Editor’s note: This post was updated on Dec. 22, 2020.
It’s one thing to know that you want to be more active as a family, but it can be another thing entirely to figure out how to translate those great intentions into action because, hey, life happens. Your baby starts teething, your toddler develops an ear infection, and things go completely off the rails at work.
This week, I’m going to introduce you to a tool that will dramatically increase the odds that you’ll be able to make your family’s active living resolutions stick in the wake of life’s inevitable curveballs. Because it’s not a matter of if those curveballs are going to strike: it’s simply a matter of when.
The tool I’m talking about is called WOOP (which stands for wish, outcome, obstacles, plan). It’s the brainchild of New York University psychologist Gabriele Oettingen, whose research has focused on goal-setting strategies. While the success rate for people who are relying on more standard goal-setting strategies is roughly 30 percent, those odds of success jump to an incredible 80 percent when you rely on WOOP. So it’s definitely worth knowing about.
Here’s how it works. You figure out what you want to achieve (the wish), you become clear about why you want to achieve it (the outcome), you identify potential obstacles, and then you come up with a plan for dealing with each of those obstacles.
Now let’s talk about how you can apply the principles of WOOP to your goal of becoming a more active family.
Start out by defining the wish. It helps to be as specific as possible, so you might say something like, “I would like to get in the habit of doing something active with the kids after dinner.”
Now shift your focus to the outcome—what you hope to achieve by carrying through on this wish. You might focus, for example, on how you would benefit and how your kids would benefit: “It would be a great way for me to let go of all the stress of the day.” “The kids love spending time with me. It would be a great way to ensure we have time to truly connect.” “We could have so much fun together! Family dance party!”
This is where you really get down to the nitty-gritty, brainstorming all the things that could possibly go wrong. Again, it’s helpful to be as specific as possible and it can be particularly helpful to identify the kinds of obstacles that have derailed your previous attempts to make this kind of change. For example, “Life is busy and our schedules aren’t always predictable. I might not be able to make this work every single night.” “Sometimes I’m so tired at the end of the day that I just want to zone out in front of a screen.” “I have a tendency to set the bar too high for myself when I’m trying to make a habit change—and then I give up entirely.”
Now that you’ve identified any and all potential obstacles, it’s time to tackle those obstacles one by one. Here are some possible plans for dealing with the same three obstacles we were just talking about a minute ago:
- If your challenge is that life gets busy, acknowledge that and have a game plan for getting back on track sooner as opposed to later (or, worse, never). Maybe you’re dealing with a family emergency—or a work-related crisis—or both! In that case, it might be helpful to say to yourself, “All bets are off for the next few days. If we manage to squeeze in our after-dinner walks, that’s great. But if we can’t, that’s no big deal. We can get back on track next week.” Then instead of allowing guilt to zap you of your motivation, you can focus your emotional energies on looking forward to being active with your kids again. (Mentally cue the family dance party music!)
- If your challenge is that it’s easy to zone out in front of a screen after dinner, make it harder for yourself to access that screen. Turn off notifications on your phone when you start making dinner—and don’t turn them back on until after you’ve finished eating and being active with your kids. Set yourself up for success, in other words.
- If setting the bar impossibly high for yourself is a recurrent pattern for you, your plan could be to commit to something more realistic (say, being active as a family for 20 minutes after dinner three days a week as opposed to striving to meet that target on a daily basis). Because here’s the thing: you don’t have to meet your target every single day to be making significant progress toward achieving a bigger goal. It’s all about letting go of the all-or-nothing thinking.
So that, in a nutshell, is how WOOP works. I don’t know about you, but I love the fact that it anticipates that there will roadblocks and detours as opposed to pretending that life will be perfect each and every single day (because it won’t).
And I love the fact that it recognizes that each and every one of us is the expert when it comes to knowing what will and won’t work in our own lives—which means that we’re each uniquely qualified to map out our own path to success. I find that incredibly inspiring and empowering and I hope you do, too.
Think you might be able to apply some of principles of WOOP to your own family’s active living journey? I’d love to hear about it. You can share your feedback via the comments section below or email me via Active for Life. I’d also welcome any questions you might want to ask about my own journey to a happier, healthier place and what I learned along the way. Let’s talk!