“What is your dearest wish? What dreams do you have for the future? What do you want to be or do? Imagine your dream coming true. How wonderful would it be. How fulfilling.
“What holds you back from realizing your wish? What is it in you that stops you from really going for it?” ~ Gabriele Oettingen, Rethinking Positive Thinking
What holds you back?
As we near the end of another year, take a moment to reflect on this year that has nearly passed. Think back to January. Did you have big dreams? Make any resolutions? Set a BIG goal? Now that the year is almost over, how are you doing? Are you still on track?
If you are like many of us, chances are you are not at the place you hoped you’d be. Not much thinner. Not much wealthier. Maybe still stuck in a job you don’t like. As you look back over the year, you may not like what you see very much . . . another year has passed and you have made little or no progress on your goals.
WOOP it up!
If this pretty much describes where you are, I invite you to consider a different way to approach your goals, dreams and desires. The method is called WOOP. WOOP is an acronym for Wish – Outcome – Obstacle – Plan. The concept of WOOP was developed by Gabriele Oettingen with assistance from her husband, Peter Gollwitzer, both psychologists studying in the field of human motivation. The science behind WOOP gives us an interesting insight — the obstacles that we believe are standing in our way and preventing us from reaching our goals and desires can actually become stepping stones on the road to achieving those goals and realizing those desires. Or, as Marcus Aurelius, Stoic philosopher and Roman emperor, stated it about 1,800 years ago: “The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.”
Wish – Outcome – Obstacle – Plan
These are the 4 parts of the WOOP technique: State your wish. Envision the outcome of the wish fulfilled. Consider the obstacles – internal as well as external — that you might encounter. Make a plan for how you will address each obstacle that you might come upon.
Those, very briefly, are the fundamentals of WOOP. You can learn more from the in-depth treatment on the WOOP website. For this article, I want to focus on the importance of planning.
Step 4 – Make A Plan
“The power of a plan is not that it will get you there. The power of a plan is that it will get you started.” [Olson]
OK. If you are following the WOOP method, you have written down your current goal, or “wish”. You have envisioned the outcome, what the #1 benefit of achieving the goal will be. You have confronted the obstacles within you that are standing in the way. Now, it’s time for making the plan.
Let’s be very clear here. The objective is not to create the perfect plan that will take you from the beginning all the way to the end of reaching your goal. If your goal sufficiently stretches you, such a plan isn’t possible anyway. There are too many variables, too many vagaries in life, too many unexpected occurrences to create the “perfect” plan. Sure, you’ve identified the obstacles within yourself, but there are apt to be other obstacles that don’t even exist yet that you will encounter on your path to your goal. The objective right now is to create the plan that will get you started.
Recently, we talked about Newton’s 1st Law of Motion and the power of momentum. “You have to start with a plan,” says Jeff Olson in The Slight Edge, “but the plan you start with will not be the plan that gets you there.” [Olson] You need a plan – not to get you to the finish line — but to get you to the starting gate. You want a way to start the ball rolling, to tap into the energy of momentum.
If . . . Then . . .
Gabriele Oettengin’s husband, Peter Gollwitzer, also a research psychologist, discovered that a particular type of planning was most effective. These plans took the form of “If – Then” statements: “If X occurs then I will do Y.” Gollwitzer called these statements “implementation intentions.” [Gollwitzer] Implementation intentions specify when, where, and how you will take the actions that lead to goal attainment.
Using implementation intentions to decide in advance how to implement your goals removes the need to deliberate about when and what you will do in the moment the opportunity arises. You are automatically at the starting line. By forming implementation intentions, you switch from conscious and effortful control of goal-directed behaviors to being prompted automatically by predetermined cues.
For instance, if you have a goal to exercise regularly, you can set implementation intentions that specify when, where, and how you want to exercise. The implementation of your goal actions is placed under the direct control of situational cues and you are released from the need to decide in the moment if you will exercise or not.
If you are struggling to get started on a difficult goal, but one that you are committed to achieving, consider ways you could automate your actions by pre-deciding on an action and then linking it to an external factor in your environment – a prime. Remember, your initial plan doesn’t have to get you to the finish line . . . it just needs to get you started.
1. Decide on a goal or objective that you want to achieve. It can be large or small, something you’ve wanted for a long, long time, or something that you have an immediate need for.
2. What is the primary benefit you will realize by achieving this goal? Take a few minutes to visualize it in full detail.
3. What is the biggest obstacle standing between you and your objective? (Hint: Look for the obstacles inside yourself.) What is really the obstacle?
4. Make a plan to get started toward your goal and to overcome the obstacle you have identified. State it as an implementation intention: “When X occurs, I will do Y.”
OK, you’ve “WOOPed” your goal and you have a plan to get started. But having a plan, no matter how good the plan may be, is not enough. You must take the first step! Then the next one, and the next, and the next, and the next. Why not take a couple of minutes, right now, and schedule when today you will take the first step toward your big, exciting goal? You have a destination and you have a plan to get started on the way. Start today! That is living the Excelerated Life!
Excelerated goal setting — planning and achieving BIG goals — is one step in creating your Excelerated life, a life of well-being, meaning, and purpose.
Gollwitzer, Peter M. and John A. Bargh. Psychology of Action: Linking Cognition and Motivation to Behavior. New York: The Guilford Press, 1996
Oettingen, Gabriele. Rethinking Positive Thinking: Inside The New Science Of Motivation. New York: Penquin Group (USA) LLC, 2014
Olson, Jeff. The Slight Edge. Austin, TX: Greenleaf Book Group Press, 2005-2013