I took "The science of wellbeing" course at Coursera. I absolutely loved it! I would like to share my impression and a not so brief summary.

Impression

I stumbled upon this course accidentally, when I was doing much more popular “Learning how to learn” course. As I’ve already said in my review of “Learning how to learn”, my impression was pretty mixed, but I learned a couple things. “The science of wellbeing” was just amazing and it is surprisingly much less popular.

Overall, I have no idea what could have been done better. The course consists of 10 weeks, the last 4 have very little material and meant for the last large “revirement”. The first 5 weeks or so had weekly “revirements”. A revirement is some task, which you should do during the week and which is meant to boost your wellbeing. So you do the revirements and in parallel learn about happiness and wellbeing and after some time learn the science behind each of the revirements as well.

The studies were mentioned perfectly. Basically, the teacher makes some claim and then briefly explains results of 2-3 studies supporting this claim. Many of the studies were mind-blowing.

Conclusion

I can’t recommend it more. It easily can be a life-changing course. You should take this course, everyone should take this course. Your mind will be blown away by how wrong we are, when we think about happiness.

Score: 5/5

Important-warning-disclaimer

Below is my summary of the course. If you are considering taking the course, don’t read the summary. This will spoil all the fun for you. Just go ahead and do the course.

If you don’t consider taking the course, please think again. It is really an amazing course and my summary probably misses a lot of details. You will get much more by going through the course (it is only ~19 hours) and doing all the revirements and seeing all the research. Please do the course, you will like it and understand what I mean!

Summary

Ok, I assume that you don’t take the course (but you should) or you are just me rereading the summary after some time to refresh all the fruitful bits I’ve forgotten. So let’s get started with the summary.

Note I’ve restructured the order of the topics a bit to make the text more coherent. In the real course there was one week delay between lectures, so giving a hint about the next week topic worked well, but here this feels weird.

What we think will make us happy

We have a pretty good picture of what should make us happy. However, will it?

Let’s consider each popular option. Later we will look why they actually won’t make us happy.

Good job

Does not getting a job makes us unhappy [Gilbert 1998]? When people get refused and consider it fair, they predict 2/10 happiness score drop, but actually it is 0.6/10. When they consider it unfair - 1.9/10 predicted vs 0/10 actual.

High salary

How much salary do you need (based on how much you have now) [Lyubomirsky 2008]? If your current salary is 30k, you need 50k, but if it is 100k, you need 250k. E.g. you target jumps up with each salary increase.

Money

Random interesting fact: US lottery ticket spending in 2015 was 70B, which is larger than books, music, movie tickets, sport tickets and video games combined. This could mean that people assume that having a lot of money will make them happy.

Correlation between “life satisfaction” and income is 0.1 - 0.15. In poor countries it is stronger, because increasing the income gets you access to clean water, basic health-care. Once your basic needs are met, increase in money has negligible effect.

Does general quality of life increase happiness? In 1940 average happiness was 7.5/10 and in 2015 it is 7.2/10. Living in 1940 was much harder (e.g. no washing machines).

In the US happiness stops increasing after $75k [Kahneman]. However, our own evaluation of life increases even after 75k. In other words, high income does not bring you happiness, but does bring a life that you think is better.

Overall money do make us happier a little bit, but way less than we think.

Awesome stuff

“If only I had __ I would be so happy”. Nope, you wouldn’t and actively seeking it can even make you less happy.

True love

Married people are happier in the first 2 years and then there is no difference to non-married. True love makes us happier only for some time.

Having a perfect face/body

People who complete a weight lose program end up with increased depression rate. Similarly for cosmetic surgery.

Getting good grades

Not as much as you think.

Why it doesn’t make us happy?

This is considered in more details in “The how of happiness” by Sonja Lyubomirsky. Her research shows that genes and circumstances are less important for happiness than we think. Their contributions are:

  • genetic - 50%
  • circumstances (life happens) - 10%
  • actions / thoughts - 40% (this we can control)

There are things we can do to be happier, but most of the things we are trying to achieve to increase our happiness won’t make us happier.

Here you can think that this is true for others, but you are different. However, all the research suggests otherwise.

Miswanting - the act of being mistaken about what and how much you will like something in the future.

Why do we miswant? Because of annoying features of our minds.

Feature 1: Wrong intuitions

Our mind’s strongest intuitions are often totally wrong.

Feature 2: Reference points

We don’t think in terms of absolutes. Instead we judge relative to reference points. A reference point - a salient (but often irrelevant) standard against which all subsequent information is compared.

Example: [Medvec et al 1995] at Olympics the silver winner thinks “I could have had gold” and feels unhappy, while bronze medalist thinks “Oh, I could have had no medal at all” and feels happy. They have different reference points.

Examples of reference points:

  • We. E.g. our previous salary. Our idea of “good income” goes up with our current income. Each 1$ increase increases our target by 1.4$ [Van Praat & Fritjers 1999].

  • Others (social comparison). E.g. if your coworkers have higher salary, you are less happy with your job. This can take very weird forms. When asked to choose between “you make 50k, others 25k” and “you - 100k, others - 250k”, 56% have chosen the former [Solnick & Henenway 1998], even though it is half as much money. Unemployed people have higher wellbeing [Clark 2003] when unemployment rate is high.

    Thus, getting extreme social reference points makes you unhappy. E.g. [O’Guinn & Schrum 1997] the more people watch TV, the higher they estimate wealth of other people around them (not on TV) and the lower - their own wealth. The more you watch TV, the more unhappy you become with yourself, because you implicitly compare yourself with what you see.

    We just try to keep up with whoever happens to be around. We don’t even try to find reasonable reference points. E.g. [Kuhn et al 2011] when someone wins a car in a lottery, their neighbors are then more likely to buy a car as well. [Kenrick et al 1993] Just looking at pictures of fashion models lowers women mood from 2.36/4 to 2.07/4. This can affect perception of your partner. [Kenrick et all 1989] Men rated attractiveness of their partner lower after looking at models (22.1 vs 26.2 in control).

    For the new generation this is even worse due to social media. Correlation between Facebook use & self esteem is -0.2 [Vogel et al 2014]. Looking at people who are doing worse then you have no effect on your self esteem though.

Feature 3: Adaptation

Our minds are built to get used to stuff. Hedonic adaptation - the process of becoming accustomed to a positive or negative stimulus such that the emotional effects of that stimulus are attenuated (weakened) over time.

Wonderful things are especially wonderful the first time they happen, but their wonderfulness fades with repetition.

Feature 4: We don’t know about adaptation

We don’t realize that our minds are built to get used to stuff. This works both ways - feeling better about bad stuff as well as feeling worse about good stuff due to getting used.

Impact bias - the tendency to overestimate the emotional impact of a future event both in terms of intensity and its duration. It is worse for negative effects - at first we feel like “this is going to destroy our life”. For positive - the event ends up being just not as awesome as we predicted.

This works even in very surprising situations. [Sieff 1999] People predict their happiness score to be 47.4 the moment they find out that they have HIV, but their actual score is 59.1. For the case when the test result says “no HIV”, they predict 94.7, but in reality it is 77.6.

Why is it so?

Do we just have not enough experience, because the events are rare? Nope. [Ayton 2007] When failing driver exam multiple times, every time you fail you still overestimate how bad you will feel if you fail next time.

This can be explained with two psychological biases (this is considered more deeply in “Stumbling on Happiness” book):

  1. Focalism - tendency to think just about one event and forget about other things that happen. When you focus on one thing, you misspredict. Try to think about stuff around the event. E.g. when thinking about illness, people forget that the majority of good things they had in their life won’t go away.
  2. Immune neglect - unawareness of our “psychological immune system”, i.e. of the tendency to adapt to and cope with negative events. Our brains have a lot of resilience to deal with bad things. You have mechanisms to force yourself to feel better and you use them more than you realize. E.g. we can rationalize everything (“this bad event was actually good for me because …”).

One possible result of these biases is the new generation being scared to take risks. You will be fine if you fail. You misspredict your own potential.

So what to do?

There are strategies which allow you to boost your happiness. They fix our current miswantings (by helping us to want right things) and help us to want other unexpected things which actually make us happier, but which we would never want on our own.

Awesome stuff

Don’t invest in physical stuff in the first place. It won’t make you as happy as you think, because it sticks around and you get used to it. Quote by Gilbert:

Part of us believes the new car is better because it lasts longer. But in fact that’s the worst thing about the new car… It will stay around to disappoint you.

Instead invest in experiences - they don’t stick around. Experience - anything you can pay for (or free) that makes you happy but is not a physical thing. You just won’t have time to adapt to them.

[Van Boven & Gilovich 2003] People find that experiences bring happy thoughts (7.51 vs 6.62 for material), contribute to happiness (6.4 vs 5.42) and they consider money spent on experiences spent better (7.3 vs 6.42). This effect gets stronger the larger income you have.

When you think about the experience in advance (anticipation), this makes you happier as well. You feel more excited and better about planned experience purchase vs material (2.64 vs 1.37, 2.58 vs 1.06 respectively) [Kumar et al 2014].

People’s intuition is wrong about this. They predict that material purchase will make them happier than experiential.

Talking about your experiences makes you happier as well. This can just be more interesting for others to hear or help them to resonate with you.

Experiences are less susceptible to social comparison.

What about things we already have (including marriage, being at Yell [note: this is a Yell course])?

Savoring. You can use savoring, i.e. stepping outside of an experience to review and appreciate it fully while it still happens. This forces you to notice and enjoy the experience and keep your attention on it. This also helps you to focus on the experience for even longer.

[Jose et al 2012] Activities to enhance savoring:

  • Talk to another person about how good you felt
  • Look for other people to share the experience with
  • Think about what a lucky person you are
  • Think about sharing (talking) this later with others
  • Show physical expression of energy (jumping around from joy, yelling)
  • Laugh or giggle
  • Tell yourself how proud you are
  • Think only about the present and be absorbed.

Activities which hurt savoring:

  • Focusing on the future (i.e. think about experience being over)
  • Reminding yourself that the experience will be over soon
  • Reminding yourself that nothing lasts forever
  • Thinking how it will never be this good again
  • Thinking about ways it could be better [note: I definitely unknowingly experienced this myself]
  • Telling yourself that you don’t deserve it.

[Kurtz 2008] Taking photos is controversial in terms of savoring. You can take photos in two ways: 1) Focusing on photos themselves and not being mindful (i.e. photos is the goal) 2) Using your photos to see different aspects of the thing you taking picture of, learning about new and better properties of it (i.e. as a tool for savoring)

One actionable way to do savoring is [Lyubomirsky et al (2006)] to think about a happy event “as though you are rewinding a videotape and playing it back” (8 min/day * 3 days). People had sustained increases in positive emotions 4 weeks later.

Another way is negative visualization - thinking about the reverse that could have happened. [Koo et al 2008] E.g. couples wrote for 15 minutes about how they might have never met their partner (or about how they met). In the first case happiness score was 5.67, latter - 4.77. This helps you to break yourself out of here and now.

Frame your view as “the experience may be over soon” instead of “I have plenty of time left”. This way you focus on how it would be without the thing you have and this brings you out of hedonic adaptation.

Thus, advantages of savoring:

  • fights hedonic adaptation
  • keeps us in the moment (without mind wandering)
  • increases gratitude (we become thankful for the experience during the experience itself)

Gratitude. You can use gratitude. Gratitude - the quality of being thankful and a tendency to show appreciation for what one has.

[Emmons & Mc Cullough 2010] Writing once a week 5 things from last week, which you are grateful for, boosts your happiness, decreases physical symptoms and increases hours of exercise.

Sharing gratitude can be extra powerful. Tell other people if you are grateful to them.

Gratitude can help in romantic relationships (e.g. to mitigate bad things in a relationship). In work context, receiving gratitude from your superior makes you work 50% harder (without additional pay) [Grand & Gino 2010].

Thus, feeling gratitude:

  • increases mood, lowers stress
  • improves health
  • creates stronger social connections.

Reset your reference points

They affect our happiness judgments all the time (even if we don’t realize it). E.g. potato chips taste better when they are placed near sardines than when near chocolate [Morewedge et al 2010].

Strategies:

  • Concretely re-experience. The moment you get something (e.g. a dream job) it becomes your new reference point. Find a way to go back to your previous state and re-experience it. Make a habit to go back and re-experience the stuff as it was before your current state.
  • Concretely observe. Find a real example of a worse situation (e.g. similar to what you had before) and look at it.
  • Avoid social comparisons.
    • Stop technique. The moment you notice you are doing social comparisons (browsing Instagram), say “stop” out loud
    • Gratitude stops social comparison (“gratitude is killer of envy”)
    • Be conscious of the kinds of social comparisons you are letting in your life. Curate your own info. E.g. “Real Beauty” campaign instead of “Victoria Secret” models.
    • No social media. Otherwise be mindful when using them and use techniques above.
  • Interrupt your consumption. If you force yourself to have an interruption, you set your reference in a very positive way (absence of the thing). [Nelson & Meyvis 2008] When making people listen to their favorite music with a pause inside the song, people’s happiness jumps dramatically right after the pause. [Neolson et all 2009] Commercials on TV make you enjoy the thing you are watching more. Thus, split the awesome things you love in life.

    For bad things, you want hedonic adaptation to kick in quickly. Thus, don’t break them up. Try to squish all of them together instead. E.g. do a hard problem at once instead of 15 minute chunks with breaks in between.

  • Increase your variety. If you always eat the same ice cream (A A A A A…) you will adapt and it will get boring. If you eat different ones and then get back to the one you tried first (A B C D A), it will feel cool again. This breaks your adaptation and changes your reference point. Timing also matters. Eating an ice cream 40 seconds after the previous one is boring. Variety is another reason why experiences are better for your happiness than material stuff. Experiences are dynamic, while stuff is constant.

Want right things

What we should want to become happier, but don’t.

Good job. We want high salary. Instead we should seek a career that employs our signature strengths.

Signature strengths - character strengths that are the most essential to who we are. Character strength properties: 1) Ubiquitous (widely recognized across cultures) 2) Fulfilling (leads to satisfaction and fulfillment) 3) Morally-valued 4) Not able to diminish others 5) The opposite of a negative trait 6) Trait-like (stable individual difference) 7) Measurable 8) Distinctive (not redundant with other strengths) 9) Paragons (some people really have it and it is very strong) 10) Prodigies (some people precociously (from birth) have it) 11) Selective absence (some people don’t have it) 12) Institutionalized (society values it)

There are 24 character strengths overall.

[Seligman et al 2005] Using your top strengths in new and different ways every day for a week improves happiness and decreases depression.

[Lavy & Littran-Ovadia 2016] The more you use your strengths at work, the more productive and more satisfied with your job you become (caused by positive emotions).

[Harzer & Ruch 2012] Using signature strengths can turn a job into “a true calling”. As a result, you can find ways to use your signature strengths at your job to improve your job satisfaction.

[VIA Institute on Character][http://www.viacharacter.org/www/] provides a questionnaire (free, but registration is required) to estimate your signature strengths.

In addition to signature strengths, our good job should bring us into “flow”. There is a book “Flow” by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi about this topic.

Flow - the mental state in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in feeling of energized focus, full involvement and enjoyment (aka “the zone”) and loses track of time. E.g. when doing sport, music, work.

Features:

  • challenging but attainable goals
  • strong focused concentration
  • activity is intrinsically rewarding
  • feeling of serenity (the state of being calm, peaceful, and untroubled)
  • loss of self-consciousness
  • timelessness / losing track of time passing
  • lack of awareness of physical needs
  • complete focus on the activity itself.

To achieve flow, you must have good skills in the activity and it must be challenging enough.

Funny fact that even here we miswant. [Lefevre 1988] In work situations we experience high challenge and use our skills, which brings sense of efficacy and self-confidence. In leisure we instead do low challenge/low skill (e.g. watching TV) and this causes apathy and boredom. We try to put ourselves in this leisure state assuming that it will make us happier (we would rather rest and keep resting instead of working). We can choose more challenging leisure activities.

Overall, a good job = signature strengths + flow.

Good grades. Extrinsic motivation = engaging in a behavior in order to earn external rewards or avoid punishments. Intrinsic motivation = engaging in a behavior because you enjoy the activity itself.

Extrinsic motivation can undermine intrinsic motivation. [Deci 1971] When people were asked to do a puzzle in 3 visits, the ones paid during their second visit (extrinsic motivation) worked much less on it during their third visit (seconds of work during each of the visits for the group, which was paid during the second visit: 248, 314 (paid), 199, control (not paid at all) - 214, 206, 242).

A focus on grades (extrinsic) can undermine intrinsic motivation (you enjoying the subject). It can also undermine growth mindset. There is a book about growth mindset called “Mindset” by Carol Dweck. Growth mindset = the belief that intelligence can be trained and that most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work. Fixed mindset = the belief that basic qualities like intelligence and talent are fixed traits.

In the context of grades they can be compared as follows:

Fixed Growth
focus on grades learning, not outcomes
believing that good performance comes naturally takes hard work
hard work “if I have to work, then I’m not smart” good, that’s how you get better
effort bad sign good sign
deficiencies conceal and hide make the most out of them
mistakes conceal and hide capitalize on them

[Grant & Dweck 2003] Students with growth mindset have higher grades.

Fixed mindset helps when you already have good skills - “I’m smart, I just need to prove this one more time”, i.e. when you stay at already high level.

[Mangels et al 2006] Fixed mindset people focus more on feedback (whether their answer was correct), while growth mindset - on the correct answer (how this should have been done and how I can improve).

So you shouldn’t want good grades, but rather a growth mindset.

Better wantings. There is plenty of stuff you should want to become happier, but you don’t yet.

  • Opportunities to do acts of kindness. Doing acts of kindness (even small, even to random people) boosts your happiness a lot. [Dunn et al 2008] When people are given 5$ or 20$, they predict that spending the money on themselves will make them happier than as if they spent them on someone else. They also predict that spending 20$ is much better than 5$. Actually spending money on others makes you much happier and the effect of spending 5$ is the same as 20$. [Atkin et al 2008] This holds across cultures and income levels. E.g. in countries where 5$ is a lot of money, spending them on others still makes people happier. Possible explanation of why this works - our brain sees the rewards other people get as our own rewards.

  • Social connection. [Myers 2000] People with close social ties are less vulnerable to premature death, more likely to survive fatal illnesses and less likely to fall prey to stressful events. [Diener & Seligmann 2000] Happy people have more close friends, strong family ties and romantic relationships. Happy people spend more time with family, friends or their lover.

    [Epley & Schroeder 2014] Even small random connections (e.g. talking to strangers in public transport) boost happiness. People mispredict this, they choose solitude which makes them unhappy. People you talk to also feel better afterwards.

    [Boothby et al 2014] Same chocolate tastes more delicious and has richer flavor if you happen to be in the same room with someone tasting the same chocolate (you don’t see them, you just know that they are there).

    Social connection makes the life even richer.

    Interesting random quote: “Happiness is like a leaky tire - after a good movie you don’t stay happy forever.”

  • Time affluence. This is a feeling like you have enough time to do the things you actually want to do. [Whillans et al 2016] Prioritizing time over money was associated with greater happiness. [Hershfield et al 2016] However, more people (69%) value money over time. Those who value time are happier. [Mogilner 2010] People, who were primed to think about time, socialized more in a cafe.

    Prioritizing time makes you happier and more social (this helps with social connection above as well).

  • Controlling your own mind. Mind-wandering - a shift in the content of thoughts away from an ongoing task and/or from events in the external environment to self-generated thoughts and feelings.

    [Killingsworth & Gilbert 2010] Our minds wander 46.9% of the time. Why so much? Default network - a network of interacting brain regions known to activate “by default” when a person is not involved in a task. This network is very fast (activates in a fraction of a second after a task). It thinks outside here & now (past, future, other people).

    Mind-wandering is a cognitive achievement (animals don’t usually think about past or future or can’t do this at all). It affects all activities (except sex - in this case the degree is smaller) and has negative impact on happiness.

    How to stop mind-wandering? Meditation - a practice of turning your attention away from distracting thoughts toward a single point of reference (e.g. breath, bodily sensations, compassion, a specific thought). Examples of meditation

    • loving kindness (thinking about the fact that you care about someone and you want them to be happy and healthy)
    • focusing on breath
    • choiceless awareness (noticing how thoughts appear in your mind and letting them go instead of following them)

    [Brewer et al 2011] Meditation practice can curb mind-wandering (even outside of meditation). Thus, meditation can make us happier.

    [Hölzel et al 2011] Meditation (27 min/day for 8 weeks) causes increase of gray matter content in brain. [Mrazek et al 2013] Meditation (4 * 45 min during 2 weeks + 10-20 min of mindfulness exercises) boosts GRE performance. [Hutcherson et al 2008] Loving kindness meditation on some person increases your social kindness to everyone.

    Overall meditation can make you happier by shutting down mind-wandering, boosting social kindness (and as a result connections) or just performing better.

  • Exercise. [Babyak et al 2000] Exercise treats depression better than medicine (90% recovery rate for a group doing 30 min 3 times/week for 16 weeks vs 60% for anti-depressant Zoloff group). [Hillman et al 2008] Exercise improves cognitive function. There is a connection between academic achievement and physical fitness scores.

  • Sleep. Sleeping not enough (~5 hours) [Dinges et al 1997] affects your mood and increases physical and emotional complaints. Good sleep also has other benefits [Walker et al 2002, Wagner at al 2004].

How to apply?

Just knowing about all of these is not enough to put this into practice.

G.I. Joe Fallacy

Apparently there is a cartoon, which everyone in the US knows and not many outside do. The cartoon was meant to teach kids and the main hero (G.I. Joe) often said “Knowing is half the battle”. However, this is not true. Just knowing is not enough to change how you think and behave. One needs to change their habits.

How to get beyond just knowing that we should want these things?

Strategies for creating better habits:

Situation support

Situation affects us more than we think (e.g. having food around promotes eating, having someone typing on their phone makes you check your social networks). Situations can cause unhealthy behaviors.

There is a book “Slim by Design” by Brian Wansink which considers situation support in the context of losing weight.

[Painter et al 2002] Proximity of a candy jar (either on the desk or two meters away) increases candy consumption by 48%. Having a candy jar in drawer (not immediately visible) causes 25% smaller consumption. Thus, visibility and convenience in which you can engage in your habits both matter. You can do this in negative ways (keeping candies visible) or in positive ways.

[Wansink et al 2016] Having cookies, chips, cereal and soda visible on your kitchen counter increases average weight by 10 kg. Fresh fruit and vegetables - decreases by 5 kg.

You should fix bad environments (get rid of stuff that is tempting you, e.g. delete a social media app from the phone). This way you will have fewer bad cues.

You should promote healthy environments (e.g. having physical notes and reminders around you). Social context (having others doing a positive habit around you) promotes the habit and increases kindness and social connection.

Goal setting

Thinking about goals in very specific ways can help you achieve them better.

  • Goal specificity. The degree of quantitative precision with which a goal is specified (i.e. “lose weight” vs “lose 1 kg during April”, “meditate” vs “when, how frequently, how long”). Specificity seems to give you a plan how to achieve the task. [Klein et al 1990] With goal specificity people naturally develop task strategy, which boosts their performance. Specificity forces you to think how you are going to do the task.

    Thus, whatever goals you have - make them incredibly specific.

  • Goal visualization. Mental contrasting = a visualization technique involving thinking of a positive future outcome followed by thinking of obstacles.

    If you just think about positive outcome, then you don’t get closer to the goal, you just feel better. If you think only about obstacles, then you will be demotivated to do anything.

    [Stadler et al 2010] Mental contrasting had positive effect even after 24 months when taught to women trying to eat more fruits/vegetables.

    Thus, don’t just visualize the good part of the outcome, but take time to consider obstacles as well.

  • Goal planning. When you are in a particular situation, it will implicitly affect you (thinking “grab the pizza” when seeing pizza in the canteen). How to intervene even though this happens implicitly? There is a way to have an implicit plan as well. It allows you to get through situations like this automatically (without having to apply much willpower).

    Implementation intention - a self regulatory strategy in the form of an “if then” plan that can lead to better goal attainment. During preparation you can visualize “if I’m in the dining hall and I see pizza, I will turn back and grab the orange”. Our automatic system can pay attention to this “if then” plan if you put in that level of specificity. Peter Gollwitzer researches this topic in more details.

    This can also be used to remember stuff (e.g. “when I grab the door knob, think about keys”).

    [Gollwitzer and Brandstaetter 1997] For easy goals implementation helps a little bit, for hard - a lot (success rate of achieving the goal increases from 25% to 65%).

Putting all goal strategies above together. WOOP method (wish, outcome, obstacle, plan):

  1. Think about your wish (as specific as possible)
  2. The best outcome
  3. Potential obstacles
  4. Your if/then plan

There is a book “Rethinking Positive Thinking” by Oettingen about this.

Let’s consider each step in more details:

  1. Wish. What is my most important wish (for a given time-frame)? What do I want today? What do I want next week? Isolate one important wish, formulate it with 3-4 words and put it in front of your mind. At this stage you just search for the right wish.
  2. What would be the best outcome if I fulfill that wish? Search for the best outcome and formulate it in 3-4 works. Again put it in front of your mind. Then imagine the best outcome - just let your mind go. This is not a search anymore, but imagining and experiencing. Take at most 1 minute to really feel the outcome.
  3. Instead of dreaming about the outcome all the time, you now switch gears. What is my main [inner] obstacle? What is it in me? This can be emotion, irrational belief, bad habit, something someone had said. Formulate it with 3-4 words and put it in from of your mind. Now imagine the obstacle and experience it.
  4. What could I do to overcome that obstacle? Formulate this in 3-4 words and put in front of your mind. Make a simple if-then plan. If , .

Note that WOOP can be used to overcome inner obstacles and to understand yourself better. The example above is about understanding yourself.

This takes more mental effort than just indulging in fantasies. However, this mental effort triggers your unconscious which does a lot of work for you.

You can also use WOOP to find out whether something is feasible or even to let go less feasible wishes.

This exercise links the obstacle to the wish together with instruments to overcome the obstacle. It also changes the meaning of the reality - you now recognize that there is an obstacle. This allows you later to do automatically what you want to do. Recognizing the obstacle is the most important part.

Do WOOP at the same place and time to establish a ritual. You don’t need to it perfectly. WOOP changes with life, because positive fantasies come from our needs (deficiencies) and they change with time.

Important: don’t switch o’s. Once you think about obstacle first, it won’t work anymore, because you can discover the real obstacle only in the framework of the outcome.