Positive Thinking Could Get in the Way of Your Goals

Instead of daydreaming your way to success, use the WOOP strategy.

learn more about Nina Zipkin

By Nina Zipkin • Feb 2, 2017

Yuri_Arcurs | Getty Images

If you have a big goal, it's only human to want to think about the best possible result -- a future where you have successfully accomplished all you set you to do. But it turns out that fantasizing about the future can actually drain energy away from putting your goals into practice. "The more positively people think and daydream about the future, the less effort they put into realizing that future," Gabriele Oettingen, a professor of psychology at New York University, told Entrepreneur.

Oettingen, the author of Rethinking Positive Thinking: Inside the New Science of Motivation, says this kind of mindset can ultimately be detrimental to your overall wellness. "As pleasurable as these thoughts and fantasies are, they detract from mental and physical health," she says. "They are a kind of a burden for success."

Related: 3 Guidelines for Creating a Support Group That Will Push You to the Next Level

When people entertain these positive fantasies, they can feel as if they have already achieved their goal. The imagining of the desired future is a state that is relaxing one, explains Oettingen. "What you find then is that the energy goes down, blood pressure goes down. The problem with that is if your energy goes down when you positively fantasize about the future, then you will not be able to put in the effort that is necessary to implement it."

Oettingen's solution to this problem is a four-part system she developed called WOOP, or Wish, Outcome, Obstacle and Plan.

Related: 7 Productivity Tips to Help You Accomplish Your Biggest Goals

To start, Oettingen advises unplugging from your devices and getting into a calm and unhurried frame of mind.

Wish: Think about what you want to happen. It can be a small wish for tomorrow or a big one for the coming year. Think about three or four words to describe it, and place it in the front of your mind.

Outcome: Then ask yourself, what is the best outcome? Imagine and experience that scenario would look like and put that at the front of your mind.

Related: The Books, Podcasts and TED Talks You Need to Stay Committed to Your Goals

Obstacle: After that, switch gears and ask yourself, what holds me back? What will prevent you from accomplishing it. Imagine those obstacles. This is a way to articulate and then dismantle all potential excuses that could arise, according to Oettingen. Imagine all of those transpiring.

Plan: Finally, one by one, imagine what you would do in the event one of those obstacles was thrown in your path. Alternate the thoughts, if X happens, then I will do Y.

Oettingen believes that breaking your goal into these four specific pieces can help bring you clarity about what you can and cannot handle at a given moment. "When things get stressful and the challenges come, it keeps you down to earth."

Nina Zipkin

Entrepreneur Staff

Staff Writer. Covers leadership, media, technology and culture.

Nina Zipkin is a staff writer at Entrepreneur.com. She frequently covers leadership, media, tech, startups, culture and workplace trends.

Related Topics

Editor's Pick

Have More Responsibilities at Work, But No Pay Bump? Use This Script to Get the Raise You Deserve.
Black and Asian Founders Face Opposition at All Levels — Here's Why That Has to Change