Have you been feeling a little stuck lately? We all get there sometimes. Whether it’s stuck professionally or stuck in your personal life, when we are stuck the idea of becoming unstuck can feel almost insurmountable and black and white thinking can take over cementing our “stuckness.” (Ok not an actual word).
But don’t worry, there’s a pretty simple technique that you can use to help yourself get unstuck and it’s got an easy name to remember – WOOP.
Developed by Gabriele Oettingen — a professor at New York University and the University of Hamburg, WOOP is a form of mental contrasting. (If you’re wondering, mental contrasting is a technique also developed by Oettingen as an alternative to positive thinking that balances positive thinking with realism and pragmatism as a means for future motivation.) If you’ve ever used positive thinking before you probably are familiar with its ups and downs. The upside is that you can redirect your negative thoughts to more positive ones, acknowledging the potential good of situations and actions. The downside is, sometimes that’s as far as we get, we acknowledge the positive, but don’t take any actual action to make things happen. Essentially positive thinking can point us in the right direction, but it doesn’t quite get us there.
So what makes WOOP different? Let’s say you have a little anxiety when it comes to asking for a raise at work. Perhaps you’re thinking that there’s no way your boss will give you a raise or that by asking you might even be let go or be seen as ungrateful. Using the WOOP method you’re going to work through this anxiety and set a plan. Here are the stages:
Identify what it is you wish to happen, something that you might want to change. This wish should be challenging, but realistic and something you can accomplish in the next month.
In this case you want a raise.
O – Outcome
What would be the best possible outcome if your wish came true? How would you feel? What would change?
Here’s where you take a moment to imagine that you got that raise. Imagine it fully, even close your eyes to get a better sense of what it might be like.
What obstacles within you are holding you back? Consider any beliefs, thoughts or emotions that may be holding you back from making your wish come true.
Let’s say it’s the belief that your boss will think “you don’t deserve a raise.” Take a minute to fully imagine this obstacle and see what it feels like.
Create a plan to help you move beyond your inner obstacle and take action towards your wish. Use “if, then” language to help you create this plan.
If I feel nervous that my boss will think I don’t deserve it, then I will remind myself that this is my belief/concern and not necessarily their’s.
If I ask and my boss says ‘no,’ then I will ask for their reasons to gain better perspective.
If I worry I’ll be rejected by my boss, then I will create a document showing all my progress over the last six months and reasons why I believe I deserve a raise.
If I am feeling nervous about asking for a raise, then I will ask some colleagues about their experiences to get a idea of possible expectations.
See the realistic side to WOOP? By using this technique you aren’t assuming the best possible outcome will happen, you’re considering all outcomes. The key difference with WOOP is recognizing the obstacle within you. This is often the place where we get stuck. By identifying this we can start to overcome it. Often in therapy we use Cognitive Behavioral Therapy to combat irrational negative thinking, which is similar to what you see in the Plan stage of WOOP. I like to use WOOP with my clients because it’s pretty straight forward, and while it sometimes takes the help of a professional to walk you through some of the more complex personal dilemmas, you can easily use WOOP on your own.
Here it is one more time: