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Achieving goals by mental contrasting - the WOOP method

Positive thinking is the key to success - that is the unanimous tenor of many career coaches and advisors. But pure optimism can also prevent people from achieving their goals. Because positive thinking without taking reality into account doesn't get us anywhere. Gabriele Oettingen, a psychology professor at New York University and the University of Hamburg, comes to this surprising conclusion. Her insight is preceded by 25 years of scientific research - and with the WOOP method she has developed a technique that has been proven to help us really achieve our goals.

The focus of the method is the so-called "mental contrasting". Oetinger herself uses this term to describe the combination of positive dreaming and visualizing obstacles that prevent us from achieving our goal. This is because those who contrast their desires with the obstacles can no longer see the future without reality.

So, as with the positive thinking approach, you imagine fulfillment of a goal - and in the next step ask yourself: what is standing in my way of actually realizing this goal? What is holding me back? These obstacles can be emotions such as fear or anger, irrational beliefs, or even bad habits.

WOOP stands for the four steps of the underlying method: 

  • Wish (wish)
  • Outcome (the most beautiful thing)
  • Obstacle 
  • Plan (If-Then Plan)   

The method works best when your goals and plans are precisely defined and actionable: "Rich and famous" is also a wish, but unfortunately much too vague.

Here is a practical example of mental contrasting with the WOOP method.  Initial situation: You are dissatisfied in your job and would like to develop yourself professionally.

1. Wish

I would like to advance my career through in-service training that will enable me to lead a team.

2. Outcome

With this training I will lay the foundation for a career as a manager, take on challenging tasks and gain personnel responsibility. In addition, this is accompanied by a salary increase, which is important to build a house / buy a sports car / take long-distance trips / ...

3. Obstacle

I spend a lot of free time in front of the TV or game console and can rarely get up to do something productive instead. 

4. Plan

If I spend my free time on the sofa, there is no time for training. I need to plan my free time in a way that allows me to accomplish what I want to do. In concrete terms, this means that from now on I will schedule fixed time slots for further training after work and on weekends.


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