NLP Essentials: The Outcome Frame

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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?
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
Now, let’s try a different approach and contrast the blame frame with the following set of

STEP 1. Using as content the same problem you used in the blame frame exercise, consider and  write down the answer to each of the following questions (you can use the exercise worksheet in the last section of the manual):
“What do I want?”
“When do I want it?”
“How will I know that I have it?”
“When I get what I want, what else in my life will improve?”
“What resources do I have available to help me with this?”
“How can I best utilize the resources that I .have?”
“What am I going to begin doing now to get what I want?”

STEP 2.     Now that you have finished these questions, take a moment to breathe deeply and remember what answering them was like.
What was the emotional difference for you between answering the blame frame questions and the outcome frame questions? Most people end up feeling pretty terrible by the time they get through the blame frame. It is always orienting you towards what is wrong (how you are broken, incomplete, or oppressed) and that is dispiriting for most people. Problems become environmental variables, so people feel they have little or no choice about changing them.
The outcome frame, on the other hand, is oriented towards the future and towards resources, and usually leaves people feeling hopeful and capable. Responding to the “problem” is now in the realm of choice.
Let’s look at the significance of each of the outcome frame questions:
What do I want?
Asking questions about what you want leads you to build a more specific representation of what you are going towards. Attending only to “what’s wrong” lets you know only what you do not want. It is like standing hi the middle of an ugly city and, knowing that you don’t want to be there, going in any direction to get out. If, however, you don’t have an idea of where you do want to be, you could wander around and end up in another ugly city. This first, most important question – What do I want? – gets you to stop and consider where you could and want to go to in the world of outcomes. To continue our analogy, if you know that you want to be out on the Sonoran Desert you can aim yourself and your energies towards that destination. Furthermore, knowing your outcome gives you something against which you can test your progress and the usefulness or non-usefulness of your efforts. (In addition, it sometimes happens that when you ask this question you discover that you already have what you want but hadn’t recognized it.)
How will I know when I have it?
This question gets you to specify what you will see, hear, and feel going on in and around you that will let you know that you have attained the outcome you want. It often happens that people have an idea of what they want, but their representation of it is so nebulous that they have difficulty in knowing just what to do in order to attain it and in knowing when they have actually succeeded. They toss out the gold they had been panning for because they didn’t know that gold was yellow, only that it was worth getting and that it could be found in this stream bed. By specifying how you will know that you have attained your outcome not only gives you the test for success, it may also give you important information about the pieces you need to work towards securing along the way. For instance, suppose your outcome is to be “forthright in dealing with my boss,” and the way that you will know that you are is that you are looking him/her in the eye, your tempo is even, you are speaking honestly about your concerns, and speaking with regard for your boss’ concerns.
In specifying this outcome you may realize that you know little or nothing about your “boss’ concerns” and have to devote some energy to fulfilling that particular aspect of your overall outcome of being forthright.
Excerpted from/Click to see more: The Fundamentals Of NLP On DVD (c) 2008 NLP Comprehensive.


0 thoughts on “NLP Essentials: The Outcome Frame”

  1. This article really pulled me up. Funny how I forgot what I learned.Reading this has got me to focus on what & where I want & where I’m going. Regards, Kevin

  2. Thank you for such a helpful text . I hope one day I can attend one of your NLP courses . Meanwhile, I read everything I can about it mainly your messages….
    I’m from Brazil and NLP is getting to be a very important study
    Thanks again
    Nilda Cabral

  3. Yes, I frequently suggest picking any one thing someone knows they want. Trivial or silly is a good place to start. Practicing the process makes it more natural and revealing. It’s surprising down what paths of revelation pursuing a simple want may take you.
    Starting with “what’s my purpose in life??” That may a bit bold. 😉

  4. I agree, people just know and are very clear about what they don’t want, You can see the lights go on when they start to understand the “so what do you want instead”? Nice article.

  5. Great reminder! Also I utilise the outcome frame with my feng shui, and metaphysical clients too.
    It really cuts to the chase with intentions and timeframes.

  6. Purchased the book a few weeks ago. Life changing stuff! Awesome. Now I know what Tony Robbins set his goals. On a par with the Edinburgh Lectures on Mental Science. Just great, thank you.

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