Last week I wrote about how to design good habits & eliminate bad ones. This week I’m going to share a proven, evidence based method that helps you to fairly easily install success-creating habits into your life. It will also massively increase the likelihood you’ll achieve your goals (big or small) in 2019 and beyond.
The easy to use method is called “WOOP” (Wish, Outcome, Obstacle, and Plan). It brings together two highly effective thinking tools - mental contrasting and implementation intentions.
The “Wish”, “Outcome”, and“Obstacle” part of the process involves mental contrasting and the “Plan” part involves designing implementation intentions.
Both tools been proven in a number of studies to have a medium to large impact on behavior and to significantly increase the likelihood of people achieving their goals.
WOOP is the brainchild of Gabriele Oettingen, a Professor of Psychology at New York University and the University of Hamburg. Her book, Rethinking Positive Thinking shows both the results of her research and practical ways in which WOOP can be used.
How to WOOP ….
“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.”
~ Gabriele Oettingen
First find a place where you won’t be disturbed. Make yourself comfortable so that you can focus. If this is your first WOOP, fifteen to twenty minutes should be enough time to complete the exercise. As you become more familiar with WOOP, you’ll be able to do it much more quickly - in a matter of a few minutes or even less.
WOOP comprises 4 simple steps. Let’s walk through it step-by-step…
Step 1: Wish (Goal or Want)
Relax, take a few deep breaths, and think about one goal you would like to accomplish. It should be challenging, compelling, and realistic. The time horizon of the goal doesn’t matter. It could be due today, tomorrow, in 3 weeks, in 6 months, in a year, in 5 years, in 25 years, or it could be a behaviour, skill, or anything else that you just want to generally improve (no time horizon at all). If you have several wishes for the same time period, pick the one that is most important to you. Put the wish in your mind's eye and hold it there. Be very specific about this and state your goal in in the positive; what you actually want not what you don’t want! For example “I want to be a healthy, non-smoker” versus “I don’t want to smoke anymore.”
“I want to exercise more regularly.”
“I want to be free of cigarettes for ever.”
Step 2: Outcome
What’s the best possible outcome that would result from accomplishing your goal? How would you feel? Create a sensory specific experience of this outcome in your mind. What will you see, feel, hear when you have your goal? Who will you BE? What will you be DOING? What will you HAVE? Once you’ve identified your outcome imagine the relevant events and experiences connected to that outcome, as vividly as possible, as though you’re watching your future self on a TV or movie screen. Make the mind movie as compelling as you can.
“I am a fit person. I go swimming twice a week. I have more energy.”
“I am a healthy person. I use the money I’ve saved on cigarettes to go on holiday. I have new friends.
When you are ready, open your eyes again. It's time to focus on the second"O" in WOOP, the obstacle.
Step 3: Obstacle
What is the most critical, internal obstacle that prevents you from achieving your goal? What thought, belief, emotion, behavior or habit might stop you achieving your goal? Depending on the situation, this obstacle might be as specific as spending too much time on Facebook or as general as being tired or being anxious.
When thinking about obstacles, people often look to the external world, naming circumstances or individuals they feel are blocking them. But by choosing a goal that we believe is realistic and achievable, we're already accounting for these obstacles. The point of this exercise is to help us prevent ourselves from getting in the way of achieving our goals.
Sometimes it takes a little bit of thought and patience to really understand our inner barriers and how we behave or react unhelpfully. This obstacle identification can be hard when first starting out at WOOPing because we're so often dissuaded from taking honest looks at ourselves, but finding our most critical obstacle really pays off.
You might find as you perform this step that a wish you thought was challenging but attainable is not so attainable after all. As you consider the obstacle, the wish winds up being far more difficult and costlier than you initially thought it would be. In this way, WOOP is helping you perform at your best; by helping you disengage from unrealistic goals and focus on goals that are realistic and achievable.
Once you’ve identified the most critical internal obstacle, imagine encountering this obstacle. What will you see, feel, hear? Imagine, as vividly as possible, the relevant events and experiences.
“I don’t feel motivated or excited to exercise in the morning.”
“I’m afraid that I will lose contact with my friends who are smokers.”
Steps 1-3 are the mental contrasting part of the process; you’ve thought about what you want (the goal/solution) and have contrasted that with the main internal obstacle that could derail you.
Step 4: Plan
Think about when and where your most critical obstacle may occur. What action would help you when your obstacle shows up? What can you do to overcome or circumvent it? Name one thought or action you can take, the most effective one, and hold it in your mind. Then create an if/then plan.
"If obstacle X occurs (when and where), then I will perform goal directed behaviour Y (to overcome the obstacle)."
Now imagine, as vividly as possible, implementing your plan.
“If I don’t feel motivated or excited to exercise in the morning, then I immediately put on my running gear which I put beside the bed the previous evening and tell myself ‘Just Do It!”
“If I’m afraid that I’ll lose contact with my friends who are smokers, then I will still meet them and remind myself that I'm a non-smoker forever.’
You can also frame if - then plans to:
- preventobstacles, not just surmount or circumvent them when they arise. A person who wants to prevent their obstacle of feeling anxious when speaking in public would write their if-then plan as follows: "If I walkout onto the stage (situation), then I will focus immediately on my breathing (behaviour)."
- take advantage of opportunities to enhance your goal achievement. A person who wants to seize every opportunity to complete a project on time might have the following plan: "If I meet with my project sponsor today (situation), then I will ask for additional resources (behaviour).
WOOPing in writing
You might prefer to WOOP in writing and that's okay.
On a blank sheet of paper, name the wish/goal in three to six words.
Identify the best outcome (also in three to six words) and write it down. Now let your thoughts lead your pen, taking as much paper as you need.
Then name your obstacle and write it down. Imagine the obstacle, again letting your thoughts wander and lead your writing.
To create a plan, first write down one specific action you can take to overcome the obstacle.
Write down the time and place when you believe the obstacle will arise.
Then write down the ‘if – then’ plan: "If obstacle X occurs (when and where), then I will perform behaviour Y." Say this plan once to yourself, out loud.
Be sure to stay true to the basic format of the WOOP method. Take yourself through the four steps without interruption. Don't reverse the order or leave out a step, and be as specific as you can in formulating your wishes, outcomes, and obstacles. Try to catch yourself if your mind starts to wander between steps.
Commit to making WOOP a daily habit.
WOOP is more than a one-off way of dealing with a particular goal or concern. It's a practical tool that you can use in your everyday life. Practiced daily over an extended period of time, WOOP enables you to achieve goals and solve specific problems. It is a process for helping you find your path. If you take time to familiarize yourself with WOOP, if you"feed" it with ideas and give it your attention, you can consistently rely on it to show you the way and help you make decisions.
WOOP every morning or when you go to bed at night. WOOPing in the morning serves as a great way of preparing for the day. During the day, you can WOOP as often as you like and in any location where you can create a little mental space for yourself. You can close your eyes and WOOP on the bus, train, or in the office, while waiting for your friends.
Once you've tried WOOP a couple of times and feel comfortable with it, continue to experiment. Try using WOOP with different kinds of wishes, at different times of day, in different contexts or situations. As you increasingly integrate WOOP into your life, you'll find that you get better at it and use it to adapt to your changing needs, challenges,and life circumstances.
You can find out more about WOOP at http://www.woopmylife.org/
Helping people to change for the better, is my passion. If you'd like to explore how I can help you achieve your goals and overcome obstacles contact me on 021 056 8389 or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or use the Book Now button.
REMEMBER - "When you change your mind you change your life."
Tony helps individuals to harness the power of their mind to achieve success and well-being in life, work and business. Tony's particular area of expertise lies in helping people to 'change their minds' so they gain freedom from worry, anxiety and stress, overcome limiting beliefs and unhelpful habits. Tony’s solution focused approach to coaching uses a range of techniques drawn from the fields of solution focused coaching, neuroscience, positive psychology and clinical hypnosis.