A lot of people are familiar with SMART goal setting: setting goals that are specific, measurable, action oriented & achievable, realistic, and time-oriented.

If the SMART framework helps you in your process, fantastic. If, however, SMART goal setting has never quite clicked for you, or if you're super familiar with SMART goals and want to try something new, consider using the WOOP process, developed by psychologist and researcher Gabriele Oettingen, whose work explores the ways that we think and how this impacts our behaviors.

What's WOOP all about? Here's what it stands for:

  • W – wish
  • O – (best) outcome
  • O – (main inner) obstacle
  • P – plan

How's it work? Like this:


To get started, think about a wish that you have for yourself – something you want to make happen. It should be both challenging and feasible: maybe it makes your heart beat a little faster, but you can do it.

It’s important in this WOOP scenario that the wish be something important to you. It needs to matter and mean something to you, rather than being a wish that somebody else thinks you should have, or wishes for you.


Now close your eyes (seriously, close them, or go in a dark room, or lie back and put your arm over your face…) and imagine what it will be like to have this wish come true. How will it look? What will it feel like? What will you do when it happens? Where will you be? Who will celebrate with you? What will it mean? Imagine all of it, visualize it to the greatest detail you can muster, make it actually happen in your mind. Then, return to wherever you are in real life and jot some of these imaginings and visualizations down.


Next, imagine and visualize what your biggest obstacle will be. WOOP is specific in stating that this should be an internal obstacle – something that will come up inside of you that could derail you from your wishing and throw you off your success path. Maybe it’s something you notice you do, something that distracts you from whatever it is you need to be doing. Or maybe it’s that you notice your self-talk isn’t kind or supportive. Maybe you have a hard time juggling everything you need to do — for yourself and for others. Maybe it’s something else entirely. Whatever it is though, identify it.


Once you've imagined the greatness of success and the possible barriers that could get in your way, it's time to plan. Planning is huge, no matter how you choose to set goals. In WOOP, the planning has to do with what you’ll do to overcome or navigate that obstacle inside yourself when you encounter it. If you know that you like to sit down and watch a show on Netflix, and then all of a sudden it’s three hours later and you’ve binge-watched half the season, what will you do when you notice yourself engaging in this Netflix feast? Maybe it’s that you’ll turn it off, no matter where you are, and tackle a piece of the wish you want to fulfill. Maybe it’s that you’ll look at your schedule, to remind yourself what you’re supposed to be doing. Or maybe it’s that you’ll make a schedule, so you know when you’re committed to your wish-fulfillment process, and when you’re committed to the rest of your life and its commitments, too. Think of it along the lines if-then. If this happens, then I'll do this to course-correct/motivate/re-focus, etc.

In addition to this obstacle planning, think about your overall planning, too:

  • When will you work on your wish or goal?
  • What will your due-dates be for yourself?
  • Who do you need to connect with.
  • What material do you need to produce, and by when and in what form?
  • Who will you connect with when it starts to feel hard?
  • Who or how will you motivate yourself?
  • What will you do to hold yourself accountable?
  • When will you take time to pause and reflect, take stock of your progress, and assess your steps forward?

Regardless of the type of goal or focus, goal setting can be a useful tool for your time in college and beyond. It can help you see where you want to go, commit to a plan to reaching that place, and get there.

For more information on WOOP, how to WOOP, etc., visit https://woopmylife.org/en/home.

As always, we're here to talk: Waldo Hall 125 | Monday through Friday | 9 AM to 5 PM. No appointment necessary. Come and tell us what's working and how we can help!

goal setting tips:

  • Break your goal into smaller tasks or action steps. These smaller steps make progress on the goal more manageable and give you a sense of accomplishment as you move closer to your goal.
  • Make goals with others (friends, family members, coworkers). If other people know about your goals or share the same goals, you create accountability for yourself.
  • Anticipate possible challenges. Obstacles and setbacks are part of life. For each of your goals, try to anticipate some of the challenges you may face.  Generate a list of resources that might help you overcome these challenges. 
  • Visualize your achievement. What will completing your goal feel like? Visualizing your accomplishments can help motivate you to make progress toward your goal.
  • Reward yourself. Having an incentive can be a fun way to motivate you to work hard to achieve your goal.
  • Manage your time. Use time management tools to help you organize your tasks, set aside time to work towards your goal, and track your progress.

Want to talk about this more? Want to set up a goal and a plan for your goal, but not sure how? Want to celebrate a goal that you’ve achieved, or talk through ways to tackle or refine or adjust your approach? Come and see us! Swing by the ASC in Waldo 125! We love to talk about goals, and about a lot of other things too, and often it can be really helpful to bounce ideas off a person and get outside your head to hear new perspectives.

Yes, you can totally do this. And yes, we can totally help.

Download a woop goal setting sheet: