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The WOOP method of setting Goals

Deon says: "I received this most excellent item recently from Stephen Lynch of"

Stephen says:

"I have read a great number of personal development books over the years that espouse the power of belief and positive thinking. Some of the better known books that have achieved best seller status over the last 100 years include: Think and Grow RichThe Power of Positive Thinking, You Can Heal Your LifeThe Secret, and I'm sure you can add a great many more of your own.

Dreaming about success, visualizing your success, and having positive expectations for achievement are certainly important. But that's only part of it. Unfortunately, just wishing something were so, is not going to magically make it happen.

Professor Gabriele Oettingen, a psychology professor at New York University has documented findings from 20 years of studies in human motivation in the book,  Rethinking Positive Thinking: Inside the New Science of Motivation.

Dozens of peer-reviewed studies were examined on the effects of positive thinking on people pursuing various kinds of wishes - from losing weight, quitting smoking, recovering quickly from surgery, to the improvement of professional, academic and financial performance. The studies consistently found that people who positively visualize make either the same or less progress in achieving attainable wishes than those who don't. Ouch!

Dreaming and visualizing our goals is important however, because it helps us to explore future possibilities. The problem is that we tend to forget about the obstacles and temptations that are sure to arise along the way.

The author documents a scientific method for people to set and achieve goals, called "Mental Contrasting with Implementation Intentions" (MCII).

The process is broken down into four steps, known as "WOOP" (Wish, Outcome, Obstacle and Plan). Here is our take:

1. Wish

Choose your desired end result. Make it something that's challenging and compelling, but realistically possible to achieve by the chosen due date.

When supporting our clients I remind them of the "Planning Fallacy". This term describes our universal human tendency to underestimate the amount of time it takes to complete Projects and complex Tasks. Time and time again, I see clients setting due dates that are far too optimistic. This invariably leads to Tasks not being completed on time, and the due dates for the Projects being overshot by a considerable margin.

Believe me, it's no fun staring at a list of overdue Tasks and seeing your Projects falling behind schedule on your management dashboard, yet I see clients doing it to themselves week after week, feeling like failures, and then ignoring the issue by pretending that it isn't happening.

Many professional project managers say it's not enough to simply add an additional 20% or 40% to your original time estimates. They recommend that whatever your initial estimate is, you should double it. Yes that's right, double it !

2. Outcome

I encourage our clients to state in as much detail as possible, what the desired end state looks like for each of their Strategic Projects. I ask them to describe what "100% complete" looks like so that everyone is aligned on the outcome, and everyone will know exactly when the goal is achieved.

3. Obstacles

Identify the obstacles in your way. I ask clients to imagine it is the future and your Project due date has arrived, but unfortunately everything that could go wrong, did go wrong. I ask them to consider questions like:

- What obstacles could derail our progress? 
- What competing demands or emergencies could distract us? 
- What about other distractions? Illness? Vacations? People being unavailable?

4. Plan

Now you are ready to formulate a plan to achieve your Goal. I also recommend that you formulate a plan for how you will overcome the obstacles you have identified. Create a series of "if/then" statements. If X happens, then we will do Y.

Now scope out and list the known Tasks - they key steps you will take to achieve your goal.

And the ultimate key to success goal achievement in our experience? In your weekly meetings, make sure that each and every week you identify "The One Thing" - the one key Task you will complete each week that is going to move each of your Goals forward.  

Are you ready to WOOP it up? "

Stephen Lynch