Mapping out better habits

Mapping out better habits

Research by Oettingen (European Review of Social Psychology, 2012) suggests that if we’re working on building good money habits, we might benefit from the “WOOP” exercise.

Although it sounds like a fancy new dance step, it’s really just a quick mental strategy that helps you to predict what problems might get in your way and to map out your alternate routes. Here are the four components of the exercise along with an example:

W = Wish: What is the healthy new behavior that you’d like to achieve? [I’d like to put 10% of my paycheck in my savings account.]

O = Outcome: What are the good things that will happen once you’ve built this habit? For instance, in what ways will you feel better about your situation and about yourself? [I will have more peace of mind because my rainy day fund will be larger. I will feel more responsible and more confident about my ability to exercise discipline.]

O = Obstacle: What are the barriers that might get in your way as you work toward this new, healthy habit? [One barrier is that I might excuse myself from saving that much if an unexpected expense (like a car repair) comes up that month.]

P = Plan: What are the specific behaviors you plan to perform in the specific future situation when the obstacles arise? [If I find myself with unexpected expenses, I will cut back on my food and entertainment budget that month so that I can still contribute 10% of my paycheck to my savings account.]

Studies show that these specific WOOP plans (also known as coping plans or relapse prevention plans) are much more likely to lead to successful habit change than vague goals, visualizing our success, or “thinking positively.”

How do you think a WOOP plan might help you?

For additional thoughts about change processes, consider checking out this week’s blog post at