Future thought and behaviour change

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


While there is a growing body of research on free thoughts such as fantasies and daydreams, the question of whether and how fantasies lead to effortful action and successful performance has hardly been investigated. The present article will show that, counter to what the popular self-help literature proposes, positive thinking can be detrimental to effort and success if it comes in the form of fantasies (free thoughts and images about the desired future) rather than beliefs (expectations). The article will then discuss fantasy realisation theory (FRT), which specifies how fantasies can be used to wisely self-regulate goal pursuit. The theory argues that the strategy of mental contrasting future and reality will produce both active goal pursuit and active goal disengagement, depending on a person's high versus low expectations of success, respectively. Research supporting these ideas across life domains points to non-conscious cognitive and motivational processes responsible for the effects of mental contrasting, and it depicts context variables (e.g., sad mood) that influence the rise and usage of mental contrasting. Intervention studies attest to mental contrasting as a contentfree, time- and cost-effective metacognitive strategy that people can use to regulate their own goal pursuits in an autonomous way, thus helping people to become masters of their everyday life and long-term development.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1-63
Number of pages63
JournalEuropean Review of Social Psychology
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2012


  • Behaviour change
  • Fantasies
  • Future thought
  • Implicit cognition
  • Intervention
  • Self-regulation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology


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