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The Backfire Effect

Psychology writer and proud curmudgeon Oliver Burkeman asks why so-called positive visualisation - or 'thinking yourself happy' - often has the exact opposite effect.

To achieve any major life goal, conventional wisdom tells us we must think positively. Picture yourself delivering the perfect presentation and it shall be so; envisage the ideal job interview and it will go well; imagine yourself sprinting first across the finish line and you will romp home as champion. While these strategies sound compelling, they have been shown to backfire. In the first of 5 programmes on The Power of Negative Thinking, psychology writer and proud curmudgeon Oliver Burkeman explores the positivity 'backfire effect', and finds that people are often more successful - as are organisations, armies and governments - when they focus on reasons they are likely to fail.

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15 minutes