Does WOOP Mean The End of SMART Goal Setting?

WOOP-or-SMART image

No doubt you’ve heard about SMART Goal setting? If not, it’s a strategy for setting goals that’s been used for years to increase your chances of success.

The S is for Specific, M is  for Measurable, A is for Achievable (or Actionable), R is for Realistic (or Relevant) and the T is for Timely (or time dependent).

This is the technique I’ve advocated for years. It’s a proven for fulfilling your dreams and long term goals.

But what if your wish isn’t so grand? What if it’s quite vague and doesn’t ‘fit’ with the SMART strategy?

About thirty years ago, a psychologist by the name of Gabriele Oettingen was working on a project she called ‘Mental Contrasting’. This technique, along with another that her husband, Peter Gollwitzer was working on called ‘Implementation Intentions’, has given us another strong life changing system. They named it WOOP.

If you’d like to read the book by Gabriele Oettingen, it’s called ‘Rethinking Positive Thinking: Inside the New Science of Motivation’.


For years we’ve been told that positive thinking allows us to become more productive and achieve more. That simply by ‘thinking’ we’ve been successful will push our minds to achieve that success.

Well, Gabriele has proven in hundreds of different controlled experiments over the years, that actually, fantasizing about a successful resolution to our issue can actually hinder their achievement.

It seems that because our minds can’t distinguish between what we imagine, and what has actually happened, once our mind believes we’ve achieved it, it stops trying so hard!

With Mental Contrasting, the first step is to concentrate on your Wish. The difference between this technique and SMART, is that your wish , or goal can be anything.

  • Improving your relationship with your boss
  • Being able to speak up in meetings
  • Joining in at parties
  • Going to social events, etc

Even if your desire is vague, this system will help you to be successful.

So, when choosing your goal, the only criteria is you have to believe you could achieve it?

For example, if your goal was to join a skydiving display team, but you pass out if you go 10 feet off the ground, it’s unlikely you’ll be very successful. If however, you wanted to be a ground based skydiving trainer, working in the classroom, that would be okay.

Once you’ve got your Wish, the next step is to imagine your ultimate Outcome. eg;

  • What will you be doing?
  • Where will you be doing it?
  • What will you be feeling why you’re doing it?
  • How will it make you feel generally?
  • How will it improve your life?
  • How will it improve the lives of your loved ones, etc?

Now that you’re clear on that, the final step is to imagine all the ways in which you’re like to mess it up! For example:

  • You procrastinate all the time
  • You tend to watch TV, when you should be studying
  • You like to go out at night with your friends
  • You lose focus easily, etc

The technique above, gives us the WOO.

The P part of WOOP, comes from the implementation intentions system, and that is where you take the obstacles you’ve discovered and put a PLAN into place to counteract them when they come up.

I’ve added a video below to give you an idea how it works. Once you’ve watched the video, you can read more about the system on the WOOP website HERE, or download our free worksheet from HERE.

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