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'WOOP' it up

Is positive thinking the best strategy to make new ideas come to life?

We're often told to think positively if we want to make something happen.

It's a good start, for sure. But just dreaming about a positive outcome isn't always the best way to make your creative wishes come true. That's not cynicism by the way. I don't want to come off as some finger-wagging parent. There's more to this than meets the eye.

In her book, Rethinking Positive Thinking: Inside the New Science of Motivation, Gabriele Oettingen uses her 20 years of research into human motivation to show how the very things that stand in the way of our creative dreams - natural obstacles and negative thoughts - are actually key to unlocking where we want to be.

Described as "mental contrasting", her WOOP method suggests that alongside a creative (or any other) goal, you need to realise the pitfalls and problems you're likely to encounter along the way. Not to put you off trying - but because you can then make a plan about how to overcome them, or indeed avoid them.

She describes it as "making the most of our fantasies by brushing them up against the very thing most of us are taught to ignore or diminish: the obstacles that stand in our way." So how does it work?

Oettingen plots out a very simple four-part process. And despite the appearance of an overly pragmatic approach to thinking positively, it starts with a wish.

What's your Wish? Ask yourself this question. What do I want? This week, this year, this decade? Actually, name it.

Then you look at the Outcome. The best outcome in fact. What would that look like to you? Picture it in your mind's eye.

Then the hard part. The Obstacle. What is stopping you from achieving your wish? How could I get over it? These can be internal or external forces in your life.

And then you Plan.

This takes the form of a sentence to state what you need to do:

If [insert obstacle] then I will [insert action].

So, for example, if your wish is to 'write screenplays that thrill people', with a best outcome of 'I get to create great films', but there's an obstacle of 'there's no guarantee of success', then your plan might be to 'make a film myself'.

If there's no guarantee of success, then I will make a film myself.

Simple. So all you now need to do is write a screenplay, raise some finance, put together a film crew, shoot it, edit it and distribute it...

...which is when you then take the technique further.

Big obstacles that arise can be broken down into smaller ones. This makes each one more manageable - such as:

If I've no time to write my screenplay, then I will get up early to do it.

You can also apply some If/Then thinking to things you can't foresee:

If the film finance course I want to go on is full, then I will read the book written by the course tutor.

Here's Gabriele Oettinger to explain more about WOOP.

There's even a WOOP app (IOS & Android). For starters though, head over to the WOOP website, try their practice tool and begin to WOOP up your life:

It takes less than 10 minutes - so it easily qualifies as a Faster Ideas tip.

WOOP has similarities to Edward de Bono's Six Thinking Hats, but more specifically focused on a goal. And needing less headwear.

For more ways to look at obstacles as a path to creative dreams and thoughts, also check out The Obstacle is The Way by Ryan Holiday

There's no obstacle to positive thinking. That's got to deserve a WOOP!


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