Whether I am coaching a client going through a career change, or a client setting up a new business, I always start off with well formed outcomes.   For me it is an exercise that if I can tick all the boxes I know I have paid attention and covered all angles to enable me to achieve the success I am seeking.

Most clients have goals or objectives, things they are trying to do or achieve.  Sitting down over the Christmas break we may dream about what the New Year will bring and what our intentions are.   However all too often by the middle of January we have given up or forgotten about them completely.

In NLP the terms “outcome” is used in preference to Goal or Objective.  The Collins English Dictory defines outcome as “something that follows action; a result or consequence”.  The difference between a goal and an outcome may not be immediately obvious, but is significant.  A goal is always something we want, while an outcome is what we get as a result of our actions.  Our own unique experience.   However, it is not always necessarily something that we desire.   “Desired outcome” is generally used in NLP to designate an outcome that we are seeking to accomplish.  Desired outcomes are central to NLP. Many of the techniques and patterns are focused on achieving defined objectives.

The reasons those New Year Resolutions fade into obscurity or never take root in the garden of our dreams is because more often than not, they are ill-formed – they are not thought through, not specific enough or have underlying invisible consequences which prevent them from coming to fruition.

Whether it is a New Year Resolution, a new business, or career change I considered it is essential that outcomes are “well formed”, that is, they meet a series of rigorous criteria or “conditions” designed to increase the likelihood of their success.   These are:-

  1. State the outcome in positive terms. What specifically do you want?
  2. Ensure the outcome is within your control. When, where and with whom do you want it?
  3. Be as specific as possible.
    1. Where are you now? (present situation associated)
    2. What will you be seeing, hearing and feeling when you get it? (outcome associated)
  4. Have a sensory-based evidence procedure. (Visualisation – treasure map etc)
  5. Consider the context.
  6. Have access to resources. (Have you ever done anything like this before? Do you know anyone who has?
  7. Ensure the outcome preserves existing benefits.
  8. Check the outcome is ecologically sound.
  9. Define the first step.

Here is an exercise designed to help you consider your


1. State the outcome in positive terms.

Many people express their goals in negative terms:  “I don’t want to feel uncomfortable and anxious when I meet new people”. “I don’t want to worry about the future”.   There’s a problem with this way of thinking because of how our minds work.  When we use negative language we end up focusing on what we don’t want, which has the opposite effect to what was intended.

If someone says, “Don’t think of a pink elephant”, the only way you can remember not to think of it, is to think of it.  You have to hold it in your mind and then cancel or delete it.  For that reason, NLP insists that all outcomes are stated in positive terms.  So “I don’t want to feel uncomfortable and anxious when I meet new people” is revised to “I want to feel calm and confident when I meet new people”, on which the mind can focus without distraction.

You may be thinking this is just changes words around, however I can’t emphasise enough how important framing outcomes positively really is a crucial step in achieving them.  Becoming aware of our inner and outer language is the first step in taking control of our outcomes.

2. Ensure the outcome is within your control.  

It is also essential that the outcome is under your control.  If it requires other people to do certain things, or not do certain things, it is not an acceptable outcome in NLP terms.  The problem with the outcome, “My colleague has a connection in that organisation who can put us in touch with a supplier”, is that it is not really under your control.  It is dependent on the action of other people.  “I will contact the supplier to make arrangement to meet up” or “I will contact 4 suppliers for quotes to assess the best way forward” are both outcomes that are well formed in this regard, and means you have to take action.

The essence of this is that, “the outcome stated in a way that means you can get it yourself no matter what other people do”.

3.  Be as specific as possible.

Many outcomes are vague and woolly, such as “I want to do something interesting”, or “I want to be rich”.  NLP requires that outcomes be defined in sensory specific language that is in terms of what can be seen, heard and felt.  When we refine an outcome by clarifying the detail the whole thing becomes more vivid and real.  The more specific we are the less likelihood there is of ending up with something we don’t want.

You want to make a difference? How specifically?  You want to be rich? How rich specifically? You want to do something interesting? What, precisely?

If you were helping someone with their outcomes and they say they want a new job, you might ask:  What kind of job? Any job or a specific job?  What sort of work would you like to do? Do you want to work alone or as part of a team?  Would you like an office based job or a job in which you travel or work outdoors?  What hours would you like to work?  You keep “drilling down” until you reach a sensory-based description.

With a larger outcome it may be necessary to break it down into a series of small outcomes.  In the example of getting a new job, there may be other actions that need to be taken first, such as gaining some specific qualification, passing an exam, connecting and networking with the right people, finding yourself a mentor, and so on.  If at any point you get stuck, the question “What needs to change for you to achieve this outcome?” will be useful in making the outcome clear and specific.

Outcomes that are too small, however, or which seem unimportant, may not be motivating enough.  If that is the case, it may be necessary to “chunk up” to a higher level outcome – “meta-outcome”.  The outcome “cleaning the car once a week” may seem trivial, but when it is linked to “keeping the car in good condition so it can be sold for the highest price”, it will probably seem more worthwhile.

4.  Have a sensory- based evidence procedure.

Having defined your outcome as specifically as possible, you need to put in place a sensory-based evidence procedure.

Imagining you have achieved the outcome already can be a useful way of clarifying the evidence procedure.  Creating a Mind Map of your outcome can have a great impact on how you keep the momentum going.  When you have achieved your outcome what would you see around you?  What feeling would you get when turning up the first day at work?  What people would you see around you, what would they be say to each other?  What would you be saying to them?  What would it be like to be a detached observer see, hear and feel the situation?   Creating a vision board of your outcomes and displaying it somewhere prominent can also create this state for you every time you take a look at it.

5. Consider the context.

It is also essential to consider where, when and with whom the outcome is wanted.  Does it relate to the whole of your life or just part of it?  An outcome that works well in one context may not fit in another.  You may want more challenges at work and more relaxation at home.

6. Have access to resources.

One of the goals of NLP is to support people in moving from their “present state” to a “desired state”.  To achieve this they usually need “resources”.   These may be internal, such as personal skills, knowledge, understanding and courage, or external, such as money, contacts or equipment.

If, for instance, the outcome was to ride a bike from London to Paris, what resources do they have, what can they do already?  Perhaps they belong to a riding club and regularly ride 50 to 100miles each weekend.   They’ve got quality riding wear and footwear that is suitable for all weathers. They have a couple of friends who wants to do it as well, and will train with them.  And so on.

What resources are they lacking?  They have never ridden abroad before or such a long distance over many days. However they have ridden regularly all over the UK and that confidence can be transferred to support the latest outcome.  They don’t know enough about the rigors of keeping their energy up and sustaining it over longs distance.  This is something they will need to research.

The aim of this condition is for the person to assess realistically whether they have, or can get, the resources need to achieve the outcome.

7. Ensure the outcome preserves existing benefits.

Many people are motivated and committed to achieving an outcome yet still don’t attain it or it doesn’t last.  This is often because their current behaviour provides benefits that will be lost if they accomplish what they set out to do.  In NLP, such benefits are known as “positive by-products”, or “secondary gains”.

Sometimes these “positive” aspects to “negative” behaviours are not obvious, but it is essential they are taken account of if the outcome is to stand a chance of succeeding.   Once we are aware of these positive by-products we sometimes come to the conclusion that they no longer apply.  If, for instance, you started smoking at 14 so you could fit in with your friends you may not feel the need to do this when you are 30.  If you want to retain the benefit, the new behaviour will either need to deliver the same secondary gains or plans must be made to provide them some other way, perhaps by means of additional, associated outcomes.  If you don’t take action they will sabotage your progress.

8.  Check the outcome is ecological.

NLP places great importance on “ecology”, on taking into account the effect and consequences of achieving your outcome.

If you are setting up a new business it may mean that you have to put lots of energy into building it in the beginning, and this may mean you will have less time to spend with your family and friends.   You may find yourself having to put hobbies and interests on hold.  You may find you don’t have the same amount of time to go to gym or eat properly, this could mean your health and fitness suffer.

There four classic NLP questions that cover the important ecology issues:

  • What will happen if you achieve this outcome?
  • What won’t happen if you achieve this outcome?
  • What will happen if you don’t achieve this outcome?
  • What won’t happen if you don’t achieve this outcome?

9.  Define the first step.

Turning an outcome into reality requires action.  And even the longest journey has to have a starting point and all journeys begin with a single step. Defining the first step is a final and important part of the well-formedness process.  If you don’t take that step, you probably won’t take the others that follow afterwards.  Once again, be specific; what precisely will you do, and when will you do it?

Outcome sequitur

What would having this outcome do for you?  After you attain your outcome what will you do next?  An outcome is often a step along the way towards the more long-term effect.  By exploring the consequences of actually having achieved the outcome we can make sure we get what we really want.

Visualise your Success

Find a quiet space where you won’t be disturbed.  Place a piece of paper on the floor to represent “now”. Then walk to a point in front of you a little distance away which represents how long it will take you to achieve your outcomes.   Stand at this point and look back to “now”. Take some time feeling what it is like to have achieved your outcomes. What do you see? What do you hear? What do you feel?

Then, walk a little further into the “future” and again look back at “now” again and visualise what you did to achieve those outcomes.  Ensure that your internal language is in the present tense, because once your mind has grasped the idea that you have already succeeded in achieving your outcomes.  Visualising what you did rather than what you have to do is much more creative and a less stressful process.

Have fun with this.

About the Author:  Margaret Abraham

Margaret has been coaching and mentoring for the last fifteen years in and around the Yorkshire region.  Margaret set up her training business in Health and Wealth Resources in  1999, providing personal change programmes for clients like Microsoft & Partners, Primary Care Trust, NHS,  Doncaster Council Adult Learning.

In recent years, Margaret has used NLP & EFT together to help people with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and  long term depression, these modalities working successfully when other more generic treatments have not.

Margaret is available for one to one coaching, as well as coaching via Skype or telephone.


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