I recently read a brief white paper by Gabriele Oettingen who is a professor of psychology at New York University, where she asserts that too much positive thinking is counterproductive. Oettingen feels that there is too much credence given to the power of positive thinking in pop culture and points out that several studies show this.
Oettinger says that a number of studies that she and her colleagues have performed showed that fantasizing about happy outcomes in a number of different contexts ranging from weight loss, to finding a job, to surgical outcomes, to dating didn’t help achieve what was desired. In fact it hindered people.
Not just being the critic, Oettinger offers a more productive alternative, something she calls “mental contrasting.” Here’s how it works.
1) Think of something that you want to come true
2) For a few minutes imagine your wish coming true
3) Shift gears and spend a few minutes imagining the obstacles you will face in having the wish come true.
She claims that this process helps us understand how reasonable a wish is and motivates us to take on the challenges when the wish is reasonable. She also claims that studies show that “positive thinking fools our minds into perceiving that we’ve already attained our goal, slackening our readiness to pursue it.”
So, what does this mean in a climbing context? Well, if you have a climbing goal in mind, rather than just fantasizing about reaching the goal, write down all the hurdles or barriers that you will face in achieving your goal. Then get to work on figuring out how to overcome these barriers.
Let’s say for example that I have a goal to red-point The Eight Day, an inspiring 5.13a in Rifle. Challenges that I will have are:
– Rifle is a 5 hour drive from my home, which will limit my access
– The route is thin and technical, which is not my strength
– The route is really long and will require a full season’s committment
To address the drive, I might find someone to carpool with to ease the strain of the drive. I might decide to spend 2 weeks in Rifle at some point in the season. To address the technical nature of the route, I might devise a training regimen that emphasizes technical climbing. To address the need for a full season’s commitment, I might decide to break the season in two with a break in the middle.
Try this with your upcoming climbing goal.