Part of what leads to success with hypnosis is having a clear idea of what you want to achieve. While “quitting smoking” or “losing weight” seem at first to be straightforward and quantifiable goals, the truth is that the paths to achieving such goals are rarely so simple. The best way to set yourself up for success is to thoroughly examine and define not just what you want to achieve, but how you can achieve it. In Neuro Linguistic Programming, this is referred to as a well-formed outcome.

Consider this scenario: Jen, a busy working mom, wants to spend less time at the office and more time with her family. This is a reasonable goal for Jen to have, but this statement does little to guide her in achieving her goal. What behaviours will she have to change? What will she need from other people? How will her coworkers and family members respond? How much is “more” time? Unlike a typical goal statement, a well-formed outcome answers these questions.

According to Bob G. Bodenhamer and L. Michael Hall, authors of The User’s Manual for the Brain, a well-formed outcome has the following seven characteristics. By taking these things into consideration when thinking about what you want to achieve with hypnosis, you can create a plan for success.

1. Stated positively in terms of what you want.

Our minds don’t directly process negatives. For example, if someone says to you, “Don’t think about dogs!” what is the first thing you do? Your mind forms an image of a dog. Only once this image is created can you push it from your mind.

If you’re trying to change a behaviour, think of it in terms of what you want, not what you don’t want. When you tell yourself, “I will stop smoking,” your mind first creates a representation of yourself smoking and then negates it. But once that image is in your mind, it’s hard to say no. Instead, use positive outcomes when imagining what you want to achieve, like “I will take care of my health” or “I will drink a glass of water when I feel stressed.” The idea here is that you want to spend more time imaging yourself doing the things you want to do instead of the things you don’t want to do.

2. Described in sensory-based language.

Our minds make sense of the world through sensory input: sights, sounds, and feelings are our primary senses. When creating a well-formed outcome, think of what you will see, hear, and feel when you obtained the desired outcome. This can serve as a measure for recognizing when you have achieved your goal. For example, let’s say you want to comfortably and confidently give a presentation to a team at work. You might see your coworkers focusing their attention on you and giving their nods of approval, hear yourself speaking clearly and loudly, and feel relaxed and in control.

3. Self-initiated and self-controlled.

We can’t control the thoughts, emotions, and behaviours of other people, but we can control our own. A well-formed outcome is based in changes that we can control. If your goal relies on the behaviours or responses of others, you are likely to fail. Think about the changes you can make to your own behaviour.

4. Appropriately contextualized.

When designing a well-formed outcome, it has to fit within all the appropriate contexts of your life. Think about the constraints that might affect the desired outcome: time, energy, resources, location, etc. Where and when do you want the outcome? Does it fit into every time and place with no limitations? For example, you want to change your diet and cook at home more often than eating out. However, you have a busy schedule that doesn’t allow for a lot of time preparing meals. How can you adjust your goal to fit this context?

5. Maintains appropriate secondary gain.

All of our behaviours provide us with positive outcomes-if they didn’t, we wouldn’t continue them! Secondary gain refers to the positive outcome which comes from a ‘negative’ behaviour. For example, smoking is detrimental to your health, but its positive outcome might be stress relief. If you change the negative behaviour, you have to preserve the secondary gain by providing a new way of attaining it. If smoking provides stress relief and you quit smoking, you need a new behaviour to relieve stress, for example, taking a short walk. If you change a behaviour but don’t provide an alternative way of getting that secondary gain, the change is unlikely to last.

6. Includes the needed resources.

What are the things you need in order to reach your desired outcome? Which do you already have and which do you need to get? For example, if your desired outcome is to eat healthier, you might need: cooking skills, time and space to prepare meals, nutrition advice, access to and money for fresh foods.

7. Ecological for the whole system.

Ecology is the science of how organisms relate to each other and their environments. Whatever change you want to make or goal you want to achieve, it doesn’t happen in a vacuum; it has to fit within your ecology, which includes your family, friends, work and/or school relationships, and community. If an outcome benefits one area but is detrimental to another, it is unlikely to be attainable or lasting. For example, if taking on more responsibility at work means you can advance your career, yet your family life suffers because you have to spend more time at the office, you have to decide if the benefit to one area outweighs the detriment to the other, and ideally reassess the specifics of your goal.

When setting a goal or making a behavioural change, test it against each of these 7 criteria. As you work towards your goal, referring back to these criteria is also a good way to keep yourself on track. Interested in making a positive change but not sure where to start? The hypnotists at The Morpheus Clinic for Hypnosis are trained in Neuro Linguistic Programming and can help you define and achieve a well-formed outcome of your own. Call today to book your free consultation: 416-556-4068

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