How to set goals when you are burned out

My friend Lou is the most positive and upbeat person that I know. We met in college, and my life is better for having her in it. I hope everyone has a Lou in their life.


Yesterday, I had a short conversation with Lou as she was driving to an appointment. Lou is feeling very stressed and unmotivated right now. I think Lou is burned out.


For me, Lou being burned out is a “canary in the coal mine” sign of an impending apocalypse.


“I suddenly find myself needing to know the plural of apocalypse.” ~Riley Finn, Buffy the Vampire Slayer


As validating as it is to have Lou join my party of burned-out professionals, it is also my mission to help us all move forward.


To that end, I give you WOOP. Yes, WOOP.


As non-scientific as the name sounds, WOOP is a research-based methodology to help us improve our lives through visualization and goal setting. In scholarly journals, you will see WOOP (more boringly) called Mental Contrasting with Implementation Intentions (MCII). Dr. Gabriele Oettingen of NYU is the psychologist behind MCII/WOOP.


So, move past the mental images of whooping people and/or coughs and read on.


WOOP involves answering these four questions:

  1. What is your wish?
  2. What is the best outcome?
  3. What is your main inner obstacle?
  4. What is your if-then plan?


On Dr. Oettingen’s website,, there is a lovely, gentle explanation of how to do your first WOOP. You don’t have to provide any personal information to use the step-by-step guide. <<sigh of relief>>


I went to the website and WOOPed this morning. Don’t worry, nothing came out of any orifice.


It was enjoyable. I took deep breaths, did my visualizations, filled in the blanks, and downloaded the text file of my WOOP.


This is a huge step for me. I have been struggling with setting goals all year. And goal setting is something I have always loved doing!


If motivation is a long-lost friend right now, try WOOP.




Invite the Quad City DJ’s to your burn out party.



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Dr. Melissa GratiasMelissa Gratias (pronounced “Gracious”) used to think that productivity was a result of working long hours. And, she worked a lot of hours. Then, she learned that productivity is a skill set, not a personality trait. Now, Melissa is a productivity expert who coaches and trains other businesspeople to be more focused, balanced, and effective. She is a prolific writer and speaker who travels the world helping people change how they work and improve how they live. Contact her at or 912-417-2505. Sign up to receive her productivity tips via email.


  1. Seana Turner

    I love this WOOP acronym. I think it is interesting how you specify an “inner” obstacle, as opposed to an external one. This emphasizes that there is always something we can do if we want to.

    That’s a great son to run to:)

  2. Janet Schiesl

    I never heard of WOOP. Very interesting. I find accountability is very helpful for me to get out of a slump. I was my admin assistant to keep me accountable and I appreciate her honesty when she pushes me to get something moving forward.

  3. Phaedra Studt

    What a cool way to get grounded in moments of extreme anxiety. I think a lot of us can benefit from taking a step back and reflecting on what we really want/ need to happen instead of just responding to one crisis after another.

    Also, I’m totally rocking out to C’mon Ride It (The Train). ?

  4. Deb Lee

    WOOP is new to me but I already like it. The questions are a great way to get unstuck and take action so you can move forward. Taking action can be one of the hardest things to do when you’re feeling overwhelmed. The WOOP seems that it can help you work through those feelings step-by-step. Thanks for sharing.

    (And a big shout-out to Dr. Oettingen from my alma mater!)

  5. Julie Bestry

    I had learned about the WOOP from the Yale class on happiness that I took early in the pandemic, but because the COVID-era dissipated any desire I had to really make goals, plans, or think about life beyond lunchtime, WOOP floated out of my head. I am SOOOOO glad you’ve brought it back in front of my brain, because there is ALWAYS an inner obstacle. (If it’s an outer obstacle, I seek help combating it. It’s the inner obstacle that keeps me from seeking help on the out ones.) Keep reminding me to WOOP; I’ll be momentarily distracted, dancing around my house, shaking my hips Shakaira-style and riding the train.


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