Posted in December 2007
Goal setting with NLP
There are many aspects to NLP and the pursuit of personal excellence is one. There is a lot of talk in the personal development field of successful people being goal driven. In this article I will explore goals from an NLP perspective. I will also outline how being clear about ‘intention’, ‘ecology’ and the ‘goal beyond the goal’ you can make an outcome that is much more real and compelling.
Before the development of NLP, the personal development field focussed on ‘goals’, Napoleon Hill in his revolutionary book ‘Think and Grow Rich’ advocated writing down your goals and reading them every day. Jose Silva who created the Silva Mind system suggested going into an altered state and visualising your goals and reinforcing them with images that you place around your work place and home e.g. the dream car on the fridge.
These ideas work, providing you are congruent with the goal, and the goal right is for you. The key here is congruency.
In the classic code of NLP, Grinder and Bandler had a different take on what had gone previously on goals. They called goals ‘outcomes’ and created a formula to test whether an outcome was well formed for the individual. The ‘well formedness conditions’ for an outcome are now thirty years old and to most people in NLP they are a fairly ordinary application and not considered revolutionary. Thirty years ago however, people were not thinking like Grinder and Bandler and the formula added a new dimension to personal achievement.
Here is a reminder of the well formedness conditions:
1. Goal stated in positive terms. (Attention on what you want)
2. Initiated and maintained by self or group who set the outcome
3. Specific sensory based description of the outcome and steps
4. More than one way to get the outcome
5. Increases choice and maintains the positive elements of the present state
6. Is ecological within the larger system
The above process was originally created for people who wanted to change behavioural issues (phobias, beliefs etc) and was later generalised for setting goals which are usually concrete and tangible. Anyone trained in NLP will know the value of ensuring a goal or outcome fits the well formedness conditions.
The idea of setting goals or outcomes comes up in so many personal development systems that many people switch off when the subject arises. I believe the reason for this is because so many people have set goals and have not achieved them and as a consequence they feel bad about the process of setting goals.
Why do so many people miss their goals?
There are many reasons why people do not get their goals. Some key reasons areÍ¾ they are not congruent with the goal, they do not take the necessary action, the goal does not fit in their general life system or they are not clear of the ‘goal beyond the goal’. These reasons are linked. If you are not congruent, you do not take action.
If you are not clear what is beyond the goal you can lose congruency and be less motivated to take action. If the goal does not fit in your general life system you do not take action, you do not have congruency and the ‘goal beyond the goal’ is irrelevant.
What does the ‘goal beyond the goal’ mean?
Being clear about what is beyond the goal (i.e. what achieving the goal will enable you to do) is crucial as it links to the bigger picture of the goal including ecology and congruence.
Goals come in all different forms, from working through daily goals, to monthly and yearly goals. Obviously your daily goals should form part of your monthly goals, which form part of your yearly goals and even longer term outcomes.
A while ago, a woman in her mind twenties came to see me for some help. She was a size 22 and deeply unhappy. Her weight had been fluctuating for the last six years. She had it set in her mind that ‘she wanted to lose weight’ and regularly put herself on strict diets. After a spell of strict dieting she would break the eating plan by eating a cake or biscuit and in her own mind think she had failed. She would then binge eat for weeks until she had regained the weight she had lost and more. This polarity meant her weight could go up or down by 12 - 18 pounds in one month.
There were many issues to work with in the above case. Firstly she did not have a clear outcome because her attention was on ‘losing weight’. In the absence of a clear outcome, one glitch like eating a cake created a situation where she would just give up. If she had a clearly defined congruent outcome of the specific weight she wanted to be and had a representation of how she would look, sound and feel when she reached her goal, then that one cake would not throw her off track.
As Henry Ford said ‘obstacles are things that get in your way when you lose sight of your goals.’
She could go further than the well formedness conditions and identify the goal beyond the goal. This means being clear about what she wants to do after she has achieved her goal. In this lady’s case she wanted to help others in a similar position by writing a book and developing a series of workshops.
When you start to think beyond the goal, the outcome becomes much more compelling. If on the other hand you are not clear about what you want beyond your goal, achieving the goal can sometimes be an anticlimaxÍ¾ it is like you got this thing, and so what?
The question to ask of yourself or your client is:
1. What greater outcome is this goal a part of? or
2. What will achieving this goal enable you to do?
Discovering the ‘intention’ of behaviours that get in the way of achieving your goals
In many cases, achieving a goal means changing some behaviours. Earlier in this article I spoke about congruence with your outcome. Like the goal beyond the goal, congruence and ecology are at a higher level (larger chunk) than the goal. If there are some behavioural changes in the outcome, e.g. a different eating routine or a new habit that you are incongruent with, it is worth exploring the intention of the behaviour you are working on changing.
‘Intention’ is the personal benefit of a behaviour, state or goal. Intention works at an unconscious and conscious level and the two are not always aligned. For example in the case of the lady mentioned earlier, she had a conscious intention to ‘lose weight’ which was not well stated and an unconscious pattern of binge eating. There was a positive intention (benefit) on the binge eating pattern, this was the ‘comfort and release’ in the moments of binge eating when her mind was blank of everything else. The important thing to recognise is there are many ways to satisfy the intention of comfort, release and clearing the mind that do not include binge eating.
When you have established the intention of negative behaviours that get in the way of achieving a well stated goal, you can build in the elements of intention into the goal and the goal beyond the goal. My client has now taken up meditation and salsa dancing both of which give her an enormous release and help her clear her mind. The new hobbies feature in the achieving of the goal and in the goal beyond the goal thus adding congruency.
The other side of intention the driver that makes the goal and the ‘goal beyond the goal’ a reality
In the previous paragraph I refer to the value of establishing the intention of a behaviour that is getting in the way of achieving the goal. It is of equal importance to be clear about your intention in going for the goal. This is really the ultimate ecology check that establishes motivation and that clearly defines the direction of the many goals beyond the goal.
The simple question to ask of a client or yourself is:
1. What is your intention for wanting this? or
2. For what purpose do I want this?
My client answered this question with ‘so I can be free and enjoy a long healthy life’.
Now that really is goal beyond the goal. Maybe we could change Henry Ford’s saying to “Obstacles are things that get in your way when you loose sight of the goal beyond the goal”
Thirty years ago the NLP co-creators come up with the well formedness conditions for setting outcomes. These conditions were designed to ensure that the outcome was something the person really wanted and if so, increase the prospect of it becoming a reality. I propose that being clear about ‘intention’ and the ‘goal beyond the goal’ is the ultimate congruency and ecology check and that this really enables a person to enjoy the journey of achieving and enjoy what’s beyond the achievement.