Mental contrast to avoid naive optimism

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Robert Maurer
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Mental contrast to avoid naive optimism

Mental contrast is a very useful strategy to foster that moderate dose of optimism we need to fuel our motivation. We explain what this technique consists of and take full advantage of it.

Last update: July 14, 2022

Mental contrast is an exercise and perspective that helps to see things from a more realistic point of view. It becomes a great tool for achieving goals and counteracts naive optimism to some extent.



Many texts speak of the benefits of optimism without specifying, however, that they occur under certain conditions. Sometimes it is believed that it is enough to "think positive" for everything to go well. This is not only naive, but in many cases it can also be counterproductive to achieving goals.

Just as a positive attitude and the hope of good results help to achieve any goal, it is no less important to see the limits of reality. The mental contrast serves precisely to adopt a perspective that is closer to the factsrather than following the course of events by luck or inertia.

An idealist is one who, noticing that a rose smells better than a cabbage, concludes that a better soup can be made out of it.

-Henry Louis Mencken-

The contrast between desires and facts can help us identify where to go.

Naive optimism

Being optimistic is healthy as it is an essential sense of hope. Even if things go wrong, faith does not go out. This is an extraordinarily motivating prospect.

The problem arises when the person expects the course to change and that fate will steer the rudder towards that place where his expectations will be met. These mental journeys are very far from reflection, which is necessary to modify the inertia of events.



"Since last time I had bad luck, this time I will have luck and fate will give me back what it did not want to give me in the past". Many people believe that good and bad luck must be balanced, but the truth is that fate is not necessarily willing to pay us all that it owes us.

Be careful, because we are not saying that sometimes letting events flow is not important. Let's say it is important to be prepared to make course corrections when necessary. We respect that natural flow, but we also intervene to rearrange or correct the course of events.

The mental contrast

Mental contrast refers to the exercise of comparing plans and desires with the objective limits of reality. One thing is what we want to happen, quite another the actual chances of it happening. Contrasting with each other helps to work with a more objective view of reality.

Does it make sense to lower the levels of optimism? Mental contrast serves to better identify the weaknesses of the strategies adopted. If we see a negative result, let's ask ourselves why it might have occurred.

Answering this question will give you ideas for interventions that increase the chances of obtaining the desired result.

The mental contrast serves to focus more on the facts, or rather the reality.

The risks of self-suggestion and idealism

When a person tells himself that everything will be excellent, it also imposes a pressure that can not only be excessive, but also not very satisfying. Thinking about a reality and a world in which everything is harmonious, wonderful and idyllic means raising expectations too much, to the point of never reaching them.


Naive optimism often leads to disappointment. So much is expected of reality that in the end not even what is positive meets expectations.


For those who profess optimism as a religion, they self-suggest. In extreme cases it is believed that the strength of the mind has the power to transform the negative into the positive in an almost magical way.


It is clear that a person can imagine a rosy world and decide to live in it. However, this deprives you of the valuable lessons that are implicit in mistakes and failures. In fact, we learn a lot more from the times we stumble than from the successes.

Obviously, mental contrast must be used sensibly. There is an old adage that it is always good to "hope for the best, but prepare for the worst". That's what a realistic perspective is for.

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