Several months ago I read about a technique that causes people to be more committed to their goals called Mental Contrasting. This procedure has been used to help people follow through on goals as diverse as exercising, time management, test preparation, learning a second language, achieving work-life balance and getting to know an attractive stranger.
I’ve personally applied it to overcome procrastination and seen it produce startling results for myself and I’ll show you how to apply it to overcome your procrastination in this post.
So what is Mental Contrasting exactly? It’s a technique that involves imagining the benefits of achieving your goal first, then thinking of obstacles in the way of achieving your goal.
The research shows that doing this causes a person who has high expectations of success to feel more energized about their goal because they see reality as putting some barriers in the way. Merely imagining how great it would be to achieve the goal did not produce these benefits.
And since most procrastinators know they can get themselves to complete an action they are procrastinating on it works wonders. For example, most students procrastinating on a paper that is due, know they can complete it because they’ve completed many papers before. They just have a hard time starting early and then following through.
Before I tell you the best way to apply this technique to procrastination though, I’d like to share with you just one of many studies that shows how effective this method is.
In a 2001 study, freshman enrolled in a vocational school for computer programming were put into two three groups. One group did mental contrasting in which they thought of positive aspects of finishing their program (feelings of pride, improved job prospects etc) and then thought of obstacles in the way (being distracted by peers, feeling lazy). Another group only thought about positive aspects of reaching their goal, and the last group only thought about the obstacles to finishing the program.
At the end of the study only the group that did mental contrasting and had expectations of success invested high degrees of effort as reported by themselves and their teachers and they also got the highest grades. Students in the Mental Contrasting group with low expectations felt the least energized and expended the least effort and consequently got the lowest grades. Participants in the other two groups did not show any differences in motivation or achievement based on their expectations of success.
What this shows is that Mental Contrasting causes you to put in a level of effort that’s in line with your expectations of success. So if you want to stop procrastinating and start taking action on a goal try the following steps.
1. Pick a goal, for example, I had a hard time getting myself to plan my week on Sunday so I set my goal to plan the week.
2. To make sure you have high expectations of success, remember past times that you were able to take that action. I thought of the other weeks in which I successfully planned the week. Research shows that describing the past events in the imperfective (I was doing) as opposed to past tense (I did) is most effective in motivating you to take the same action again so I described my past experiences that way by saying “Two weeks ago I was planning my week…”
3. Think of all the positive benefits that can come from achieving your goal. I thought about how I’d be more confident that I was taking care of all the things that need to be taken care of if I planned my week. That I’d feel more relaxed as well.
4. I thought of several obstacles in the way. One was inertia from not taking this action for at least two weeks. Another was the fact that I have so many wonderful things I could do on a weekend with that same time.
After taking these four steps, I felt energized about planning my week and I did it in a very short amount of time.
So will you try this technique today? If so, consider telling me about how you’ll use it in a comment below. Thanks in advance for doing this.
Reference to 2001 study mentioned above:
Self-Regulation of Goal Setting: Turning Free Fantasies About the Future Into Binding Goals