A little under ten years ago, the theory of positive thinking (made famous by books like The Secret and Oprah) was all the rage. As Adam Atler for the New Yorker notes, thoughts may propel actions, but meditating on a fantasy outcome can do more harm than good. In a recent experiment, 83 German students were asked to rate the extent at which they focused on visualizing positive outcomes after graduating university.
Two years later, they approached the same students and asked about their post-college job experiences. Those who harbored positive fantasies put in fewer job applications, received fewer job offers, and ultimately earned lower salaries. The same was true in other contexts, too. Students who fantasized were less likely to ask their romantic crushes on a date and more likely to struggle academically. Hip-surgery patients also recovered more slowly when they dwelled on positive fantasies of walking without pain.
It may give you a small level of comfort to day dream this way, but believing it will be your end result could stop you from ever starting the journey to get there. However, Atler points out:
I asked… whether positive fantasies might sometimes be useful. She suggested that they might, if a person considered the specific steps that he would take to overcome the barriers to success… There’s nothing wrong with getting lost in fantasy, as long as you aren’t ultimately hoping to indulge in the real thing.
Read the rest of the article here.
Previously: How Goals and Good Intentions Can Hold Us Back