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New Year, New Goal Setting Strategy

by | Jan 19, 2023 | News | 0 comments

It is the third week of January, which means for many of us, the energy with which we tackled our New Year’s resolutions may be waning. By now, you might find yourself white-knuckling through your commitment to your newly set goals, or perhaps you’ve already given up the ghost.

But before you beat yourself up too much, we want to let you in on a little secret: it’s not your fault.

No, really.

It’s not your fault!

You aren’t “weak” or “failing” because you struggle to break out of old habits and build new ones in pursuit of your goals. Our brains are hardwired to resist change; change triggers our amygdala’s fight-flight-freeze response to protect us. When we create goals that require us to make sweeping changes to our behavior or thinking patterns, our brains automatically begin to resist them.

This also means that most traditional goal-setting methods leave out a key element we need to consider in order to be more successful at our goals: our obstacles.

We may write the most wonderful, clear, concise SMART goals for ourselves, complete with goalposts, objectives, and a timeline, but without accounting for our obstacles, we are setting ourselves up for a greater struggle.

WOOP Goal Setting

Goal setting is essential to our personal, professional, and academic growth and helps us develop necessary skills as we work towards long or short-term goals. WOOP is an evidence-based way to set goals while examining our barriers to success.

WOOP (which stands for Wish, Outcome, Obstacle, Plan) posits that the things that are most likely to derail our goals – our obstacles and barriers– can actually be used to help us realize them. Rather than relying on positive thinking alone, imagining the things that may impede us on our way to achieving our goals can help us to create a plan for how to handle them when they occur.

“In research studies, WOOP has helped people reduce stress and increase work engagement, find integrative solutions to problems, and improve time management. … Children and adolescents using WOOP improved school attendance as well as effort and achievement in school” (The science behind WOOP).

The WOOP Process

WOOP is a little different from most goal-setting exercises because it asks participants to spend time thinking about and envisioning their goals and obstacles rather than just approaching them from a rational a-to-b point of view. Instead, participants should take some dedicated time to imagine what it looks like to succeed at their goals and what it would be like to bump up against barriers to success.

Here is a quick overview of the WOOP process:

W – Wish

Think about a set period of time (e.g., four weeks, 24 hours, one year, etc.). What is your deepest wish (goal) that you feel you can fulfill in that timeframe? Your wish should be challenging but achievable. You may have a lot of goals you want to achieve but focus on just one at a time for the greatest success (research is clear on this: people who tried to accomplish multiple goals were less likely to succeed than those who focused on a single goal).

Choose the wish you most want to achieve and summarize it in 3-6 words. Keep that wish in mind as you continue through the exercise.

O – Outcome

When you think about your wish, what is the best possible outcome you envision? How would you feel when you succeed in achieving this goal? Take time to really imagine the best outcome. Close your eyes and immerse yourself in the feelings and thoughts that you will experience when you achieve your wish.

When you bring yourself back from your imagination, summarize your outcome in 3-6 words. As with your wish, keep your outcome in mind as you move forward.

O – Obstacle

Now it is time to think about what holds you back from achieving your wish. As with the previous two activities, take time to let your mind run free and imagine your biggest stumbling block on the path to your goal. Is there a behavior or feeling that could get in your way? What is it in you that stops you from realizing your wish? Many things come to mind, but try to hone in on the one big thing that stops you from achieving your wish.

Summarize that main obstacle in 3-6 words.

P – Plan

Develop a plan for how you can overcome your obstacle. Think about your obstacle and identify one action you can take or one thought you can think when you bump up against that obstacle. What can you do to get past that barrier? Summarize this in 3-6 words.

Silhouette of a person standing on two rocks will arms upraised as the sun sets behind them

Once you have that summary in your mind, create an if-then plan for overcoming your obstacle.:

If (obstacle), then I will (action or thought to overcome the obstacle).

Now you have created a plan for overcoming this obstacle and are ready to move forward in pursuit of your goal!


WOOP can be used for any type of goal you want to achieve– personal, professional, academic, you name it! It is also an extremely useful tool in helping students set goals for themselves and can play a role in Tier 1 and Tier 2 interventions. Visit our free resources page to download a WOOP Activity that you can use with your students immediately!

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