What do your Dreams look like?

We all have dreams. wonderful realities we want to pursue. Exciting lives we want to live, jobs we want to have, places we want to see and retirements in our futures that look like an advertisement in a tropical holiday brochure.  But how are you ever going to reach for the bigger things in your life when in reality, your reality, not the one you were just dreaming off but the one you currently live in, just getting up out of bed in the morning is an achievement in itself.
Lets’ face it, if your life is so hard that you struggle to get up in the morning, or you spend all day arguing with you spouse or children or you are living from week to week dreading every bill that comes through the door, the chances of you every having the energy and drive to aim for those bigger dreams are going to be pretty slim.

The thing is, dreams, whether they be big or small are all reached in same way. And once you learn to cut your teeth on sorting out the smaller more immediate ones (i’m thinking of that life that is keeping your in bed in the mornings with your head under the covers), then the bigger ambitions will come easier too.

We have all heard the line that if we are willing to dream hard enough then anything is possible. But given that we have been hearing this for a very long time you would think more of us would have reached some of those dreams by now and we would all be living in big houses, with fast cars and wonderful caring families surrounding us, (yes, i realize that i am making assumptions about what your dreams are but just go with it for them moment). So what’s the problem? Are we not just dreaming hard enough or big enough? Well no, that’s not the problem at all. The problem seems to be that we dreaming to much, dreaming our chances of success away.

Okay, so it sounds odd that the very dreams we are having are preventing our dreams from happening. But it looks like this might actually be the case. Studies have shown that Students who vision themselves doing better in exams tend to score lower. People who vision themselves getting better jobs then to take longer to get those jobs. People who are over weight and who vision themselves losing the weight tend to lose less weight and fail more often. So why is this… because it sure does not seem a bit fair.

Well the reason seems to be that the more effort you put into just dreaming about something the less energy you have left to pursue it. It’s like you have an Energy Bank and that in that bank each of your dreams has an energy account with only a limited amount of energy in it. The more of the energy you spend dreaming the thing the less there is left in your account to spend on the doing of the thing. This makes a certain kind of sense when you think about it. For example, have you ever really been looking forward to doing something so hard all day long, (perhaps going for a run in the evening) that when it comes time to doing it you just think “Ah… i’m not that bothered now.” It’s like you have all ready done the run many times over and all the enthusiasm you had in you has just sort of evaporated away. Well it’s the same for the bigger things in our life too.

So this presents us with a bit of a problem. How do we possibly achieve our dreams, if it is the dreaming of the dreams themselves that is stopping us achieving those dreams in the first place?

Well, there is a solution to this conundrum, (i’m sure you re delighted to hear), and if we use our Energy Bank as an example it works a bit like this. Just like a real bank you can top up your energy bank with more energy so that as you spend time dreaming, spending your energy, you can, at the same time keep topping up your account with more energy so that your balance is still nice and big and ready to dig into when you start to make steps towards that dream. And that Solution is called “WOOP” or Wish, Outcome, Obstacle and Plan.

The WOOP Method

WOOP is a practical, accessible, evidence-based mental strategy that people can use to find and fulfill their wishes and change their habits. It works by guiding you one tiny step at a time towards any goal or wish you might have and it seems that each tiny step taken and acknowledged re-sets your energy bank back to full each time. That way, you can keep moving towards your dream rather than just stalling and only every dreaming about your dream.
Let’s look at how you might use WOOP, with dealing with a wish or goal you have.

  1. Identify and imagine a wish you’d like to fulfill; an attainable goal or habit you’d like to begin or reach. Then set a specific time frame, let’say 4 weeks. If you dream or wish is a big one break it down into 4 week size bites. What does the first bite look like.
  2. Next, imagine the best possible outcomes of fulfilling that wish.  If your wish is fulfilled, where would that leave you? What would be the best, most positive outcome? How would fulfilling your wish make you feel?
  3. Acknowledge any inner obstacles and focus on the main one. What is it within you that holds you back from fulfilling your wish? It might be an emotion, an irrational belief, or a bad habit. Think more deeply—what is it really? Identify your main inner obstacle and take a moment to imagine it fully.
  4. Create an if/then plan: If ____ obstacle occurs, then I will do _____. What can you do to overcome your obstacle? Identify one action you can take or one thought you can think to overcome your obstacle.

Over twenty years of research shows that, WOOP, works. Known scientifically as Mental Contrasting with Implementation Intentions, the approach has proven effective across ages and areas of life, helping people achieve goals dealing with health, interpersonal relations, and academics/career.

If you would like to learn more about WOOP and how you might use it then check out the the WOOP website. They also have a cool app that allows you to track you progress on you chosen goals and ambitions.

So good luck and happy WOOPing.

Aaron