Mental Contrasting



Mental Contrasting: Bridging the Gap Between Dreams and Actions

Mental contrasting is a powerful self-regulation technique that enhances goal commitment by addressing the gap between our aspirations and our behaviors. It involves a structured process where individuals first envision a desired future or health goal and then contrast it with their current reality, which is recognized as a potential obstacle. This contrasting of a positive vision with reality empowers individuals to translate positive attitudes and strong self-efficacy into concrete goal commitment.

Psychologist Gabriele Oettingen, through years of research at New York University and the University of Hamburg, has uncovered a common pitfall associated with positive thinking. While positive thinking often leads people to visualize their dreams in a pleasant light, it can paradoxically lead to inaction. This is because our minds tend to trick us into believing that we've already accomplished these dreams, resulting in complacency instead of proactive problem-solving.

Mental contrasting offers a solution to this intention-behavior gap. By prompting individuals to imagine a desired future or health goal and then contrasting it with their present reality, this technique encourages reflective goal-setting. 

During this process, individuals must identify potential obstacles and develop actionable plans that boost the likelihood of successfully achieving their goals. Emerging psychophysiological evidence suggests that mental contrasting works by energizing individuals, thereby providing them with the mental resources necessary for behavior change.

Extensively studied, mental contrasting has consistently demonstrated its effectiveness in various domains, including achieving professional goals, improving dietary and physical activity habits, and enhancing interpersonal relationships. It has proven to be one of the most potent methods for goal setting when compared to more conventional approaches.

How to Implement Mental Contrasting using Rewellme

Mental Contrasting is a potent technique that propels you from mere dreaming to decisive action. It ignites a sense of urgency by vividly highlighting the contrast between your aspirations and your current reality. This stark comparison acts as a catalyst, compelling you to recognize the necessity of immediate action. In essence, it helps you realize that you won't reach your desired destination without taking the first steps.

Here's how you can apply Mental Contrasting in a straightforward manner:


 Card 1: Your Wish or Dream: On the first card, vividly depict your goal or dream. This illustration should offer a detailed representation of what you aspire to achieve. This card captures your vision of "what I want." You can include a modified image of yourself, an idealized example, a snapshot of a successful project—anything that mirrors your comprehensive visual concept of your goal  

Card 2: Current Reality: The second card portrays your current situation in relation to your dream. This card reflects the "this is what I do, this is what I have" aspect of today. It might feature an image of your project, a current selfie, or any visual representation that accurately conveys the present state of the issue.


Mental Contrasting involves visualizing not only the positive aspects but also the potential challenges of the impending reality. For example, when envisioning yourself becoming fit, you should simultaneously acknowledge the challenging aspects of resisting unhealthy food.

By consistently practicing Mental Contrasting using these two cards, you harness the motivational power of this technique to bridge the gap between your dreams and your actions. It becomes a compelling tool for turning aspirations into concrete achievements.


“I reasoned that the best way to get people up and moving was to ask them to dream and then to confront them right away with the realities that stood in the way of their dreams…If I could ground fantasies in a reality through mental contrasting, I might be able to circumvent the calming effects of dreaming and mobilize dreams as a tool for prompting directed action.”
~ Gabrielle Oettingen, Rethinking Positive Thinking




Mental Contrasting is a therapeutic technique that can help individuals bridge the gap between their desires and their behaviors by vividly contrasting their aspirations with the obstacles that may be hindering them. Here's a step-by-step guide for using Mental Contrasting to address the desire to be fit while dealing with frequent snacking:


Step 1: Identify Your Desires. Imagine the Positive Outcome. Begin by clearly defining what it means for you to "be fit." This could include specific goals like achieving a healthy weight, increasing physical activity, or eating a balanced diet. Take a moment to vividly imagine what your life would be like if you successfully addressed the desire to be fit. Picture yourself achieving your fitness goals, feeling healthier, and experiencing the benefits of an active lifestyle.

Step 2: Visualize the Snacking Habit. Now, visualize the snacking habit that is holding you back. Imagine the situations, triggers, and emotions that lead to snacking throughout the day.




Step 3: Contrasting the Two Scenarios. In your mind, switch back and forth between the positive outcome of being fit and the negative consequences of constant snacking. Contrast the two scenarios to create a vivid mental picture.

Step 4: Assess the Emotional Impact. Pay attention to your emotional responses as you engage in this mental contrasting. Notice how you feel when you imagine success and when you think about your snacking habit. This emotional awareness can provide valuable insights.

Step 5: Identify Necessary Actions. Based on your mental contrasting, identify specific actions that can help you overcome the snacking habit and move closer to your fitness goals. These actions might include setting limits on snacking, finding healthy alternatives, or addressing emotional triggers.






Strategies of Setting and Implementing Goals. Mental Contrasting and Implementation Intentions Social psychological foundations of clinical psychology / ed. by James E. Maddux ... (Eds.). - New York : Guilford, 2010. - pp. 114-135. - ISBN 978-1-606-23679-6

Mental Contrasting and Goal Commitment: The Mediating Role of Energization Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin 35(5):608-22

Mental contrasting as a behaviour change technique: a systematic review protocol paper of effects, mediators and moderators on health Syst Rev. 2016; 5: 201.