From self-help books highlighting the potential of making daily affirmations to special motivational programs promising people that positive thinking can unilaterally improve their lives, the idea that claiming the possible for oneself is nearly equatable with attaining the actual goal has been increasingly prevalent in recent years, though some critics have questioned the ultimate message behind the idea. Recently, a study performed at the University of Illinois put positive thinking to the test, and found that asking questions about personal success or failure was actually more effective than affirming success. The study worked with participants in a series of experiments and from each obtained evidence that the basic question, “Will I succeed?” correlates with greater actual success than the statement, “I will succeed.”
In the first experiment, participants spent time either affirming that they would succeed or asking if they would succeed before performing an anagram-based task; those who asked rather than affirmed performed better on the task. This experiment was followed by another in which participants wrote either, “Will I” or, “I will” before performing the same task; again, those with the questioning stance showed better overall results. Following these experiments, participants performed the same phrase-writing task, and were then asked about their intentions to exercise during the following week. Participants also filled out a questionnaire intended to ascertain their intrinsic motivation. Both performance and motivation levels were found to be higher for the questioning group.
The work suggests that while positive thinking is a popular method for inspiring motivation, asking questions about personal outcomes may be more powerful. Through actively thinking about the challenge or task at hand, people may be better-equipped to perform their best than when operating on the simple belief that they will succeed, and the study’s support of this idea may go a long way towards helping people understand how eslf-motivation may improve their lives.
© Copyright 2010 by By Noah Rubinstein, LMFT, LMHC, therapist in Olympia, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.
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