Have you ever watched a plant grow? Even if you have not, you may imagine that in the growth of a seedling, the roots are the first to develop. Only when the young plant has firmly taken root would the shoot start to sprout. The roots play a very important role in plant development. They sustain the structure of the plant while providing it with nutrients from the soil.

It is the same with our goals. Goals are plants that we nurture whether for personal or professional reasons. Unfortunately, most goals turned out poorly or simply failed because in the first place, they were growing on shabby roots. If you repeatedly fail to achieve your goals, you could have set them on weak roots.

The “roots” refer to the initial process of setting a goal. This process is so important that when done right, not only will you have built a firm foundation from which to move, your goal will become as sure a destination to you as the sun is to the shoots that grow towards it.

plant

To know clearly what you want and move in that direction – now, wouldn’t that be useful? That clarity has a name. It is termed “well-formedness”. Well-formed goals last and push you to achieve them. Here are the six steps to creating a well-formed goal that lasts:

1. State your goal in the positive and present tense

Always state your goal positively. State it in the positive and the mind will focus on the positive. State it in the negative and not only is the attention set otherwise, there is also no focus on what you want. Here is a test: do not think of green pigs. Never, ever, think of green pigs getting bombarded by a catapulted angry bird. What did you just think of?

So, instead of “I don’t want to increase my debt”, go with “I spend wisely”.

Also state your goal in the present tense: it signifies that you have already achieved it rather than a spot in the future that you have to get to. Instead of “I will be a power presenter”, use “I am a power presenter”.

2. Ensure that the goal is self-initiated and self-maintained

Have you ever met someone whose goal is to create world peace? It really makes you wonder how this person would achieve it true to his word. He may need to start by acquiring control over the entire world!

Let us bring it closer to home. What about “I want my boss to like me”? Or “I want my other half to love me more”? Or “I want my child to score straight A’s”? Do we really have control over those? These goals are dependent on the behaviours of others which are not within our control.

Goals are achievable only when they are within your control, and the only factor you can truly control is your own choices and actions. If the goal is within your control, then it can be self-maintained.

In a similar vein, always have a goal that is self-initiated, never one that is initiated by external factors like: “I want to be a doctor because that is what my parents would want for me”. This is your goal. Not your parents’, society’s, nor anyone else’s. Make it self-initiated and self-maintained.

Mke sure your goal is self-maintained.

Make sure your goal is self-maintained.

3. Know when, where, and who you are with having achieved the goal

These define the context for your goal. Imagine having achieved your goal. When and where is that, and who are you with? Suppose if you want to acquire more analytical thinking abilities. It helps to define the context in which you would apply that ability. Is it while you are advising your clients as a technology consultant? Is it while you are researching financial statements of companies in your role as an investor?

Defining a context makes your goal specific and clear to the mind. It also prevents generalization to areas where the goal may not be appropriate. For example, you would not want to be all analytical about scientific accuracy while watching a sci-fi movie!

4. Experience having achieved the goal

Now that you have a positive, self-initiated, self-maintained, and specific goal, how would you know when you have achieved it? Well, indulge in the experience now! Visualize in your mind that you have attained your goal. Utilize your senses. See, feel, and hear – even taste and smell if you like – what you would experience having achieved your goal.

5. Check that the goal you want is ecological

The word “ecological” refers to an interdependence and balance of living organisms. In our context, you want to ensure that the changes brought on by your goal will not cause any internal conflicts. Ask yourself these:

  • What are the benefits of having this goal?
  • What are the disadvantages of having this goal?
  • What are the benefits of not having this goal?
  • What are the disadvantages of not having this goal?

If you discover conflicts answering these questions, you may want to resolve them before proceeding with your goal. Otherwise, revise your goal.

6. Ask, “Is it worthwhile?”

Finally, be honest to yourself and ask: “Is it worthwhile?”

You may need to spend considerable time and energy in your goal. Only you can tell why the goal is important to you, and whether it is worth your investment. At this final step, you want to know that the goal you have set is aligned with what you truly want.


The concept of a well-formed outcome is a tool in Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP), a human development technology that can only truly be appreciated when you experience it yourself. In addition to learning other personal and interpersonal development tools, get the opportunity to set and revise your goal/outcome in our NLP Practitioner course and be certified as an NLP Practitioner in the process.