19. June 2017

Heiki reads: Rethinking Positive Thinking: Inside the New Science of Motivation by Gabriele Oettingen

Live your dreams and reach your goals! Positive thinking is something we should do for that, we constantly hear. But really? Is it this easy? Almost. And positive thinking is in fact not the answer. Not alone.

When I got pregnant and was stuck in the first trimester of nauseousness I realized two things: my plans concerning my dreams (blog, book, working as a freelancer) needed to be adjusted and I needed a tool to overcome this crazy time of feeling totally energy depleted. Looking for tools I grabbed this book from my shelf which I already owned for longer, but now it was time. And it really was what I needed. This book and another one I will introduce to you another day. They both helped me A LOT to overcome this difficult time and actually work more effective and consistantly on my goals than I ever had, even though I am still pregant of ourse and have more topics on my mind and to do list than ever.


What sounds like a yell of excitement is actually the name for Gabriele Oettingen’s technique to optimize selfmotivation and selfactiviation. Something way more powerful (and scientifically proven) than only thinking the best and really believe in your dreams. It is positive. But by far not positivity only!

So here comes the science behind positive thinking:
Dreaming is not sufficiant! Neither is positive thinking!

As I have always been very, very sceptical towards the Law of Attraction, The Secret and all this positivity stuff around on social media for long I was really intersted in this book. And of course it felt great to read, that my gut instinct did not fool me: Positivity is a great mental tool in some very specific situations, but it is not the tool of choice to reach your goals. What is a working tool is positive thinking combined with other techniques and this is what WOOP is all about. It works for relationship goals, school grades, weight loss or carrier goals. Everything tested by Oettingen.

And so it worked also for me, as a woman between two lifes: on the one hand I am a mom-to-be on the other hand I have just started to build my freelance career. Did I have to drop one dream? And as one dream was a family and a baby already existing, did that mean, that I had to let go of my working ambitions? No. Happy to read that. So have a look at WOOP:

Wish – Outcome – Obstacle – Plan


At first you visulazie your dream, your goal. Be Positive, really! Here it is allowed and wanted. Dream big and bright in all the details. Articulate it. Write it down for more effect.


After that come back to reality and check objectively upon your situation concerning your goal: Where are you right now? What helps you to go towards you goal, what are you actually doing to reach it, what are neutral factors, what is limiting you, what could even hold you back and make your dream never happen? Be realistic. In every aspect. Not optimistic not pessimistic, you want to be cool here.


You now already found them: your obstacles which are in the way from your momentary situation to your goal. Maybe there are even obstacles which might happen or might not happen. Nevertheless consider them. What is holding you back? Circumstances? People? Bad habits?


In the laste phase you form a plan to overcome these obstacles. “If AB happens, I will do CD.” Sentences like this. “To overcome this, I will do that.”

And yes it is that easy. That’s all the magic. So Oettingen did not invent something totally new, she just checked on every step of this technique with scientifical methods to see if they really make a difference for example compared to people who are realistic only. Or positiv only. Or pessimistic only. Or who only visualize. Or who only make plans. It turned out that these 4 aspects combined show the biggest effect. And, very important: they must be done in this order!

The book is like a log showing how she approached her results and finally created WOOP.

Most important insights:

Who only thinks positive is holding himself/herself back. Positive thinking only works like a mental reward. You already feel good after this thinking and don’t get (as) active (as you could get), because the reward inside of you feels good enough.

Positive thinking only makes very much sense in one single situation: when there is nothing you can do or change. A typical waiting situation: Waiting for a diagnosis. Waiting for information. So it was healthy for me to be positive about my pregnancy, when I felt so nauseous. Because when I threw up, there was nothing else I could do but waiting. But in the time inbetween, when I was able to be active it was better to check on my reality, my obstacles and try to find a plan to overcome this difficult time.

When you first dream positive and than check on your reality you do “mental constrasting”. This technique is already very effective and is the first half of the later formed WOOP.

The opposite of mental contrasting is reverse contrasting and is in fact something you should avoid, if you want to get active towards reaching your goals. Reverse contrasting means, that you first have alook at your reality and than go on to your dreams. Like this you escape your reality but with the positivity at the end of this mental action again you feel a certain reward or comfort and don’t do as much as needed. You do even less than someone who thinks positive only (without reality check) or who is totally pessimistic. So the order of dream and reality matters A LOT!

Of similar effectiveness like mental contrasting it something Oetting calls “Durchführungsintention”, which I can’t translate perfectly, but I try: “intention to action” or “commitement to do something.” It is a typical strategy which focusses on obstacles and plans, the second half of WOOP. “If this happens, I will do that”. Having a to do list and clinging to it, because you decided that you will do these things, when you wrote them down, so you do them. No excuses.

You see, WOOP combines both actions in one flow to maximize selfmotivation and selfactivtion as effortless as possible.

Expectations are crucial for success. The higher the expecations the higher the chance for success when you work with WOOP. These expactations must have a solid basis. Don’t expect to win just because you are such a cool guy. Expect to be good at math because you passed all your earlier exams in math with a good grade. Expect to be able to do a push-up soon because you already managed lunges and deadlifts.

WOOP combined with high expactations lead to maximum success when you consider the rate of action someone takes to go there and also the final result.

Low expectation combined with WOOP lead to letting go of this goal as you see that the chance of successfully achieving it is low. Like this you can concentrate on realistic goals and focus your energy there.

When you have to reach a certain goal (or really, really want to) which unluckily is combined with low expactations make the goal smaller until you can have a realistic high expectation of reaching this first little goal. Then move on.

the problem with expectations – selflove is fundamental

People who have low selfesteem have generally low expectation about what they can reach. So you see, if somebody is really depressed WOOP might not work for him or her. The first thing such a person needs is help to build selflove and selfesteem to have positive expactations again. So really small goals, so he or she can reach them and then slowly level up. Selflove is the fundamental ressource when it comes to mental health and mental techniques.

a tool for optimizers

Selfoptimization is something many people don’t like to hear as they feel a certain pressure in this word. As if we are not good enough the way we are. This is not what WOOP is about. It is meant to take away pressure as it helps you condition yourself so that you don’t constantly have to remind you of your goals and your plan. You decide once and repeat only on a timeeffective basis which is way less energy consuming than having to decide a dozen times a day what to do next, what to do best – or even not deciding and the day passses anyways without getting active.

my small and little success stories with WOOP

I did some of the exercises in the book and could check on them after the time has passed. And yes, it works for me. Very well! Even though I am pregnant and have to deal with many extra topics (and still a lower energy level than before!) I am now able to actively work towards my goals and it feels easier than ever. The blog got monetarized which was overdue for ages, my book is at the lecturer, I have never ever worked that constantly on my fitness goals than I do now (even though… you know, you know, even though I am pregnant and my energy ist limited). My haircare roputine is on point. My eating almost is (still struggeling against some cravings but getting better every day). And the most important change: I make decisions way easier and faster than I used to did. I have always been a planner girl, but decisions were a nightmare for me. Now I decide and do. There is room for improvement, but for me it is a contrast like day and night. Like this, I progress way faster und with less mental ressources needed.

These success stories happend not only thanks to WOOP alone. As mentioned above I also used another technique from another book: The Miracle Morning, which I will introduce to you in one of my next posts. In fact the Miracle Morning uses the WOOP technique too, but does not call it like this. Just two minds coming to the same conclusion, but on different ways and with a very different attitude. As WOOP is the scientifical basis I started with it today and the Miracle Morning will folllow.

no guarantee for success but a tool to higher your chances significantly

So no matter what your goal is, WOOP is a wonderful tool to go straight in that direction and make shure you have your energy focussed, so that it feels as effortless as possible. Which does not mean that it is really effortless. You still have to get active and be discplined but this will be easier.  With a bit of practice you can WOOP your days in around a minute daily. Bigger goals should be revisited on a bit larger scale maybe weekly. I take 2-3 minutes for my daily goals and come back to my big dreams at least weekly and like to write my WOOP strategy down to give them extra attention and to really implement them in my subconciousness.

How about you? Interested?

I hope so. But really: You have to do it. Only reading this article about WOOP is not sufficiant even if you fully understood it. Sit down, dream your dream, come back to your reality, find your obstacles and make a plan. Do it all and do it in this order.

Enough repetition. Here is the link to amazon if you want to read the book too.
Rethinking Positive Thinking: Inside the New Science of Motivation

We will read us again soon after some non-book related topics with the Miracle Morning which can really transform your mornings. It did to mine.

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