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In everyday speech, an outcome is a consequence arising from an action, or alternatively a goal one wishes (or hopes) to achieve.

A Well-formed outcome is a term originating in neuro-linguistic programming for an outcome one wishes to achieve, that meets certain conditions designed to avoid (1) unintended costs or consequences and (2) resistance to achieving the goal resulting from internal conflicting feelings or thoughts about the outcome.

Thus, a high quality outcome is more than a vague wish or goal. It is an objective or goal which is integrated with all aspects of one's life (morals, ethics, relationships, finances, health, body, etc.) and has a process of accomplishment that respects and supports the current desirable circumstances in one's life.

A high quality outcome is (in a sense) consistent with forward-thinking action as well, or alternatively have been clearly and well enough defined to be prima facie free of common "muddy thinking".

By applying all of the well-formedness conditions to a goal or outcome, and adjusting the outcome specifications accordingly in the process, you create a Well-formed outcome.

Goals and outcomes

In NLP, a general distinction is made between goals and outcomes. A goal is a lay-term, and is often lacking in the precision and cognitive clarity needed to be acted upon. For example:

  • I want to be loved
    (by whom? How much?)
  • I want to be happy
    ("happiness" is a process and its not clear what the speaker means by the term in their own world, nor what kind of happiness, nor how they expect it to be maintained)
  • I don't want that!
    (NLP states that the brain cognitively processes in terms of positives not negatives, and that cognitively this "goal" is akin to asking for a plane ticket to "not here". It's unclear what is wanted instead)
  • I don't want them to do that
    (not only tends to block thinking what is wanted instead, but may be vague as to exactly whom and what the subjects are, and what it is that they are perceived as "doing" that's objectionable)

An imprecise wish is seen as problematic for several reasons:

  • Its vagueness may mean it is unattainable in practice (for example people who want to be "rich" or "successful")
  • Its expression in the negative may focus the mind away from generating positive steps to get around it
  • One might not know when one actually has it (for example people who want "security" or "to be safe")

An outcome may be small scale (the purpose of asking a specific question or phrasing) or large scale (the meaning of one's life), but NLP teaches that in each case there are some basic conditions that indicate if the outcome is well formed, or whether it needs further clarification and precision to be useful.

The well-formedness conditions

Whilst the exact details may differ among schools or training providers, generally in NLP a well-formed outcome is one that ideally[1] meets the following basic conditions:

  1. Be stated in the positive (that is,what you want, rather than what you don't want), see Positive and negative (NLP)
  2. Be capable of representation in the sensory systems (tangible rather than theoretical or conceptual: able in principle to be evidenced through the senses when attained. Thus, seen, heard or felt)
  3. Be possible and achievable.
  4. Have all the resources (people, psychophysiological states, time, capital, equipment, or material) required or accessible.
  5. Have a defined time frame.
  6. Be ecological in having consideration for costs and consequences for oneself and others affected.

These criteria for a wish to be considered "well formed" are known as the well-formedness conditions.

Notes and References

  1. Bandler & Grinder (1979) Frogs into Princes

There is one wellformedness condition for a wellformed goal that is missing. As Joseph O'Connor and John Seymour describe in their book Introducing Neuro Linguistic Programming (Aquarius 1993) the 4th condition is: contextualize your goal (where, with whom and when would you like to reach your goal).

As to wellformedness condition 1: when it also is stated as an accomplished competence, the goal wins power.

Read about Well-Formed Outcomes:

Chapter 21-29 of "Mindworks: NLP Tools for Building a Better Life," by Anne Linden. 1997, 1998 by Berkley Publishing Group, New York. Paperback, ISBN 0-425-16624-4

p. 221 of "Changing Belief Systems with NLP," by Robert Dilts. 1990 Meta Publications, California. Hardcover ISBN 0-916990-24-9

pp. 10-14 of "Introducing Neuro-Linguistic Programming," by O'Conner & Seymour. 1990 Mandala, 1993 The Aquarian Press, 2002 Element. Trade paperback ISBN 1-85538-344-6.

Chapter 3 (pp.31-45) and Appendix C of "Neuro-Linguistic Programming for Dummies," by Ready & Burton. 2004 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. Trade paperback ISBN-10: 0-7645-7028-5, ISBN-13: 978-0-7645-7028-5.

Section 2.2 (pp. 106-119) and section 3.7 (pp. 202-203) of "NLP at Work," by Knight. 1995, 1996, 1997 Nicholas Brealey Publishing, London. Trade paperback ISBN 1-85788-070-6

(This is a partial list)

See also

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