluctant to put in the effort required to achieve their goal. Either way, the message is clear – imagining the perfect you is not good for your life.
To read the full article, click The Observer
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