This week, I wanted to write a post about goal setting and fulfilling your dreams. I talked last week about the power of positive affirmations in developing confidence in your ability, but is telling yourself you are something such as successful, confident or happy enough to achieve in a particular aspect of your life? Whilst perusing the Internet for inspiration for my chosen focus, I came across something I’d never heard of before called WOOP. I’m willing to bet that a lot of my readers might not have heard of it either, so today’s Monday Matters is going to be an introduction the principles behind this fascinating and scientifically researched idea, which to me, make a lot of sense and might need more consideration.
What is WOOP?
WOOP, which stands for Wish, Outline, Obstacle, Plan is a scientifically based principle developed by German academic and psychologist Gabriele Oettingen. Her research has focused on ‘how people think about the future and how this impacts cognition, emotion and behaviour’ (Wikipedia). Gabriele has found that if we just dream or fantasise about something we want, our brains tend to think we have already attained what we desire and this can make us relax and prevent us from actually achieving our goals. She talks about two processes that we need to go through for the WOOP strategy to take effect, namely mental contrasting and implementation intentions (MCII for short). Basically, this means focusing on the contrast between the positive aspects of your desired goal and the barriers (negative aspects / obstacle / internal struggle) of you actually achieving your goal or wish. So, the WOO bit is the contrast as you imagine / visualise how wonderful it would be to fulfil your wish and then conversely, look at what might stop you. Thinking about both of these helps to motivate your self conscious to do something about the issue you face. The P part is the implementation intentions as you are coming up with a plan of actions and thoughts to work against your obstacle.
Gabriele and her team have spent 20 years fully researching and investigating goal achievement and the effects of mental contrasting and implementation intentions with studies including participants of different ages and backgrounds. The results of their work, has lead them to create WOOP as a framework for implementing change. The process has been found to be affective at helping people improve their social behaviour, health and academic performance. Examples of these scientific studies can be found online if you want to find out more.
Creating a WOOP
Wish Gabriele says that it is vitally important to give yourself some mental space in which to think about and imagine what you wish for yourself right now. You should dedicate some calm and uninterrupted time where you can specifically focus on your immediate wish for this present moment. Clearing your mind of everything else is essential so that you can dedicate your attention to working on your WOOP.
You may find that many wishes come into your mind, but you need to select the one that is most important to you and is challenging but do-able at the same time. Wishes can be about anything you want, your relationships, your job, your education, your health and fitness, whatever is important to you right now.
When you’ve decided on your wish, you should try to come up with 3 to 6 words to summarise it. I found this part really difficult as I’m very good at saying in 50 words what could be shrunken down to 5 but it’s important to be concise so you should really take your time to think.
Outcome When you have outlined your wish, you need to imagine what it would feel like if it came true (you might like to close your eyes for this bit so you can create an image of your life). Think about what the very best outcome would be and describe it in a small number of words (approximately 3 or 4 is a good number).
Obstacle Next, you need to think really carefully about what holds you back from achieving that wish. In other words, what is the main obstacle? For this, you should focus on an inner obstacle, i.e. something in you that is preventing you from realising your wish. You might find here, that you start to think of external obstacles such as other people or situations which you find yourself in but it’s important that you try to concentrate on yourself as it is much easier to create changes within yourself. Again, you could close your eyes and allow yourself to come up with a vivid image.
Plan When you’ve identified your main obstacle, you need to come up with a plan to overcome it. Again, you should try to summarise thoughts or actions in 3 to 6 words. Keep these in mind, whilst you create an If… then plan. Take your obstacle words and put them after the If. Then, place the thought or action after the ‘then…’. You can then recite your If… then plan a few times.
Here’s an example from my own life. I’m now pretty good at doing yoga every day but there are always occasions when I don’t feel like doing it or think of other things I would prefer to do.
- Goal: Yoga for 20 minutes every day
- W: daily yoga practise for 20 minutes
- O: Strength. Good posture. Mindfulness.
- O: Don’t feel like it. Don’t bother.
- P: If I don’t feel like it… then I’ll put my workout gear on, get out my mat and then remind myself of the many mental and physical benefits of practising.
Some other WOOP ideas
- In bed by 10pm every night.
- Be more productive.
- Get a new job.
- Find my soulmate.
- Stop eating unhealthy snacks.
- Read a self help book.
- Meditate for 10 minutes each morning.
- Finish a project before the weekend.
You might find the process a little tricky at first, but once you’re proficient in WOOP, you can apply it to so many situations – daily tasks, habits you want to instil, projects you want to complete or whatever you want really! Also, you will likely get much better at summarising and getting to the crux of the matter in terms of your inner obstacle which will help you develop solutions more quickly.
The WOOP app
When I visited the website for WOOP, I discovered that there’s a free APP available, so I thought I would download it and see how it works. As well as giving an introduction to WOOP, it also guides you though the process of creating WOOPs for professional, health and interpersonal wishes.
The app guides you through each WOOP by giving you a number of prompts. You can choose a timeframe from 24 hours or 1 month or you can select not to have a time frame. The app gives you limited characters in which to compose your wish, outcome, obstacle so as to encourage you to keep it brief but I can imagine it’s quite frustrating if you feel like you can’t condense it down that much. It also asks you to take your time with thinking about each step of WOOP and if you click through the steps too quickly, it will warn you that you are going too fast! If you like having things noted down on your phone, then I think you would benefit from using the app, but personally, I prefer to write things in my BuJo and have a notes page to refer to, to help me create my WOOPs.
That’s all for my introduction to using the WOOP technique for setting goals and creating a plan to achieve them. If you want to learn more about WOOP and watch a great video introduction, visit woopmylife.org Here you can also find the link for the mobile app and a free printable to help guide you through the process.