CTO Compass

How to turn Positive Thinking into Positive Action

CTO Compass series

Vision boards, scrapbooks filled with inspiring pictures of our ideal life, daydreaming about our goals...positive thinking is often seen as a powerful tool for motivation and manifestation.

Proponents of it think that simply creating “vivid and compelling pictures of your heart’s desires” will draw this vision towards you.

However, positive thinking alone actually harms your efforts. Gabriele Oettingen, spent 20 years researching the topic, found that such fantasies have the opposite effect: They sap your motivational energy to act. Without action, the only thing that will manifest is your disappointment and frustration.

Fortunately, Dr Oettingen used her research findings to develop a simple framework she called WOOP to help people take more action towards their desires.

  • Want to quit smoking? WOOP it.
  • Want to find a new job? WOOP it.
  • Have a big goal you want to achieve? WOOP it.
  • Want to get the most from a meeting? WOOP it.
  • You can use it for anything.

WOOP, there it is

WOOP is both an acronym and a nice mnemonic word, so you can easily train yourself to bring it to mind and use it whenever necessary.


Start the process by metaphorically waving your magic wand and getting clear on what you want. This can be as general or as specific as you wish.

Perhaps it’s a particular goal or project you want to achieve; maybe it’s just the next meeting you have that you want to go well. Also, think about the timescale you would like to accomplish this desire.

Your wish should be challenging but something you feel you can fulfil.

Try to write it down in 3 to 6 words.


Now, get clear on why you want it. How would fulfilling this wish make you feel?

The more you can physically feel into the outcome or the benefits that’ll come from achieving your wish, the better. What would be the best outcome of achieving this wish?

At this stage, you might notice that all we’ve done so far is think positively. It is an important step, but positive thinking alone does not inspire action or create momentum. It’s easy to wallow in the pleasant feelings this produces.


Now you need to take that dream, and that’s all it is right now, and rub it up against reality. Think about the obstacles you’ll likely face to make your wish a reality. Be specific. While it’s unnecessary, I find it helpful to write down your thinking as you go through this process, especially when you first start using it.

The obstacles might be anything, but more often than not, the real obstacle is within you. I cannot state this enough. The biggest obstacle to achieving your wish is yourself. You can’t control most external factors, but you can control your responses and actions. The WOOP process aims to help you bridge that gap and put a plan in place to help you overcome the impediment at the right time.

This is known as mental contrasting. Thinking about the specific challenges that you might face creates a necessity to act. Don’t be afraid if, during this step, you realise that your wish might be unattainable; dial it back to something more realistic and achievable.

If you want to take action toward a desired future, then be sure to choose wishes that are challenging but still attainable for you. WOOP won’t help you live more fully if your wish is to live on planet Neptune, or become a billionaire within a year. — Gabriele Oettingen


Finally, create a plan to overcome the obstacles you’ve identified. Gabriele’s husband, Peter Gollwitzer, a fellow researcher, coined the term “Implementation Intentions” as a simple but powerful way to plan. (Next week, I’ll go into more depth on this).

If (obstacle), Then I will (plan)

WOOP your life

At this point, you might think this is almost too simple to be effective.

Oettingen has created a website called WOOP My Life, which contains more information about the research and several practical tools to help you practice. As with anything, the more you do it, the easier it becomes.

WOOP is a tool to take you from being a dreamer to a doer; it helps you recognise the obstacles within you and devise a plan to overcome them. Stop dreaming and start doing.

⚡️ Thinking Time ⚡️

Are there any situations you’re experiencing right now that could benefit from a WOOPing session? Your Thinking Time is a great place to WOOP your bigger goals and challenges to come up with a plan of attack.

Here’s the framework again:

Wish: What do you want to see in your life, personally or professionally? Imagine achieving something challenging yet feasible in a year, month, week or day.

Outcome: What is the number one benefit you would experience as a result of that wish?

Obstacle: You can use it for anything. What obstacle within you stands in the way of achieving that wish?

Plan: What can you do to get around that obstacle? What’s the number one most effective thing you could do? Write it in the If…Then format.

CTO Compass series