W.O.O.P: A Simple Mental Hack to Overcome Obstacles & Reach Your Goals

8 min read
November 29, 2021

Who’s up for some behavior change hacks? Lately, I have been using a particular method that has helped me and my clients overcome common hurdles. I first learned of this in a Coursera course, “The Science of Well-being” with Dr. Laurie Santos. Dr. Santos had an interview with Gabriele Oettingen, who presented a lesson I admit I thought was goofy but decided that if I could get beyond the name, it had some solid potential. I have since shared it with several coaching clients, and I am still a little embarrassed to say the name, but it’s worth it since it works! 

What is this silly name? W.O.O.P. The official name is Mental Contrasting with Implementation Intentions, or MCII. But the way to remember it and actually use it is to call it W.O.O.P. It stands for  “Wish, Outcome, Obstacle, and Plan.” Those four simple steps can help you get past productivity hurdles and make progress on your goals. Let’s dig in and see how you can use it.

Before we look at the “how,” let's make sure you understand each of the four steps. 


What do you wish would happen—the big-picture, end goal? There’s no rule on the timing for the wish, it could be short-term or years away, but the wish is the outcome; what is it you want. Make your outcome positive rather than negative. “I want to hike the Tour du Mont Blanc.” “I want to finish my blog by the 19th.” “I want to be healthier and have stronger knees for hiking.” These types of positive outcomes will work better than “I want to lose 20 pounds.” “I want to quit procrastinating on my writing.” 

Take a moment and frame a practice wish in your mind. Since you are learning, let’s not go for The Big Wish right now, keep it low stakes so you can see how easy it is, then apply it later to bigger things. For example, I WOOPed recently at ​​#XYPNLIVE when I wanted to start the mornings going to the gym. My wish was to get to the gym Monday and Tuesday before the day began. Let’s see how that played out. Got your wish? Let’s go. 


What will it look like when you get your wish? Time for some visualization. What will your life be like when the outcome is achieved? Take a moment and a nice deep breath in and out. Then paint a picture in your mind of life on the day after you’ve gotten your wish. Look around your imagination; who’s with you? What is the weather like? Are you in a nice home office? What are you wearing? Whatever you need to add to the picture, add it so that you see the accomplished wish in great detail.  The bigger the wish, the more detailed you may want the visualization to be. The bigger the hurdle or difficulty, the more work you want to put into this step. I admit it—I don’t spend much time doing this when I am trying to get to the gym. But that Tour du Mont Blanc—I gotta keep myself hyped for that! I can feel the dirt of the trail under my feet, smell the fresh air, hear all the languages from people from all over the world. I can see the endless views in my mind’s eye. 


This step is all about imagining what will get in your way. What are the things that have tripped you up before or might derail your attempts at obtaining your wish? Brainstorm as many obstacles as you can. This step may seem a bit negative, but it’s going to make step four more robust and give you the tools you need to get you to the wish. Remember the definition of brainstorm—no evaluation, no solving, just listing the obstacles. I will walk you through mine as an example:   

  • My wish: Go to the gym. 

  • My visualized outcome: I will be enjoying a full workout with cardio and some weights before I head to the Pre-Con and I will feel better throughout the day. 

  • My obstacles: Oversleeping! I have to get up in plenty of time to get back and ready by 8 AM; then I have to find the gym—I know I have been in conference centers where this is a challenge. I can’t workout on an empty stomach, so I know I want to eat first. Of course, I have to have the right clothes and some earbuds for music. I sweat a lot—I like a hand towel with me, and I have to have water. Getting distracted by my phone when I first wake up is a real issue—I can’t use my workout time scrolling through Twitter or Slack! 


Once you have a full list of every obstacle you can think of, it's time for a plan. You want to address every obstacle and think of what you need to do to overcome it. The more you plan, the less you have to think in the moment. I can guarantee you that at 5:30 AM if I roll over and turn off the alarm and I don’t have coffee made and know where I am going, I will just roll over and go back to sleep. As you begin to plan, you may think of additional obstacles, and that’s great! Plan for those as well. So let’s dig into the plan: 

Step 1: Packing

I packed my aspirational number of workout outfits. If I want to work out three times on a trip, pack all three outfits. Get the headset, the water bottle. What about the food situation? I bring protein bars and instant oatmeal so that I am always in control of my hunger—or lack thereof. A little packet of instant oatmeal will get me through a workout when breakfast isn’t served until 7:30. That hotel room Keurig is not just for coffee! 

Step 2: The night before 

I rolled into the Sheraton Sunday night, and I know from my history that I will use not knowing where the gym is as the lamest excuse ever to skip a workout. So off I went as soon as I unpacked. I found the route to the gym (down a floor, across the street, down and around the hall—it was a ways away!). Then I remembered the times I thought the gym didn’t have what I needed or I didn’t want to look stupid not knowing what machines they had. So I made a workout plan. I checked out what machines they had that were similar to what I use at my gym. I scoped out the towel and water fountain situation. I did anything I could to help me see what my workout would look like and see it as a foregone conclusion that it would be happening. (I know there are readers thinking, “It’s just a workout, just get up and go,” but that’s not how exercise is for everyone, and besides, this is my example, so you get how this process works. 

In the past, I have had such silly things as getting coffee, food, and finding my gear convince me that staying in bed an extra hour is a good plan. I had to plan for that! I got out every single thing I needed and laid it out the night before. I got the coffee maker set up so I could stumble across the room and turn it on between alarm #1 and snooze alarm #2. I set out the oatmeal—every little thing to get my butt out that door. 

Step 3: Rehearse the plan! 

Run through it in your head as you get to each hurdle. Practice in your mind’s eye overcoming that hurdle and moving on to the next. Visualize the successful plan through to the end. If you have a wish for five years from now, you get to skip some things—we can’t have you visualizing a full five years or you won’t get on with your life. But you can do a quick view of yourself at each critical point or obstacle and plan what you will do to get over it. 

You’ve done it! That’s your first W.O.O.P. And I did it! I went to the gym both days I planned to, which did make me feel better for the busy conference days. 

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Apply it! 

Did you pick your own practice wish? GIve it a shot and see how it goes. Make it as simple as you need to, then build to something bigger. But don’t beat yourself up if you don’t get every wish, every time. Use your failures to improve your plan and try again. 

I worked with a client who wanted to spend a lot of time rehashing the fact the plan didn’t work, and he’d failed again to overcome the hurdle. In the moment, he frustratingly said, “It’s more like woops than W.O.O.P. for me.” and I said, “No! There’s no S in W.O.O.P.! It’s W.O.O.P., not woops!” It hit me that he was trying to make it WOOPS by scolding himself. There’s no scolding; there’s learning from it. You take what happened and revise the plan. So yes, you guessed it, You W.O.O.P. W.O.O.P! And who doesn’t love a good “Woop! Woop!” in their day? This may seem like a lot of silliness over one word, but it’s helped us both remember the method and the fact that it’s easy to slip into a habit of self-scolding rather than learning and revising the plan. 

On another call, I had a client using W.O.O.P. who got bogged down in the obstacles and feeling overwhelmed. He made an offhand comment about how it’s all woo and not working. And it hit me; it’s all just a bunch of woo woo if there’s no plan. Seriously, is there an acronym that has ever given me such a gift of memory aids? Remember: 

There’s no woops in W.O.O.P—you WOOP WOOP until you win! 

The reason I have you start small is to get the method when the stakes are low. I started with workouts and nutrition but then transitioned to bigger things. You may want it for your morning routine, to get started at work earlier in the day (oh wait, that’s me too), or to help you close out the day if you find you are working too many hours (dang it, also me!). It’s great for those projects you just put off, like the new video for your website or that online course you’ve been saying you wanted to do but somehow made it through an entire 2021 without actually creating. 

As you use it more often you will find it becomes a simple tool in your productivity toolbox. As you begin to use W.O.O.P. in your daily life, you may find parts of it pop up to remind you where you are headed. Taking the visualization time in Step 2 will help you in a moment of weakness when you want to let the obstacles win. You can dip back into Step 2 for a bit of encouragement. 

Give it a try, and let me know what your W.O.O.P. victory is. (WOOP WOOP until you win!) 

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Arlene-Moss-Square-ColorAbout the Author

Arlene Moss, XYPN's Executive Business Coach, gets a kick out of helping financial advisors get over being overwhelmed and take on their frustrations so their businesses soar. Arlene works to ensure XYPN members are able to help their clients prosper while creating a sustainable business model. Through XYPN Academy and one-on-one coaching, members get the support they need to grow their businesses and overcome the challenges that come their way.

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