December 15, 2016 / Esther Choy
Fifteen years ago, I enrolled myself in a creative writing class at Columbia College Chicago to meet my storytelling goals. At the end of the semester, the professor took the class to visit a local author so we could hear how a pro stayed committed to writing and made a comfortable living doing it. One thing that author said sticks with me even now: “I’ve met hundreds, maybe thousands, of people who said they’d like to become authors. Very, very few of them actually end up writing anything.”
I could’ve been one of those thousands of people who aspire to be a writer, yet end up having written nothing. But I have always wanted to write, ever since I was a little child. Well. Life happens. I got interested in other things: ballet, sports, music, and later on, boys. Then, of course, those “mean and discouraging” teachers who told me that my writing was no good didn’t help.
And then, before I knew it, I became an adult and have a family and a business to run. While I have accumulated a lot of (mostly useless) earthly possessions, I found myself with very little time to do the one thing that remained on my bucket list. To get published as a writer.
Well, I’m happy to report that I am about to become a published author in 2017! My book, Let the Story Do the Work, will be available for pre-ordering in February 2017.
Getting to this point has literally taken decades. How did I finally get here? Writing— like a lot of other bucket list items such as getting an advanced degree, starting your own business, or losing weight— is on a lot of people’s minds. They’d love to cross a big item off that bucket list. But, well. Life happens.
A lot of paths can lead us from the point where we merely want to accomplish a goal to the point where we have actually accomplished this goal. But not all paths are equally efficient. I have tried quite a few tools over the years. None has worked as well as WOOP, an educational attainment tool developed by Dr. Gabriele Oettingen and Dr. Peter Gollwitzer.
WOOP stands for:
- Wish – an aspiration and a tantalizing goal you’d like to achieve
- Outcome – what it will be like to accomplish this goal
- Obstacles – what will prevent you from reaching your goal
- Plan – what you can do to overcome each obstacle
This research-based approach is not limited to academic achievement. And it’s full of delightful surprises. The most standout one for me is this. Did you know that imaging what it is like to have already crossed an item off your bucket list can actually suck the motivational energy needed to achieve your goal?
That’s why author Joel Saltzman’s insight, “Nobody likes to write. But everyone loves to have written” proves to be so piercingly correct—we prefer to imagine we’ve written rather than sitting down to write.
This past summer, my very supportive husband agreed to take our kids to stay with his parents – by himself. This generous offer gave me an opportunity to be completely alone for nearly a month so I’d meet my book manuscript deadline. I vowed not to squander it. But 2016 has also been an extremely busy year for my business, and, knowing how easily I can become distracted, I decided to give WOOP a try.
Here’s a reproduction of my WOOP Plan for that period.
Meeting My Storytelling Goals: Getting the Book WOOP’ing Done
Wish: Get a big chunk of the book manuscript done so I can enjoy the remainder of the summer with my kids.
Outcome: Complete three chapters in three weeks and get them to final stage of submission without needing any significant editing.
- I may miss my family so much that I’ll get depressed and get little accomplished.
- I may enjoy my newfound freedom so much that I’ll start hanging out with friends and get little accomplished.
- I may get distracted by business development to-dos, updating my marketing materials, cleaning my office, and spending a lot of time on ‘research’ that will lead to getting little accomplished.
- Missing my family: Skype with them daily, allow generous time to look at my kids’ pictures and work on their memory books.
- Abusing newfound freedom: Allow only one outing per week with friends. Once I set up this appointment, I am not allowed to set any more social engagements.
- Combating distractions:
- Promise my husband that I will send him a daily update on what and how much I have written. Even if I get little to nothing written, I would have to tell him, “I wrote nothing today.” The pain of imagining having to write this line proved to be very motivating.
- Schedule daily “butt in seat” time (6 hours a day minimum, seven days a week, every single week my family was gone). This was where the magic happened. There were days when I wrote very little despite having sat down for six hours. But most days when I sat down – even when I felt like I couldn’t think of anything to write – ideas and thoughts poured out. Had I not sat myself down, I wouldn’t have come up with these three chapters that I set out to accomplish.
- Schedule daily exercise to improve mental focus. And yes, you guessed it— even when I don’t feel like exercising.
With my book now in post-production, I have another bucket list item for 2017. I’ve always wanted to start a video blog. For personal satisfaction and professional reasons, having a well-made and helpful video blog would be a great addition to my portfolio. There is only one problem… I can’t stand watching myself, and I like listening to my own voice even less! You might as well make me listen to nails scratching across a blackboard. But with the WOOP method being so helpful in the past, I’m giving it another try. Here’s what WOOP could look like for this new goal that has no market demand, no enforceable deadline and is completely up to me to make it happen.
Wish – Publish a video blog on business storytelling once a month
Outcome – Feel amazed by the fact that I can overcome a lifelong phobia of watching and listening to myself. And, create a YouTube channel filled with bite-size, funny and helpful video blogs on how to tell better stories.
1. Because I literally feel pain in my lower abdomen when I watch myself, I know I will come up with all sorts of excuses not to work on the blog.
2. Managing my perfectionist tendency. “It’s not perfect so I might as well not do it.”
3. Technical difficulties with transferring, storing and uploading video files.
- Pain. Practice by recording daily video and sending it to my husband, who doesn’t judge me nearly as harshly as I judge myself. In fact, he quite enjoys watching videos of me rambling. Since I’m not saying anything important or even coherent, all I will have to do is press a button and say something… anything. Once I get used to recording myself, then I will begin to record weekly video for my closest colleague and good friend, Reena, on a business topic I will have to discuss with her. Reena is also a generous and compassionate soul so I won’t have to worry about how I sound and look. The goal of this practice is to force me to get so used to watching and listening to myself that I become desensitized. One day, I hope I might actually enjoy watching myself. It’s a stretch goal, but it might happen one day.
- Perfectionist tendency. I have made a promise to my colleagues that I will start a video blog. Knowing how much I detest breaking my own promises, I know there is no going back. I will still come up with excuse after excuse. I will still see endless imperfection in my videos. Eventually, however, the guilt of not fulfilling my promise will surpass any other needs for flawless execution.
- Technical difficulties. I rarely allow myself to roam around on YouTube. (I waste enough time everyday on Facebook already). But I will give myself a daily allowance to watch any technical video related to creating written, video and even radio blog. Why such broad range? Because having fun while trying to accomplish something serious (even if it means being a bit inefficient) helps the persistent effort.
A long time ago, I heard a radio interview with a prolific author who compared writing a book with painting a room. Initially, she felt overwhelmed by the prospect of having to paint an entire room. So, she started painting the doorknob of her closet door, which was easy. Then, once she finished that, she asked herself, why not keep going? So she did. She started painting her closet door, which was a bit more difficult than painting the doorknob but not impossible. And once she was done with her closet door, she asked herself, why not keep going again? Then, she started painting one wall, and then another, and so on. Before she knew it, she painted the whole room!
Crossing an item off your bucket list can be just like that. You start small but focused. You use a methodical approach, and before you know it, you get to cross it off! Have you crossed out any bucket list items this year? If not, why not give WOOP a try?
Speaking of my bucket list, my new book, Let the Story Do the Work (published by AMACOM BOOKS) will be available for pre-ordering in February 2017. Want more coaching on how to achieve your leadership goals or tell your story? We’d love to help you share it! Schedule a complimentary consultation today. For more tips and insights on storytelling, sign up for our monthly guide.
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