What does it take to achieve your goals? With our modern obsession with self-improvement, advice for achieving goals and establishing new healthy habits is everywhere. One book will tell you that thinking positive is key to success, while another will mention that it takes 21 days to form a habit—something you do without thinking about it.
However, science says that achieving your goals is a bit more complex than that. One study found that even simple tasks take an average of 66 days to become habits. Another study found that when it comes to establishing healthier snacking, thinking positively isn’t enough—you have to imagine the obstacles that will stand in your way and actively plan to overcome them.
That’s where WOOPing comes in. WOOP is an acronym that stands for Wish, Outcome, Obstacle, and Plan. Taking a few minutes to WOOP can help you achieve your goals by digging deep into what might stand in your way. Here’s how WOOPing works and how it can be implemented to help you work toward a low-sugar lifestyle.
The first step in WOOP is the most fun: identifying your wish. This isn’t the time to go wild—instead chose a practical and specific wish that can be accomplished in the next month. You’ll want your wish to be challenging, but achievable.
If you’re working toward a sugar-free lifestyle, the wish of “eliminate all sugar” might be a bit hard to accomplish (or even advisable), unless you have superhuman self-control. Instead, set something a bit more achievable, such as “eliminate all drinks with added sugar,” “stop snacking after dinner,” “make a healthy lunch every day,” or “limit sugar intake to 25 grams a day.”
When you start to WOOP, think about what wish would give you the most satisfaction and motivation to continue on your sugar-free journey. That’s a great place to start.
The next step is almost as fun: think about what your ideal outcome would be if you accomplish your wish. It’s important to really take time to fully imagine what your most perfect outcome would be like. How would you feel? What would change in your life? Envisioning your outcome is a way of getting yourself invested in your goal so that you will do the hard work to accomplish it.
For example, if you’re working toward a low-sugar lifestyle by eliminating drinks with sugar, there are many ways that your life might change in a month. Your ideal outcome could include losing weight and saving money since you’re not spending on lattes or soda. You might have more energy and become more productive at work. And if you’re able to stick to your goal for a month you’ll probably feel proud and motivated.
Take time to think about how your wish has the potential to change your life and write down your ideal outcome to reflect back on in the moments when you need a bit of extra motivation.
Step three is what sets WOOP apart from other approaches to goal planning. Here, you step away from the rosy picture of accomplishment to take a realistic inventory of everything that could stand in the way of you accomplishing your goal.
When you’re thinking about obstacles, it’s important to focus on internal challenges, since those are the barriers to accomplishment that you can change. Start by thinking about your habits, behaviors, and emotions, and how those might stand in your way. Then, dig a bit deeper to see if there is a main inner obstacle holding you back.
For example, if you’re trying to cut sugar by not snacking after dinner, your obstacles might include mindless snacking in front of the television, or craving something sweet after your meal. If you dig a bit deeper, you might find that these come from feeling unsatisfied not just with your food, but with your evening routine. Mindlessly eating to alleviate that boredom is your main obstacle.
Now it’s time to plan for how you will overcome that main obstacle. You want to have one concrete step in place, so that when you feel the obstacle emerging, you know exactly what to do to avoid it.
In the example above, you’ll need a plan to overcome your boredom. Instead of sitting in front of the television and snacking, you might opt to join a book club, go for a walk, call a friend, or knit in order to keep your hands busy. Knowing yourself, decide what plan is most likely to be effective. For example, if you’re tired of socializing by the time the evening comes, taking up knitting or reading a book might be the best solution to keep you engaged and busy, overcoming the obstacle of boredom and helping you accomplish your wish of not snacking after dinner.
WOOP requires that you be very honest with yourself and take time to plan for your goals. Although that might be difficult, it will set you up for success in working toward a low-sugar lifestyle.