Goal setting with NLP

Very few of us are living the life we want. There is always something else that would be nice to have, or something else that we want to be doing. We seem to be programmed to seek more, and often convince ourselves that we can’t be truly happy unless we get it.

‘Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?’

‘That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,’ said the cat.

‘I don’t much care where...’ said Alice.

‘Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,’ said the cat.

Alice in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll

As with anything we seek, we need to be specific in order to stand some chance of actually getting it. As well as being specific, there are some other conditions (NLP calls these the ‘well-formedness’ conditions) that, if met, will make the achievement of a goal much more likely. When these are satisfied, you have a well-formed goal.

Many people are familiar with the acronym SMART as a way of testing if a goal is well formed. The NLP approach adds a bit more to this.

What follows is the basic NLP approach to setting goals, as there is already a full topic on Goal Setting in this resource.

The NLP approach

One of the core principles of NLP is to be clear on your outcome. Everything starts from knowing what you want; otherwise it is like the Alice in Wonderland quote above.

Once you know your outcome, and you are sure it is aligned with who you are, you need to be aware of what results you are getting as you take action.

As you become aware of the results you are getting, you need to use this feedback to guide how you change your behaviour to achieve the outcome.

So the NLP approach to goal setting could be summed up as

  1. Outcome
  2. Awareness
  3. Flexibility.

In fact, some people would say that these three points are a brief (very brief!) summary of the whole of NLP!

This page is about setting the outcome in a well-formed way.

Well-formed outcomes

Whatever you want, the place to start is always with your outcome, and making sure it satisfies a number of conditions so it is a well-formed outcome.

You will find that the well-formedness conditions vary a bit in the way they are expressed in different references. However they are worded, the fundamentals are as follows.

The outcome should be

  1. Stated in the positive

Make sure it is stated as what you want, rather than what you don’t want.

  1. Reasonably within your control

The outcome should not rely primarily on the input and efforts of others, because if they don’t respond the way you want, you are stuck.

  1. Stated specifically

What will you see, hear and feel, and by when? This allows you to rehearse the outcome in your mind.

  1. Set in a defined context

When and where do you want the outcome? It may not be all the time, or in all situations.

  1. Evidence based

How will you know when you have actually reached your outcome?

  1. Worth what it takes

What do you need to expend in terms of time, money or energy to get the outcome, and is it worth it?

  1. Ecological

What are the consequences for you, people around you, your community and even the planet?

These conditions are explained in much greater detail in the topic on Goal Setting, together with other important aspects, such as how to decide which goal you want, what things get in the way and how to deal with them, and how to go about actually getting your goal, once you have set it.