Backward Thinking – Thinkibility Nibble


When do you feel most motivated?

Research suggests that we tend to be most enthusiastic about a project when we begin it and when we are about to complete it. The work, the hassles and the problems in the middle are the tricky bits when it is hard to feel motivated and to act.

Extensive research have shown the benefits of planning, yet, little attention has been focused on how exactly people construct their plans. In a recent study, it was investigated if goal-planning methods affected motivation and pursuit of goals. Some of the participants planned their steps in chronological order. The other participants worked in reverse, planning the steps they would take just before their goal and working backward in time until they reached the step nearest in the future.

For a complex task preparing backward helped the participants anticipate the necessary steps better and it also helped them to follow the original plan to reach to goal. Yet, for relatively simple goals, there was no difference between using forward or backward approach to the planning. Thus, simply changing the way you plan a task can affect the success.

Using backwards planning may have help the participants in the study to visualise success rather than failure. If you start with the end goal, you assume that the efforts to get there were successful. On the other hand, if you move from the present toward the future, it does not necessary assume success. Instead it is easy to explore possible scenarios that might prevent you from reaching the goals. Envisioning the steps needed to complete a goal reduces anxiety and result in more effortful actions.

APC, one of Edward de Bono’s Thinking Tools, is a crystallisation of the process of deliberately trying to find alternatives. Characteristic for this approach is that the thinking departs from the existing situation and tries to move forward to the desired situation. An opposite approach could be to depart from the ideal situation and working backwards to the original situation.

Many creative thinking techniques use backward thinking as a strategy. Edward de Bono recommends challenging the current situation by setting up a provocation by wishful thinking, an ideal world (Utopia), which per definition is beyond reach, not feasible in the real world. The setting up of the provocation is eased by using the phrase: “Would it not fantastic, if …”

Imagination can be used as a motivating tool.  What does your future look like?






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