How do we really get to where we want to be?
Positive thinking is normally a route we take when we want to achieve something but that isn’t enough. To successfully pursue goals we need to WOOP.
WOOP (Wish, Outcome, Obstacle, Plan) is a practical self-regulation mental strategy we can use to change our habits and fulfill our wishes.
There is plenty of evidence-based research across disciplines that demonstrates that WOOP works.
For example, it has been shown to:
- Improve academic performance, leading to high quiz grades and significantly more time spent preparing for standardized tests.
- Improve health, prompting more exercise, less unhealthy snack consumption, and more fruit intake.
- Increase help seeking and help giving behaviour.
- Increase the likelihood of taking steps to reduce cigarette consumption.
WOOP is a visualisation technique developed by Gabriele Oettingen, a motivation psychologist, and draws on more than 20 years of research and combines two scientific principles – mental contrasting and implementation intentions.
It’s a tool to get by in life in a better way.
Scientifically known as Mental Contrasting with Implementation Intentions (MCII) and this approach has proven highly effective in all walks of life and for different population groups.
Here is how Oettingen (2014) explains it:
Think of a wish. For a few minutes, imagine the wish coming true, letting your mind wander and drift where it will. Then shift gears. Spend a few more minutes imagining the obstacles that stand in the way of realizing your wish.
Duckworth et al (2013) explain MCII as follows: “Mental contrasting with implementation intentions (MCII) entails mental contrasting a desired future with relevant obstacles of reality and forming implementation intentions (if–then plans) specifying when and where to overcome those obstacles.”
WOOP away following these steps:
Make a wish and ensure it is challenging – but also realistic. In other words, identify one key wish that is challenging but can be fulfilled within a fairly short period (for instance, a day, a week, or a month).
Imagine the best outcome that would result if that wish were fulfilled and how that would feel.
Identify the main inner obstacles that stand in the way of fulfilling your wish such emotions, irrational beliefs or bad habits. Envision them as fully as you would your most favourable outcomes.
Create a specific plan for overcoming each obstacle that stands in your way of success. When you make this plan, try to be as specific, realistic and practical as possible. Articulate your plan in
the following form: If (obstacle), then I will (action or thought).
Studies have found WOOP to be more effective than positive or negative thinking alone, perhaps because it offers a realistic reflection on why our goal may be difficult. As Oettingen (2015) says in Rethinking Positive Thinking: Inside The New Science Of Motivation
The solution isn’t to do away with dreaming and positive thinking. Rather, it’s making the most of our fantasies by brushing them up against the very thing most of us are taught to ignore or diminish: the obstacles that stand in our way.