Goal Setting

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Goal Setting

Goal Setting With NLP

Setting GoalsOr… How to get what you want and want what you get.

NLP gives us a lovely way to not only set goals but to uncover problem areas that might be keeping us from getting there. Below are the well-formedness conditions–NLP guidelines for goal setting.

Well Formedness Conditions


1) State goals in the positive. Say what you want–not what you don’t want.

Lot’s of people make the mistake of saying what it is they don’t want. “I don’t want to weigh this much,” “I’m tired of this pain,” “I constantly hook my drives.” Because the mind has a harder time processing negatives, it’s generally better to state what it is you want rather than what you don’t. “I weigh between 140 and 145 lbs.,” “I feel comfortable,” “My drives go just where I want them to.”

2) Describe your goal in sensory-based language.

What will you see, hear and feel upon attaining your goal? What will be your evidence that you have achieved it? If you have a goal to make a certain amount of money (for instance), how will you know you’ve achieved that? Will you look at your bank account balance and see a certain figure? Will you live in a certain kind of place or drive a certain car? How will you feel and what will you see and hear that lets you know you’ve reached your goal?

If the goal floats your boat (gets you excited), great. If your goal doesn’t seem exciting to you at this point, you have some valuable information. You’ve discovered a big reason why you don’t have it! Either you don’t really want this thing (maybe someone else has convinced you it would be good), you think getting the goal would make you lose some benefit you have already (“I’d have to work 18 hours a day and I wouldn’t get to see my kids”) and/or it’s not ecological (see “ecology” below).

If you run into this, simply make sure the goal meets the other guidelines and check back. Chances are, after you’ve made sure the goal is ecological and maintains the benefits of the current behavior, you’ll be excited about it.

3) Appropriate chunk size

Is the goal big enough to be compelling? Is it a small enough chunk to be doable–not overwhelming? You can break a big goal in to smaller chunks to make it more manageable or take a small goal, figure out what’s important about it and make a larger, more encompassing goal.

“I want to eat less at lunch today.” (Might be too small). “I want world peace.” (It might be better to start with peace at home or work).

4) Initiated and maintained by self

A well formed goal will be under the control of the person setting it. “I want George to treat me better,” is not under Dave’s control. “I act in a way that maximizes the chances of George treating me better and when he does not treat me well I react calmly and appropriately” is under Dave’s control.

5) Ecological

How would having the goal affect other areas of your life? You work? Your relationships? Financial status? Your health? Your leisure time?

6) Appropriately contextualized

When, where and with whom do you want this goal? In what situations? I’ve had a lot of people come in to my office and ask to be happier or calmer. Sure, that’s nice. But do you want to be happier at a funeral? More calm when your favorite sports team is winning?

7) Maintain the benefits of the current behavior

The reason a lot of folks have not reached their goals is that whatever they’re currently doing pays off in some way that getting the goals does not. For example, someone who wants to exercise but lays on the couch instead may be getting relaxation in a way the would not if they got up and exercised. A well formed goal makes sure the person gets relaxation (in the example) as good or better than they get currently.

There are lots of payoffs in our lives. A client may get attention and feel like they matter through having a physical condition. Someone may get a new perspective from going outside and having a cigarette. Being a jerk might make someone feel powerful. It’s important, when setting goals to make sure the goal setter still feels like they matter, still gets perspective or still feels powerful.

In this phase of the process (goal setting) it’s not critical to know how the get the feeling, it’s enough to have them be able to imagine it.

Outcome Based

When I work with folks, I like to be outcome based (goal oriented). It helps things go quickly and smoothly. The beauty of the NLP well formedness conditions is that they not only help you to be more outcome focused but they help you discover what’s holding a person back from reaching their goal. In fact, with many people, you’ll discover well forming a goal is most of what you need to do to help them get there.


Here’s more about setting goals with NLP.

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Keith Livingston

Keith Livingston is the main instructor for Hypnosis 101. Keith has been studying hypnosis since he was a boy and doing hypnosis & NLP training since 1997. Read More....

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