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NLP 101: Shooting for goal

By on September 30, 2014
Image courtesy of Stuart Miles and

In this blog post we will be talking about how to set a goal. By ‘goal’ we mean a specific goal that you are working towards, something like, “I want to write a book”. We are not talking about bigger and more abstract dreams such as, “I want to be a writer” (although obviously these bigger dreams will be the accumulation of a number of smaller and more specific goals).

When you’re working towards a specific goal, it is preferable if it has the following attributes:

  • Stated in the positive, meaning what you want, not what you don’t want.
  • Specific as to the time you will achieve it and the place in which you will achieve it.
  • Measurable on a sensory basis. You will know exactly what you will be seeing, hearing, and feeling when you have it.
  • Worthwhile. This means that you would take it right now if you could, and you are prepared to put in the time and effort that will be required to achieve it.
  • Under your control.
  • Ecological. This means that it will not only be good for you, but also for your family, colleagues and other people around you.

In NLP we describe goals that are positive, specific, sensory-based, worthwhile, under your control, and ecological as being ‘well formed’. We will go through each of these tests in turn.

Is the goal stated in the positive?

Your hypnosis client comes to see you and tells you that she is, “Sick and tired of my job, I can’t work there anymore!”

The following day she is fired. Ooops.

How to respond

Once more this is simply a case of directionalizing your client toward what they do want, not what they don’t want. So you can say something like, “I hear that you don’t want to work there anymore, what do you want to be doing instead?”

Is the goal specific as to time and place?

Your hypnosis client comes to see you. You ask them what they want to work through and they tell you:

“I want to be successful”

The problem with this goal is that it is not at all specific. Does your client want to be successful now? Or do they want to be successful the day before they die? And how will they know when they are?

How to respond:

The easiest his way to respond to a vague outcome is to ask, “And how will you know when you are successful?” If they say, “I will have a million dollars in the bank”. You can then ask, “When do you want to have a million dollars in bank?”

Of course this does not mean that the outcome is necessarily under their control, or ecological, or even worthwhile, but at least it is now specific!

Measurable using their senses: what will they see, hear, feel, smell and taste that will let them know they have achieved their goal?

Your hypnosis client comes to see you and tells you, “I want to fall in love”. You use your usual response, “How will you know you have all of in love?” They tell you, “I will be living with a man within six months”.

In this case the act of living with a man may well be sensory-based, your clients might see the man’s toothbrush and the bathroom. However this is a sensory-based test for living with someone, not for being in love!

How to respond

Therefore you can reasonably ask her, “How will you know that you are in love with him?” She might respond, “Because every time I seek in my heart will flutter”. Now you have a sensory-based test for being in love.

Once again it does not mean that the goal is necessarily worthwhile or ecological, and it is almost certainly not within your client’s control (unless she is able to create love potions!).

Is the goal under the client’s control?

Your hypnosis client comes to see you and says, “I want other people to like me”.

This goal is not well formed because it is not under her control. She doesn’t get to decide who likes her and who doesn’t.

How to respond

In this case you might want to explore what it is about your client that makes people not like her? Her goal will be within her control if it is rephrased as something like, “I want to be more likable”. After all, if she is more likable then it is more likely that people will like her!

Once again, would be important to explore when and where she wants to be more likable, and how she will know she is more likeable when she is.

Is the goal worthwhile?

Your hypnosis client comes to see you and says, “I’m bored of my current boyfriend but don’t know how to break up with him”.

How to respond

There is nothing inherently wrong with this outcome. Your client could easily restate it to be specific as to time and place, and sensory information. For example your client might say, “I want to tell my boyfriend that our relationship is over on Tuesday in our apartment. I will know I have done this when I hear the words leave my mouth.”

The question you might want to explore is whether the breakup would be worthwhile. Why did your client begin to go out with this man in the first place, and what is changed since then? Does she make a habit out of serial dating? If not, for example is she has been dating him for a number of years and they have just drifted apart in some way, then the breakup may be ‘worthwhile’. However if this is the third boyfriend she has broken up with this month then that is a question as to whether the relationships and breakups are worthwhile for her.

Is the goal ecological?

“I want you to hypnotize me to only sleep for five hours a night”

How to respond:

This goal is almost certainly not ecological. Your clients would probably suffer adverse physical and mental effects with too little sleep. Therefore, you should not help them with this goal. Instead you should explore what they want to do this additional time, and how else they might achieve those goals?

NLP theory and neuroscience:

There is a wide body of research that says that when we set an intention in our mind, it sets all unconscious filters to search for information and opportunities which might support that intention. It’s easy to experience this right now. Simply begin to think to yourself, “I want to see things that are red, red, red,” then look around the room you are in. The chances are you will see lots of red objects. Now say to yourself, “I want to see objects that are blue, blue, blue,” and look around the room. You will probably notice all the objects that are blue.

However your unconscious mind is very little literal, and also has a wicked sense of humor. If you are not very careful about what you wish for, then you may get it in a way you did not expect, and do not appreciate. For example if you tell your self, “I don’t want to be worried about money anymore”, your unconscious mind may simply give you something even worse to be worried about!

Putting it into practice:

The easiest way of putting this idea of well-formed goals or outcomes into practice is for you to discipline yourself to take one or more small actions each day towards your goal. Each of these actions can be very specific, “By tonight I will have sent out 10 resumes and made five phone calls to prospective employers. I see myself putting the resumes the mailbox, I hear myself talking to five different people.”

Each day’s goals are easy to achieve and move the client in the right direction. They also provide very specific issues to work on if your client doesn’t meet these goals.

So once again the steps are:

  • Select an outcome or goal.
  • Ask yourself, “Is this something I want? Or something I don’t want?”
  • If it’s something that you don’t want, decide what you want instead.
  • For a mental image or movie representing your goal, including the location where the movie takes place, and a representation of the time and date on which it takes place.
  • Stepping into the future is you who has just achieved this goal, ask yourself, “Was the effort and sacrifice I had to go through to achieve this goal is worthwhile?”
  • From this future position, it will back on the steps you had to take to achieve this goal. Were you dependent on luck, or on somebody else to get here?
  • From his future position consider what else has changed in your life as a result. Consider all aspects of your life including the relationships you have with other people.

Other applications:

You can use this simple technique of well-formed goals or outcomes in any situations.

    • If you are seeing a hypnosis client, you should ask yourself, “how will my clients will be in session?” This will be your outcome for session and you should keep this image or representation in mind as you do the work.
    • In any human interaction you can form an internal image of how you want the interaction to go. Holding this representation inside your mind as you speak to the other person allows your unconscious mind to know which direction to move in.
    • You can also keep a representation in your mind of how you want your life to be, over the next week, month, year, 10 years, or your lifetime. Many successful people have made mental images or representations of how they want their life to be. Franklin Roosevelt decided from an early age that he wanted to be president of the United States. Thomas Edison wanted to be an inventor from early childhood.


However, the further helps you set your goal or outcome, the less well formed it needs to be. A good metaphor to think of is driving to a distant city. At first you might only need to think about the state you are driving toward, and then the city. As you approach the city you’ll need to think about whether you want to go to the North, South, East all west of the city. Finally you will have to think about the street and then the house number. The closer you get to your goal, the more specific should become.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles and

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