DLD13 – Interview with Gabriele Oettingen


Our culture in Europe, but especially in the United States, is very much based on that. Problems are solved by positive thinking, and our data really show that you need to be much more differentiated in order to reap the benefits of positive thinking and that you need to actually incorporate in this positive thinking.

Also a clear sense of reality and that some people have a hard time to hear that, and we know that since since a while also in the scientific community, we encounter resistance. And here we can encounter a lot of welcoming arms.

Because people understand that there needs to be something more than just positive thinking, but certainly a little bit of resistance too, which is understandable because we’re talking about change and change is always difficult scientifically.

We call that strategy, mental contrasting with implementation intentions, so mental contrasting of a positive future with the obstacles of reality. If you, with your personal obstacles of reality and forming implementation intentions, are then the plans to how to overcome this obstacle in order to reach our goals? So that’s called mental contrasting with implementation intentions or mci.

I playfully. We call it. Whoop wish outcome obstacle plan so that’s, a strategy which we have been investigating now for the past 15 20 years, and we know the processes which are going on in order to make the strategies are helpful for behavior change and for motivationally, smart Decision-Making, there are many cultures which are less based on positive thinking, but it’s.

It’s, not really our tasks, who sort of you know evaluated whether one is good. The one is bad. Our task, as we see it, is to discover and then to thoroughly scientifically investigate strategies that help people to actually change their behavior in the direction that would like to change this behavior so basically to help them to do more good and less bad.

And what our concern also is that we give it to the people so that they can use it as an elegant tool to change the behavior by themselves. They can learn it so that they don’t need a coach or a trainer or a therapist at the end of the day, so that it is a skill which you can learn and then you can apply to any wish.

You have in your life, it is a strategy which we investigate it in individuals which the individual can apply, but certainly you can apply it also in a diet. Together with another person, you can apply it in a group and you can apply it to actually make a whole organization change by understanding.

Actually, what’s, what your vision is and by understanding what is the obstacle or what prevents you or what holds you back from actually implementing the vision. You can do that. As I said, there’s any individual or in a diet or in a group professor or investigates what is actually that we should change.

So what kind of changes do we need to make in order to slow down chronic disease or even reverse chronic disease? And these changes are sometimes not easy to make and that’s? Where we come in and say, okay, here’s, a strategy you can use in order to make exactly those changes.

Professor Hornish is talking about. If you measure what people spontaneously do, they do generally more positive dreams than what we call mental contrasting, but when there is a specific task they solve what they need to solve, then they spontaneously increase there the likelihood that they actually do this mental contrasting.

So it is dependent on the situation how much people spontaneously do mental contrasting, but even if there is a task which they need to solve, they don’t do enough mental contrasting in the sense that lots of people are still dreaming along.

So there’s, a need to actually teach people, this mental contrasting with implementation intentions to achieve behavior change in in their life. There are some spontaneous mci going on, but there’s still a lot of room in order to in order to, in order to reach a behavior change and effective behavior change there’s, lots of room for still teaching them explicitly.

That strategy, we are experimentalists, weird experimental psychologists, so we in in strictly controlled experiments investigate the effectiveness of the strategy and the processes of the strategy, and so we did experiments in all life domains and the professional life domain with respect to succeeding in work or succeeding.

In school and the academic life to man succeeding in the interpersonal life to man with respect to you know, solving interpersonal problems such as you know getting along better with my mother or getting along better with my roommate, or you know, sorting out a conflict one had So interpersonal or be more tolerant, for example, or in the house timing, and anything from reducing snacking to eating more fruits and vegetables, getting away from alcohol getting away from smoking and doing more access.

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