Does mental contrasting help me with completing daily goals?

I read Gabrielle Oettingen’s book Rethinking Positive Thinking a few years ago on her research on mental contrasting, a tool for goal-setting and completion. The research showed the technique to be very effective for completing daily goals, but I want to see if it’s practical for me to use on an ongoing basis.

What am I going to do?

For 30 days, I’m going to do a mental contrasting exercise in the morning where I’ll select a goal for the day and write out obstacles that I think will hinder me. I’m going to measure my blood pressure before and after the mental contrasting exercise (I’ll explain my rationale for this).

What is mental contrasting?

Here is a description from a meta-analysis of mental contrasting papers:

Mental contrasting is a self-regulation strategy that is required for strong goal commitment. In mental contrasting, individuals firstly imagine a desired future or health goal that contrasted with the reality proceeding the goal state, which after reflection is viewed as an obstacle (Oettingen et al. J Pers Soc Psychol 80:736–753, 2001). Mentally contrasting a positive future with reality enables individuals to translate positive attitudes and high efficacy into strong goal commitment.

Another way of putting it is that I write out something that I want to get done, why I want it done, what could hold me back from getting it done, and what’s my plan for overcoming those obstacles.

What am I looking to answer?

My first question is whether this is an effective technique. So, I will be tracking whether I complete my goal for each day.

The second question is whether I think it’s a good use of my time. This is going to be a subjective evaluation, but will be consequential for whether I continue the practice after the evaluation period.

Why am I measuring blood pressure?

One of the findings mentioned in the book is that there was a positive correlation between people’s blood pressure while doing the mental contrasting exercise and the probability that they will complete their goal. I want to see if this holds true for me.

What else will I measure?

I’ll take a daily mood test from moodscope, which I have used for years. I’m interested to see whether my success rate in hitting goals will impact my mood scores.

I plan on tracking how much time I spend on completing the daily goal. Will I be more ambitious over time? When I don’t complete my goal, was it too big? Or was I not able to/not wanting to spend time on it.

I want to look at my sleep data to see how much sleep deprivation impacts my goal completion. I already track my sleep, but I will have to be more rigorous about the quality of that data. I use an app on my watch called Autosleep. I don’t wear my watch to bed, so the app tracks sleep by measuring the time that the watch spends on the charger. Surprisingly, this has been the most accurate and effective way for me to measure sleep duration.

Next Steps

It’s been a few years since I read the book, so I will have to brush up on my knowledge of the mental contrasting technique. I will also have to double check that my recollection of blood pressure correlating with goal completion probability is accurate.

In order to be consistent, I’ll need to slot this into my morning routine. To prepare me, I think I’m going to insert journaling into my routine from now until the start of March when I start the mental contrasting exercise. That way, the act of writing in the morning should be more familiar.

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Just a short update as I prepare for my project. I have successfully added a “write a morning page” task into my morning routine earlier this month. I had some friends in town for a long weekend, so I took a break from it. Sometimes that kind of disruption can really set back a developing habit, but I was able to pick it right back up after they left.

I’m currently setting a daily goal in these morning pages and tracking whether it gets done, but I’m not writing or thinking about it. It’s not a rigorous baseline, but it gives me something to compare against once the project begins.

I still need to brush up on my knowledge of the mental contrasting technique, but I still have time.

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Thanks for the update! Your first post was so detailed and thoughtful, I suspect the lack of feedback reflected how impressed we were :sweat_smile: but I was wondering if you’d been able to do the morning routine.

Do you have any tips for people trying to form a new routine for a self research project?