Mental Contrasting: Because Wanting It Bad Enough Isn’t Good Enough

In Strategic Doing, the agile approach to strategy we use at Hutcheson Associates, moving from “What could we do?” to “What should we do” involves evaluating a number of potential strategic opportunities using our “Big Easy” criteria. The Big Easy calls on the strategy team’s collective intuition to decide which opportunity will likely have a BIG impact; but be relatively EASY to implement. One of the theories that underlays the idea of selecting a big idea that is easy to execute comes from what psychologists call “mental contrasting.” 

Oettingen and Reininger (2016), researchers at the University of Hamburg in Germany, observed that people frequently immerse themselves in the consideration of a desired future; but that desire alone does not necessarily lead to the effort required to attain that future state. In fact, the more positively people envision their desired futures, the less effort they invest and the less successful they are in realizing these futures. However, when positive contemplation about a desired future is complemented with a clear sense of reality, people find the direction and energy needed to realize their envisioned futures.

This mental contrasting of future and reality acts as a sort of self‐regulation strategy of behavior change. It helps people figure out what they really want and then assists them in wisely selecting, committing to, and actively pursuing pathways toward that future state. Mental contrasting also helps them to be better able to constructively dealing with setbacks along the way. 

Selecting the “Big Easy” may seem like a simple technique and it is; but like each of the “Ten Rules” of Strategic Doing, there are sound and proven theories supporting them. If you are interested in this or other aspects of our work, connect with us. 

Reference: Oettingen, G., & Reininger, K. M. (2016). The power of prospection: mental contrasting and behavior change. Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 10(11), 591-604.

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