How To Set Better Goals with Well-Defined Outcomes



“Give me a stock clerk with a goal and I’ll give you a man who will make history. Give me a man with no goals and I’ll give you a stock clerk.” – J.C. Penny

You can set better goals using NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming) and well-defined outcomes. 

Whether you want to be the life of a party or become a billionaire within three years, you can use goals to help you achieve excellence, whatever that means for you.

What Do You Really Want?

If you know what you want and where you want to go, you’ll be able to create better maps to guide you, and come up with new, better, faster, or easier ways to get there.

A well-defined outcome answers the question:

“What do you really want?”


If you know the model of “BE-DO-HAVE” (over HAVE-DO-BE), you know that you first become the the kind of person that’s able to achieve your desired outcome, and then you do the actions that are congruent with that kind of person. 

(This is why many people that succeed, often follow the “fake it until you make it” approach.)

The key to achieving your goals is to define them. 

Believable + Achievable

But, you have to define them in a way that’s believable and achievable

In fact, according to Denis Watley, “The reason most people never reach their goals is that they don’t define them, or even seriously consider them as believable or achievable.”

One of the best write ups of all time on well-defined outcomes is from the book, The Big Book of NLP Techniques, by Shlomo Vaknin. 

It’s actually an amazing book, and I’ve never seen an NLP book quite like it.   The patterns are very well explained, easy to flip through, and they’ve been tested in practice. 

It’s a gold-mine of patterns for excellence and strategies for how to bring out your best and produce outstanding results.

(Two notes on the book – it’s not pure NLP, it’s recipes for results, and it really is a big book.  I went with the paperback so I could easily flip through the book and use it as a quick reference.)

Align Your Desires, Your Values, and Your Needs into One Powerful Direction

When you line up your mind, body, and emotions in the same direction, you can make great things happen.  

This congruence is a powerful recipe for results. 

This means you are thinking, feeling, and doing in consistent ways that match what you want to achieve.

Vaknin writes:

“Put your mind into that outcome as if you have achieved it, and open your thinking to means of imporving that outcome.  The time to rework your outcomes comes before you start investing a lot of resources. 

The way to align with your highest goals is to stay flexible about your outcome, to rework the outcomes as needed, to shape the outcome into something even better. 

Now you are developing one of the hallmarks of NLP, ecology, where all the parts of you agree with the outcome, where your desires, your values, and your needs are all aligned into one powerful direction.”

With that in mind, let’s look at the well-defined outcomes pattern and how you can set better goals …

Steps at a Glance to Set Better Goals

Step #1. Create a Positive, Specific Goal.
Step #2. State Your Outcome in Terms of Ability, Not Lack of Ability.
Step #3. Context.
Step #4. Sense Modalities.
Step #5. Objectives.
Step #6. Support.
Step #7. Perform an Ecology Check.
Step #8. Create Your Milestones.
Step #9. Write Down Your Goals.
Step #10.  Test.


Step #1. Create a Positive, Specific Goal.

Start with the end in mind.   What’s your vision or desired outcome that you want to experience? 

Make it specific and state it in positive terms. 

What would good look like or what’s the scene that you see play in your mind’s eye? 

Don’t focus on what you don’t want.  Do focus on what you do want.  State your desired outcome in a positive way.

Vaknin writes:

“State your outcome/goal in positive, specific terms.  Take the time to describe exactly what you want. 

A negative goal does not take you in this positive direction.  Avoid goals such as, ‘I do not want to be a perfectionist.  ‘  A ‘not frame’ encourages the subconscious mind to create what you think you are resisting. 

If you erase a problem and replace it with something positive and resourceful, what would it be? Describe it.  Include all key sense modes.”

Step #2. State Your Outcome in Terms of Ability, Not Lack of Ability.

Focus on what you control.  Don’t give your power away.  You give your power away when you depend on other people.

Vaknin writers:

“Consider, ‘I want others to support me.’  That is not a well-formed outcome.  Actually, thinking this way will stop you from making progress! 

It is true that some goals require support from additional people, but this vague outcome doesn’t say what you will do to get the support and what, exactly, that support entails.

Consider the alternative:

‘By the end of the week, I will have created and used an approach that will get a very positive response from people on this issue.  I will continue to improve it until it is very effective.’

Note that the outcome is based on your actions.  Plus, it must be within your responsibility and ability.  Ask yourself or your client:

What would you do on your own to make it happen?
What actions would you take to increase your chances this week?”

Step #3. Context.

When you describe your outcome, be specific in terms of the context.  Where do you want this to happen?   When do you want this to happen?  Who do you want this to happen with?

Vaknin writes:

“Meaning is usually defined by context.  Describe your well-formed outcome in the context of the environment it will be in

This makes your goal more specific and motivational.  It also helps to make sure that you have created an ecological goal.  A more well-formed context-related outcome would be: ‘I want to make $65,000 within the next 12 months, starting July 1st, by selling my NLP skills to insurance agencies as a sales trainer for their telemarketing team.’

Add places, locations, geography, people and their titles, a budget, time frames, and more.  By making it specific and context related, you’re making it real for your brain.

Another thought on context:
Where wouldn’t you want that behavior to be acted upon?

For example, would you want to play like a child with your kids everyday to make them feel more joyful with you? 


But you wouldn’t want to act the same way with your spouse in bed, right? 

That’s why context is extremely important. 

You can make a goal of talking with more passion and sexiness to your wife, but if you forget the context being ‘with the wife,’ you might slip the wrong tonality talking with your boss.”

Step #4. Sense Modalities.

Bring your goal or desired outcome to life by adding all your senses to the picture (see it, hear it, feel it, taste it, smell it).  

This will help you bring it to mind much more vividly and you will actually feel what it would be like to achieve your goal. 

This will help inspire you and get your subconscious on your side.

Vaknin writes:

“Describe your outcome by using your five senses

A well-formed outcome is specific. 

By adding all senses you are being more specific, and, again, motivational.  This adds power to your positive subconscious strategies. 

If you have to use a word such as love, appreciated, or passionate, be sure to include the senses that form that emotion

From a sensory point of view, what does it mean for your to feel more appreciated?

How does ‘appreciated’ feel?
In what part of your body do you feel it?
Who is appreciating you, and what kind of expression is on their face?”

Step #5.  Objectives.

Chunk your goal down into little steps.   This makes your goal more actionable, more believable, more achievable, and easier to accomplish.  This will also help you build momentum.

Vaknin writes:

“Break down your goal into manageable objectives (pieces), so that you will feel more motivation and do better problem solving

Be sure to define the objectives in achievable terms.  Smaller steps feel more achievable.  This adds subconscious motivation.  In NLP we call this breakdown, ‘chunking down.’

How do you feel when you think about writing a whole book?
Or losing 60 pounds?

Compare that to smaller pieces, ‘I will write a page a day to complete a 240 page book.  Today I will concentrate only on that one page.’

How do you eat an elephant?  One piece at a time.”

Step #6. Support.

Identify the support you need and how you’ll get it.  Be specific.

Vankin writes:

Arrange the help you need in order to make this outcome a reality.  What resources do you need? 

Make a list of the resources you will use in attaining your goal. 

Let’s say an important resource is team members, and a resource for acquiring them is a persuasive pitch. 

This outcome includes both:

‘By the end of the week, I will have a complete list of people that are good candidates for teaming up on the project.  By the end of the following week, I will have created a persuasive approach for contacting them, and I will have called at least twenty of them.  I will continue until I have five credible commitments.’

Again, be specific:

Who are the people who can assist you?
What are their names?
What is their profession?
How about their phone numbers?
What, exactly, should you ask them?
What emotions will you need to develop within yourself?
Do you need more confidence, resilience, joyfulness, or assertiveness?
How much money?
What information will be important? What questions must be answered ahead of time?
What else do you need?”

Step #7. Perform an Ecology Check

Do you really want to achieve this goal?   Are you having second doubts?  Are you experiencing internal tugs in another direction?  Are there any conflicts you need to resolve? 

Figure out if anything is holding you back.

Vankin writes:

‘What might be interfering with your goal?’
‘Are there any values, other goals, people, or laws that may be challenging?’
‘How might you accommodate or mitigate now in order to make your dream a reality?’
‘Consider any internal obstacles you may have.  Is a part of you interfering with your goal?’”

Step #8. Create Your Milestones.

Break your goal down into milestones.  Add the milestones to your calendar.  

This gives you a way to see and sense progress as you, and to help you stay on track.

Vankin writes:

“Determine how you will know that you are progressing in the right direction ad at the right pace. 

You must know what signs of progress you will be observing along the way

One way to create milestones is to place the resources from your checklist onto a timeline. 

Vagueness about milestones is a warning sign. 

Mark on your calendar the dates that you will be checking each milestone

Note in your plan exactly what you want to see by that date. 

Being a great lover is an awesome goal; but what about learning to read the body language of the person you’re with? 

That would be excellent progress toward your goal.  Even something that seems insignificant can be a good milestone

If you want to become rich, balancing your checkbook is part of your master plan, as trivial as it seems.”

Step #9. Write Down Your Goals.

Writing down your goals helps reinforce them.  It also helps you reflect on them and check how things are going.  It also helps keep you from swirling things around in your mind.

Vankin writes:

“There are many benefits to writing down your goals, objectives and milestones.  Having a notebook or file for this gives you a place for problem solving and innovation.

Sometimes a stray thought will turn into a gold mine when you come across it later. 

Having separate sections for these elements gives you a working reference for checking milestones, refining your goals, and working toward your objectives

Unwritten goals aren’t worth the paper they’re written on, but the written word is powerful.

‘Wouldn’t it be worse to see your name on a ‘Most Wanted’ poster than to hear about it?”

Step 10:  Test.

This is where the rubber meets the road. 

Take action and test your results. 

Pay attention to your results.  Your results are your feedback.  Use your feedback to improve.

Vankin writes:

“Monitor your progress on the goal and its milestones.  Keep this in a conspicuous place to remind you.  Notice any ways that this pattern has helped you make progress toward achieving your goal

Do this pattern  as needed for other goals and for refining them. 

Notice any ways that this pattern has improved your willingness to be more conscious of your goals and milestones, and to commit yourself to them. 

Note all obstacles that you encounter and decide which NLP patterns might help you with them.  Part of the beauty of this pattern is making obstacles more obvious so you can handle them.”

Additional Advice

Don’t fight with yourself.  Get yourself on your side by reminding yourself what you want to accomplish and why.

Vankin writes:

“In this modern world, with all its technology and comfort, it is quite easy to become a master procrastinator. 

My advice, as a major procrastinator myself, is that you do not fight with yourself when it comes to taking action on your goals and outcomes. 

Simply remember to keep the outcome in mind as a direction and not as a ‘to do’ listMake it a big outcome so it inspires you, and then let it be as you take small actions and celebrate each milestone

Think of your outcomes not as end results, but as means to achieve a great and compelling purpose.  That’s a true motivational force.

What is the larger purpose of your project?

Explore its meaning until you are in touch with the forces that motivate you.  In this case, you’ll know that you are making good progress when that progress feels good.”

That’s a pretty detailed look into how to set goals that are believable and achievable. 

It’s also a great pattern to expose where your goals might breakdown, either due to alignment, or lack of action, or lack of inspiration.

The big thing to keep in mind is to keep taking action towards your scene of success and remind yourself that there is no failure, only feedback.

You Might Also Like

Zig Ziglar on Setting Goals

Guide Your Path with Vision, Values, and Goals

What You Become By Reaching Your Goals


  1. Besides goals and other tips, try to build good communication and human friendly behavior to get your work done fast as you may depend on other to carry out some of your works.

    • Great point.

      One of my favorite books on the subject is Get Them on Your Side. It has a 3 part recipe for results when getting things done with other people: 1) Map the political terrain, 2) get the people on your side, and 3) make things happen.

  2. JD, what’s your take on stretch goals that seem unbelievable and unachievable? Would those be a different ball game altogether?

    • Great question.

      I’ve always been a fan of AND, when it comes to better goals … big AND small.

      It’s along the lines of “Think globally, act locally”, and “Live each day as if it were your last, and plan to live 100 years.”

      It’s good to also keep in mind that you can break down goals (sub-goals, objectives, way-points, milestones), and really what you’re doing is illuminating your path by exposing the mini-goals toward a bigger end in mind.

      Personally, I like to go for the gold, or I’m not inspired. I take on big, audacious goals to inspire and challenge myself. It’s how I grow the most and expand what I’m capable of. Meanwhile, as a Program Manager, I need to break things down into simple units of work that can be achieved in realistic time frames. Usually, what happens along the way, is we build momentum from our progress on the little rocks, and we expand our capabilities, which leads to both breakthroughs and serendipitous opportunities.

      The little things make the bigger things possible.

      Time frames can help us quickly zoom out or zoom in. For example:
      – 3 Desired Outcomes for the Day
      – 3 Desired Outcomes for the Week
      – 3 Desired Outcomes for the Month
      – 3 Desired Outcomes for the Year

      That said, yes, there is an entirely other angle where the stretch goals can require a completely different strategy. They might take a lot of courage and conviction and are high-risk for failure.

      When the arena that you’re in doesn’t support the big bang approach, or it’s not aligned with how you want to execute in a sustainable way, it’s better to chunk things down into more believable wins. This reduces risk and helps build momentum. It can also help you accelerate value, which can create a snowball effect. For example, sometimes a little reward now, works better than the promise of great rewards way off in the future.

Comments are closed.