From dreams to achievable goals

"It's better to travel in hope...? "

According to Robert Louis Stevenson it's better to travel in hope than to arrive.

Which is a strange thought since it could be taken to mean that, a bit like Dickens' eternally optimistic Mr Micawber, we should go through life simply hoping that something will turn up rather than selecting objectives and pursuing these.

Even before becoming involved with the very pragmatic and down-to-earth NLP I have always been fairly suspicious of this much vaunted 'hope' thing.

According to my dictionary hope is a 'feeling of desire for something and confidence in the possibility of its fulfilment'.

I agree that, when you are in dire straits and are actively prevented from taking any action to help yourself, hope is better than despair. But, in general and in normal everyday life, living in hope is a passive and questionable process - unless it is supported by a course of action, in which case it is not hope but belief.

This is the second of 2 articles - the first is here

This is not a very original thought, mind you. Look at the biblical comment “hope deferred maketh the heart sick: but when the desire cometh, it is a tree of life”. Like most biblical quotes you can read what you will into this. My take on this one is that passively hoping something will turn up isn't just pointless it's likely to lead to despair while, on the other hand, desiring something and pursuing a plan of action to bring it into being is a healthier option.

In the first part of this article we considered 5 key steps in differentiating between dreams and action plans

(1) Ensure you have a clearly defined outcome. Rather than entertaining fuzzy, vague dreams be precise about what you want, why you want it, and how you are going to get it.

(2) Visualise your goals 'dissociated' rather than 'live in' them. This keeps you action-focussed.

(3) Link your goals with your values. Being clear about the feelings that you will experience from achieving your goals keep you motivated.

(4) Ensure it is 'you' to achieve it. If your goal does not fit with how you think of yourself - in other words, if it is not 'you', you are unlikely to achieve it or to enjoy it if you do achieve it.

(5) Have a detailed and timed action plan for moving towards your goal.

The NLP Well-Formed (or well designed) Outcome process

We now look at how to follow Step 1 using the NLP formula for ensuring goals are clarified and carefully constructed. We call this the Pegasus NLP PECSAW method and it is a version of the more widely known NLP 'Well-Formed Outcome' method.

The PECSAW method makes your goal or outcome or objective clearer, more realistic and more achievable.

To make qualify or design your goal you take it through the following six qualifying steps.

  1. Focus on what you do want - not what you don't want

It must be what you do want - rather that what you do not want. In other words it must be stated in the positive.

What motivates a lot of us to change is not the attraction of the outcome but the discomfort of the current state of affairs!

The difficulty with this is that the more you focus on what you do not want the more fixated you become on it. The person with anger begins seeing reasons to be angry everywhere. The overweight person begins fixating on eating and the need to feel full. The smoker sees people 'enjoying' cigarettes everywhere and becomes convinced that life will lose all meaning if they cannot smoke ever again.

If your goal is "I don't want to lose my temper" you will continually focus on NOT being angry rather than on being calm or reasonable or good natured and pleasant and enjoying great relationships with those close to you.

If your goal is "I don't want to remain fat" you will continually be thinking of yourself as being fat rather than focussing your attention on a slimmer, healthier and happier 'you'.

If your goal is "I don't want to be smoking cigarettes" your imagination is continually being fed messages about cigarettes - which feeds the craving for a smoke - rather than on what you will experience from being smoke-free!

Objectives involving negation need to be rephrased in a positive way, for example: "I want to be able to be calm in these situations" or I want to reach this weight within this period of time" or "I want to enjoy better health and enhanced self esteem through becoming an ex-smoker”.

  1. Have a way of knowing when you have achieved it

This is the 'evidence' step. You must have a clear picture of yourself having achieved this objective. This gives your brain and, in particular, your Reticular Activating System, a target to home in on.

The brain seeks to bring your dreams into being - hence Ralph Waldo Emerson's advice “Be careful what you set your heart on, for it will surely be yours.” If you give a lot of attention to thoughts of being healthy that's likely to be how your life will go. The same applies if you focus on thoughts of becoming unhealthy.

If you think about anger and anger-evoking situations you are likely to remain an 'angry person'. If you think a lot about food the food you shouldn't eat you'll crave it more If you spend a lot of your time trying to 'not' have a cigarette or think of cigarettes you'll simply stoke the fires of your craving.

But since you cannot NOT think of something - you have to have a replacement thought or series of thoughts ready. These will be thoughts of how you want to be. If you do not have these you're unlikely to reach your goal. It's a bit like trying to walk into your future while looking backwards!

In the three examples we have selected you must see yourself as if watching a snapshot or a video or yourself. This must be dissociated  which means you can see your face or your head in the picture (see previous newsletter for a fuller exp0lanation of this).

See yourself having replaced the old, angry responses with a calmer, more humorous, more reasonable attitude. Or clear picture of yourself enjoying having achieved a healthier and more enjoyable weight or size. Or see yourself enjoying the many benefits of being someone-who-used-to-smoke.

  1. Know when and where you want to have it - and where you do not want it

It's useful to also specify where you want to have this outcome and where you don't want to have it. For example, feeling calmer in a particular situation would specify where you want to have this.

On the other hand you may want to be calm in all situations in which case simply state that. The same applies to feeling lighter and slimmer or to feeling free of cigarettes and enjoying better health.

However let's say, for example, that your goal is to be more assertive. You may want to be more assertive in some situations and not in others. If your goal is to be more relaxed you might want this at home or at work - but would you want it on the football field or at a lively party?

  1. Ensure it is something 'you' can achieve!

A lot of dreams remain dreams because they require other people to change. Examples include: “I want to be loved.” “I want to have a better relationship.” “I want to be popular”.

Each of There is flawed in that they require other people to change their behaviour - and this is not a goal - it is a wish or a dream! You cannot force other adults feel feelings or behave in a certain way (although a lot of people-who-get-angry do not seem to realise this). You can influence them, negotiate with them, plead with them, or bribe them but that's about it - they still have the final say.

To be 'well-formed' an outcome needs to be within your realm of influence. You cannot make someone love you, a relationship requires input from all participants, and your popularity or lack of it is not something you can directly influence since it is dependant on the taste of those with whom you would like to be popular.

Back to our three examples. Becoming calmer must be achieved as a result of your own efforts. This means that you must be able to remain calmer in situations that previously would have been irritating even if everybody else continues to behave in exactly the same old way. Becoming slimmer and lighter objective must include the ability to be able to manage your eating even if people around you continue to eat lots of fattening food. Your smoke-free future must include the ability to be able to be comfortable even if other people around you are smoking cigarettes.

The second part of this particular step in the process is that you must spell out what you need to do to bring your goal into reality - you must detail your plan of action.

  1. Both the advantages and the disadvantages

Identify both the advantages and the disadvantages of making this change. When we decide to achieve something desirable many of us tend to hypnotise ourselves with how perfect life will be when we achieve it.

This is unrealistic. No single lifestyle change can make life even nearly perfect. And if we do not realistically evaluate the upside and the downside of going for and of achieving a particular objective this likely to get in the way of our achieving it - or of enjoying the benefits once we have achieved it.

Yes, by all means, detail each and every advantage that will result from achieving your outcome - this is a highly motivational exercise. But, in addition, detail each and every drawback or downside to seeking to achieve it. Let's look at our examples.

Aiming to be calmer in situations that previously irritated you could mean that you won't have the satisfaction of seeing other people intimidated by your behaviour. And it may mean that you have to allow other people to "get away with it" when they don't meet your standards or when they behave in ways of which you disapprove.

Achieving a healthier weight will likely include having to eat less, having to forgo favourite foods, having to exercise at inconvenient times, and a whole series of other drawbacks.

Being healthier and free of cigarettes will involve physical cravings and discomfort for a week or two. It will also involve psychological cravings which may endure, albeit in decreasing intensity, for quite some time afterwards.

By detailing and acknowledging the advantages and the disadvantages upfront you approach the situation realistically, you know what to expect, and you are more likely to stick with and to enjoy the benefits of your success.

  1. Make it worthwhile

Your objective must be linked with your own personal values. This means that you must know "what's in it for me". Think of your values as being the feelings that you will feel as a result of achieving your outcome and, and this is most important, the unwelcome feelings that you will be free of or will avoid feeling as a result of achieving your outcome.

List these values/feelings in some detail - aim to get at least 4 or 5 of each i.e. the ones you want to feel and the ones you want to avoid feeling as a result of achieving this outcome.

Isn't this a lot of bother…?

A few people have remarked to me that this process seems like a lot of bother. And, yes, it does take a little thought and care to create an outcome that is clear and achievable. You could take an hour or three to go through the whole process. But if your outcome isn't worth this amount of thought is it worth going after in the first place?

Doing it this way takes a little bit longer and requires a bit more preparation but it makes achieving the outcome a lot easier since instead of being in "in two minds about it" the process will focus your mind and your energy and will enable you to marshal your resources and your motivation to achieve it.

The payoff

Having a clear and carefully defined outcome significantly increases the likelihood that you will achieve your goal. This way or defining your outcome changes it from being a dream to being a target.

We use this outcome-clarifying process in our NLP Core Skills workshops and afterwards people report variously that they believe more in the goal and in their ability to achieve it, that they can see it more clearly, that they feel more focused on it, that it appears more realistic, and that they feel more motivated to go for it.

Hope, if you must, but plan and act, too!

Benjamin Franklin suggested that “He that lives upon hope will die fasting”. And a few years later one of the instigators of the Ulster Orange Order, a Lt. Colonel Blacker, wrote a poem in which he exhorted the soldiers to adopt a belt-and-braces approach to the future: “Put your trust in God, my boys, and keep your powder dry”…

(Click here for Goals and Dreams Part 1)

The Pegasus NLP Newsletter

Most articles on this site were first published in the Pegasus NLP Newsletter.

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