The WOOP Method: The Scientifically Proven Tool For Achieving Any Goal

Wish. Outcome. Obstacle. Plan

Thomas Oppong
Nov 11, 2020 · 4 min read
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Photo by Félix Lam on Unsplash

Many people have no problem naming their goals. They know the few things they desperately want to accomplish in life. But they just can’t get themselves to achieve them in a reasonable time.

Life gets in the way of their important goals — and they make a litany of excuses for why those goals can’t be checked off their lists.

In the end, they interrupt their best intentions and sabotage their goals.

Ambitious goals are inspiring, but without an attainable action plan, you are setting yourself up for failure.

Many people understand the importance of creating goals, systems, and habits to make it in life but they can’t find the motivation to get started or finish what they start.

Research shows that 92% of people don’t achieve their goals. It doesn’t surprise me that only 8% of people actually achieve their goals.

Why do so many people fail to accomplish their goals, and what are the secrets behind those who succeed? Lack of clarity, commitment, focus and confidence are a few of the things that stand in their way.

Many people want to transform their lives — they want to save more money, invest a percentage of their income, lose weight, start a passion project, commit to a writing schedule, etc., but their current routine has become a stumbling block. They can’t get past their excuses.

Gabriele Oettingen, a professor of psychology at New York University and the University of Hamburg, one the world’s leading authorities on motivation author of Rethinking Positive Thinking: Inside the New Science of Motivation has found a few things that don’t help us achieve our goals.

She says visualising our goals or positive thinking alone is actually counterproductive. “Positive fantasies and daydreams, as pleasurable they are, they have a problem when it comes to fulfilling our wishes and attaining our goals,” she says.

Oettingen argues that visualization fools our brains into believing we’ve already achieved the success we seek. The result: we feel happy and more relaxed and don’t push ourselves to achieve our goals.

She has found out that we are more likely to reach our goals if we take a realistic approach by thinking about what might stop us along the way.

Building on over 20 years of motivation research, Oettingen and her team developed a powerful four-stage process known as Wish-Outcome-Obstacle-Plan or WOOP to help people achieve their goals — rather than plans they’d really like to achieve but never do.​

WOOP stands for:

W — Specifying a wish
O — Identifying an outcome
O — Specifying obstacles
P — Forming a plan for overcoming each obstacle

“WOOP is a science-based mental strategy that people can use to find and fulfil their wishes, set preferences, and change their habits,” writes the team.

It’s a systematic way to increase motivation and change behaviour.

“WOOP is like a Swiss Army knife,” says Gabriele Oettingen. “Without us realizing it, the future is connected to the obstacle and the obstacle is linked to the behaviour to overcome the obstacle,” Oettingen explains.

How to WOOP

What do you want to achieve? Make it exciting but realistic. Think about something feasible in your life you want to work toward — do you want to write start a business? start an exercise habit? Write a book? It can be anything but it should be measurable and attainable. Summarise that wish in a few words.

What’s the biggest benefit you could receive? What would be the very best outcome of this? Take some time to deeply imagine, see, and feel what it would be like to attain the best possible outcome.

What will get in the way of reaching the outcome? Thoughts, feelings, irrational beliefs, old behaviour patterns and bad habits are a few of the things that can stand in the way of your wish and outcome. Remember, you’re searching for internal obstacles.

Steps 2 and 3 together can provide you with the motivation needed to accomplish your goal. However, motivation alone is not enough to get to where you want. Identify your obstacles and everything that can prevent you from achieving your goals.

Finally, create a plan to overcome the obstacles you identified in step 3.

Create an if-then plan: if [the obstacle] occurs, then I will [take my chosen action]. This is also known as implementation intentions.

Example, if your schedule makes it impossible to find time for your passion project, then take a lot at it again, make time and add your new habit.

If your obstacle is getting distracted by notifications when you are trying to get things done, then turn off the notifications or turn off the phone.

If you wish to write on Medium every day, but your obstacle is procrastination, then set a specific time daily to write and commit to it.

Think of an if-then plan that connects your own inner obstacle with your chosen action.

In order to successfully use WOOP, learn to follow the process.

According to Gabriele Oettingen, it is important to follow the sequence of the steps: “If you first imagine the obstacle and then the result, the method will no longer work.”

Achieving any goal is a process. Using WOOP can help you learn more about what you want, your internal and even external obstacles and how to overcome them.

It’s a simple but great strategy you can use to do more, accomplish goals and get things done. It’s more effective than relying on willpower alone.

Personal Growth

Sharing our ideas and experiences.

Thomas Oppong

Written by

Founder @AllTopStartups | Featured at Forbes, Business Insider, etc. | Join my personal newsletter for life and career tools at

Personal Growth

Sharing our ideas and experiences.

Thomas Oppong

Written by

Founder @AllTopStartups | Featured at Forbes, Business Insider, etc. | Join my personal newsletter for life and career tools at

Personal Growth

Sharing our ideas and experiences.

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