WOOP: Wish, Outcome, Obstacle, Plan!
All of us have an area that we would like to improve in or grow as a person.
This could be in our career (e.g., getting a raise or landing a new job), our physical appearance (e.g., lose those love handles and fit into your favorite clothes again), or even in terms of strengthening our relationship with a significant other (e.g., increased empathy, better communication).
Trying to identify areas of growth in our life isn’t usually the problem. The problem typically resides in how to go about the process of actually growing!
The field of psychology has been very helpful in identifying one of the best and most reliable ways to improve and grow. What is it, you ask? Goal-setting.
Now, I’m sure it isn’t a newsflash to anyone reading this that goal-setting is a way to improve. Most of us have been told to set goals for as long as we can remember, which is great because as I previously mentioned, they are extremely effective ways to progress (90% of studies on goal-setting have resulted in positive behavior change).
However, setting goals is just part of the larger growth process. I want to let you in on a little secret; if you really want to increase your chance of attaining your goals and experiencing growth as a person, you may want to start with a WOOP!
What’s a WOOP? Well, it is a form of mental contrasting, which can be thought of as recognizing a wish and then targeting the obstacles that stand in the way of realizing it (think goal-setting) developed by Gabriele Oettingen, a professor at New York University and the University of Hamburg.
This strategy begins by identifying a specific wish. That wish is really just something that you really want to accomplish.
Let’s be honest, everyone wants to get better at something, but until you are able to specifically identify what that something truly is, nothing will ever change.
Let’s say, for example, that you wish you had a higher salary (because who doesn’t right?). Identifying this specific wish can now help to facilitate your growth. The next part of the process is to consider the outcome that would accompany actually achieving that wish.
How would you feel if you did get that raise? Would you be excited? Elated? Overjoyed? Surprised? Relieved?
Being cognizant of how that wish would impact you is important because ultimately, the outcome is what you will experience. It is the destination so to speak of your WOOP journey.
Identifying that you would feel excited and overjoyed with that raise will serve to motivate you to actually obtain it!
Once you’ve identified your wish and your outcome, it’s time to start thinking of a potential obstacle that is standing in your way from turning that wish into a reality.
What is holding you back from getting that raise? Perhaps it is the confidence to ask for it. Maybe the commitment that is needed to produce at a level necessary to justify it.
No matter what the obstacle is, it needs to be concretized so that you can begin to formulate your plan to overcome it.
The plan is merely an action-oriented statement that indicates exactly what you will do if you come face to face with the obstacle you’ve targeted as standing in your wish’s way.
For instance, if the obstacle to getting your raise is a lack of confidence in your job-related abilities, then your plan would be structured to dispute that thought (here is where the mental contrasting comes into play) and direct your attention towards an action that would help you achieve the raise you want.
To facilitate this, if…., then… statements would be crafted so that you could immediately implement it when faced with the obstacle. If I lack confidence in my abilities, then I will focus my attention towards the task at hand and attempt to control all elements of the job that I can control.
You may also think to remind yourself of your previous successful job-related performances, to further increase your confidence. Think of the plan as the vehicle, that will drive your journey towards growth.
Welcome to WOOP!
We all have wishes, but what are we all doing to turn them into reality? A wish will stay a wish until it is deconstructed into more manageable and obtainable parts.
Unfortunately, this is what people tend to neglect – the process or path that you need to take to realize the wish.
That’s where the WOOP strategy comes into play.
Identifying the reason for the wish (the outcome) and targeting what most likely stands in your way (the obstacle) will help you focus in on the actions necessary for growth.
Similar to other forms of goal-setting, a WOOP can be easily modified based on your own rate of progression and on the particular wish you may have. You could identify a wish for today at work, this month at work, or for the next six months. It is completely up to you!
“WOOP Is a form of mental contrasting, which can be thought of as recognizing a wish and then targeting the obstacles that stand in the way of it.”
Unfortunately, this is an aspect of goal-setting that is often either overlooked or entirely lost on most people. Wishes, just like goals can be adjusted! If you really are wishing for that raise on your next contract, what are you doing today to make it happen?
Identify those daily, weekly, and monthly wishes to help facilitate your growth process.
Now, you may be thinking that this all sounds great and all, but is there any evidence to back the WOOP up? Well, mental contrasting, and the WOOP strategy, in particular, has been found to facilitate positive behavior change.
Although the effectiveness of it has been primarily demonstrated within the field of academics to help students set meaningful goals, it has also been validated within the fields of health, relationships, and sport.
If you think you may be ready to WOOP it up, Oettingen has recently developed an online app, woopmylife.com, that will walk you through the process.
So, the next time you sit back and dream of a wish you would love to grab hold of, don’t just focus on the wish itself.
Instead, WOOP it into shape, and focus on the outcome you really want, identify the real-world obstacle that stands in your way, and create an action plan to make it happen! Doing so will help you navigate the path towards success, and turn your wish into a reality.