Here we go again. You know what happens next right?
December leaps ferociously upon us, festive holidays, parties, dinners, sleep deprivation, alcohol consumption, flu and colds take a hold, leaving your body ravaged, and in ill repair. We barely make it through the other side and then....
Wham! New years hits us like a low blow from Conor McGregor, we vow to right our wrongs from the previous year. We get to the business of goal setting. Flash backs of last years failed attempts haunt us, and we begin to regret our life decisions.
Should we attempt those again? Perhaps they were beyond our reach.
"Maybe I should set different goals instead?.. You know, New Year, New Me..."
Does this sound familiar? Don't worry, no doubt that if this connects with you, then I can promise you that you are not alone. It's also true of a lot of people who contact me in the new year to be their coach. They are shocked when I tell them this simple truth,
"You don't need to set new or different goals, what you really need is clarity and better formed outcomes.
Now this is a subtle, but very important distinction that I think you should know about. It will save you months of pain, heart ache, disappointment, frustration and all that other shit that comes when we feel like we are failing at our goals.
So takes notes (yes, the plural was intentional so chill and take a seat you grammar Nazi you!). The Collins dictionary defines outcome as a,
"logical result or effect."
A goal is always something that we want, while an outcome is the result of the actions we take (read that last bit again).
Just to be clear, the result may not be always what we want or had desired. The actions that we take, and the outcomes that we achieve will either bring us closer of further away from our goals.
Often we can get caught up in what we want, we may use SMART or some similar method, but because this approach doesn't focus on the nature of our desired outcome, we fail to understand how to structure well formed outcomes, and miss the opportunity to achieve what we truly desire.
So what is the structure of well formed outcomes? According Steve Bavister and Amanda Vickers, authors of Essential NLP, there are nine conditions, which are outlined below,
You got that? Now lets look at each one in more detail
1) State the outcome is positive terms.
Now you may be thinking, "Yeah, well, DUH Cj!" But you'd be surprised how often people express their goals in negative terms.
Any of these sound familiar? You may not have said them yourself, but I'm sure if you stop to think about it, you would have heard someone you know, or someone in passing make a similar remark. But there is a problem with this way of thinking.
Did you know that when we use negative language we end up focusing on the very thing we don't want, which is the opposite of what we intended right?
Let me give you an example. If I said "Don't think of a pink elephant" I bet you thought of a pink elephant right? The only way that you can not think of it, is to think of it then try and cancel it, or delete it in your mind.
Now this may seem like a trivial step, but it's an important part of the process. Don't believe me? Let's test it.
Let's flip the above 6 statements around.
Now I invite you to say each statement out aloud, then say the same turn-around of that particular statement. Notice how it feels in your body when you say it, notice the tone of your voice, what you hear, what feelings or other thoughts it evokes when you do it.
Can you get a sense for the difference it can make?
2)Ensure the outcome is within your control
,If it is outside of your control, then it is not really an acceptable outcome. If it requires other people to do, or not do particular things, then your outcome is flawed. It has to be under your control or something you can influence.
The problem with, "I want my partner to lose weight because it's affecting our sex life and happiness" is that this is clearly not under your control or responsibility (and before you social justice warriors jump on the PC soap box, this is actually something someone has said to me in REAL LIFE before- so there!).
"I want to support my partner in their weight loss efforts in every way possible," or "I will cook healthy meals at home and not buy unhealthy treats to keep in the house" are better formed outcomes.
3)Be specific as possible
No room for fluffy stuff here. No room for vagueness. Not sure what I mean? Let me give you some example,
Your outcome needs to be defined in specific terms, what can be seen, heard and felt. When you use sensory specific language, clarifying the detail, it becomes more vivid and real. Like a lived experience you have yet to experience in real life. When you dial in the detail and get specific you are less likely to end up with an outcome you don't want.
Even if you have to chunk it down into smaller outcomes or milestones, detail is key, ask yourself, "how much weight do I want to lose?" "by when do I want to lose it?" "how would I like to do it?" "Would I like to do it in a group or with a coach?" "How much am I willing to spend?" "What kind of foods would I like to eat?" "What help do I need to get?" - you get the idea right?
If you get stuck along the way while doing this, to get started again just ask yourself, "What stops me from having this outcome?" Your potential road blocks will then become clear.
4)Have a sensory evidence based procedure
How will you know when you have achieved your goal? Your answer will need to be in terms of what you can see, hear, feel, taste or smell. This is the sensory coding we use to experience the world around is with our five senses.
If you struggle with this, imagine that you have achieved the outcome already, perhaps it's the day after - this can be a useful way to get clarity when evoking the embodied experience of successfully achieving your outcome.
5)Consider the context
Does you outcome relate to the whole of your life or just a part of it? An outcome that may work well in one are of your life may not work as well in others. You may want more fun, excitement and adventure in your sex life, but do you really also want that at work? I mean you might, but until you check in and ask these kind of questions you won't really know.
As Bavister and Vickers put it,
"If someone wants to be honest and direct, do they want it in every situation? With their Boss? With their partner? All the time?"
This sounds like a recipe for disaster. The context in which the behaviour will operate needs to be specified clearly for optimal impact.
A useful question to ask yourself is, "When don't I want this outcome?"
6) Have access to resources
This is an important step, and I think one of the most overlooked. It separates fairy tale thinking that has you abandon your desired outcome at the first challenge, from grounded thinking, that has you take practical action in the direction of your desired outcome - while still stretching you outside your comfort zone.
To shift from your current state to a desired state, we usually need some resources to do so. Now these can be internal resources, such as skills, knowledge, understanding, resilience or external resources such as money, contracts, equipment, qualifications.
What resources do you need?
What resources do you currently have?
What resources are you currently lacking? Can you obtain them?
The aim of this step is for you to assess realistically whether you have, or can get the resources to achieve your desired outcome. Ensuring it is the right outcome for you.
7)Ensure the outcome preserves existing benefits
Yes you read that right. Sometimes we can be motivated and committed to achieve a goal or an outcome, yet we do not attain it or fail to sustain it. The automatic assumption is that we need more will power - but this really not the case and far from the reality of the situation. Here's why.
Often our current behaviour provides benefits for us that we will lose is we accomplish what we set out to do. These are your "positive-by-products" or your "secondary gains".
People who drink too much coffee, for example or people who are regularly over-eat and become overweight, get something from those behaviours. Sometimes these secondary gains ("positive" aspects to "negative" behaviours") are not always obvious. Perhaps the person who drinks too much coffee wants to be alert and make best use of their time at work, as they are overworked and always sleepy.
Maybe the person over eats because they get pleasure from socialising and love eating out with their friends and this brings them happiness, they become less aware of how much they are eating, or deliberately allow themselves to, so that they fit in with their peers. There is one generic answer, and is specific to each person and situation.
If you want to retain the benefit of the "secondary gain" you need to ensure that the new behavior will deliver those positive by-products, or plans must be put in place to provide those secondary gains in another way, perhaps by the means of some other associated outcomes. If you don't, you run the risk of sabotaging your progress.
8)Check the outcome is ecologically sound
Your outcomes and goals do not happen in a vacuum.
It's important to consider the effect your desired outcome may have on the wider part of your life. As Bavister and Vickers state,
"Each outcome we achieve will create a ripple effect on the world around us and the people in it."
If, for example you want to compete in a fitness related competition, but your have a new born child. You will have less time to spend with your family and friends, you may find yourself working longer hours too if your home is now dependent on a single salary, or reduced income. Your relationship could suffer, as too could your health with illness, if you are not getting adequate recovery and rest.
Ecology is about looking at the consequence for the system as a whole, exploring the advantages and disadvantages of following your course of action, and truly understanding whether the "Juice is worth the squeeze."
9) Define the first step
As Emmeline Pankhurst once said, "Deeds not words." Turning your outcome into reality requires action. It requires you not only to talk about it, but to be about it. Defining the first step is an important part of the process. Ask yourself, What action can I take right now? What precisely will I do? When will I do it?
Chances are, if you don't take that first step, you won't take the second step or any of the others that follow. Having some resistance to take action is normal at this point. I remember my friend Brian Appiah Obeng, who was a pioneer of Parkour in the UK had a concept of "Broken Jumps".
This is where if there was a jump you were scared of, you had to commit within 3 seconds to do the jump. If you failed the attempt you would continue to try again and again, each time refining the jump until you nailed it. Having nailed it, the jump was "broken" in as it is now comfortable ( just like you "break in" a new pair of shoes).
When you did eventually nail it, or if you nailed it on the first attempt you had to do it 3 times to prove it wasn't a fluke. This was smart, as the momentum of stacking your wins helped to not only cement the action as a habit, but strengthened your confidence in your ability too.
So what "Jumps" do you need to break?
The Final Step...
Yes, there is one more final step, I hope you have paid attention and now buzzing with this powerful information? So what do you do know that you have achieved your outcome? What will you do next? This step in the process, known as an "Outcome Sequitur" is another that is often overlooked, or not given due attention.
Robert Diltz and Judth Delozier, the authors of NLP New Coding define Outcome Sequitur as,
"Outcome sequitur is what happens after the outcome has been achieved. An outcomes is often a step along the way to a more long term effect. By exploring the consequences of actually having achieved the outcome we can make sure we get what we really want"
So last New Year you made yourself a promise. Now you may or may not have achieved that yet(or it hasn't quite turned out how you planned) but that does't mean you won't. You may just need to go back, follow this nine step process and refine your outcome, so that you can set yourself up for success in 2020.