Change your questions, change your life.


By the way, hope you haven�t missed out the first of this two part series titled �In Pursuit of Happiness�?

In that article I spoke about few concepts worth a revisit.

  1. In some shape or form, everything you do � your job, family, activities, social circle, etc. is a quest for happiness. Nod your head if you agree.


  1. Secondly, whatever you can get, you can also un-get just as quickly or perhaps even faster, right?


  1. If you turn back and look at the goals you had set 10 years back and where you are today in terms of achieving them, I bet even if you say you have accomplished most of them, you still don�t feel happy. Is that a correct guess?


  1. I ask you to consider this alternative proposition: There is nothing you have to be, do or get in order to be happy. Being happy is your inherent nature. You are hardwired as a child to stay happy. Worse, you have spent your entire life learning to be unhappy.


  1. What if we train our mind to focus on the outcomes as we progress along the journey of pursuing our goals? The ultimate truth is, for anything we do we cannot not have an outcome. And although outcomes are completely out of our control, the mere anticipation of an outcome from every action psychologically prepares us to (a) accept it more positively and (b) take it as an interim input for navigation to a more favorable outcome next time.


Therefore the first question you should ask yourself is not what should my goal be, not even what will my steps and milestones be but, What Do I Want? This basic question will tell you the �outcome� you are working to achieve. Remember, �the Goal is not the Activity�. Once you know what you want there will automatically appear several options of activities to choose from. What is the result you are after?


People often confuse between outcomes and goals. Outcomes are intimately personal accomplishments that associate with achieving the goal. What about that goal is important for you? For example,



Goal: I want to get that promotion at work         

Possible Outcome: I want to earn more respect, fame and reputation or job security?

Goal: I want to make more money                     

Possible Outcome: I want more security or happiness or comfort in life?

Goal: I want to win that deal

Possible Outcome: I want to win the trust and confidence of my employer/ customer.

Goal: I want to build a habit of going to the Gym           

Possible Outcome: I want to become healthy and fit?

Goal: I want to buy a new car                            

Possible Outcome: Freedom to travel whenever, wherever or, more respect in society?

Goal: I want to stop eating Chocolates

Possible Outcome: I want to look and feel good, gain appreciation of friends, improve health.



So you see, Goals are external visible means to achieve your inherent internal outcomes. But what happens when you miss your goal? You feel miserable, frustrated, angry and unhappy isn�t it? Now, if I were to say that even these feelings are outcomes? It eventually brings me to the concept that you always succeed in getting some outcome, irrespective of the route you chose to achieve the goals.


When you focus on the outcome, your brain will come up with activities to achieve them, I promise you. 80% of success is based on clarity of outcome, 20% is based on clarity of actions. So instead of thinking about getting that promotion at work (or winning that deal), you work towards earning the respect, fame and security at Office � now how does this change your thought process? Does this new way of thinking offer you more choices to go after? Maybe even set out different threads of activities for each of the outcomes. Actions for gaining more respect (for example become an informal mentor a group of people helping them perform better), jump into activities for feeling more secure at work  (perhaps participate more often and actively in meetings, become more visible in a positive way, work smarter, etc.). If you continued pursuing these actions, chances are you will get the promotion without seeking it. MORE importantly, even if you get it, it won�t matter much because it is the outcomes we are after and not goals.


Let me illustrate this with another point. How many of you have come across or read about business people who sell off their startups and make millions of dollars?  Assuming that their original goal was to make that sort of money, what happens after they mint that fortune? DO they sit idle and relax for the rest of their life? NO! In no time, they are back to the drawing board conjuring up another new venture. Do you agree? Nod your head.


Ever wondered why this happens? Because, making money was simply a goal. The outcome could be (just a guess) to prove their capabilities or fame or respect or all of them. You see, humans are naturally driven by Outcomes and not goals. Even after the goal is achieved, the outcome keeps propelling us further. On the other hand, achieving just the goal but not the outcome leaves us feeling empty and incomplete.  Can you recall a time when you got what you wanted but still felt unhappy? Say, you got the deal from your Client, but left you with scars of internal criticism for poor profit, high risks and generally lack of judgment? Even after achieving that deal do you feel happy? Lot of celebrities who seem to have the whole world at their feet are still left with vast emptiness in their lives.


I want you to play this concept in your mind for other areas of your life. Instead of setting a goal �I want to go to the Gym everyday�, you decide upon an outcome of �staying fit and healthy� � does this now offer you many choices of actions? Though you may still choose the Gym atleast you don�t feel imprisoned or trapped by this notion. It sets you free to explore alternatives like: good diet, Yoga, learning Martial Arts, go for a swim or simply spend an hour playing Football with the kids. Thinking in terms of outcomes sets you free to explore numerous possibilities of achieving the same goal.


And it gets even better from here. There�s another advantage of thinking in terms of outcomes: If your outcome is to gain respect at work, as soon as you make some progress it will keep you motivated to work harder. In outcome based thinking, your mind unconsciously gets tuned to watch out for early indicators as soon as you start your activities. And if the outcome was not as you expected, the mind instinctively alters actions and change course until it senses the right path. Thinking in terms of outcomes unconsciously keeps you motivated looking at the progress made instead of the gap left behind (which happens when you focus on a Goal).


Unlike goals which are set in the beginning, modified in the middle or perhaps lost towards the end, our brain monitors outcomes as a continuous process. Other than actually achieving their goals, the thing that motivates people most is the sense of progress towards achieving their goals.


But is it enough to set generic outcomes like; �I want to be happy, secure, respected, fun-loving, extrovert, etc.� What happens whenever we set, or know someone who has set such objectives? No marks for guessing. You are right, usually people have no clue where to start and what to do next.


For outcomes to transform into meaningful actions, they must be crystal clear to our mind � to the last detail. Pay good attention to what I am going to say next, because THIS is what determines the success or failure in achieving your outcome from your actions.


Rule 1: State your outcome in positive language.

I invite you to play these statements carefully and think which ones feel more appealing and attractive to you:


  • I want to stop eating chocolates and sugary food, or

I want to become fitter and healthier.


  • I will not bite my nails/ stop plucking my hair when I get stressed, or

I want to find ways to stay calm when I need to.


  • I don�t want to let my child watch TV all the time, or

I want to get my child engaged in healthy habits


  • I want to quit this shitty job and get another one, or

I want to have a job that makes me feel valued and secure.


Majority of people find the second set of sentences more inviting and action oriented. What do you think?


Well, psychological research suggests that our mind cannot properly process negatively worded statements into concrete motivational actions. When you say, �I don�t want to stay fat�, your mind doesn�t know what to do with that statement. However, when you reframe that to �I want to become fit�, the mind instantly fires neurons that convert this statement into a visual, audio representation of what you would look like and what people will say once you become fit. It also instantly makes you feel good and bring a spark in your eyes. Try it�it always works !!


Positively framed outcomes are like the airstrip from where your flight to actions can take off. But some of you might argue, what about the specific direction that the flight needs to take? what height should it cruise at? What about the weather conditions? Where are we going to and what place shall we land at? This leads me to the next point.


Rule 2: Be Specific In Defining Your Outcomes.

Clarity is Power ! The more specific you are in articulating what you want, the faster your brain can build an action plan to go for it. There are several ways you can get specific about your outcomes:


See, Hear and Feel your outcome as if already accomplished: Successful people almost always admit that they have already been there and done that in their minds, before performing it in real life.  Legendary Indian sprinter Milkha Singh once mentioned that as he took position on the �starting block�, he could visualize running the entire race in his mind�s eyes experiencing every movement of his muscles, watching the white lines of the racing track whizz by and gauging his own speed.


An ace salesman who had won numerous accolades from his clients and own organization, shared an amazing secret. Each time he won a deal, he could SEE, HEAR and FEEL the customer�s concerns, his organizations� concerns, words of appreciation and even the feel of the Purchase Order in his hands well before it actually happened. And whenever he couldn�t do that, his success rate was awfully low.


Go back to a time in your own life when you pulled off what others considered impossible�and notice if this phenomenon was also true for you. Did you already sense as if you had achieved that goal before you even commenced, or perhaps as some point through the journey?


The secret behind this magic is the way our unconscious mind works. Our unconscious mind is incredibly powerful in building a plan of actions designed to meet any challenge. However, it has one weakness: It cannot distinguish between imagination and reality. It lives through an imagined event just as if that is really happening. This probably explains why we sometimes experience a dream as if the event was really happening, haven�t we?


Convert all �Be�, �Have� and �Know� into DO: This is where the action starts. When you direct your mind to state your outcomes into �do-able� statements, it begins to get a sense of specific direction to drive your resources and energies. In a way, this is also where your Outcomes begin to take shape of goals and actions.


Take the following statements for example;

I want to become fit and healthy, converted to: I see myself doing a workout in the xyz Gym every morning 6:30am.


I want to have job security, converted to:

  • I see myself engaged in 6 internal meetings, writing 10 emails to key people about areas where they do not currently appreciate my contribution, each week.
  • I see myself picking up the phone and speaking to my boss on an topic that is valuable to him/ her


I want to know how to become a good Project Manager, converted to:

  • I see myself interacting atleast 4 hours each week with 2 senior project managers in my circle.
  • I see myself enrolled in 3 internet forums related to Project Management skills and spending 4 hours each week reading and interacting with people on that forum.


As soon as you transform your �be�, �have� or �know� statements into DO, a shift begins to happen inside your mind. It starts constructing a chain of activities that drive your behavior.


Rule 3: Carving out only that part of the outcome whose actions are ENTIRELY owned by You.

Quite often we start with outcomes / goals with great enthusiasm but lose momentum down the line due to factors that are beyond our control. Successful outcomes involve things over which we have entire control to run with.


If your outcome is to build a bond with someone, you know it is quite impossible to control their schedule. But you can, with some planning, control your schedule such that you can spend more time with them.


If your outcome is to get fit, expect many factors beyond your control. For example; you may not get to prepare your meals but can you control what you will choose to eat from what is available? You cannot control your work hours, but can you control the type of exercises you can perform within the constraints of time and place?


If your outcome is to win a deal, be sure to encounter actions that you cannot possibly control. But are you willing to own actions that are entirely in your control? E.g pushing your internal teams to deliver the best quality proposal, rejecting anything not good or right, interacting more often with customer to gauge their interest and concerns, spending time researching what the market wants, etc, etc.


The question to ask is �what part of my action plan is owned by me and me alone?� Commit to actions that are owned solely and entirely by you alone. This has the psychological effect of setting the mind into a concrete action oriented plan that is immune to variables outside. In most cases people will perceive this as your passion and lend support to your Outcome.


You will be surprised how often the end result will be so much to your liking when you follow this rule, despite many factors outside your control.


Oncourse Navigation and Feeling Good: Having embarked on your action plan, your mind also needs to set �indicators� to track and assess the progress each day, week, month and year. If your outcome is to feel �secure� at your Job, how will you know it is working when you start taking appropriate actions? Being able to like someone you usually dislike � how will you know that the �liking� has begun to happen when you take actions? Go on�and extend this question to your own personal outcomes: What needs to change from how things happened earlier for your mind to verify that the outcome has begun to happen? How will �happiness�, �security�, �comfort�, �peace of mind�, �fame�, �popularity�, �being healthy�, etc. appear, sound and feel like as you take actions?



The truth is, whether you know or not, whether you acknowledge or not, you mind is constantly looking for signatures to verify that the new actions are producing the desired outcomes. It does so by looking around for minutest changes in old patterns of activities, watching people�s response, internal sensations and a lot more. If you feel more cheerful, more energetic, generally pleased with yourself, feel like taking up a task that seemed like a drag earlier, feel like interacting with someone who didn�t matter earlier�all of these and more are beacons of unconscious signals that your mind is processing and comparing against how life was before you took those actions aimed at progressing towards your outcomes. 


Whenever we attempt to change our behavior our biggest friend and also our biggest critique is our own internal Beliefs. These beliefs are strange companions. Until you change them, they will staunchly support your old (undesired) behavior and pull you down each time you attempt to change. Our new behavior and its resultant outcome sow seeds of the new belief. Our beliefs drive our behavior and our Outcomes shape our beliefs. As soon as the outcomes happen, a new belief begins to replace the old one. Once you manage to sow the seeds of an alternate belief, it will begin to take roots and propel you with incredible energy and unbelievable enthusiasm towards your outcome.


In conclusion:

Feeling happy is an innate thing that we are born with. As we grow up, we start equating happiness with our ability to achieve our goals. Achieving goals makes us happy and failure to do so makes us dejected and frustrated. Most people mistake actions for achievement. However that is not true.


There is an alternative way to be happy and stay that way � and also achieve your goals as a bonus. All you need to do is train yourself to start thinking about what is it you want �internally� in a given context (work, personal life, relationship, money, etc). These internal gains are your outcomes � that make us feel good and give us a sense of happiness and accomplishment. Focus on your outcomes and work backwards to set up goals and actions to progress towards those outcomes. There are many advantages in this approach:


  • Outcomes are what we are eventually after. And focusing opens up a wide range of options for setting Goals. Actions come intuitively once you are clear of the outcomes. But the reverse flow doesn�t work equally well.
  • No matter what action you take you cannot not have some And your brain is wired to notice these outcomes and compare against what it wants. Constant course correction happens at an unconscious level to ensure your efforts are directed towards the desired outcomes.


However, merely setting high-level outcomes won�t lead you to a well-thought out action plan. Qualify your outcomes by being very specific about precisely what you want, experiencing it as if achieved through all your senses and defining actions for those parts that are fully owned by you and you alone!


When actions begin to lead you towards your Outcomes, notice how effortlessly your goals begin to get achieved and keeps you always motivated and happy !! And last, but not the least, Celebrate as you progress towards your outcomes. It is the only way your brain understands consciously that things are working for you.



NOTE: All examples as well as scenarios in this article, are one of many possible responses in real life situations and simply meant for illustrating the concept.

About the author;

Amit Pathak is a NLP Master Practitioner, Certified Hypnotherapist, professional therapist and international trainer who regularly conducts workshops on NLP and related therapy in India and abroad. Having worked with world renowned authorities in this field, for over a decade, he thoroughly enjoys learning and evolving new techniques and concepts aimed at assisting people in improving their lives.

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