Have you ever heard the old adage that positive thinking is the key to success? While it’s well-intentioned advice, research has proven it wrong—positive thinking is actually correlated with lower energy, physical and mental health, and well-being. That’s because when we only think positively, we tend to get lost in our dreaming and ultimately underestimate any obstacles that may arise.
Obstacles are a big part of our success or failure. In order to reach a big goal, we actually have to take obstacles into account and plan for how to overcome them. The three important steps to achieving any goal are to:
- Envision the positive future
- Acknowledge the obstacles that may arise
- Plan how we will overcome those obstacles
WOOP, developed by Gabriele Oettingen and Peter M. Gollwitzer, psychology researchers at New York University, is a science-based mental strategy that people of all ages can use to find and fulfill their wishes. It is based on the concept that all dreams must be dreamt with obstacles—and plans for overcoming those obstacles—in mind.
- Choose a Wish
- Imagine the Outcome
- Identify the Obstacle
- Make a Plan
Based on more than 20 years of research, WOOP has been tested in many settings, including in schools, hospitals, and gyms and has been proven to help people achieve all kinds of goals, from losing weight and eating better to making better grades and sustaining healthy relationships. Expanding on the applications of WOOP, education research nonprofit Character Lab developed WOOP for Classrooms to help students set and achieve school-related goals, such as starting a school newspaper or getting an ‘A’ in science.
The reason WOOP is so useful in so many settings is that it boils down the process for dreaming our future dreams into a set of simple steps, while also forcing us to consider everything that could go wrong and plan for it.
Interestingly, the act of naming and planning for obstacles is energizing, which helps us to take action and move forward toward our goals. This, in turn, leads to a greater chance of success and achieving our bigger wishes and dreams. It’s a virtuous cycle.
Get to WOOPing
Help your kid put WOOP to work on their wishes, whether those pertain to home, school, health, relationships, or hobbies. Download our 10-minute WOOP at home activity. The activity takes your kid through the four steps of WOOP: choosing a Wish, imagining the Outcome, identifying the Obstacle, and making a Plan for if the Obstacle arises.
If your kid gets stuck on a particular step, prompt them by asking questions like:
- Not sure what a wish could be or where to start? Write a goal that may feel difficult, but is achievable.
- When do you want to achieve your wish? In the next 24 hours, week, month, or beyond?
- What are some of the challenges you’ve faced at home, school, or so on? Might you want to make a Wish to improve some of those things?
- What do you wish that aspect of home, school, or so on, looked like?
- When you’ve set and pursued goals in the past, what inner Obstacles have you faced?
- What are some strategies you’ve tried to overcome obstacles in the past? Could you use one of those as your Plan?
If your kid wants to go even deeper into how they will accomplish their wish, help them create SMART goals and use the self-directed learning cycle to track a step-by-step plan for achieving their wish. If they hit a roadblock, help them practice resilience to push through challenges.
You may find that WOOPing is helpful for you, too! Try the WOOP at home activity out yourself before sharing it with your kid.