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WOOP It Up For Change!

A fun mnemonic tool to help change your habits.

I've mentioned on my social media feeds and on my About page that in addition to working part-time as a Professional Organizer that I also work part-time as a Social Worker for a municipality providing counseling services to students and families. The building in which I work has been shuttered and I and my colleagues have all been working remotely from home. With the added time on our hands not commuting to work and in between schools to see our students we've been encouraged to pursue opportunities for continuing education.

I've discovered Coursera which is an online learning platform that offers courses, specializations, and degrees. A course that I finished recently was tilted: "The Science of Well-Being" and it was facilitated by Yale professor, Laurie Santos. During one of Professor Santos' presentations, she interviewed Gabriele Oettingen, a professor of psychology at New York University. Oettingen's work for the last 20 years has focused on the science of goal achievement.

Professor Oettingen shared a fun mnemonic device that she created called WOOP. It stands for Wish / Outcome / Obstacle / Plan. WOOP is a tool that people can use to find and fulfill their wishes and change habits. Ms. Oettingen's research and studies using this tool show that WOOP can help people to be healthier, improve their social behavior, and increase their academic performance.

In one study Oettingen posed a question to women in a weight loss group what they would do when tempted with a plate of donuts.

Some of the women were optimistic about their ability to resist the donuts while others admitted that they would have cravings and would probably eat a few despite wanting to stick with their healthy eating habits.

Oettingen checked back in with the women a year later and found that the women who were optimistic about losing weight but allowed themselves to envision themselves indulging in a donut lost 24lbs more than the women who remained purely optimistic about their ability to lose weight. This idea of mental contrasting is the ability to visualize a positive outcome while internalizing a negative struggle of what might get in the way of you achieving that goal is what Oettingen has found most helpful in goal achievement.

Getting back to this WOOP tool, here's how it works:

W = Wish

Take some time to really think about a wish (goal) you want to achieve. Make sure it's the uninterrupted kind of time! The wish could be short-term or long-term. (Ex; I want to have my dining room cleaned out so I can entertain.)

O = Outcome

Envision the outcome of that wish. Focus on the best possible benefit that you expect to experience after achieving that wish. (Ex; feeling relieved, energized, motivated, ready to welcome family for that holiday dinner)

O = Obstacle

Focus on the biggest internal obstacle you need to overcome to fulfill your wish. We need to be self-aware of the ways in which we hold ourselves back. Too often we're told to look on the bright side, think positive, and stay laser-focused on our dreams. While that's all well and good, this conventional wisdom falls short because we aren't balanced in our thinking to include our obstacles and what's going to derail us from reaching success. (Ex; procrastination, lack of motivation, lack of organizing know-how, fear of throwing something away of value)

P = Plan

In this stage, we come up with an If... Then plan. This is the plan that helps you deal with that internal obstacle you've identified. (Ex; If I spend another Saturday telling myself I'll do it tomorrow, then I'll grab at least one box and fill it with clutter or If I am lacking the energy to tackle the dining room, then I'll set a timer for just 15 minutes and see what I can get done.)

I realize this technique sounds too simple to be effective but when we plan for what's going to stand in the way of our goals in a thoughtful and concrete way, we're more likely, in the moment, to make the better choice to get us one step further to achieving our wish.

Oettingen wants to hit home the point that wishing doesn't just make it so. We are less likely to achieve our wish if we just focus on the positive fantasy of achieving it as fantasies don't compel us forward to take action. When we prepare our minds to see both the good and bad in a situation we can better choose our actions accordingly.

Gabriele Oettingen's book is Rethinking Positive Thinking: Inside the new science of motivation.

You can also check out the website for more details. There you can read Oettingen's research, watch informational videos, and start your own WOOP!

What do you plan on WOOP-ing up this summer?

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