I am hyped about today’s post because I know that many of you guys are in the middle of doing an important project or being busy with making your dream life come true. Whether it is a school assignment, job task or building your dream life, finishing tasks requires goal setting. Mastering goal setting is not that hard; there are many tools from SMART-goals to vision boards that people find useful.
Yet, even if you are an expert daydreamer, master goal-setter or visualizing-yedi, goal setting is not what makes you fulfill those goals. It is the actions. And sometimes we get surprised that actions come with obstacles. And if we haven’t got the right strategy at the time of obstacles, our vision board is not going to do much. But don’t worry, I have great news – today’s post is about a specific science-based tool that can help you to overcome any obstacle, and speed up the process of reaching those valuable goals and dreams.
Have you ever experienced workflow interruptions by yourself? Or funny YouTube videos? Or Instagram? I certainly have.
I recently bumped into a really intriguing psychological tool for goal setting that helped me to identify why my blog posts are not getting ready within a reasonable amount of time – the obstacles that keep slowing me down. When I first used this tool, I was able to write the first sketch of this article in half the time I normally write an article. This felt great! I suddenly realized that it is not so much about how efficient worker you are, but whether or not you keep interrupting yourself.
The tool is called Mental Contrasting with Implementation Intentions or for friends, WOOP (Wish-Outcome- Obstacle-Plan). WOOP is developed by a social psychologist Gabriele Oettingen at New York University and has over 20 years of research to back up its effect on self-discipline and achievement. It helps you to identify your personal obstacles and improving the ability of self-discipline. In schools, WOOP has shown to improve student effort and GPA. Outside of schools, WOOP has been shown to reduce stress, increase engagement, improve time management, and promote physical fitness. (R)
Whether it is weight loss, writing an e-book, or preparing a party, self-discipline is the key to achieving your goals, and many times our obstacles in progress are related to that. Social media, messages, nice weather, and the tempting bed many times wins in the mental battle of deciding what to do. But when you know your personal setbacks, it is easier to manage the automatic behavioral patterns that may even be left unnoticed by you. This is exactly what happened to me.
Now I will briefly summarize the importance of self-discipline to achievement and then introduce WOOP – the tool that can speed up your process rapidly.
Self-discipline improves achievement – the science
It all started with marshmallows.
In the 1970s, a great psychologist Walter Mischel developed a test to measure the self-discipline of children by placing a marshmallow on a table in front of them. He told the children that we will now leave the room but promised that if they would not eat the marshmallow immediately and wait for him to return, he would give them another marshmallow. So the kid had two choices; eat one marshmallow immediately or wait for him to come back and end up with two marshmallows. He noticed that the 4-year old kid, who had enough self-discipline to wait for the second marshmallow, also later had higher academic and social performance in their teenage years (R)
This experiment has been repeated many times since and there are very funny videos on Youtube where the children try to resist the temptation of the marshmallow:
Later it was found that self-discipline was actually the only quality in human that predicted college grades (GPA) more robustly than SAT scores did. In the test, 32 personal qualities were measured including self-esteem, extraversion, and energy levels.(R)
Hogan and Weiss (1974) compared equally intelligent university students part of who was accepted to the most prestigious honor society Phi Beta Kappa. They noticed that what separates PBK-members from their equally intelligent peers is very high self-discipline. Since inception, 17 U.S. Presidents and 136 Nobel Laureates have been inducted members of Phi Beta Kappa. (R)
More recently, it was found that undergraduates with higher self-discipline also have higher grades and in addition, a broad array of personal and interpersonal strengths. (R)
WOOP can improve self-discipline and achievement
So we see that self-regulation and discipline is a great skill that can improve success and achievement. Higher scores on self-control correlated with better performance, higher self-esteem, less binge eating, and alcohol abuse, better relationships and interpersonal skills, secure attachment, and more optimal emotional responses. (R)
But are we born with it or is it something we can rehearsal? Good news. It can be practiced. This was noticed by a psychologist called Gabriele Oettingen who studied dieters, high achievers, students, love-seekers, entrepreneurs, and other strivers and ended up developing WOOP – a practical tool for self-discipline and overcoming obstacles.
Currently, WOOP has more than 20 years of testing in classrooms, gyms, and healthcare settings. In schools, WOOP has significantly improved effort, homework completion, attendance, and GPA. Outside of schools, WOOP has been shown to reduce stress, increase engagement, improve time management, and promote physical fitness. (R)
WOOP has been shown to…
- WOOP helped study participants reduce insecurity-based behaviors (e.g., looking through the partner’s phone log) and increase their commitment to romantic relationships. — Houssais, Oettingen, & Mayer, 2013
- WOOP helped study participants double the amount of regular physical exercise they performed over a four-month period. It also helped study participants increase fruit and vegetable intake by 30% over a two year period. — Stadler, Oettingen, & Gollwitzer, 2009, 2010
- WOOP increased high school students’ efforts to prepare for standardized tests by 60%. — Duckworth, Grant, Loew, Oettingen, & Gollwitzer, 2011
- Read all: http://woopmylife.org/further/
WOOP: How to do it – how I did it?
WOOPING is an easy, 4-step exercise that takes 5-15 minutes depending on how thoroughly you think each question in it. It asks you to
- Identify a goal
- Imagine the outcome
- Identify a possible obstacle
- Prepare for that with a counter-habit or correcting action
For me it worked as following; I struggle with producing text with a constant flow. I keep jumping to other tabs to find some images or related research articles. Then I get lost in streaming images or reading the articles and finally notice I have been managed to write 100 words and I am already exhausted.
So I did this exercise in relation to these problems like this:
W – wish:
Writing an article sketch from beginning to end without stopping to do anything irrelevant for that moment (keeping myself in the flow)
O – outcome:
Writing an article faster which gives me an opportunity to share my experience and knowledge faster. That can help other people to achieve more and be happier. I can also connect with like-minded people interested in the same stuff.
O – obstacle:
Stopping the writing process to do something irrelevant for the moment like finding pictures or thinking about a specific phrase or headline
P – plan (If…when):
IF I notice that I am losing my flow and getting distracted from writing, I will take a breath, accept that these can be done later, and continue writing however tempting it is to stop the flow to do something else.
Did it work?
Heck yes. This is the first time I was able to write a full article from start to finish in one sitting, not spending hours on the first draft. Actually, I started writing approximately 25 minutes ago and now I am already finished with the sketch. So yes, I definitely recommend this tool to whatever goal you have.
I love the fact that it allows you not only to make an action plan to fulfill a goal but also to identify obstacles and problems personal for you; that stands your way.
If you think about it, self-reflecting on your own obstacles is the only way to really understand what is the most useful action for you to overcome it. In addition, the problem seem less intimidating since you already have an action to implement it that happens.
This reminds me quite a lot of the tool that Tim Ferriss calls “fear setting” which I have also used and I love so much:
What are your biggest obstacles to fulfilling your goals and what are your best tips and tools to overcome them?
If you like this post or know a friend that could use WOOP right now, spread the love and share it.