RETHINKING POSITIVE THINKING: Inside the New Science of Motivation, by Gabriele Oettingen. Current, 219 pp., $27.95.
Gabriele Oettingen, a psychology professor who splits her time between New York University and Germany's University of Hamburg, has been doing research for 20 years on "the rethinking of positive thinking" -- and her conclusions run counter to rah-rah advice from Dale Carnegie onward. If you "visualize how much snazzier you'll look when you've lost that twenty pounds, how much happier you'll feel when you've snagged that promotion," she writes, you may actually be dooming that goal: "The pleasurable act of dreaming seems to let us fulfill our wishes in our minds, sapping our energy to perform the hard work of meeting the challenges in real life."
THE SCOOP Oettingen offers a four-step process in "mental contrasting" that she calls WOOP -- Wish, Outcome, Obstacle, Plan. If you're thinking positively, you might not focus on the obstacles that get in the way of your dream. But she offers guidance on facing them, and moving on.
THE BOTTOM LINE "What is your dearest wish?" she writes. "What holds you back from achieving it?