WOOP - Science’s #1 Tool For Goal Achievement and Habit Change
WOOP goal setting method

WOOP – Science’s #1 Tool For Habit Change and Goal Achievement

Do you have goals or wishes for your future?

Like getting a raise at your job? Becoming the new CEO? Getting rich? Owning a jet? Owning your own island? Raising a family? Saving the planet? Becoming the next president of your country?

More...

Or maybe you have some smaller goals such as finishing a project at work, reading a book, going to bed early tonight, exercising tomorrow morning, stop hitting the snooze button, becoming more productive, or just cooking a delicious meal.

No matter if big or small…

…we all have goals.

So wouldn’t it be great to have a tool that is easy to use and scientifically PROVEN to help us achieve those goals?

“Man, that would be great!”

Oh wait, there is exactly such a tool:

It’s called “WOOP” and in this article I’ll show you exactly how it works and how you can use it to get more of what you want from life.

What On Earth Is “WOOP”?

WOOP is a scientifically proven tool that helps us change our behaviors for the better and achieve our goals.

It stands for Wish, Outcome, Obstacle, and Plan.

And it’s basically the combination of two tools called mental contrasting and implementation intentions.

The “Wish”, “Outcome”, and “Obstacle” part of the technique comes from mental contrasting and the “Plan” part comes from implementation intentions.

WOOP = Mental Contrasting (WOO_) + Implementation Intentions (___P)

Both of these tools alone are already highly effective.

They’ve both been proven in many scientific studies to have a medium to large impact on actual behavior and significantly increase the likelihood of people achieving their goals.

In fact, I believe they’re so powerful, that I’ve written entire articles for each of the techniques. You can check them out below:

Anyway, back to WOOP (which fuses those other 2 tools together to create an even MORE powerful tool). Think of it as cutlery. Forks and knives are great by themselves, but together they’re even better.

Let’s see how it works…

(Note: I learned about WOOP in the book “Rethinking Positive Thinking” by Gabriele Oettingen. She’s a leading scientist in the field of motivation and goal attainment. If you want to get a more detailed look at how and why this stuff works, I suggest you check out the book.)

How WOOP Works

WOOP works in a simple 4-step process.

Let’s walk through it step-by-step…

1. Step: Wish

Choose a 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 2 months, in a year, in 5 years, in 100 years, or it could be a behavior, skill, or anything else that you just want to generally improve (no time horizon at all).

(Note: If you choose an unrealistic goal, WOOP will make you less motivated, less energized, and less likely to achieve the goal. That’s a good thing because when that happens, you know that it’s not realistic, you can stop wasting your time, and set a more feasible goal. I explain this in detail in my article on mental contrasting.)

Examples:

  • “I want to exercise more regularly.”
  • “I want to finish this whitepaper by next Wednesday.”
  • “I want to read more NJlifehacks articles instead of watching TV.” (smart move!)

2. Step: Outcome

What’s the best possible outcome that would result from accomplishing your goal? How would you feel? Visualize this outcome in your mind.

Examples:

  • “I have more energy and feel better about myself.”
  • “I am relieved and feel proud of myself.”
  • “It gives me a sense of accomplishment and pride. I’m happy that I’m using my time wisely.”

3. Step: Obstacles

What are the personal obstacles that prevent you from achieving your goal? What’s standing in the way between you and your goal? Visualize this obstacle in your mind.

Examples:

  • “I don’t feel motivated or excited to exercise in the morning.”
  • “I procrastinate and get distracted by Facebook and co.”
  • “I’m tired when I get home from work and just don’t feel like reading.”

4. Step: Plan

Make a plan for overcoming your obstacle. What action would help you when your obstacle shows up? Create an if/then plan and visualize it in your mind.

If / When _________ (obstacle), then I will __________ (action to overcome obstacle).

Examples:

  • “If I get up in the morning, then I immediately put on my sneaker and go for a run even if I don’t feel like it.”
  • “If I get distracted during my work, then I block all distracting websites with coldturkey and get back to work.”
  • “If I get home, then I immediately jump on NJlifehacks.com and start reading.”

Simple as that.

Let’s see if science really supports this or if this is all just a terrible joke…

Science Says WOOP Works Like Magic

Time for some research.

One early experiment involved female students who were trying to change an unhealthy snacking habit. Some of the participants performed mental contrasting, some formed implementation intentions, and some did both.

  • Group 1: Mental contrasting
  • Group 2: Implementation intentions
  • Group 3: Both (WOOP)

The participants were asked to perform that same mental exercise each morning upon awakening. A week later the researchers checked back with the students.

The results were striking:

As expected, all participants reported making progress in their efforts to control snacking.

But participants who performed WOOP reported substantially more progress than those who only performed mental contrasting or implementation intentions alone.

That’s remarkable considering both tools individually already work super well.

WOOP implementation intentions and mental contrasting

Note: WOOP is called MCII in the scientific literature. It stands for mental contrasting with implementation intentions.

Let’s look at another very compelling study on maintaining healthy lifestyles.

256 participants were randomly split up into two groups:

  • Group 1: Performed WOOP and received detailed information about the importance of regular exercise and a healthy diet.
  • Group 2: Only received detailed information about the importance of regular exercise and a healthy diet.

Group 1 was taught how to use WOOP over the course of one session. They were then asked to apply WOOP on their own to the wish of exercising and eating healthier whenever they could.

They were taught to frame both long-term wishes and 24 hour wishes (e.g. “go for a jog in the evening” or “eat 3 portions of fruit today”) related to exercise and eating healthier.

The results?

Remarkable:

Participants in the WOOP group exercised nearly twice as much as those who had only received the health information, starting at one week after the intervention and continuing out to four months.

WOOP goal setting method

The WOOPers also consumed more fruits and vegetables, an effect that became even more pronounced as time went on.

After two years, participants in the information-only group were eating roughly the same amount of fruits and vegetables as they had been before the study.

The WOOPers, on the other hand, were still eating more fruits and vegetables after two years, even though they were not contracted by the researchers between the 4-month and 2-year mark.

The only caveat is that after two years, participants in the WOOP group did not differ in their exercise levels from members of the control group.

The researchers believe it’s because exercise is more difficult to change over a long period of time than diet. Gabriele Oettingen explains:

“A single, one-hour session of WOOP will help people exercise more for a few months, but achieving a lasting benefit would require you to perform WOOP repeatedly.”

Nonetheless it’s obvious that WOOP is a powerful transformational tool.

It’s been shown in many more studies to have a strong positive effect on our behavior.

I highly suggest you try it out.

It can help you achieve all kinds of small or big goals.

Plus, it helps you to fairly easily install success-creating habits into your life (which is HUGELY important!).

Let’s look at some examples…

How YOU Can Use WOOP to Achieve Your Goals and Change Your Habits

use woop for your goals

First of all, you can use this as often or as seldom as you like.

Studies have shown that even just one session leads to remarkable behavior change.

You can use it as a daily habit, or only for big projects, or situationally throughout the day, or whatever.

  • Need to finish a whitepaper by the end of this week? WOOP it.
  • Want to stop procrastinating? WOOP it.
  • Don’t want to get completely hammered next Saturday night? WOOP it.
  • Want to eat a healthy meal when you get home from work? WOOP it.
  • Want to study this afternoon? WOOP it.
  • Want to generally become more productive? WOOP it.
  • Want to install a meditation habit? WOOP it.

I personally use WOOP for all kinds of goals I have. I use it for small stuff such as finishing an article like this. I use it to install habits such as meditating every morning or reading before bed. I use it situationally to stop procrastinating. And I use it for long-term behavior change such as becoming more present or increasing my productivity.

Believe me:

It works like a charm.

Which is why I currently use it every day as part of my morning routine. Plus, I even use it occasionally throughout the day to get a small motivation boost and steer my behavior in the right direction.

Well then, on to some more specific examples…

WOOP In Action: Some Practical Examples

Here are 7 specific examples of how you could start using WOOP in your own life.

Goal: Lose weight by exercising every morning

W: Exercise in the morning right after getting up

O: Feel proud and energetic. Feel like I'm doing a great job and losing weight.

O: Not feel like doing it and then just skip it.

P: If I get up in the morning, then I immediately put on my running clothes and start exercising.

Goal: Go to the gym after work

W: Go to the gym and work out after work.

O: Feel good about myself. Have a sense of accomplishment. Proud I'm doing something healthy for my brain and body.

O: Forget to take my gym stuff to work.

​P: If tomorrow is workout day, then I prepare my stuff the night before.

Goal: Stop procrastinating right now

W: Start doing what needs to get done right now.

O: I feel proud. It makes me feel good. It gives me a sense of accomplishment. I'm determined to reach my goals.

O: I don't feel like doing it at all. I just can't get myself to do it.

P: ​If I feel like procrastinating, then I just get started anyway.

Goal: Becoming an early riser

W: Wake up early on a regular basis.

O: Get a lot done in the morning. Feeling great about myself. Feeling determined to make shit happen. Proud.

O: Hitting the snooze button.

P: If the alarm goes off in the morning, then I immediately get out of bed - no matter what!

Goal: Meditate for 10 minutes before sleep

W: Meditate for 10 mins before bed.

O: Sleep better. Fall asleep faster. Feel centered. Feel proud of myself for meditating daily.

O: Not feel like doing it.

P: If I'm about to go to bed at night, then I remind myself of all the amazing benefits and meditate for 10 minutes regardless of how I feel about it.

Goal: Finish a work project on Saturday

W: Finish this work project on Saturday.

O: Huge relief for finally getting it done. Proud of myself. Happy. Pumped that I'm finished and can go out tonight.

O: Get completely wasted on Friday night.

P: If I feel the urge to drink more than one beer, then I remember my plan and order water instead.

Goal: Watch less TV, read more

W: Waste less time watching TV. Instead read more.

O: Learning a lot. Getting smarter. Feel better. Enjoy the great ideas. Feel like I'm spending my time wisely.

O: Not feeling like it. Preferring to watch TV.

P: If I catch myself watching TV, then I turn it off and start reading a book instead.

The possibilities are endless

You can literally use it for anything. Even if it sounds and seems totally weird, that doesn't matter. Science (and my experience) shows it works.

Conclusion

WOOP is a scientifically proven tool that helps us change our behaviors and achieve our goals.

It’s the combination of mental contrasting and implementation intentions. Two techniques which are by themselves already highly effective.

WOOP stands for Wish, Outcome, Obstacle, and Plan. It works in 4 steps:

Wish: What’s a goal you would like to accomplish?

Outcome: What’s the best outcome that would result from accomplishing your goal? How would you feel? Visualize this outcome in your mind.

Obstacle: What are the personal obstacles that prevent you from achieving your goal? Visualize these obstacles in your mind.

Plan: Create an if/then plan to overcome the obstacles and visualize the plan in your mind.

You can use this tool for any goal you have in your life.

Maybe you want to exercise more often, win a chess tournament, become a great public speaker, eat healthier, drink less alcohol, meditate every day, finish a project at work, or go on a date with that girl next door.

Whatever goal you have…

…WOOP can help you make it a reality.

So what do you think? Will you try out WOOP for some of your goals? And If you've already used it, what results did you get? Let me know in the comments below!


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Nils Salzgeber

Recovering online gaming addict. Recovering procrastinator. Recovering perfectionist. Meditator. Book author. Online teacher. Personal coach. Arsenal FC Fan.

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