This is the second of 2 articles on the topic of “promoting lasting change.”
Click here for part 1.

Besides learning about how to make goals SMART, young people in Citywise learn about SGOOP, an interesting strategy that has been found to be most helpful in achieving our goals. This is a helpful tool that can help everyone achieve their goals.

Learn about SGOOP: consider obstacles in your way and create plans to overcome them!

In order to achieve our goals, we need to be both excited about what they will lead to, and aware of the obstacles that may stand in our way. This way, we will be motivated to persevere, and ready to tackle challenges that may rise up. 

Here is the step-by-step guide to SGOOP:

  1. Formulate a Smart Goal
  2. Imagine the Outcome of that wish – how would achieving it make you feel?

This is helpful, because planning is related to visualisation. We think in mental images and movies. Picturing the future can help create emotions, motivate us, and lead to better results.

  1. Consider the Obstacles in your way – focus on things that you can control

Difficulties will always arise, and simply imagining the ideal future will not be enough for most goals. Consider all the obstacles, such as ‘I often get distracted’ – which may prevent you from achieving your goal.

  1. Formulate a Plan to overcome these obstacles.

The best thing we can do is prepare to face our obstacles. Set out specific plans for what to do when the problems or obstacles will occur (e.g. “I get distracted by the TV, so I will only turn it on after I finish my homework”).


Why does this work?

Research by Gabriele Oettingen has found that this strategy, called Mental Contrasting (they also call it the Wish-Outcome-Obstacle-Plan, or WOOP strategy, which we have adapted to our name, SGOOP) to be the most efficient way of fulfilling goals. Engaging in this strategy improves children’s effort, attendance, homework completion, and school results, reduces stress, improves time management, and promotes physical health.

This strategy balances out two tendencies that some may have. One, the optimist with their head in the clouds, indulging in and visualising an ideal future in which our goals are fulfilled, but not realistically able to take the steps to get there, or two the pessimist, dwelling on everything that is in the way of this ideal future. These are both unhelpful strategies for goal setting. On the other hand, mental contrasting is a useful strategy that includes thinking about both of these together.

This is the best way of creating the habits that can lead to character growth, and is a useful strategy to keep in mind when thinking of goals and resolutions.

So, what will your SGOOP be? What specific, action-based goal, realistically linked to who you are and who you hope to be, will you set yourself? What obstacles might stand in your way and what plan will you make to overcome them and achieve your goal?

For more information on mental contrasting, see this resource by Character Lab

For more details on research around the mental contrasting strategy, see: Oettingen, G., & Cachia, J. Y. (2016). The problems with positive thinking and how to overcome them. In K. D. Vohs & R. F. Baumeister (Eds.), Handbook of self-regulation: research, theory, and applications (3rd ed., pp. 547-570). New York: Guilford.