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“You’ve got to accentuate the positive,” according to the famous song, but that can be hard when you are neck deep in dirty diapers, whiney kids, and a work deadline. Innovative parenting pushes is to look for bright spots that can help us work our way through our many challenges as parents.

Sometimes, however, those bright spots don’t seem so bright and we need help motivating ourselves to push forward. Positive thinking is one way to get there, but researchers have noted that positive thinking sometimes pushes away from the effort that we need to put into our goal because we’ve tricked our mind into thinking that we have already obtained it.

Instead of relying just on positive thinking to help us achieve our goals, we can use an interesting strategy called mental contrasting. This strategy has us both think positively and realistically look at the challenges and obstacles that may face us. When this is in place, according to NYU psychology professor Gabriele Oettingen, we are more likely to have achieved better results compared to just using a strategy of positively fantasizing or focusing on barriers.

Oettingen’s study lays out a great example of using mental contrasting. In the study, which focused on healthy eating and exercising, one group used mental contrasting which incorporated exercises to help them think through obstacles while the control group had no intervention. The results? The mental contrasting group was working out more often and eating more vegetables.

In her work on mental contrasting, Oettingen has developed a four-step strategy to help utilize mental contrasting in your daily life. It’s called WOOP which stands for:

Wish

Outcome

Obstacle

Plan

This structured strategy can make mental contrasting accessible to us (and there is even an app for it!)

WOOP in Action

Wish – what do you want to have happened? This is where you get to dream a little bit. Oettingen encourages users to keep the goals realistic and somewhat short-term (around 4 weeks at most).

Outcome – this is where you do get to use your positive thinking. What would it look like and feel like to achieve this wish?

Obstacle – bring out your negativity here. What are the obstacles that are going to get in the way? Don’t just think about simple barriers, but consider emotions and habits that might get in the way. The goal is to be as realistic with them as fully as you did the outcome.

Plan – what are you going to do to overcome each obstacle that you’ve envisioned? Get specific here as well as realistic and practical.

WOOP as a Parent

Positive thinking sometimes pushes us away from the effort that we need to put into our goal because we’ve tricked our mind into thinking that we have already obtained it.With this strategy in hand, you have another tool in your toolbox for dealing with the challenges of parenting and, of course, the rest of life. WOOP is primarily designed to be a tool for you to use on yourself, but it can also be a great coaching tool for working with your kids to help them deal with challenges that they are facing.

Here’s an example of putting WOOP into practice for parenting:

Wish – I want to get my kids to bed on time

Outcome – my kids will be well-rested and I will have time for getting this done in the house and some “me time,” too.

Obstacle – Our evening schedule is different each night because of work and afterschool activities. The kids can’t get done what they need to do because there isn’t enough time.

Plan – I will set alarms for when each child needs to start getting ready for bed each night, depending upon our evening schedule. I will change what each child needs to do each night based upon how much time we actually have.

And you can use it with the kids, too;

Wish – I want to get 100% on my spelling test.

Outcome – I will feel proud of myself.

Obstacle – I would rather read my book.

Plan – When I get home from school, I will write each of my spelling words in a sentence.

WOOP isn’t complex and it’s the kind of problem-solving strategy that you can talk through

Have you used WOOP? Share your WOOP in the comments.