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Podcast: Benefits of Using the WOOP Tool

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Podcast with Dr. Bethanie L. HansenFaculty Director, School of Arts and Humanities

Do you want to improve your time management or adopt a new habit? In this episode, Dr. Bethanie Hansen shares the WOOP tool to help you change behaviors, create new healthy habits, and take a fresh approach to online teaching or online learning. Listen to hear the four steps that were developed using neuroscience and motivation theory to help you become more focused, more productive, and more successful in your online teaching and learning goals.

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Read the Transcript:

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: This podcast is for educators, academics and parents who know that online teaching can be challenging, but it can also be rewarding, engaging, and fun. Welcome to the Online Teaching Lounge. I’m your host, Dr. Bethanie Hansen. And I’ll be your guide for online teaching tips, topics and strategies. Walk with me into the Online Teaching Lounge.

Teaching online and learning online can happen anytime, anywhere. For this reason, it may be challenging to set boundaries, to manage time, to prioritize the tasks to be done, and to manage everything else in life.

Perhaps there are aspects of your online work that you have tried to change, but you find that you keep returning to less effective strategies. In today’s podcast, I’ll give you a new tool to help you with time management. It will also help you focus on what you would like to accomplish in your online teaching or, if you’re an online learner, in your online schooling.

You can also use it to change habits and behaviors, so it can easily be applied to other areas of your life. This tool will help whether your task is big or small, you might be teaching one class or have to write one assignment, or you might be teaching five classes and need to grade 120 essays. Either way, this tool is based on neuroscience, motivation theory, and it will give you more of what you want and help you spend your time wisely.

If you need to get through circumstances you cannot control like having to self-quarantine or having children at home when they would normally be at school and other unexpected challenges you are facing, this tool will help.

What Challenges Are Keeping You from Being Productive and/or Effective?

Before I share it, think about three things that keep you from being focused in your online learning or teaching right now. And if focus is not really your concern, think about three things that keep you from being successful or effective as you would like to be, in your online learning or teaching right now.

I asked this question to faculty, students, and academic leaders a few months after the pandemic erupted and significantly impacted the way people lived and worked. And I’d like to share some of their answers with you.

  • First, we have the relationships in the home environment. Kids, having children at home, homeschooling children, children wanting to be in the office space, wanting to play. A husband, wife, or partner wanting to talk while they are home. Other family issues, dogs, cats, or other pets, maybe the dog needs to go out, go for a walk or something like that.
  • Next, we have health areas. They could be health issues, allergies, fatigue, or getting sick.
  • And then of course we have the environment we work with. TV might be on. Distractions. Being easily distracted, maybe our own ability to concentrate or our own stress levels.
  • Perhaps it’s just the unknown, feeling anxious or worrying.
  • The internet speed and connectivity, the office setup, or lack of an office space.
  • And, lastly, we have areas of productivity, expectations and work-related tasks. These could be texting, constant email interruptions, maybe you hate grading papers, multitasking, difficulty finishing one project before starting other commitments, taking on too much, not enough time to complete these tasks and personal commitments, or maybe you find it difficult to say “no.”

Many of these challenges are really just a normal part of working from home and teaching and learning online, or even normal parts of life. They can become even more significant when other circumstances have changed, like family members being present when they normally might be at school or work. When there is more going on like political unrest and pandemic concerns.

And some of these challenges really are unique to the conditions faced during the pandemic. As you think about these challenges, consider the experiences you have when you face these challenges. What is the impact on you?

You might have less sleep or irregular sleep. Your energy could be impacted. If you typically exercise and are more active, you can’t always do that now or you don’t feel like getting started. Your enthusiasm is reduced. You may have begun your approach enjoying and wanting to teach online and as these things have continued to impact you, you’re “want to” moved down to the “should” level and then should may have become “need to” and that became even less compelling when it became “have to.”

Anything we approach with the belief that we should do it, we need to do it, or we have to do it is beyond our control it seems. It’s as if there’s this demand placed on us from outside us that now controls our time and our mental space as well.

Whenever we perceive something this way, another impact is that we find it difficult to find solutions or even find our focus and we lose our creativity. Long-term, these impacts on our health and wellbeing are very significant. And the challenges of managing these things that impact our online learning or online teaching also impact our relationships, our sense of purpose in the work, and our life satisfaction. We can see that changing things might help. We’ll bring these ideas back later in the podcast when I share the tool with you.

How the WOOP Tool May Help

The good news is that I’m sharing a tool with you today that can help you turn things around; this tool is called WOOP, or W-O-O-P. It’s a simple tool I discovered recently that I think you’ll find simple and powerful. Well, what is WOOP?

First, I’ll tell you what WOOP is. It’s a tool that uses two different types of strategies. These are mental contrasting and implementation intentions. The tool helps change behaviors and achieve goals. It’s based on neuroscience and theories of motivation and goal attainment.

If you get really excited about this tool and want to dig deeper into these areas, I suggest reading the book, “Rethinking Positive Thinking” by Gabriele Oettingen. Each letter of the strategy stands for one step and the steps are “Wish, Outcome, Obstacle, and Plan.” Now I’m going to break these down for you to walk you through the WOOP process.

Step One: Wish

What are you trying to accomplish? In this step you’re going to state your goal. It should be something challenging, but realistic. If you include aspects that seem compelling to you, this will make it even better. But choosing something out of reach and unrealistic when you use this tool will actually make the process more difficult and completely unmotivating.

The timeline of your goal does not really matter, it could be goal that you want to achieve today, tomorrow, next year or five years from now. For the topic we are addressing today in this podcast, I suggest choosing a specific goal in your online teaching and learning. It could be a teaching task, another aspect of working online, your self-care or family areas.

Here are a few examples from online professionals that have shared their goals with me:

  • staying focused during work time or completing work in a timely manner
  • delegating to others more effectively or providing clearer guidance to people who are waiting for my step on a project
  • writing or updating an online course
  • seeing a project through to completion
  • completing grading, getting grading done on time, grading more efficiently, or establishing a consistent schedule in relation to student grading
  • checking some smaller tasks off the to-do list that have piled up
  • writing for publication or planning scholarly activities
  • reading more academic articles instead of watching TV
  • prioritizing various work activities and priorities
  • working on school studies more regularly or working in your online teaching more regularly
  • making self-care a priority
  • reducing stress
  • taking time for exercise in the morning, and
  • setting boundaries with family members when it’s time for online work

Think about what you would like to accomplish. Is it something you would like to change or improve? Is it a habit you would like to begin? After hearing the many examples I’ve shared with you, you can see that something big or small would work and it can be short-term or long-term. Just take a moment to choose one goal that you’re trying to accomplish for this first step and write it down.

Step Two: The Outcome

What is the best possible outcome that would result from accomplishing your goal? Yes, you might consider the immediate outcome, like the fact that your grading would be done, or you would finish the project.

And let’s take that outcome even further. What’s it going to do for you? For example, here are three example outcome statements I really like, maybe four.

  • “I have more energy and feel better about myself.”
  • “I am relieved and feel proud of myself.”
  • “It gives me sense of accomplishment and pride and I’m happy that I’m using my time wisely.”
  • “I have a positive feeling that I’m taking care of my students.”

As you consider the best possible outcome that would result from accomplishing your goal, write this in the present tense as if it’s already happening. This step is going to give your brain some visualization to begin anticipating what you will feel or experience.

You already know that accomplishing this goal is going to be important to you and it’s going to help you. The outcome takes it to the next level by helping you give it even more purpose and meaning. Take a moment to craft your outcome for this second step and write it down.

Step Three: The Obstacle

What are the obstacles that prevent you from achieving your goal? What’s standing in the way between you and your goal? Earlier I asked what three things were keeping you from focusing or being as successful as you would like to be in your online teaching and learning and then I shared many ideas other online professionals have mentioned about their work.

Now we can take those things and turn them into a more detailed idea. Here are some examples:

  • “I don’t feel motivated or excited to exercise in the morning.”
  • “I procrastinate and get distracted by Facebook or other social media.”
  • “I’m tired when I get home from work and just don’t feel like reading.”

As you think about your obstacles to reaching the goal, just list one specific thing that is tangible, as an obstacle that comes up for you. As in the previous step, visualizing the obstacle is going to give your brain that connection to what you’re thinking about, and it will anchor your thinking in the process. The obstacle will come up again for you in the future and it’s important as part of this process to write it down. So take a moment to identify one specific obstacle you are personally facing related to your goal and write it down.

Step Four: The Plan

What are you action would help you when this obstacle shows up? The plan will be one sentence, structured like an “if–then” statement or a “when–then” statement. You will be able to create this plan and visualize it your mind. The sentence starts with: “When ____ (that would be the obstacle), then I will ____ (and that’s the action to overcome the obstacle).”

An example might be that “When I wake up, then I will see my exercise clothes and shoes I’ve set out the night before, put them on and exercise anyway. Even if I’m tired and don’t feel like exercising.”

This of course is my own example, my own scenario. I learned that I never feel like exercising in the morning, but I really want to. It takes time to get out the clothes and put them on or set up what I’m going to do. Because of that I actually started planning ahead the night before, and I put my exercise clothes and the shoes on the bathroom counter so I see them when I first get up and go into the bathroom.

I don’t have to make any decisions. I don’t have to look through my closet for exercise clothes. That resistance is totally eliminated. I also set out my exercise equipment, like my hand weights, my workout video DVD, my headphones, or any other items where I go to do the exercise. Again, this reduces decision-making and the time it takes to get ready, and it makes the habit a lot more obvious for me. Having everything set out the night before helps me overcome the feeling of not wanting to exercise because things are just ready to go and it’s a lot simpler getting started.

We know that the best way to establish a new habit is to imagine the obstacle and then do the action to reduce the obstacle and make the habit more obvious and easy to do. In the WOOP tool that we’re using today, the idea is that we visualize the obstacle, and we anticipate it being there. And we condition ourselves to respond to that obstacle with the behavior or activity we want to do instead.

Here are a few examples:

  • “When I get up in the morning then I will immediately put on my exercise shoes and go for a run, even if I don’t feel like it.”
  • “If I get distracted from my work, then I will block all distracting websites with Focus Assist, and get back to work.”
  • “When I get home from work, then I will immediately log into my Brightspace classroom and start reading.”

Take a moment to design your “if–then” plan, or your “when–then” plan and write it down. As you create the sentence, visualizing it and imagining it happening is going to help you prepare to activate your plan.

WOOP Can Help You Overcome Obstacles, Adopt New Habits

Now using WOOP can really help; it can help you create new habits, change behaviors, and take a fresh approach to your online teaching and learning. You’ll find that you can use this tool to overcome any obstacle to creating a big project or completing a big project. It can help you master a difficult situation.

You can also use it to handle time management, set up self-care routines, and confidently adopt new priorities.

The mental contrasting strategy includes taking your current situation, visualizing what it could look like as an ideal state, and visualizing obstacles that you will encounter.

While you might have created goals and plans in the past, the key here is to identify and anticipate those obstacles. This makes the difference in pushing through them.

In implementation intentions, these are the triggers that you set up for the “if then” and the “when then” relationships to create new actions you’re going to take.

The tool is simple but powerful. It really does help you target one area of your online teaching work or your life and make a change. You can complement this strategy with additional ideas like using checklists, taking a planned break, reflecting at the end of the week to acknowledge your progress, and then adjusting your plan for the coming week.

Thank you for being with me today to explore this tool and consider trying something new. Remember that if you write things down and reflect on how they’re working for you, it makes the process clearer and helps you think about your thinking, as well.

Writing your steps to this plan and writing your reflection on how it worked for you, these are great places to start. Best wishes to you this coming week in your online teaching and in trying out the WOOP strategy.

This is Dr. Bethanie Hansen your host for the Online Teaching Lounge podcast. To share comments and requests for future episodes. Please visit BethanieHansen.com/request. Best wishes this coming week and your online teaching journey.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen is a Faculty Director and Certified Professional Coach for the School of Arts & Humanities. She holds a B.M. in Music Education from Brigham Young University, a M.S. in Arts & Letters from Southern Oregon University and a DMA in Music Education from Boston University. She is an educator, coach, manager, writer, presenter and musician with 25 years of experience helping others achieve their goals.

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