WOOP stands for Wish/Outcomes/Obstacles/Plan. It is a shorthand description for an effective four-step method for achieving goals.
- Search for, and articulate in a few words, your wish — that is, the goal you want to meet. In our case, that might be a virtue you want to acquire or strengthen.
- Describe the positive outcomes that will result from meeting your goal. What improvements to your life do you expect from your new virtue? Spend some time really envisioning this in your imagination.
- Anticipate the one or two major internal obstacles to meeting your goal. What stands in the way of practicing the virtue or of doing the exercises you need to do to strengthen it? This might be an emotion, an irrational belief, a bad habit, or something of that sort. This is also something you should spend a little time walking through in your imagination.
- Create a specific plan for meeting those obstacles. A good way to do this is with an “if/then” plan: “If I encounter [some obstacle] then I will do [something that meets that obstacle effectively].”
Gabriele Oettingen, the developer of WOOP, suggests that this should take about five minutes of quiet, uninterrupted calm.
By doing the mental work ahead of time (imagining, visualizing, creatively searching for obstacles and coming up with plans to meet them), you prime yourself for being able to correctly act automatically when the occasion arises: that is, you don’t have to exert that extra mental energy then because you already have done the work to set up the correct response.
This has a way of turning your obstacles into prompts that spur you to the new behaviors you desire.