The Best-Laid Plans

Making your resolutions a reality.

January 13, 2019

My guess is that you, like most American adults, have at least one New Year’s resolution.

But resolving to change, however fervently you wish to do so, is no guarantee that you’ll actually follow through.

Why not?

One reason is that most goals cannot be accomplished all at once and on the spot. You need a way to bridge your current intentions with your future actions. And contrary to popular belief, you don’t need more willpower; you need a strategy.

Decades of research on how children and adults turn intentions into actions have culminated in a four-step process called WOOP—an acronym that stands for Wish, Outcome, Obstacle, Plan.

Let me walk you through WOOP using my New Year’s resolution as an example.

Wish: Exercise five times per week.

This goal is challenging yet feasible. I’m reliably exercising on Saturdays and Sundays, but only twice (at most) on weekdays.

Outcome: Get a great night’s sleep more consistently.

I sleep better on days when I’ve worked out.

Obstacle: My mornings are busy. And I hate working out in the evening.

Most weekdays, I make breakfast and then, when my girls leave for school, I have scheduled phone calls and meetings for work.

Plan: When it’s 8am on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays, I’ll head to the gym.

The final step in WOOP can take the longest. I started with the idea that I’d wake up at 5am to exercise. Then I realized this schedule conflicted with my goal of getting more sleep! Ultimately, I decided to move my work commitments to start at 9am three days a week.

Don’t assume that self-control means relying on old-fashioned willpower.

Do WOOP your New Year’s resolutions! Ask yourself, “What holds me back?” And then think of a strategy. In the words of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry: A goal without a plan is just a wish. 

With grit and gratitude,


Next week: How to know if your plan is working


About the author

Angela Duckworth is a co-founder of Character Lab, a professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, and the author of Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance.