WOOP Goal Setting Strategy: 4 Steps to Get Started

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Have you ever wanted to achieve something, but found there was something holding you back? You may have convinced yourself you were negative or pessimistic, that you didn’t give your dreams a chance, or that you simply didn’t have what it took to reach your goal. It’s frustrating and really defeating to wish upon a star but not even have the courage to try and catch it

There are so many goal-setting strategies out there, and many people have had success with the SMART method of setting and reaching goals… but perhaps, you’re not one of them. If that’s the case, don’t worry.

Today, I’m going to talk to you about WOOP goal-setting strategies. There’s a good reason that this acronym sounds like a call of joy… because WOOP works! It really does. 

It’s time to add some WOOP to your life. 

(Side note: One of the best ways to get what you want from life is to create and set SMART goals. To get started, check out this FREE printable worksheet and a step-by-step process that will help you set effective SMART goals.)

What You Will Learn

What Is WOOP Goal Setting?

WOOP is a strategy that allows you to envision your future goals. You are encouraged to see the results of your hard work. But then, you are made to counter these goals with a negative challenge. You see how your goals will NOT succeed. Finally, you plan how you will overcome that particular obstacle, thereby giving you the tools to face the challenge and win. 

WOOP stands for Wish, Outcome, Obstacle, and Plan. It is one of the few goal-setting strategies that focuses not only on what you have and what you want to reach, but it also helps you anticipate challenges and (more importantly) plan how you will deal with them. I like to think it’s like knowing there’s going to be a tollbooth on life’s highway and planning to make sure you have enough mental riches to get through it. 

Dr. Gabriele Oettingen created the WOOP methodology after 20 years of research. The basic tenet of WOOP is that simply thinking positively isn’t enough; you also need to plan how you will cope when challenges arise. This is what makes WOOP unique and so successful. 

Where other goal-setting strategies focus on the goal, WOOP helps you acknowledge the potential challenges and plan how you will counter these. I especially like that it equips you with the tools and preparation to face the downside to reaching out for your goals. Being prepared means you can go further toward your goal than if you simply tried to “wish on a star.”

For me, WOOP helped me visualize my dream of moving to a country homestead where I could practice my love of farming and writing. Previously, I had only visualized success, and each time a challenge popped up, I was unprepared and failed in reaching my goal. Using the principles of WOOP, I not only visualized the prize but also the challenges and how I would cope with them. 

I am now much closer to reaching my homesteading dreams than I have ever been, and I know that when challenges crop up (and they will), I am prepared to face these and push through to success. 

Benefits of WOOP Goal Setting

The main benefit of WOOP goal setting is that you prepare for when things go wrong. This preparation sustains your forward momentum when you would normally have given up on a goal. Being prepared is important as it gives you a much more realistic outlook on your goals, and you are not as “bowled over” by challenges as you would normally be by simple goal-only visualizations. 

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The main benefit of WOOP goal setting is that you prepare for when things go wrong.

WOOP can also be combined quite successfully with other management strategies like SMART, where the focus is on goals and measuring how you reach them

Other benefits of WOOP are: 

  • An Increase in Motivation 

Since motivation is often a problem most of us struggle with, WOOP helps people feel capable and motivated in their own lives. WOOP has even been known to help people manage health issues such as chronic pain, diabetes type II, obesity, and alcoholism. 

  • Better Social Management

If you’re struggling with depression or anxiety, WOOP can help you plan strategies for dealing with those awkward and stressful situations you know will crop up. Using WOOP, couples can also improve their bond, plan how to resolve conflicts, and handle resentment better.

  • Improve Academic Performance

With WOOP, students develop the ability to see the issues they may have with a particular subject, and they can also plan ahead for how they will face it. This results in better preparation and better results. Using the WOOP method, children with ADHD can develop strategies for coping with their distractions.  

A result of a student knowing they can achieve a goal is that the student will continue to set bigger goals. It may start as something small like getting to class on time each day, and by the time the child is in high school, they will be preparing and facing bigger goals like getting A-symbols and planning on attaining a college education. 

WOOP Goal Setting in Action 

WOOP in the K-12 Classroom

Many schools have changed their usual motivation strategies for the WOOP goal management strategy. It has helped students from kindergarten to their last year of school manage their goals, performance, and motivation. 

As a result of successfully implementing WOOP strategies at school, classroom attendance among underprivileged students improved dramatically, students showed better motivation and self-agency toward their daily school tasks, and social conflict was better resolved. 

WOOP in the Workplace 

In workplaces across the world, WOOP has made a significant impact, as people are encouraged to face challenges because they can anticipate these and prepare in advance how they will resolve them. 

WOOP is an excellent form of management for businesses, small and large, and many CEOs have been reported as using WOOP strategies in their business operations. 

WOOP in your Life

I can’t help but be excited about adding some WOOP to my life. It’s really helped me reach my goals, and more importantly, deal with the challenges that threaten my goals or hold me back. 

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Adding some WOOP goal setting in your life can help you reach your goals.

You can also WOOP your life by following the steps for implementing WOOP that I’m about to describe. With this unique goal-achieving mindset, you can strategically achieve progress, build forward momentum, and identify challenges before they become goal time-outs that don’t end. 

Steps to Implement WOOP Goal Setting

There are four steps to implement WOOP goal setting in your life. It’s important not to try and skip ahead or rush through any of the steps. Only with a solid foundation will you achieve the success you are working so hard to reach. 

Step #1: Wish

This is the step that everyone enjoys. During this step, you dream about what you want. You formulate the desire you want to achieve. It can be anything: a holiday away, buying your own house, taking a road trip with friends, getting a promotion at work, earning a bigger salary, or starting your own business. 

Okay, so those are pretty big wishes. Some of us only want to get to work on time tomorrow so we can make sure we don’t get fired. Others want smaller goals, like saving enough money each week to afford a new pair of shoes at the end of the month. 

Whatever your goal or wish, this is where you need to really plan it, see it, and believe it. 

Your wish needs to fulfill one serious requirement, though. It needs to be achievable. Each of us will have a different definition of what’s achievable. While I may be able to plan my homesteading future, you may only be able to think of things that you need this month, and that you can do easily. The important thing is not to try and set the truly impossible as a goal. 

Impossible goals are goals that require someone else’s influence or a lucky streak to achieve. Setting the goal of becoming a millionaire by winning the lottery relies on luck, and therefore, isn’t an achievable goal or wish. 

If your five-year old wants to be the first teenager in space, they can set that goal, and though it may require some luck, it will also require a lot of hard work and resilience. But it is (theoretically) achievable. 

A Quick Word on Goal Length

While we’re on goals and wishes, it’s important to realize there are two kinds of wishes. Those that are immediate and those that are long-term. Immediate goals have a short timeframe, but they are fairly easy to achieve. It is also easier to see challenges. 

Starting with these daily goals and wishes is a great way to practice WOOP strategies in your life. When you achieve success because of your use of WOOP, you will be encouraged and motivated to strive further and higher to reach a grander wish. 

Step #2: Outcome

Okay, so your wish is to be a business owner. Great! What is that to YOU? 

In this step, you need to not only see the wish you have, but also fully expand on what that wish will feel like to you once you achieve it. You may see yourself getting up early each morning to prepare for board meetings, or perhaps you sleep in later, rising when it’s time to check stocks, and run your business from the comfort of your own home. 

See every small detail of that life. This wish you have needs to be so real in your mind that you might feel like you can open your eyes and physically see it. If your wish is to own a new car, then see what that car looks like, smell the new interior, and feel the soft purr as you start the car’s engine. Add the details so you believe it’s real

Step #3: Obstacle

This is where the power of WOOP really kicks in: see the challenge that can stop you achieving that goal. When you can visualize the challenge, you can prepare for how you will overcome that challenge. 

Planning requires details, so be sure to visualize all of the aspects of the obstacle you anticipate being in your way. Every detail will help you better tailor a solution to the challenge. 

Use this step to also begin motivating yourself. It often helps to be your own cheerleader. Imagine you are motivating someone else to overcome this obstacle. What would you tell them? What advice would you give them? Now, remember that it’s YOU who has to overcome the obstacle. You have the motivation and you know you can, so get ready to build your plan of action.

Step #4: Plan

Time to start thinking in terms of “if … then.” This means you reason that when X happens, you will do Y. It’s about planning and preparation. And more importantly, it’s about seeing yourself overcome a challenge or obstacle and reaching your goal or wish. 

If a lack of motivation is your obstacle, then your plan may be “when … then.” So, if your goal is to get a degree while working full time, then you may decide that “when you get home, then you will first study for an hour.” Your plan works on conditional reasoning

Final Thoughts on WOOP Goal Setting

The WOOP goal setting strategy can really help you achieve your goals, create the motivation to want to succeed, and give you the tools to deal with obstacles as they appear. Using WOOP methodology, you can move from merely envisioning and dreaming to actually doing. 

If you are still struggling with visualizing your goals or wishes, then perhaps a vision board can help. Learn how to create one by reading our article on how to make a vision board

Finally, if you want to take your goal-setting efforts to the next level, check out this FREE printable worksheet and a step-by-step process that will help you set effective SMART goals.

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