The Simple Technique for Achieving Your Goals
Based on 20 years of research, the new science of motivation.
Posted Dec 07, 2015
In my 20 years of research on the science of motivation, I’ve found that the conventional wisdom of “think positively” falls short. In fact, my research has confirmed that dreaming about the future actually makes people less likely to realize their dreams and wishes. A new strategy to visualize our future that emerged from the work I’ve done is called “mental contrasting” which combines focusing on our dreams with visualizing the obstacles that stand in our way. By experiencing our dreams in our minds and facing reality we can address our fears, make concrete plans, and gain energy to take action. In my studies, people who have applied mental contrasting have become significantly more motivated to quit cigarettes, lose weight, get better grades, sustain healthier relationships, and negotiate more effectively in business situations.
As I started to teach mental contrasting, I realized that I needed a better name to capture the key steps. WOOP, which stands for Wish Outcome Obstacle Plan, is an easy to learn four-step procedure:
- The “W” stands for a wish or concern. Step back and think about one wish in your life that you would like to accomplish.
- “O” is the outcome. Identify the best thing that can be associated with fulfilling your wish and imagine the relevant events and experience as vividly as possible.
- The second “O” is the obstacle. Find the most critical, internal obstacle that prevents you from fulfilling the wish and identify what thoughts or behaviors might play a role.
- The “P” stands for the plan. Name one thought or action that can be taken to overcome your obstacle and think about when and where the obstacle will next occur.
WOOP can be applied to both short- and long-term goals and is scientifically shown to help you become more energized and directed.
WOOP is like any tool-a hammer, a piano, a bicycle-in that people will use it in different ways and to different ends. In some situations, people will use WOOP to adjust their wishes, whereas in other circumstances they will use it to identify obstacles that prove difficult to overcome, to disengage from pursuits that are making them unhappy, to pursue dreams that have eluded them in the past, or simply to understand their wishes better. No matter how you choose to use WOOP, re member that this strategy is fundamentally about connecting to others and to the world at large. Yes, you learn a lot about yourself through the process of mental contrasting, but that self-knowledge always exists in service to the larger purpose of a connection with others and the world.
People today are always in motion, running toward and away from wishes and goals-toward and away from connections. WOOP allows you to tap into this constant movement, to join it, to become part of the flow of life, to move in a particular direction. Using WOOP to overcome fears and anxieties allows you to welcome the outside in; you free yourself to connect with others. Even in the case of wishes that seem on the surface to only involve you-a fitness or health wish for example, such as sleeping better, weighing less, or eating better-using WOOP enables you to engage more actively with life. You feel better and you have more energy, so you're more inclined to participate in activities you might have shied away from before. Even the act of engaging in WOOP tends to get you outside of yourself by prompting you to identify the obstacle, which very often involves someone else.
WOOP is an opportunity to get unstuck and come out of your shell. Even in societies in which certain freedoms are guaranteed and our choices of action are many, we all don't necessarily have the ability to be free, because we suffer from hang-ups or sensitivities that bedevil us. We tell ourselves we can't do certain things. We fail to look our insecurities in the face, blaming others or circumstances outside of us for our frustrations. We need to work at becoming free. We need to regulate our selves so that at each moment we pursue what we actually want to pursue, not necessarily what other people tell us to pursue or what we think they want us to pursue. We also have to regulate ourselves so that we can wisely choose among the thousands of paths open to us. Something as simple as taking a moment to envision a longed-for future and then identifying how we are blocking our own wishes makes all the difference. Cutting through layers of excuses and untested beliefs, sifting through conflicting priorities, we launch ourselves toward our feasible dreams and away from unfeasible ones. Mobilizing our non-conscious minds, we lock in to our attainable desires and ensure that we're moving ahead along our chosen paths with our full energies.
We are just beginning to rethink positive thinking, evolving the new science of motivation and mobilizing it to improve individuals' lives and address social problems. But what we do know is very clear. To make the most of our lives, we must face up to the role we play in hamstringing our own wishes. Doing so isn't complicated, but it is profound and life changing. With WOOP and mental contrasting, we motivate and empower our selves to take action when it will really benefit us and those around us. We unleash powerful forces within us so that we can change habits of thought and behavior we've had for years. It sounds like magic, and it feels like magic, but the science shows it's real. Wishing you good luck on your journey of discovery, I'll end with two vital questions that I hope you never stop asking yourself: What is your dearest wish? What holds you back from achieving it?