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The end of the year is a time to look back on successes and failures, and to make plans for the coming year. But how do you set yourself up for success in 2017?

Many times, the self-help industry wants you to "think positive" and "imagine yourself succeeding." One researcher, however, suggests you try darker thoughts.

The researcher, Dr. Gabriele Oettingen, says that many people who try to "think positive" imagine their business proposals receiving applause. Or they can see the holiday pounds just melting off in a single gym session. The problem, she says, with positive thinking is that we delude ourselves into thinking the big change will be easy.



Change Ain’t Easy

But the fact is that most positive changes require overcoming obstacles. Dealing with failures. Recalibrating our plans. Lasting change takes practice. Those setbacks tend to throw a bucket of cold water on our motivation to change.

Another key part of her findings was that many of the obstacles we face are internal. Sure, sometimes we are stopped from our goals by external factors. But more often, those external factors are just excuses we’ve built up from bad habits, poor communication skills, a short temper, an absence of planning, or an affinity for donuts.

However, the very fact that they are our own weaknesses make them a strength — we can change. With just a little bit of introspection and honesty, we can prepare ourselves for a coming setback, and come up with a plan to either short-circuit it. Or we can make a plan for what to do after the siren song of the maple-glaze donut proved too much. 

Introducing W.O.O.P.

So her research focused on workarounds to those problems, and the result was a process abbreviated as WOOP.

Wish: What’s the most important wish you have over the next four weeks? Oettingen suggests it should be something challenging, but achievable.

Outcome: What’s the outcome, or benefit, of achieving that wish? How would you feel? How would it look? Can you see the look on your boss’ face as she changes her mind? Can you hear her saying “yes, that’s a great idea”? Take a moment to really imagine it.

Obstacle: What is it within you that’s holding you back? Is it a bad habit? An irrational belief? Fear? Take a moment to imagine it — what excuses will you tell yourself? How will you feel if you accidentally succumb to it? What will giving up feel like or look like?

Plan: Now, plan how you’ll overcome that obstacle. You might need to think of a few plans for different obstacles. Think about what triggers the obstacle. Think about workarounds. Now, imagine the bad obstacle, and imagine yourself following your plan.

“If (obstacle), then (action or thought).” 

Practice Makes Perfect

Among the many benefits of this approach is that you’re hardening yourself against inevitable setbacks. Instead of giving up, you’ve actually rehearsed mentally. You’re not some softy who goes to pieces when things don’t go your way. You have a plan — maybe even a few plans — to keep going. Instead of being depressed by the problem, you’re going to be more motivated because you solved it.

So close your eyes. Make your wish for 2017. We hope that wish is to take your safety and training program to the next level. And then get realistic about what’s holding you back, and make plans to work around it. And if we can help, just let us know.

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