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Are you tired of hearing that all you need to do in life is think positively? New York cognitive psychologist Gabriele Oettingen presents a fresh four-step plan in her new book, Researching Positive Thinking: Inside the New Science of Motivation. Her answer is WOOP:

  1. Wish (identify your wish);
  2. Outcome (find the best possible outcome);
  3. Obstacles (imagine any roadblocks); and
  4. Plan (make an if/then plan, working around your obstacles).

Oettingen’s formula is similar to our January theme, Deft. Too often we’re fooled into thinking that the only worthwhile changes are big ones. Reflecting on what might complicate our success, let alone having an actual plan, rarely comes into the equation. I thought about WOOP as I listened to Adi and Kelley, two very different writers calling into a radio show for publishing advice.

Adi was an accomplished poet participating in two writer’s groups. He warmly described his network of trusted advisors who staunchly supported his work. However, were they a little too close?

Adi told the editor that he couldn’t imagine putting a book together without their input. It sounded reasonable until he detailed their highly structured, elaborate process. They spent month after month critiquing each other and rewriting. Despite years of work, he had never been published.

The editor went quiet. At this rate it would take Adi years to put together a publisher proposal. Adi had become so lost in the weeds of his “obstacles” that he couldn’t get to the “outcome” of a finished book, no matter how much good advice she provided.

Kelley, an exuberant, bubbly young woman, was on the opposite side of the spectrum. Endlessly productive, she had several books ready to go. When the editor asked about her author platform, Kelley hesitated. “Oh, I’m too busy writing to worry about things like social media.”

The editor pushed back. “I don’t mean having a Facebook page. I’m talking about asking for feedback. Do you have a website? Are you part of a class? Have you worked with an editor?”

Kelley interrupted her. “I know what I’m doing. I don’t need to have a bunch of people distracting me from my goals. Now, after I get a book deal this year, when can I expect royalties?”

Kelley had a laser focus on her “wish” and the perfect “outcome” of bestselling books. Regrettably her bluster didn’t fully mask her fears. Stopping to consider obstacles, even for a moment, was too scary. Surely the royalties would start rolling in if she just put on a happy face.

This week, take some time to mindfully work your own version of WOOP. (It’s all right if you playfully sing a few choruses of the hit “Whoomp, There It Is” to get yourself fired up.) You might be surprised to see where you are skipping a step or two. As Carl Honore said, “Everywhere, people are discovering that doing things more slowly often means doing them better and enjoying them more. It means living life instead of rushing through it.”