How to Use WOOP Method to Reach Your Goals, Full Potential

WOOP is a holistic approach for reaching your goals more effectively and making your biggest dreams come true despite roadblocks. 


Life is about constantly making choices between one meaningful pursuit and another. It’s about staying true to your goals and values.

You almost certainly cannot do everything well at once. So, how do you decide what to do first in order to reach your goals more effectively and achieve your full potential?

Well, you can use WOOP, a process of setting goals and planning for ways to achieve them.


WOOP Method for Reaching Goals


"WOOP" is a science-backed, goal-setting strategy that psychologist Gabriele Oettingen – a professor at New York University and the University of Hamburg – and her colleagues developed. It stands for Wish, Outcome, Obstacle, Plan. The less-catchy term is "mental contrasting."

WOOP entails naming a wish that is attainable or realistic for you, picturing yourself achieving that goal and then comparing it against where you are in your present life. By contrasting the two, you can start to identify the main obstacles that stand in your way and plan how to overcome those obstacles that are preventing your present life from becoming your dream life.

The concept was reportedly conceived when Oettingen was at a Psychological Science convention. She arrived at the convention eager to discuss her own research and attend other psychologists' presentations. But, at that same time, she had some manuscripts to review and write.

Because Oettingen couldn't possibly give her full attention to both the conference and the papers (it’s difficult to do two things well at once), she WOOPed it.


WOOP to Achieve Your Goals More Effectively



Oettingen considered her twin goals and decided to disengage from the idea that she could do both tasks well together. She recognized that even if she tried to be fully present at the conference and steal some time to review the papers, she couldn't do the tasks effectively. So she temporarily stepped away from the goal of working on the papers, instead devoting her time and energy to the conference. She figured she could work on the papers in a quiet place, undisturbed instead of frantically trying to read or write in between sessions at the convention. 

Oettingen advocates for stepping away from a particular goal if it conflicts with another one, or if it seems unfeasible because you cannot do it all. Stepping away, she says, is not the same thing as procrastination.

“You do want to get rid of this conflicting state of mind and you do want to understand that you can do one thing now and another thing later,” she writes in her book "Rethinking Positive Thinking. “But that doesn't mean that you procrastinate. It means that you disengage from the idea that you can do both because you can't.”

Oettingen who introduced WOOP to the public in 2014 with the publication of "Rethinking Positive Thinking,” says when you WOOP you think about your ultimate goal, the best possible outcome, the personal obstacle(s) that stand in the way, and the plan for getting around those roadblocks. This holistic approach allows you to reach more of your goals and make your biggest (realistic) dreams come true.


4 Steps to WOOP Your Way to Success


The WOOP method is broken down into four steps:

  1. Identify your wish. This could be a bigger career goal like landing X number of new clients or even a small personal goal, like worrying less.
  2. Identify the best possible outcome of that wish coming true. What would happen if that wish came true? If it's landing new clients, what would that be like for you? If it's worrying less, maybe you would feel a sense of calm.
  3. Identify the obstacles keeping you from fulfilling your wish. What's holding you back from attaining your goal and fulfilling the best possible outcome? In the worrying dilemma, maybe you fear not being good enough.
  4. Identify a plan to fulfill your wish. What can you do to start overcoming those obstacles? “If faced with obstacle X, then I will take effective action Y in response.” To defeat your fear, maybe just take a moment to take some slow breaths.

Through this process, Oettingen adds, "I can kind of separate the wheat from the chaff, and I can really go for those things which are feasible and which I really want to achieve, and let go from those which are either just too costly or not feasible."

The disinguished professor of psychology presents research in her book suggesting that those who have stronger, more positive fantasies about reaching their goals are actually less likely to achieve them. Fantasizing feels good and believing in yourself is surely better than not, but keeping your head in the clouds can keep you from reaching the stars. You need to take it further and WOOP your dreams into shape. Studies actually show WOOP works surprisingly well.

Therefore, stop being so positive. Mere positive thinking and fantasizing may not get you anywhere; it may not turn wishful thinking into reality, but WOOP can, says Oettingen, who has also developed an app that allows users to WOOP professional, interpersonal and health-related goals.