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Mental Contrasting: A Powerful Tool for Conflict Resolution and Goal Achievement

The Educational Coach

19 Oct 2023

We explore a valuable tool that can help you effectively deal with and overcome challenging behaviour in the workplace.

Conflict is an inevitable part of life. Whether it's differences of opinion at work, logistical disagreements in your daily routine, or interpersonal incompatibility, conflict can take many forms. This blog explores a valuable tool that can help you effectively deal with and overcome conflicts both within and outside of yourself.

Understanding the Three Main Forms of Conflict

The NHS states conflict manifests in three primary ways:

1. Task Conflict: This type of conflict involves differences of opinion, viewpoints, and ideas. Task conflicts can be beneficial as they encourage diverse discussions and help make well-informed decisions.

2. Process Conflict: Process conflicts revolve around disagreements on how to achieve a particular outcome or change. For instance, it can be about who should take on specific responsibilities or who delegates tasks to whom.

3. Relationship Conflict: This is perhaps the most damaging form of conflict, stemming from perceived interpersonal incompatibility. It may be related to personal values, morals, or personality traits, and it can have a destructive impact on relationships.

Now, let's delve into a powerful psychological technique that can help you tackle conflicts and reach your goals effectively.

Mental Contrasting: A Game-Changer

Mental contrasting is a visualization technique developed by Gabriele Oettingen, a renowned motivation psychologist. She aimed to enhance the effectiveness of traditional self-control strategies like positive-future visualization. This approach helps individuals not only identify their true desires but also commit to and actively pursue their most important wishes, all while constructively dealing with potential setbacks (Oettingen & Reininger, 2016).

Mental contrasting is often referred to as WOOP, which stands for:

- Wish (W): Identifying and making a wish or goal.

- Outcome (O): Envisioning and elaborating on the outcomes of achieving that wish.

- Obstacles (O): Identifying potential obstacles that might hinder goal attainment.

- Plan (P): Developing a plan to overcome those obstacles.

To use WOOP, individuals must engage in 4 distinct sequential steps: 

  • 1. Set Your Goal (Wish): Begin by selecting a specific goal or aspiration that holds personal significance. This is the starting point of your journey.

  • 2. Envision Your Ideal Outcome (Outcome): Imagine the best possible result of achieving your chosen goal. This step encourages you to vividly picture the sense of accomplishment and satisfaction you would feel.

  • 3. Identify the Crucial Obstacle (Obstacle): Take a moment for introspection to recognise the primary internal obstacle that might hinder your progress toward your goal.

  • 4. Craft an Action Plan (Plan): In this pivotal stage, not only identify the obstacle but also formulate a practical action plan. Express this plan as "if [obstacle], then I will [action]." This is your proactive strategy for overcoming any challenges that may arise.

(Saddawi-Konefka et al., 2017)

How to Implement WOOP in Your Life

If you're interested in implementing the WOOP strategy in your life, you can learn more about it here.

 The Proven Success of Mental Contrasting and WOOP

Research has shown the remarkable impact of mental contrasting and WOOP in various aspects of life:

Improving Academic Performance: Studies by Golwitzer et al. (2011) and Duckworth et al. (2011) have demonstrated how mental contrasting can enhance academic performance.

Enhancing Health: Mental contrasting has prompted healthier behaviors, including increased exercise, reduced consumption of unhealthy snacks, and a higher intake of fruits (Adriaanse et al., 2010; Kappes, Singmann & Oettingen, 2012; Johnson, Oettingen & Mayer, 2012).

Encouraging Help-Seeking and Help-Giving Behavior: Research by Oettingen et al. (2010) found that mental contrasting increased both the likelihood of seeking help and offering assistance to others.

As new challenges arise, consider incorporating mental contrasting and WOOP into your conflict resolution toolkit. This technique not only helps you deal with conflicts more effectively but also empowers you to set and achieve your personal and professional goals. It's a powerful psychological approach that can lead to positive change in various areas of your life.


NHS-England. (n.d.). Managing Conflict  

Saddawi-Konefka, D., Baker, K., Guarino, A., Burns, S. M., Oettingen, G., Gollwitzer, P. M., & Charnin, J. E. (2017). Changing resident physician studying behaviors: A randomized, comparative effectiveness trial of goal setting versus use of WOOP. Journal of graduate medical education, 9(4), 451-457.

Duckworth, A. L., Grant, H., Loew, B., Oettingen, G. & Gollwitzer, P. M. (2011). Self-regulation strategies improve self-discipline in adolescents: Benefits of mental contrasting and implementation intentions. Educational Psychology: An International Journal of Experimental Educational Psychology, 31(1), 17-26.

Gollwitzer, A., Oettingen, G., Kirby, T. & Duckworth, A. L. (2011). Mental contrasting facilitates academic performance in school children. Motivation and Emotion, 35, 403-412.

Oettingen, G., Stephens, E. J., Mayer, D., & Brinkmann, B. (2010). Mental contrasting and the self-regulation of helping relations. Social Cognition, 28(4), 490-508.

 Oettingen, G., Mayer, D., & Thorpe, J. (2010). Self-regulation of commitment to reduce cigarette consumption: Mental contrasting of future with reality. Psychology and Health, 25(8), 961-977

Adriaanse, M. A., Oettingen, G., Gollwitzer, P. M., Hennes, E. P., de Ridder, D. T., & De Wit, J. B. (2010). When planning is not enough: Fighting unhealthy snacking habits by mental contrasting with implementation intentions (MCII). European Journal of Social Psychology, 40(7), 1277-1293

Kappes, A., Singmann, H., & Oettingen, G. (2012). Mental contrasting instigates goal pursuit by linking obstacles of reality with instrumental behavior. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 48(4), 811-818.

Johannessen, K. B., Oettingen, G., & Mayer, D. (2012). Mental contrasting of a dieting wish improves self-reported health behavior. Psychology & Health, 27 (sup2), 43-58.

Oettingen, G., & Reininger, K. M. (2016). The power of prospection: Mental contrasting and behavior change. Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 10(11), 591-604.

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