Do you really want what you think you want? (And how to improve your chances of achieving it if you do!)

When I finished college in the 60’s I decided to hitch hike to India. I wanted the adventure – but even more I wanted to study the sub-continent’s religions first hand.

Close to running out of money in Turkey and acting on a tip that paid work was available in the copper mines of Israel, I abandoned the hippy route to India via Kabul and within days was in Jerusalem.

Big mistake! No work was available in the mines. No other jobs were available either and funds were getting perilously low when, after a series of remarkable “coincidences”, I was offered food and shelter by a very hospitable clergyman and his family.

Some weeks later, still not having found work and still living with my uncomplaining host, I decided to leave Israel, abandon my trip to India and head home – selling my blood en route to finance the final part of the trip.

Looking back now, I realise Israel had seemed a good idea at the time but it wasn’t what I really wanted. Studying religions in I india was my goal. (As well as the adventure off travelling the hippy trail to Kabul. After all, it was the sixties!)

You see, before going to Israel money was running out but the situation wasn’t critical. I could have still made it to India even if I wouldn’t have had much money when I arrived there. But the travel costs to Israel drained what little I had and the diversion to the Middle East didn’t even pay for itself let alone bring in extra cash.

I’d sabotaged my goal on a whim.

I know that sometimes we need to make detours on the way to what we really want; after all not everything goes to plan and we need to be flexible on the way to achieving success.

And our ideas of what we want can change too.

Or we may just want to take time out from pursuing our dreams and simply take time out to ‘smell the roses’ or take the opportunity to embrace other experiences.

So there’s definitely nothing inherently wrong in taking a diversion or having a pit stop.

But I was simply tempted by earning a comfort blanket of cash. Money I thought I might need.

Nothing wrong with that, either, you may think.

Yet I hadn’t undertaken even the most basic research to determine whether this was the best way of generating funds.

For example, were the mines actually open? Would they employ foreigners if they were? What experience would I need? And so on.

And I didn’t even ask myself whether it would it be easier to earn money in Turkey, along the hippy route or indeed when I arrived in India? It may not have been, but I hadn’t asked myself the question.

I had no real desire to visit Israel yet I risked my goal because it seemed a good idea at the time. (As it happens, looking back I’m really pleased I went there. I had some great experiences, met some amazing people and learned a lot about myself. But you get the point I’m making.)

That’s why I now prefer to put my goals through the Well Formed Outcomes (WFO’s) process rather than just the simple, but still effective, ‘SMART’ formula (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time Framed).

A well formed outcome is similar to a SMART goal but it prompts you to think more widely.

For example, using the SMART formula alone, your goal could be “I want to have amassed a hundred thousand pounds stirling in cash by November 30th 2026”.

On the surface, a well phrased goal.

It’s Specific, Measurable and Time Framed (amass £100,000 cash within 10 years); it’s Achievable (lots of people have made £100,000 within that time frame) and Realistic (you are not aiming to make a billion pounds starting from scratch, for instance. That would be highly unrealistic, even if slightly possible.).

But is it what you really want?

What if you had to work so hard to achieve this figure that your health suffered or you became distanced from your partner because you rarely saw him/her? Or your children had grown up and left the family home and you’d missed out on so many special times?

Are these outcomes that you really want?

Would it not be better to take a more considered view from the outset, find out what you really want and why, then set your goals accordingly?

For example, if you wanted the £100,000 so you could spend more time with your family, then family time is the real goal and you could achieve it simply by working less hours and spending time with them now.

That’s why I like the well formed outcomes process, which I first came across when studying Neuro Linguistic Programming, (NLP). It helps you to consider these questions, and others besides, in advance. To try your goal on for size and weigh up the consequences of success on other areas of your life.

Of course, you may still want to amass £100,000 regardless of any other considerations. Well, it’s your life, I guess. At least by following the process below you can start your quest with your eyes wide open to possible eventualities!

Here’s how.


When you think you know what you want to have, or be, or do, ask yourself these questions:


  1. Have I expressed what I want in positive terms? 

Focussing on what you want, not what you don’t want, gives you a clearer idea of what you are aiming for. Being aware of what you don’t want can be a motivating factor, but setting your outcome in positive terms helps you harness your energies and resources more effectively.

And it helps you monitor progress more effectively, too.

If you ever find yourself saying “I don’t want…..” try asking yourself  what you do want instead.


  1. Is it specific?

Exactly What do you want? Where? When? With Whom?

Be as specific as possible. For example, “I want more money” isn’t specific enough; you could win £5.00 on the lottery but would this give you what you had in mind? I doubt it. Instead, “I want a salary of £60,000 per year by January 31st 2020” gives you a specific target.

Or using another example, “I want to weigh 10st. 7lbs by my 40th birthday” is again specific.

It may turn out that you will want to change the wording after going through the other questions (e.g. “I want to drop a dress size by my 40th”) but it’s a starting point that can be refined.

If appropriate, it’s also worthwhile considering where and with whom you want to achieve your goal. For example,  you may want to be assertive and focussed at work with your colleagues but less so during family time or relaxing with friends.

The more detailed your outcome, the “more real” it becomes.


  1. How will I know when I have achieved it?

In addition to any “factual” evidence, it’s really powerful to have sensory based evidence, too. What will you see, hear, and feel that will let you know you have achieved your outcome?

As much a you are able, project yourself into the future and experience how you will feel when you have achieved your outcome, then use this information as part of your evidence. See yourself doing/having or being whatever it is you want to achieve.

The more vividly you can identify with this future scenario by imagining and ‘pre-experiencing’ what you want, the stronger the pull towards its realisation and the more you will be sure of whether you really want it.

A quick tip: write down what you will see, hear and feel when you have achieved your goal. You could also describe where you’ll be, what you’ll be doing and with who you’ll be with. Then look regularly at what you’ve written, visualising what you read.


  1. Is it good for me and those close to me? 

Most outcomes we achieve have ripple effects across other areas of our life and affect other people. So thinking about possible consequences is really important.

Will the outcome fit in with your values? Is it worthwhile in relation to significant others in your life? Is it worth the time and effort?

This ecological check gives you time to think deeply about the advantages and disadvantages of any course of action.

You could do worse than fully answering these questions:

“What will happen if I achieve this outcome?”

“What won’t happen if I achieve this outcome?”

“What will happen if I don’t achieve this outcome?”

“What won’t happen if I don’t achieve this outcome?”

“What is my real purpose in wanting this goal? Could this be achieved any other way?”


  1. Who is responsible for achieving this?

Ultimately, you have to be responsible! You may need the help of others but creating an outcome that depends on specific others is not well formed. Asking your boss for a rise is not a well formed outcome, because the results depend on him/her. On the other hand,  specifying what income you want could be, because there are several ways to achieve that result, of which asking the boss is only one. And anyway, by thinking through why you think you are worth a rise, it gives you the opportunity to marshall your thoughts prior to meeting with your boss if you still decide to take that route.


  1. What resources am I likely to need?

Do a reality check.

What resources will I need?  Include people you may need to help you, time you’ll need, the various skills necessary etc.                                                                                                                                                                                                   What resources do I have now? Be as clear as possible.
What resources do I need to acquire?
How confident am I in my resilience and creativity to get them? What is the basis for my confidence?


     7.  What will be my first step? By When?

You may not know all the steps when you set off in pursuit of your outcome; indeed it is highly unlikely you will. By specifying your first step, though, you will give yourself a sense of momentum and start the process moving in earnest. (And remember: “The longest journey starts with a single step!” – a saying credited to the Chinese sage Lao Tzu.)

Try using the process next time you’re setting a goal. It may just help you to be certain that you really do want what you think you want; it will also give you a better chance of achieving it in the long run if you do.

And stop you going to Israel instead of India.


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