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Wish, Outcome, Obstacle, & Plan

WOOP — Wish, Outcome, Obstacle, Plan — is the brainchild of Gabriele Oettingen, a professor of psychology at New York University and the University of Hamburg in Germany. It is a tool for helping you move beyond simply knowing what you ought to do to increase well-being, to actually changing your behavior.

WOOP is based on mental contrasting, an approach that encourages holding together in your mind your desires and the obstacles that might prevent you from realizing them.

It can be practiced daily, in just five minutes, beginning with some quiet time to focus and relax before moving through each of the key words in turn. The time horizon for your wish might be “in the next day” or something farther out, like in the next 30 days. You reflect on questions like the following, answering each with three to six words:

Wish: What is my dearest wish, one that is challenging but possible?

Outcome: What would be the best outcome of fulfilling that wish?

Obstacle: What inside me holds me back from fulfilling this wish?

Plan: What specific action might overcome this obstacle?

After that, you develop a simple if-then plan: if this obstacle happens, then I will do this thing. The point is to not grip the wish tightly.

“The wishes come, and [you] WOOP them, and you don’t need to think, ‘OK, I need to fulfill that wish now,’” Oettingen said in an interview with Santos. “That’s not the issue. It’s very unevaluative; it’s very ‘unperformance.’ Just take it in order to lead a more pleasant and constructive and fulfilling life.”