Positivity matters. In fact, it’s the fuel of change. You have to believe you’re capable of writing a book, getting an MBA, or creating a successful online program to even be willing to get started. Not only do you have to believe you can accomplish the goal, but you also need to deeply identify with the positive benefits it will bring to your life.
“Starting your goal-setting process with positive thinking is essential,” says Heinz. “Going after a goal that feels fairly impossible to you right now is daunting, so allow your positive thinking to give you the motivation and courage to take your first step.”
Unfortunately, this is where most people’s goals die as an unrealized fantasy. When’s the last time your New Year’s resolution made it to Valentine’s Day? If you’re like 80% of Americans, the answer is never. If you want to become a goal-finisher, it’s time to befriend your inner naysayer.
Research from Gabriele Oettingen, Ph.D., professor of psychology at New York University, shows that thinking positively about a challenging goal without being realistic (aka thinking pessimistically) about the roadblocks and obstacles you’ll face reduces your likelihood of goal success.
Heinz encourages goal-setters to use a technique called “mental contrasting” developed by Oettingen to mitigate the relaxing effect of fantasizing and, instead, ground your fantasies in reality. Research shows the internal friction from mental contrasting motivates your goal-directed actions. “Imagine everything that could go wrong with your big bodacious goal,” she says. “This is where you’re going to put all that pessimism to good use.”
So, if your goal is to scale your business, invite pessimism to the brainstorming table. Embrace thoughts like: What if I can’t recruit the right staff? Where do I start with operations and reporting? How does one even go about getting an investor?
Just let your brain enjoy its natural negativity bias.
As the saying goes, if you fail to plan, you plan to fail. Successful goal-finishers keep the process moving by coming up with specific action steps that address the very real challenges you identified in Step 2. “Your natural negativity can help you create a strategic plan to prepare for when the going gets tough,” says Dr. Heinz.
Dr. Heinz suggests her clients go through their list of obstacles and address each one individually with a concrete action plan. “The most effective way to do this,” she instructs, “is to create an implementation intention, which is a when/then plan.”
So, for example, Dr. Heinz says if your current reality is not having the right team to scale your business, you need to create a plan to overcome this obstacle. Your implementation (when/then) plan might include:
Monday | 9 am — Brainstorm what makes the ideal team
Monday | 2 pm — Email mentor to get feedback
Tuesday | 8 am — Reach out to contacts and colleagues for referrals
For each problem you foresee, put your plan to overcome each one right into your calendar.
“The reason this is so important is it allows you to feel little hits of accomplishment along the way, which boosts your motivation,” says Heinz. “You’ll see demonstrable progress by setting implementation intentions.” After all, working towards a big goal is hard work.
“There’s so much emphasis on positive thinking in the self-help zeitgeist, but the great irony is positivity without negative henchmen won’t get you very far,” says Heinz. “If you want your wishes to be anything more than pictures on your vision board, you need to harness the power of pessimism.”