‘Rethinking Positive Thinking’ guides mental health, substance abuse patients back to optimism

September 17, 2019

‘Rethinking Positive Thinking’ guides mental health, substance abuse patients back to optimism

Addiction Mental Health Substance Abuse

How many times have we heard the phrase “think positively?” The power of positive thinking is endorsed by motivational speakers, religious leaders, teachers, as well as our parents. If we think positively, good things will eventually happen to us. This belief was further examined by Gabrielle Oettingenprofessor of psychology at New York University and the University of Hamburg. Her research resulted in a theory she called fantasy realization theory (FRT) and the findings were presented in a book called “Rethinking Positive Thinking: Inside the New Science of Motivation.” 

Based on the principles of mental contrasting, Oettingen focused on how we think about the future and how that impacts cognition, emotion, and behavior. She developed the FRT which demonstrates that if we mentally picture our future reality and contrast it with our present reality, it can successfully bring about changes in cognition, emotion, and behavior. 

From what she highlighted in her book, if we think positively, we are hoping for the best and no particular action is required. If we have a particular goal in mind and the road to that goal is envisioned, we often come up with imaginary obstacles such as: “I won’t be able to afford it,” “I don’t have the training,” or “it’s too far from home.” However, this is important as it gives us an insight into knowing what the obstacles are that will get in the way of achieving the envisaged goal in the future. 

FRT effective for substance abuse and mental health patients 

When people enter rehab for substance abuse or mental health treatment, they hopfor the best outcomes. There are a series of steps they take to help themselves reach the goal they want to achieve. They undergo various therapy and counseling sessions to help them change their thought patterns and learn coping skills. It’s well known that one such therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), changes the outcomes by changing thinking patterns, similar to Oettingen’s FRT. 

Most people are good at talking themselves out of trying new things by focusing on the obstacles that will prevent them from achieving a goal. If the obstacles are ignored, they can start their journey to achieve what they want to. According to the book, the “trick” is to anticipate the obstacles and plan ways to overcome them. This is useful in two ways. 

First, if the number of obstacles that get in the way is too large, it can actually help people decide effectively if they should attempt the goal or not. Second, if the obstacles are potentially manageable, then contrasting the present with the future gives people an opportunity to plan how to overcome those obstacles and get things done. 

For patients in treatment for substance abuse or mental health disorders, this would be a very useful non-drug strategy. A therapist could tie this in with CBT and provide patients with the tools to achieve their goals. 

WOOP your way to success 

“Rethinking Positive Thinking” does more than give an overview of the research. It provides a simple structure to teach people how to get and stay motivated for achieving new goals. In keeping with the tendency of self-help books to provide memorable acronyms, Oettingen calls her process “WOOP,” which stands for Wish, Outcome, Obstacle, and Plan. The purpose of this is to provide a set of steps to help people envision a desired future and plan for it in ways that will energize them to achieve that desired future. The book gives a number of specific exercises that people can apply to their own goals. 

In the preface to her book, Oettingen says, “In my studies, people who have applied mental contrasting have become significantly more motivated to quit cigarettes, lose weight, get better grades, sustain healthier relationships, negotiate more effectively in business situations, you name it. Simply put, by adding a bit of realism to people’s positive imaginings of the future, mental contrasting enables them to become dreamers and doers.” 

“Rethinking Positive Thinking” presents scientific research suggesting that dreaming isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. The book then examines and documents the power of a deceptively simple task – juxtaposing our dreams with the obstacle that prevent their attainment. 

“The publication was written for individuals who are stuck and don’t know what to do about it. It’s also for people whose lives are just fine, but who might wonder if they could be better. It’s for people who have a particular challenge in front of them that they’ve tried and failed to handle in the past, or that they just don’t know how to approach. Ultimately, the book is written for everyone. Each individual needs motivation so that we can stay on track and move ahead.” 

Trying out WOOP 

Staying on track and moving ahead is difficult for people with substance abuse or mental health disorders. However, having a specific set of steps to follow, in the shape of WOOP could be helpful in achieving sobriety and in following the recommendations of their therapists. The steps involved in WOOP are:  

  • Wish: Think of something you would love to accomplish 
  • Outcome: Imagine the outcome you would want 
  • Obstacle: Picture what obstacles might appear and decide whether there are too many 
  • Plan: If not, anticipate how you will deal with them and put your plan into action 

Seeking mental health and addiction recovery 

Sometimes, despite our best efforts, it might not be possible for us to revive our mental health or overcome addictions. In such a scenario, it is best that we opt for the help of a skilled mental health practitioner or an addiction specialist. 

If you or a loved one is battling mental health disorder or an addiction and is looking for a licensed mental health and addiction treatment center, get in touch with Invictus Health Group. We partner with the best mental health treatment centers offering evidence-based treatment programs in world-class mental health residential and outpatient treatment centers. Call our 24/7 helpline 866-548-0190 and speak to a member of our team to understand which program would suit you the best. You can also chat online to a representative for further mental health help. 

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