Whether it is a new year’s resolution or a bucket list goal, you may have been told to “dream big” or “think positive” to make what you want out of life happen, but that is often not enough to turn those dreams to reality. Gabrielle Oettingen's WOOP model – or Wish, Outcome, Obstacle, Plan – is a strategy that helps to generate the energy, motivation, and plan to get you moving toward attaining the goal.
Positive thinking isn’t enough when it comes to reaching for goals. In fact, studies in areas like health behavior change and academic or workplace performance have shown that when people engage in positive fantasies about their goals, they make the same or even less progress than those who don’t engage in positive thinking. Positive thinking might help you to feel good, and may be enough to get you to do the easy things, but it is not sufficient for generating the motivation to get you to buck up and do the hard stuff. On the flipside, only thinking about negatives - the obstacles, hurdles, and downsides - of the goal is also ineffective. The WOOP model helps you do both, which is optimal for generating the energy and motivation keep you on track.
How to WOOP
There are 4 steps to WOOP:
WOOP begins with a meaningful wish or important concern. Think about something in your life you want to work toward. It can be focused on career, academics, relationships, or anything personal. It should be challenging, but also something that is realistic and attainable.
Next, think about what it would look and feel like to have that wish fulfilled. Try to take some time to deeply imagine, see, and feel what it would be like to attain the best possible outcome. What would that accomplishment feel like?
Just thinking positively about the best outcome isn’t enough because there are inevitably obstacles that get in the way of attaining goals. Imagine an obstacle that is within you and controllable – perhaps thoughts, feelings, bad habits, or actions – that might prevent you from working toward your wish. Take some time to also deeply imagine what it feels like to encounter that obstacle.
The final and critical piece of WOOP is to devise a plan for overcoming the internal obstacle you identified. This plan involves if/then statements that are called implementation intentions: “If (obstacle), then I will (effective plan)”. Repeat for any other obstacles you identified. Using if/then statements helps you to deliberately connect your plan to the obstacles you have identified ahead of time.
After each WOOP session, reflect on how the process went and think about what you need to adjust next time. WOOP is a simple model you can use for small or big wishes, and also for short term and long term goals. It can be used every day to help keep you oriented toward what is most important and meaningful in your life. What wish will you WOOP today?
To learn more about WOOP and Dr. Oettingen's work, visit www.woopmylife.org