Science of Character Development Initiative to Help Students Achieve Goals

Founder, CEO & Chief Data Wizard at Schoolrunner

Just imagining a positive outcome makes it less likely you’ll achieve that goal. Why? Because when we imagine exercising, our brains actually get to experience some of the satisfaction we’d get if we actually did work out. Since we’ve already experienced some of that joy, it means there’s less incentive left over to actually do the hard work.

This seems so counter-intuitive that many people will instinctively disagree. But the studies show that it’s true!

So what can we do about this and how does this apply to schools? Well, the folks over at the Character Lab (including the godmother of grit, Angela Duckworth) are using Gabriele Oettingen’s framework called WOOP.

WOOP stands for: Wish, Outcome, Obstacle, Plan. Here’s how it works:

  1. Start with your wish.
  2. Identify the best possible outcome.
  3. Imagine what the critical obstacle (that you can control) will be.
  4. Make an action plan for how you will overcome that obstacle when it arises.

What’s even more exciting about this Character Lab work is that the folks there are starting to create resources to bring this work into schools. One of the complaints I’ve heard most frequently about character education is “we don’t know how to teach it” or “we don’t know how to measure it.”

The beauty of this new work is we can see it in action, with student ownership of their own concrete goals and plans. It takes a nebulous idea and makes it something discrete, actionable, and measurable. And with these resources it becomes something that teachers can start implementing easily in their classrooms.

What I love about WOOP is that it’s so action oriented and transparent. If you want to learn more about WOOP, check out Character Lab’s excellent short video or this episode of Hidden Brain with Gabriele Oettingen.

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