The Power of Negative Thinking

As a new year rapidly approaches (thank god), most of us are sitting at home thinking about everything we want to accomplish in 2021. That’s the magic of a new year—something about the moment that second hand ticks to midnight convinces us that this is it, our chance to finally make all our dreams come true. We fantasize about the promotions we’ll get, the whirlwind romances in our future, our svelte new physiques. Never mind that we had similar hopes in the past only for our motivation to fizzle out by March. This year will be different.

Well, it can be, and that’s where WOOP comes in. WOOP stands for Wish, Outcome, Obstacle, Plan. It’s also known as Mental Contrasting with Implementation Intentions (MCII), and psychologist Gabriele Oettingen spent over 20 years researching it (fun fact: she’s also a real-life princess…how badass is that?). You can read all about her work in her book, Rethinking Positive Thinking: Inside The New Science Of Motivation.

The idea behind WOOP is that positive thinking alone isn’t enough to help you achieve a goal to completion. Sure, pinning a bunch of inspiring Pinterest quotes to your mood board can help, but it’s only one step of the journey, and too much of that daydreaming can actually hinder you from reaching your goal. Studies have shown, “Those who have stronger, more positive fantasies about reaching their goals are actually less likely to achieve them.” 

There are a lot of great reasons to try WOOP. According to the official website, WOOP can help you improve your health, social behavior, and academic performance. It can even help you overcome past disappointments, resentments, and other negative feelings. The best part? It’s absolutely free, and anyone can do it anywhere, anytime.

So how do you actually do WOOP? It’s very easy and only takes 5-10 minutes. Start by finding a quiet place where you won’t be interrupted. Make sure you are calm and relaxed. Then, follow these steps:

  1. Set a timeframe for your goal. You don’t have to set one if you don’t wish, but it can be anywhere from a day to much longer.
  2. Think about the next month (or whatever timeframe you chose). Pick a wish that will be challenging, but you can fulfill. In 3-6 words, write down this wish.
  3. Think about the best possible outcome and how fulfilling that wish would make you feel. In 3-6 words, write down your best outcome.
  4. Now take a few moments to imagine the outcome. Lose yourself in your daydream and the positive feelings that’ll accompany accomplishing that goal.
  5. Identify your main inner obstacle to achieving that wish. What within you might hold you back? Fear? Laziness? In 3-6 words, write down your main obstacle.
  6. Take a few moments to imagine your obstacle. Lose yourself, just as you did in your daydream. Allow yourself to fully feel the frustrations and negative feelings.
  7. Make an if-then plan. Come up with an action you can take or a thought you can think to overcome your main obstacle. Your plan should follow this format: If (obstacle happens), then (I will do this). For example, your if-then plan could be: If (I feel too lazy to workout), then (I will change into my gym clothes).
  8. Write down your if-then plan and slowly repeat it to yourself a few times.

And that’s it, you just completed your first WOOP! What’s great about WOOP is that you can use it in every part of your life, from your career to your health to your relationships. You can do it as often as you need or whenever your goals change. I recommend checking out the official website linked above, which includes lots of interesting research and useful resources, including a free app that lets you track your progress towards your goals.

Too often we get lost in our fantasies, making great progress towards our goals until we encounter our first obstacle and find ourselves faltering. The great thing about WOOP is that it accounts for those obstacles, which are often inevitable, and arms us with a plan for overcoming them.

I plan on using WOOP often in 2021 to help me reach my goals. If you decide to give it a try, be sure to let me know how it worked for you. Here’s hoping all that negative thinking leads to a whole lot of positive outcomes in the new year!

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