Thinking positively or simply dreaming about the desired future is not enough.  Positive fantasies tend to provide short-term pleasure and relaxation only. By fooling our brains into thinking we have already achieved that success (eg a false sense of reality), we lose the motivational energy to do what it takes to meet inevitable challenges and to achieve our goals.

Most of us are taught to ignore or diminish: “The obstacles that stand in our way”. Yet the obstacles that we think block our deepest wishes can actually lead to their fulfillment. The WOOP Method not only helps people gain greater insight into their dominant wishes but also helps clearly identify the obstacles that stand in the way.  By experiencing our dreams in our minds AND facing reality, we can address our fears, make concrete plans and gain the motivational energy to take the necessary action. What’s more, WOOP is not just a popular theory; it’s the result of over 20 years of Scientific research!

Using WOOP: Wish + Outcome + Obstacle + Plan

Woop Exercise

You can use the WOOP process anywhere,  in any situation that gives you time and space to focus, either as a mental exercise or by writing it down.  Start with a clear, relaxed and focused mind.


We all have many wishes, concerns & desires as we go about our day

But think about ONE wish that’s most crucial to you right now. Visualize it. Hold it in mind.

What do you want to see in your life personally or professionally?

Name or summarize it in 3 to 6 words. Make it meaningful and memorable.

It should be important, challenging & yet achievable (within 2-4 weeks)?

Crucially, you must believe this wish can come true for you!


Envision the positive result you want to create or the #1 benefit your wish will produce for you.

This part of the process enables you to connect your mind and feelings to the best result of fulfilling your wish. Really see and feel what it’s like to accomplish it! Vividly experience it

Identify the best outcome (also in three to six words) and write it down.

Find it and keep it at the front of your mind


Now think about what blocks your path?

What obstacle *within you* stands in the way of achieving your wish? (note the emphasis on “within you”!). Do any of your personal qualities, beliefs or attributes stand in your way? Do specific thought patterns interfere? Do you have behaviors that work against you? Identify anything inside yourself that could be working against you.  Stay at this stage as you take self-reflection to a deep level. Your obstacle might be concrete and specific (like spending too much time online) or general and diffuse (like feeling anxious). This stage requires honesty. It calls on you to look inward, not outward, for answers.  What keeps you from solving your problem? Name your obstacle and write it down.

Vividly experience or imagine this one main Obstacle. Try to think in images and engage your “nonconscious mind”.  Allow your thoughts and visualizations to float through your mind freely rather than being overly rational about it.

Sometimes, our feelings, thoughts or actions prevent us from fulfilling our wishes. Identifying your internal obstacle raises your awareness about what is preventing you from achieving your wish. You may have to dig deeper to find your real obstacle. Once you identify your internal obstacle, hold it in your mind and imagine it. See and feel yourself experiencing the obstacle.

WOOP will vary. You can’t know in advance exactly what you’ll find or learn.  This is because people seldom directly examine their obstacles and doing so generates emotional responses. The crucial distinction between WOOP and other approaches to change is your willingness to provoke these emotions.

When you reach a state of clarity, take the next step.


To create a plan, first write down one specific action you can take to overcome or get around your obstacle, to reach your goal. What’s the #1 most effective thing you could do?

Write down the time and place where you believe the obstacle will arise.

Then write down an if-then plan:

‘If (obstacle) X occurs (when and where), then I will perform (effective action) Y (to overcome obstacle)’

This formula ensures that your plan is directly linked to the obstacle. Repeat it once to yourself out loud.

Most people get in trouble with WOOP in this last stage: planning.  They let the specific if-then formula mutate into something bigger that doesn’t work.  Your plan depends on a specific situation manifesting or a specific obstacle appearing, so you can take the specific action you planned to overcome it and move toward your goal.

Finally – Reflect On The Process

You may need to make adjustments to some or all sections of your WOOP.

To do so, ask yourself: “Is my Wish meaningful? Is this the real Obstacle? Is this action effective?

Once you find answers, WOOP again. Identify a wish. Imagine the best outcome. Then ask yourself: “What is it in me that stops me from experiencing this outcome?” and link it with something you can do (ground your wish in reality).  Allow a nonconscious linkage between the wish, the outcome, and the obstacle to taking hold. This link helps people get started on tasks, protects against distractions, overcome counterproductive but habitual behaviors and retain the energy and confidence to tackle new goals once the goal at hand has been achieved.

Science shows WOOP to be a powerful tool which you can integrate into ALL areas of your life. So develop your “WOOP habit”: Start practicing WOOP with short-term 24hr goals and find a time to practice it daily. Regular practice will help you better program yourself so WOOP will work automatically for you. Once you master WOOP, you can go RUN through it quickly, bringing all levels of your mind to bear on achieving what you most want. That’s the magic of WOOP in going about creating positive changes in your life! 


“Woop doubled regular physical exercise over a time period of four months and increased fruit and vegetable intake by 30% over the period of two years.” — Stadler, Oettingen & Gollwitzer, 2009, 2010.

“Woop helped chronic pain patients to become more physically active during rehabilitation three months thereafter.” — Christiansen, Oettingen, Dahme, & Klinger, 2010.

“Woop helped patients suffering from Type II Diabetes to improve their self-care.” — Adriaanse, De Ridder, & Voorneman, 2013.

“Rethinking Positive Thinking” by Gabriele Oettingen

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Noel Lyons

Noel Lyons

Noel Lyons is a Masters & Wellcoaches certified Health Coach with 27 years experience in the health & fitness industry. An Ironman, he has also competed for GB (age-group) at 5 World Triathlon Championships.
Noel Lyons


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