Well-formed Outcomes

As you might see in my bio, I have been using the theories of neurolinguistic programming in several areas on my practice. One such area is in creating well-formed outcomes. A well-formed outcome asks what the patient will be doing and experiencing when their presenting issue is resolved, and is always stated in the positive. (Rather than “I want to have no more pain,” which focuses on the pain at the subconscious and conscious levels, a well-formed outcome may be, “I will know I am feeling better when I can touch my toes and lift over 20 lbs. comfortably.” A well-formed outcomes informs the mind of an intention in such a way that the unconscious wants to move toward rather than away from something.

When someone is having a difficult time coming up with a well-formed outcome, has some unclear goals, or wants to use hypnosis in a future session, I may have them do a writing assignment to get a well-formed outcome before the next appointment. What follows is one such assignment based on the work of Dave Elman, a well-known hypnotherapist.

What follows is the ‘homework assignment’ I’d like you to do between now and our next meeting. It’s a free-write, and you should set aside 30 minutes to do it in a quiet place with no interruptions.

Start by writing about the outcome you wish to have, and state it in the positive (i.e., “I want to be calm, confident, and clear-headed when….” rather than “I don’t want to be anxious when I….”) Be as specific as possible (i.e., “By June 1, I will feel…, and I will be….”)

Write about how you intend to get there (“…by studying x amount, meditation, etc…”).

Next, write about how you would know you have achieved it. How would it/you look, feel, move…all the physical aspects of the positive end result, as well as the emotional and perhaps spiritual experience. What is your motivation; what benefit will it give you to experience/achieve your desired outcome? You will also want to express the context of your success, quantify it. Where, when, with whom do you want it?

Try to write about your desired outcome for the full 30 minutes. When you are done, read through it and reduce the whole thing–the desired outcome, the way it looks, feels, etc., everything you wrote–reduce it down to a single, simple phrase, as concise as possible to represent it all. It could be as simple as ‘confident, competent’ or a full sentence.

Finally, once you have a concise statement or words representing your desired outcome, create or imagine a simple symbol that represents it all. Draw that picture and visualize it in your mind’s eye. We’ll use that simple, concise statement and its attendant symbol the next time you come in.

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