[00:00:19.4] ANNOUNCER: Welcome to The Science of Success. Introducing your host, Matt Bodnar.
[00:00:11] MB: Welcome to the Science of Success, the number one evidence-based growth podcast on the internet with more than 2 million downloads, listeners in over a hundred countries and part of the Self-Help for Smart People Podcast Network.
In this episode, we discuss the shocking truth about the dangers of positive thinking. Is it always good to visualize your goals? Could there be potential downsides to daydreams and fantasies about the future? How can we identify what stands in the way of our goals and take concrete action to get there? We look at these questions and much more along with the proven evidence-based methodology for creating effective behavior change to actually achieve what you want with our guest, Dr. Gabriele Oettingen.
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In our previous episode, we went deep on the science of performing under pressure. We looked at why some people perform under pressure and others don’t. We discussed the skill of flexibility and fluid intelligence, explored the differences between stress and pressure. Looked at the concrete strategies for managing both of those in your life and much more with our previous guest; Dr. Hank Weisinger.
If you want to learn how to perform when it matters most, listen to that episode. Now, for our interview with Gabrielle.
[00:02:55] MB: Today, we have another exciting guest on the show, Dr. Gabriele Oettingen. Gabriele is a professor of psychology at New York University and the University of Hamburg. She’s the creator of the WOOP process and the author of the book; Rethinking Positive Thinking: Inside the New Science of Motivation. Her work has been featured in the Harvard Business Review, NRP’s Hidden Brain and much more.
Gabriele, welcome to the Science of Success.
[00:03:19] GO: Thank you for having me.
[00:03:21] MB: Well, we’re very excited to have you on the show today, and I’m really pumped to dig in to the kind of research and the conclusions that you’ve uncovered, which I think kind of go against a lot of these sort of traditional kind of conventional wisdom of much of kind of the self-help world.
[00:03:37] GO: Yeah. At the beginning, it was interesting, because our findings were counterintuitive, and actually it went against our own expectations. We thought positive thinking must be positive, but then when we did our first studies, we found that positive thinking actually can be detrimental when it comes to realizing these positive daydreams and fantasies which we have for the future.
So positive thinking in terms of daydreams and fantasies and visions about the future can be very helpful when it comes to increasing our mood or exploring all the different possibilities we might have for the future. But when it comes to fulfilling our wishes and to reaching our fantasies, then they are detrimental.
For example, we found the more positively women who were involved in a weight reduction program fantasized and daydreamt about their success in the program the less well they did later on. Three months later, they lost fewer pounds. One year later, they lost fewer pounds, and even two years later.
But also in other areas, in the academic area, in the professional area, in the interpersonal area, and the house area. For example, the more positively university graduates fantasized about a good transition in work-life, the fewer dollars they earned two years later, the fewer job offers they had gotten. What is interesting, the fewer applications they had sent out, or the more positively students fantasized about a good grade in the exam, the less well they did. Or in the interpersonal domain, the more positively students fantasized about getting together with a person they had a crush on, the less likely they were to actually get together with that person. Or with the elderly in the house domain, the more positively hip replacements surgery, patients fantasized about an easy recovery. The less well could they move their joint two weeks later, the less well was their general recovery and the fewer steps they could actually walk.
It seems as pleasurable as these fantasies and these daydreams are, they are a risk for not actually reaching our fantasies and daydreams. Then we thought, “Oh my! What shall we do? Shall we just dismiss these positive fantasies and daydreams, or we can’t really?” Because these positive fantasies and daydreams, they come from our needs.
When you have a need, meaning you have a deficiency. For example, you don’t have enough water. Then you suddenly start fantasizing about getting to the water fountain, about drinking a nice fresh glass of water. So we did experimental studies where we compared with the people with the need, let’s say for water, would fantasize more positively about drinking water than people who would have a need in a different area, and that’s exactly what we found.
You can also do it with psychological needs. For example, if you deprive people of meaning, they will fantasize about a meaningful job. Or if you deprive people of interpersonal relationships, they suddenly fantasize about meeting a friend. So we cannot dismiss these positive fantasies and daydreams because they give action the direction. But why do they then impede the realization of these fantasies?
We did some studies for that question too. We asked, “Why is it that these positive fantasies actually kind of stand against attaining them in the future?” We found that these positive fantasies make people feel already having attained the future. They positively fantasized and visualize the positive future in their mind, and that gives them the impression that they’re already there. They’re already in the goal box, if you want. If you are already there, what do you do? You relax. So energy goes down.
With these studies, for example, where we induced positive fantasies about the future as compared to negative fantasies, or questioning fantasies, or factual thoughts, or no thoughts at all, and we found that when you induce these positive fantasies, that people actually relaxed. They feel less energized. You can also measure that by blood pressure. So systolic blood pressure goes down, meaning these positive fantasies give action the direction, but they sap our energy.
Then the next question was, “What can we do so that people who positively fantasize about the future get the energy of actually going the cumbersome way to reach these positive fantasies and daydreams?” Now, what will be the answer to that question? The answer to that questions might be they say compliment these positive fantasies and daydreams with a healthy sense of reality. That’s actually then how we proceed at this research. We said, “Okay, what you need to do is you can make people fantasize about the future and positively visualize all these desired events.” But then you need to make them aware that they’re not already there. How can you do that? You just sort of ask them to find and imagine the obstacle in the way, the obstacle in themselves that stand in the way that they actually go the cumbersome way or realizing these positive daydreams and fantasies.
What you need to do is what we call mental contrasting, mental contrasting of the positive future and the inner obstacle of reality standing in the way of attaining the positive future. If you do that, so you think about, “What do I really want of the future? What is my dearest wish? What is it that I want? Not what other people want me to do necessarily. What I want? What do I want for the future?” Then you identify this wish and you summarize it in a couple of words.
Then you say in order to really stir up these positive energies, you say, “What would be the best outcome if I realized that wish? What would be the best thing? How would I feel?” Then you identify the best outcome, and then you imagine that best outcome, and that’s exactly this positive fantasies and daydreams, which we’re just talking about.
Instead of stopping there and indulging in these positive fantasies, you now change gears and you say, “What is it in me that stands in the way that I realize this dear wish and that I experience the positive outcome? What stops me? What is it in me that impedes me? What is my main inner obstacle?”
That’s neat, because now you want to stand, what is it in your way, and it might be an emotion, anxiety. It might be an irrational belief. Somebody said at some point something about you which you took to heart. It might be a bad habit. Just these kind of automatic things you do. But by identifying what it is in you that stands in the way, you will find that inner obstacle. What you do then, imagine, you imagine that inner obstacle occurring. You will understand what you can do to overcome that obstacle and you will also understand that you need energy to overcome that obstacle, and you will understand whether it’s worthwhile to overcome that obstacle.
So by identifying that inner obstacle, you will understand whether you actually want to overcome it and whether you actually can overcome it. If it’s not too costly and you can overcome it, you will now fully commit to realizing your wish and experiencing that outcome. So now you have a goal. You don’t have a kind of uncommittal wish anymore. Now you have a goal. You say, “Okay. Yes! That’s what I want to go for. That’s what I really want.”
But if the obstacle is too costly or simply not surmountable, then you will say, “Hmm, maybe I should adjust the wish a little bit. Not 7 times in the week exercise, for example, but maybe just 4 times. You say, “Well, at the moment, it’s not a good time, because I’m in the end of my exams. But as soon as the exams are over, then it would be a better point in time.”
Or you will say, “This is just too costly, or it’s simply not surmountable,” and then you can let go and say, “Okay, I invest my energy in more promising endeavors and not in trying to reach a wish that is not attainable after all.”
So what mental contrasting does, it helps you prioritize your wishes, and commit to those and pursue those that are dear to your hear and are feasible and de-commit or not pursue those goals or those wishes that are either too costly, not opportune in your life right now, or are simply not reachable.
Mental contrasting helps you to clean up your life to say, “Yes! This is what I really want. Yes! Let’s go for it. And this is what I better let go.” That’s the reason why it is a need, because you get clarity about what you want and what you can do and where you want to put your energy and your resources in.
[00:16:03] MB: There’s a couple of places I want to dig in, and there are so many different things that you’ve brought up that I want to explore further. Kind of coming back to the original premise, which I find really fascinating, you basically set out to discover the benefits of positive thinking and yet sort of counter to your own expectations or predications about what your research would show, your work kind of started to peel back the layers and reveal that in many instances the science shows that our daydreams and our fantasies can actually negatively impact our progress towards our goals.
[00:16:33] GO: Yes, exactly. That’s so counterintuitive not only because prior research has not focused on that, but it’s also counter our culture that we can think, “Oh! Positive visions, positive kind of fantasies, daydreams, they’re always good.” Not necessarily. It depends on for what? Yes, for mood, for exploratory reasons, they’re good. You feel good. They’re pleasurable. But at the same time, they bare the danger that you will never get it.
[00:17:11] MB: So how did we kind of come up with this or kind of land with this cultural myth that we should think positive, that we should be optimistic, that all of the kind of traditional or typical kind of jargon that you’ll see in many self-help books and a lot of personal development literature, how did we end up with that and how do we kind of move beyond it?
[00:17:34] GO: Well I wish I could have an imperative answer to that. I certainly don’t, because I don’t know how these myths developed overtime in history in our culture. But it’s very seductive to think that just by positively fantasizing about the future, you would already reach the positive future. It’s so seductive to think you could reach the positive future without actually going the cumbersome way to reaching it. Most of our wishes are more complex and they are more difficult to reach than just stretching out the hand and doing it.
Now, you could say, “Well, you don’t need mental contrasting if the wish is super easy, or if you can just do it automatically.” Then you don’t need it. But as soon as a wish a little bit more difficult, needs a little bit more effort, needs a little bit more complex thinking to be reached, then sheer positive visualizing will just not bring this future to you.
[00:18:51] MB: So tell me a little bit more about kind of the mechanism by which this sort of positive visualization or daydreaming and positive thinking starts to kind of sap our energy or prevent us or slow us down from sort of achieving our goals and dreams.
[00:19:08] GO: Well, what we find is that people who are positively fantasizing, versus those who are induced to negatively fantasize or produce questioning fantasies or produce factual thoughts and just experimentally induced, that these positive fantasies, which are induced, that they lead people to relax. This is actually measurable by feelings and by systolic blood pressure. We find that people feel already there. They mentally feel themselves already in place. That’s what we then kind of disturb by doing mental contrasting. We interrupt that, “Oh! I’m already there,” by putting in the obstacle of reality and say, “Hmm, what is standing in the way that you are already in the goal box, if you want? What is that in your way?”
By making people aware what it is that stands in the way, we can actually interrupt that complacency that people have when they just kind of go on the little visualization journey into the future. The idea that you have an obstacle in the way, then will stir up the energy to overcome that obstacle. The resistance which we put in by making people aware that there is an obstacle in them will produce this energy to overcome that obstacle, and it will produce, when you think about the obstacle, it will produce strategies that are opportune to overcome that obstacle. It doesn’t matter whether this obstacle is kind of emotional, or whether it is an irrational belief, or whether it is a bad habit or so, it produces anyway these strategies to overcome that obstacle.
In mental contrasting, the non-contrast processes that actually produced the behavior change, produced the prioritization, and then the active unsuccessful pursuit of the goal and the let go of the wish. These mechanism, they are non-contrast. That is really neat, because mental contrasting is a counterstrategy. Okay, you define the wish, you define the best outcome, you imagine the best outcome, you define the inner obstacle, you imagine the inner obstacle. What then happens is if you have an surmountable wish, then non-contrastly, meaning outside of your awareness, the future will be connected to the obstacle of reality. The obstacle of reality will be connected to the behavior to overcome the obstacle.
So these associative links are triggered by the contrast technique of mental contrasting, and these associative links are completely uttered of people’s awareness and they then predict the behavior change. They are the mediators of behavior change.
What happens then also is that people automatically, without that they know, will understand that the reality is an obstacle. So the party on Sunday night or Saturday night is now an obstacle to doing well on the exam on Tuesday. It’s not a fun anymore. We interpret it in non-contrast terms as an obstacle, rather than a fun party.
The idea really is that these conscious exercise triggers these non-contrast processes, and these non-contrast processes then do the job for you. What then happens too is that the energy goes up, and we measure that again by systolic blood pressure. When you do mental contrasting of a feasible wish, then the systolic blood pressure goes up and it predicts then the increased effort and the increased success.
What happens then as a third component is that when you get setbacks or when somebody criticizes you or have negative feedback, that you process that negative feedback really well, so you get all the information out of these negative feedback. So you don’t take it personally. Meaning, you are not defensive. You’re not defensive. You take the negative feedback. You take the setbacks and helpful, useful information to reach your wish.
These three processes; one, cognitive, associatively between future and the obstacle in between the obstacle, and the behavior to overcome the obstacle. The reinterpretation of the reality as, “Oh! This is an obstacle. The second component of mechanisms is the energization. So that’s motivational. First cognitive, second motivation, more energy. Now I have the energy ready to help me reach my wish. Then the third component or the third mechanism is that I can effectively process the feedback, the kind of setbacks, and I will process them without that myself concept or my self-esteem is hurt.
All these three processes will the predict the behavior change. So it is as if you automatize your behavior. So you do the conscious exercise that leads you to automatically behave in a way that you do what needs to be done to reach your wishes, or also to let go from your wishes. So you can actually rely on these processes, which you aren’t even aware of. That’s neat, because if you apply it, you do the strategy of mental contrasting, then you realize that you’re behaved in a way that you programmed yourself beforehand. So you kind of automatize yourself.
What you can then do as well is you can complement this mental contrasting with if/then plans. This is a strategy which has been discovered by Peter Gollwitzer, implementation intentions in the scientific literature, or if/then plans. So what you do then is you take your obstacle after you have imagined that and then you ask yourself, “What can I do to overcome that obstacle?” and you think about an effective action or an effective thought and you formulate that and you put it in front of your eyes. Then you make an if/then plan. You say, “If,” and then you imagine the obstacle, “then I will,” and then you imagine the behavior to overcome obstacle.
The combination of mental contrasting and the implementation intentions is what we call WOOP, which is a four-step strategy, which contains find a wish that is dear to your heart. Your wish, what is really important to you? Find the best outcome. How would you feel? What’s the best outcome? Imagine the best outcome. Find the inner obstacle that is standing in the way and imagine that inner obstacle. Then find the behavior to overcome the obstacle and make an if/then plan. If obstacle, then I will behavior to overcome obstacle, and that’s WOOP. You can apply WOOP wherever you are. You just need about 5 to 10 minutes of quiet. Actually, you can also do WOOP in a New York subway, where it’s really loud. That doesn’t matter. But it needs to be kind of background noise. You can’t do anything else. Because if you know from our research, it takes mental effort.
So from our neuropsychology research, we know it draws on the processes that are typical for mental effort. So you can’t do emails or you can’t talk to anybody apart from doing WOOP. WOOP means you take 5 or 10 minutes and they’re just for you and everything else can wait. You need to be slow. Because WOOP is an imagery technique, you need to be slow, otherwise you can’t produce the imagery, and you need to be interrupted.
Again, you can do it in the New Your subway, but you need to be interrupted. You need to be slow and just for yourself. Everything else can wait. Then you go through these four steps. By going through with outcome, imagine. Obstacle, imagine. The plan, if obstacle, then I will behavior to overcome obstacle, you trigger these automatic processes. They do the behavior change without that you are even aware.
So I will every day, for example, in the morning, I WOOP my wishes for the day. You can WOOP life-changing wishes. But you can also WOOP every day more [inaudible 00:29:36] wishes. Then I go through the day, I WOOP maybe one, or two or three of these wishes in different areas of my life. Then I go through the day, and then in the evening I think, “What did I do today?” Very often, I think, “Oh! I’m surprised how well this meeting went,” or “I really had a good interaction with my colleague,” or “I really finished this paper,” or something. Then I remember, “Oh! This is what I WOOP’ed this morning.”
So you actually act automatically without that you’ve realized that you do what is in the service of your wish fulfillment.
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[00:32:06] MB: I want to come back to the kind of core components of the WOOP framework before we get into kind of some examples of maybe how to use it, the two kind of component pieces I think are really important and I’d like to dig in to each of them. Kind of coming back to this idea of mental contrasting, I think it’s a really powerful point that you’re making that this idea of using sort of the tool of mental contrasting, which is a conscious exercise that we sort of spend time and focus on, we can actually start to, kind of as you said, build the associative links to the subconscious that are ultimately going to kind of lay the foundation and the groundwork for sort of automatic behaviors changes down the road. Is that correct?
[00:32:46] GO: Yes, that’s correct. That’s exactly it. That’s why it is so different from other behavior change strategies which focus more on increasing the attractiveness of behavior change or increasing the self-efficacy that I can do it, or which focus on framing, learning goals versus the performance goals, in Carol Dweck’s work, for example, or which focus on social comparison processes. In the alcohol literature sometimes, people use social comparison that they say, “Yeah, other people drink less than you.” Then people kind of for a certain time get a little scared and they drink also less until they get together with their buddies again.
But these other behavior change strategies, they might be effective too. But WOOP is really different, because WOOP draws on the automatic processes. Because it draws on the automatic processes, it has a chance against the automatic processes which are already in place. Meaning, you build new goal habits by replacing the bad old habits. Habits, yeah, they’re automatic. But you can only change these automatic processes, these bad habits, by having processes that are kind of strong and non-conscious as well, because these habits are non-conscious processes and you need to have other kind of non-conscious processes which goes against them. That’s the reason why this is so neat, especially when it comes to more complicated behavior change problems such as you have some substance obvious, or kind of bad habits, like whatever the bad habits, interpersonal habits, or kind of personal habits, or also work habits, like procrastination or interpersonal habits, that you get really angry or strong impulses that you want to, “Ugh!” eat the chocolate cake. It is neat, because you instill automatic processes that have a chance against the automatic processes, which are already in place in your life.
In don’t want to say anything against the other behavior change strategies. They have been proven effective too. But WOOP is different because it draws from automatic processes, because it’s a skill you can learn, like riding the bicycle, or swimming, or riding, or whatever. It’s a skill, which you can learn, and the more you practice WOOP, the better you get, the more expert you get. You can WOOP any wish you have, in the academic domain, in the professional domain, in the interpersonal domain, in the house and fitness domain, any wish qualifies, long-term, short-term, trivial, non-trivial, whatever.
The only thing you need to do is you need to have these 5 or 10 minutes and then you need to say, “What is the wish that I really would like to fulfill for myself that is a little challenging, but feasible?” If you do that, if you identify this wish – Actually, WOOP is a very good way of understanding what you really want, because it asks you for a wish, and it asks you not for any kind of wish, “What do you want?” No. It asks you, “What do you want?” because when you actually answer this question, then you understand what your needs are. These wishes come from our needs. So you actually have a chance to really sort of give in to your needs. Then by understanding the outcome, the best outcome, you can really imagine the wish fulfillment, and that’s important, because you need this passion. You need this passion for the future.
WOOP only works for wishes that are dear to your heart. So you need to identify a wish that is dear to your heart, the outcome, imagine the outcome. That’s the first step. That’s really sort of you anchor your wish in the sky. You anchor it in the future. Then you ask yourself, “In me, what is in the way?”
Why do we kind of instruct people to ask in me? Because if you have the external obstacles, you can’t change them. You can’t change your boss, you can’t change your company, you can’t change your context, you can’t change all of these things. You can’t change the weather when it comes to fitness. But you can change how you react to your boss, your company, the weather, whatever. By understanding what is it in me that stands in the way, then I can also overcome the obstacle. So the wish needs to be challenging, but feasible, best outcome, imagine, and then the inner obstacle. Very often, it’s an emotion, an anxiety, anger, resentment, whatever, but it’s your emotion, and you need to identify. Nobody else can. It’s a discovery tool. WOOP is a discovery tool, because you will discover, “What do I really want? What’s the best thing? What is it that I kind of desire?” Then, “Why don’t I do it? What is it in me? Why don’t I do it? Why don’t I go for it?”
By identifying that obstacle, you might have only identified an obstacle to that wish. You might also identify the obstacle to other wishes. You can dig a little deeper. Dig a little deeper into your wish. What is it really that stands in the way? That will be very interesting. I mean, with a little humor, you will discover. You don’t need to tell anybody, but find out what is it in you that stands in the way? Then you can react to it by saying, “Okay, how can I overcome that?” and do an if/then plan.
[00:39:06] MB: Tell me about – I want to come back and sort of understand how the phenomenon of mental contrasting, and then after that, I want to dig in to implementation intentions. But how does mental contrasting specifically sort of harnessed by the WOOP framework and the WOOP process?
[00:39:22] GO: Well, mental contrasting is WOOP. We just renamed it. In the scientific literature, it’s called mental contrasting with implementation intentions. The mental contrasting part is the wish part, and the outcome part, and the imagery. Mental contrasting is an imagery technique. Then the obstacle, the obstacle in the way and the imagery of the obstacle, that’s mental contrasting.
[00:39:49] MB: So just to clarify, it’s basically kind of the combination of visualizing your sort of goals and dreams and desires and then sort of doing a little bit of visualization, thinking around, “Okay, what are the actual obstacles to that.” Contrasting those two things and then trying to sort of reconcile them back to the actions and stuff you’re going to take as a result of sort of thinking about your goals, thinking about the obstacles with sort of equal weight and importance, and then ultimately determining how you’re going to kind of bring those two things together. Is that correct?
[00:40:19] GO: It’s correct, but it’s not quite correct. First of all, you never say, “I’m just thinking about my goals,” because there are so many exercises. Yeah, list your goals, or what is your goal? “Sure, I want to go to college,” or “I want to have a promotion. Yeah, sure I want that.” But mental contrasting is so different. It’s asks you for a wish. It’s asks you what do you really want for your life, for the next four weeks, for today? What do you really want?
By understanding what you really want, you will understand much better where your needs are. You don’t need even to think about the needs, because the wish is an expression of the needs. But think about what is dear to your heart. What actually do I want in life? What do I want today? What I want to get out of this meeting? What do I want tonight when I – Mental contrasting with implementation, it is WOOP, is for times when I’m stuck. What do I want? I want to get out of here. For times, when I’m really doing fine, but I could do better. What do I want for tonight? I want to have a good evening tonight with my friend. What do I want for the next phone call with my mother?
Whatever it is, it needs to be dear to your heart. We are not used anymore to think about what do I really want? Take yourself into slow motion before you do WOOP. Its’ not that you need to have slow motion for long meditation sessions, or 8 weeks mindfulness or something. No. No. No. No. It’s just that you need to slow yourself down for the next 5 or 10 minutes and then say, “What do I want for today?”
Let’s say in the academic domain, or I the professional domain, or, yeah, in the fitness domain, what do I want for today? Then you go slowly to one best outcome. Not for the best millions of outcomes. No. For one best outcome. Again, for one best obstacle. Not many obstacles, just one. The central obstacle, the most important. That’s important, because otherwise these are automatic processes can’t be triggered. Again, then one best behavior to overcome obstacle.
So it is a little counterintuitive for what we are used to do where we say, “We have goal setting strategies,” or we have other strategies where we want to list all the goals and see where we are. In that perspective it’s really different. It’s an imagery technique, and therefore you need to be slow, and therefore you need to be quiet, and therefore you need to have these 5 or 10 minutes for yourself.
[00:43:28] MB: Tell me the kind of concept of these implementation intentions. What is an implementation intention and how do we, using kind of the WOOP methodology, how do we sort of integrate that into our sort of planning, or goal setting, or visualization techniques?
[00:43:44] GO: Now, implementation intention has been a concept discovered by Peter Gollwitzer, which had been around for a while, and there is a huge literature on the effectiveness of implementation intentions, and it come in the form of if situation X arises, then I will do the goal directed behavior Y.
Now, by doing that, you connect the situation with the goal directed behavior. Now, we talked about mental contrasting where we said, “One effect of mental contrasting is that outside of people’s awareness, the obstacle is linked to the behavior to overcome obstacle.” What we thought is what if the obstacle is really hard to overcome? Then we thought, “Okay, let’s add the plan. Let’s add an implementation intentions to make this link between the obstacle and the behavior to overcome obstacle even stronger.” That’s what we did.
In the context of mental contrasting, the implementation intention takes the form of if the duration, this time it’s an obstacle, then I will behavior to overcome obstacle, which is the goal directed behavior. So we integrate the implementation intention into the framework of the mental contrasting. Now, what is neat that’s so far the research on implementation intention has focused on contents, which were given by the researchers, or by the educators, but it was pre-fabricated.
Now, the problem really with this research then is, that you need to put in the content from outside. If you want, it’s kind of put in quotation marks, is “paternalized.” But how can people make these implementation intentions just by themselves? How can they produce them by themselves? By doing mental contrasting, because mental contrasting can refer to any content or any wish, outcome, and obstacle, by finding the obstacle, we guaranteed that the situation part, the [inaudible 00:46:02] part, the implementation intention is relevant and it’s recognizable.
So now you can have an implementation intentions, which is cut to the kind of personal needs. Then the same for the behavior to overcome the obstacle. That has been pre-fabricated in past research, but now the person herself or himself has come up with that behavior to overcome the obstacle, or to react to the situation. Meaning, now we emancipate people. They can have their own implementation intention. They don’t need a researcher, or the educator, or anybody to tell them what to put in the if part and what to put in the then part.
So we made by inventing WOOP, or by combining mental contrasting with implementation intentions, we made it possible that implementation intentions are kind of individualized for each person, so that each person can now come up with their own wish, outcome, obstacle and their own if/then plan. So we emancipate people.
Because people are the best experts of their lives, it is a tool that you can apply now to any wish you have. You can make as many WOOPs as you have wishes. That’s really nice, because now you don’t need a coach anymore, or you don’t need a trainer, or a therapist anymore, I mean, for daily life. It’s different in clinical cases. But you can emancipate yourself by using WOOP, and WOOP therefore can be considered a companion to your daily life and a companion that helps you to get inside into your wishes, to prioritize your wishes, and then also to attain your wishes.
[00:47:57] MB: Tell me about the kind of striking the balance between having our wishes be sort of challenging enough, but also feasible enough.
[00:48:06] GO: Yeah. I mean, our research has shown that when the wishes are feasible, high expectations, then people really go for it, commit to them and attain them. If they’re not feasible, not at all, then people will say, “Oh, this is too much energy for wish fulfillment,” and they will de-commit and will let go. So that’s prioritization. That’s what we say in the WOOP exercise, take a wish that is feasible. Take a wish that you can actually attain, because then you can use WOOP in order to actually fulfill your wishes. But you can use WOOP also to actually find out whether you want to even go and realize your wishes by not saying, “I will come up with a wish that is feasible.” Let’s say, you have a wish, which is very important to you. You don’t even have to think about kind of carefully to identify if it is a wish you really want. But you want to know whether it is worthwhile pursuing it or not. Then you do WOOP in order to help you prioritize, to help you understand whether the obstacle is surmountable or not.
So you can use WOOP really for very different purposes. One is to find a wish that is feasible and then really to attain it, or to find a wish that is very dear to your heart, and you want to find out whether you want to actually go for it, or whether you want to actually let go and put your energy into something, which is more feasible. The challenging part where you say, “Find a wish that is already challenging.” If a wish is super easy to reach, you don’t need WOOP. You just go and do it. So you don’t need the exercise. Therefore, you better do WOOP for wishes that are a little bit difficult, but in principle, feasible, that will help you most in fulfilling your wishes.
[00:50:22] MB: For listeners who want to kind of concretely implement some of the things we’ve talked about today, maybe do sort of a WOOP for themselves, what would be kind of one piece of homework that you would give them to start kind of implementing this methodology?
[00:50:38] GO: Right. That’s a good question. Actually, in the past years, we have been designing materials which will help people to actually use WOOP for themselves and to apply it in their daily life as a kind of routine practice. We put these materials on the woopmylife.org website, which is actually translated into many languages, and which contains detailed instructions in written form, in audio form, in video form. It also contains references to the WOOP app, which has the bare bone instructions and which you can download on your Android or iPhone, and which guides you through the WOOP exercise without that you actually need to think about, “Now, what is the first step? What is the second step? What is the third step?” So if it’s a help to use WOOP on a daily basis.
Then you’ll also find some references to Rethinking Positive Thinking, where we describe the research backgrounds and some of the studies in great detail, and also some example. So that will be a very good start to look at the WOOP materials, the videos, the audios, the app, and the book. On the website, there are also references to the research if you’re interested. Then certainly, on the WOOP My Life website, you can always write to us. If you have questions, please feel free to write to us. We get a lot of correspondence, and also kind of people inform us where they applied WOOP and you find them applying it in so many different life areas. It’s really kind of moving to see. If you have experiences, you can always write them to us, and then if you don’t mind, we put them on the website. So that would be great. If you want to have more personal training, just let us know.
[00:52:58] MB: Again, you told listeners where to go, but for listeners who want to find you, learn more, etc., one more time, what is the website for them to be able to find you online?
[00:53:06] GO: Okay. It’s WOOP, W-O-O-Pmylife.org.
[00:53:15] MB: Awesome. Gabriele, thank you so much for coming on the show, sharing all these wisdom and knowledge and the surprising science from all of the research that you’ve done. It’s been a really fascinating conversation. We’ve enjoyed having you on here.
[00:53:27] GO: Thank you for having me.
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