What are 'well-formed outcomes' in NLP?

NLP's version of SMART goals

"Well-formed" is the strange term that is still widely used in NLP to describe goals or outcomes that have been designed according to certain criteria.

The NLP outcome method is similar to the well-know SMART objectives method but is more thorough and rigorous than the SMART method.  (There is a list of more articles on NLP & goals below)

Why call them 'well-formed'?

Good question. The term 'well-formed' has been around in NLP for around 40 years and, as with many of the baffling and arcane NLP terms, the name can get in the way of understanding the value and the simplicity of a great technique.

Some people, to make things even more obtuse, even refer to the 'well-formedness conditions for an outcome'. The original version is described here in Robert Dilts excellent Encyclopaedia of NLP.

Simply put, 'well-formed' means that the outcome has been refined or checked against a series of tests or criteria. Once it has 'passed' these tests it is considered to be well-designed or well-formed. 

You can use this outcome designing process to clarify your own wishes so that they are more realistic and action-focussed - and to assist others in doing the same.

But... let's simpify the wording, first.

The PECSAW model for designing goals

Here in Pegasus NLP we aim to make NLP more accessible, more easily understood, and more thorough.

That's why, back in the mid 90's, we simplified and streamlined the original 5-step model, added a further qualifying question, and created the new name of PECSAW, which is an acronym for the steps in our version.

Going through the six PECSAW questions creates a detailed internal image or concept in your mind - an important step in creating a belief in your objective.

The PECSAW process ensures you focus on what you DO want rather than on what you do NOT want. Your attention is on what to do and how to do it rather than on problems, excuses, alibis, and explanations.

Outcomes focus your thoughts and actions. Use them for your goals, dreams, wishes - and watch what happens. The six questions distinguish between those factors which are relevant to getting what you want and those which are in the realm of history, complaint, etc.

Using this process improves your rapport with other people. If you have a joint project using the well-formed outcome process to match and align your objectives adds to the rapport already existing between you – since you now have a joint commitment to the outcome towards which you are both moving. And when you use it to assist someone in clarifying what they want for themselves they are likely to appreciate your concern and interest.

It provides a means of evaluating progress. Having a well-formed outcome makes it more likely that you will quickly recognise when you are thinking or acting in ways that are at variance with your well-formed outcome, giving you a signal to stop and re-evaluate your activities.

When use to clarify formal discussions work-related discussions or meetings the outcome steps provide a framework that keeps discussions and activity on course.


You'll find the six PECSAW questions here. It may not be necessary to go through all of the questions for every objective. Use your discretion and apply the questions that are appropriate at the time.

When using the questions with other people first establish a very good quality of rapport and then either introduce the process formally or use the process in a conversational manner.

There is a further article explaining the NLP process for designing goals here.


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More articles on NLP and Goals or Outcomes

The NLP goal-designing method

The Pegasus NLP PECSAW method

NLP Goals or Dreams (1)

NLP Goals or Dreams (2)

NLP Goals and how to avoid regret

The ‘future on wheels’ pattern

NLP Goals and archery

NLP and the need to focus on what you DO want!

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