This chapter exposes you to another of the foundational models in NLP. John Grinder, one of the founders of the field would say “To do NLP you need rapport, an outcome, and a ritual.” In this chapter you are learning the value of an outcome – of knowing what you really want, specifically enough to actually get it.
To really understand the benefits of a model, a contrast is frequently helpful. Excerpted from “The Fundamentals of NLP” created by Leslie Cameron and David Gordon, two more founders of NLP, here is the way some people sometimes approach issues. Surely not you or me, of course. 😉 In fact, in some organizations it seems the first thing to do when a project is considered. It’s called the “Blame Frame.”
THE BLAME FRAME
Contrasting examples is often the best way to make palpable the significance of new concepts. So before describing the specifics of the outcome frame, we want to first acquaint you with the way most people think about their problems. What follows is a list of questions that encompass a certain way of thinking about problems, a way we have dubbed the “Blame Frame.”
Do the following Blame Frame Exercise.
STEP 1: Think of something that is a mild problem for you in your life right now.
STEP 2: Ask yourself each of the following questions, writing down your answer before moving on to the next question (you can use the exercise worksheet in the last section of the manual):
- “What’s wrong?”
- “Why do I have this problem?” “How long have I had it?”
- “How does this limit me?”
- “What does this problem stop me from doing that I want to do?”
- “Whose fault is it that I have this problem?”
- “When was the worst time I experienced this problem?”
STEP 3. Now that you have finished these questions, take a moment to breathe deeply and remember what answering them was like.
It would not be at all surprising if the above questions sound a little familiar. They are the way most people frame their problem situations for themselves. The blame frame questions are problem oriented and lead to experiences of limitation and lack of choice. They demand explanations of why you don’t have what you want, excuses and justifications.
This gives you a much better sense of how valuable having an “Outcome Orientation” can be, right?
Here’s a story and explanation of the Outcome Frame, again in the words of Leslie and David.
NLP Essentials: The Outcome Frame
Diane often has the experience of being trapped in her house. She has no problem with getting to work and then getting back home to fix dinner, but after dinner and on the weekend she finds herself sitting around the house, itching to get away, to do something. By the time she climbs into bed at night the itch is still there, and another day has been wasted in fretting and wondering why she doesn’t do something.
Greg ‘s love life is a series of relationships that seemed like good ideas at the time, but invariably turned out to be dissatisfying. Soon he realizes that the relationship is over, but he seems unable to do anything about ending it. Instead, he remains tangled, wondering how he got into the mess in the first place.
Terry is an expert on why things went wrong. He has a job he hates, a run-down house he ignores, and a relationship with his wife that is a big disappointment to him. He ponders his situation often. Just ask him and he’ll explain why he’s in the fix he’s in. He can even tell you why he hasn’t been able to do anything about it during the last fifteen years. And, if pressed, he’ll concede that knowing why hasn’t made him any happier
Diane, Greg, and Terry are stuck. It is not that they don’t have ample reason to “leave” where they are. It is just that they don’t know where to go. In fact, they don’t even know that they need to know where to go. As it is now, their fates and fortunes are decided by the intercession of chance and the world. If Diane gets out tonight it will probably be because someone thought to call her up and invite her out. If Greg gets out of his present relationship it will be because it turned so rancid it got up and walked off on its own. And if Terry gets into another line of work it will be because a friend offers him one.
Most of us have little trouble knowing what we don’t want. And a lot of our precious time and energy goes into figuring out “why” we have what we don’t want. It’s as though we have been dropped off at a crossroads in the middle of a wasteland, and we sit down by the road to ponder how it is that we got there.
Meanwhile, cars are whizzing by, heading off in various directions. If we’re lucky, maybe someone will decide to stop and offer us a lift. But will it be a lift to just another wasteland?
1. WHAT THE OUTCOME FRAME IS
You are going to go to many physical, professional, personal, and experiential places in life. The question is, will those be places of your own choosing, or will they be places selected for you by the usually indifferent flow of circumstances (what we call environmental variables)? The importance of knowing where it is you want to go is that you can then orient yourself towards that goal, bringing your energies, ongoing decisions, and abilities into alignment and in service of attaining that goal. This orientation isn’t new. It is how houses get built, excess pounds get shed, and individuals evolve themselves.
Likewise, in NLP the orientation is to find out what people want, and then to discover what resources they have and how to use those resources to get them what they want. We call this orientation the Outcome Frame. In fact, it was the rigorous application of the outcome frame to the realm of human behavior and the processes of change that has resulted in the development of the field of NLP.
The outcome frame is a set of questions that orient your thinking in such a way as to maximize the possibility of your getting what you want and being glad that you got it. Applying the outcome frame to those situations in your life that you regard as unchangeable will lead you to discover that many of the things that you currently accept as environmental variables can, in fact, be turned into areas of choice.
2. THE DOORS THE OUTCOME FRAME CAN OPEN
The purpose of the outcome frame is to point you in a direction that is right for you and to get you moving in that direction. For instance, Diane sits around the house, bored and feeling at a loss about what to do about it. She’s treating her boring situation as an environmental variable. It is happening to her. If, however, she took feeling bored as a signal that it was time to decide how she wanted to feel, where she wanted to be, and how to get there, she would be much more likely to get what she wants. First, because now she knows what she wants. And second, because she will now be doing something with respect to getting what she wants.
Terry may be adept at dredging up blameful tales intended to explain why things have gone sour in his relationship with his wife, but that does nothing to change their relationship. If, instead, Terry and his wife had specific ideas of how they want to interact with one another, they could start organizing their efforts behind that outcome.
Similarly, Terry could leave his hated job, but for what? To fall into another hated job? Once Terry knows what he wants in terms of a job, however, he can do things that will take him towards getting that kind of job. For instance, if he decides he wants to be outdoors, be on his own as much as possible, and have as much time at home as possible, he might decide to aim for becoming a forest ranger and start taking the necessary classes at the local junior college. That is a far cry from grousing on the front porch about his crummy desk job.
3. ORIENTING TO THE OUTCOME FRAME
The outcome frame is actually an orientation, a way of perceiving experience as a set of choices. Rather than addressing the issue of why a problem exists, it organizes experience around what is wanted, and how it is possible to achieve it. This orientation underlines two of the most important presuppositions in NLP:
If it’s possible for someone in the world, it’s possible for me.
In NLP there is an ongoing presupposition that if it’s possible for one person in the world to do something, it’s possible for anyone to do it, it’s only a question of how. A common first response to this presupposition goes something like, “Well, there’s no way I can slam-dunk a basketball like Magic Johnson. True, there are some physical limitations. You do not have Magic Johnson’s height, and nothing is going to change that. But if there is someone in the world who is built like you and has learned to slam-dunk, then it is possible for you to do it too. This may not, in fact, be true, but if you act as if it is true, act as if there are no limitations on what you can do or feel, you can set outcomes and achieve them. Outcomes enter the subjective realm of possibility, rather than remaining insurmountable. The real question becomes, then, do you want to do it? Just because you can learn to slam-dunk does not mean you have to. It is a choice.
There is no failure — only feedback.
Not getting what you want is a failure only if there is no more to be done. You have come up empty handed. That is failure. The “how” orientation of the outcome frame makes it possible to turn the inevitable setbacks and stumblings that you experience into valuable feedback. As long as you have a specified outcome that you are holding constant, and know that it is possible to attain, every setback is something that happens along the way to wards your outcome. Instead of pinning everything on a final judgment, the focus of the outcome frame orients you towards seeing the results of your ongoing efforts as useful feedback, whether those results are satisfying or disappointing. The things you do that take you towards your outcome let you know you are on the right track. Those that are disappointing indicate only that what you are doing to attain your outcome is not useful and that you need to change your tack.
These two presuppositions are essential to the NLP approach. But what makes them truly functional, rather than mere slogans, is the outcome frame.
Here is a downloadable version of the Well Formed Outcome you can use over and over. If your word processor isn’t compatible with the interactive version, you have the pdf as a backup.
You could easily start by playing around with a few more small and simple goals, even as simple as where to go on vacation or what sofa to buy. That makes the principle and the process a natural and ready for you with bigger choices. Enjoy!