SMART and WISE Goal-Setting Using Neuro-Linguistics Programming (NLP) - International Coaching Federation
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SMART and WISE Goal-Setting Using Neuro-Linguistics Programming (NLP)

Posted by Carolyn Hamilton-Kuby, CEC, PCC | January 3, 2017 | Comments (19)

As we start a new year, goal-setting is typically on the radar for many. While initial motivation for change may be high, statistics show the majority of New Year’s resolutions are broken.

This blog, on NLP in goal-setting, is written in the hope of helping you optimize success in working toward any current or new year goals!

My first exposure to SMART goal-setting—credited to both Peter Drucker (1954) and G.T. Doran (1991)—was in management training. While there are many variations of it, I was taught the following:






I’ve found SMART goal-setting to be very useful. For my own use, based on my background as a Certified Practitioner of NLP, I’ve shifted two criteria to align with what seems more applicable (i.e., “Achievable” to “Authentic” and “Time-Bound” to “Time-Lined.”) The following explains SMART and my wording shifts:

Specific – Bringing specificity to goal-setting allows for clarity by defining the core desire. If a goal is too general, it can create challenges in developing a workable plan. “I want to lose 30 lbs” is clearer than “I want to lose weight.” “I want to earn ‘x’ number of dollars in the first quarter of my fiscal year” is more defined than “I want to be rich!”

Measurable – Measurement is standard in goal-setting as it gauges progress. In my experience, the type of measurement used should align with what motivates you. For example, measuring weight loss by increased energy and mood might be more motivating than viewing numbers on a scale (or vice versa.)

Authentic – I shifted from the word “Achievable” as, my sense is that if a goal is specific, measurable, realistic and has a timeline attached to it, achievement is optimized. Having an “Authentic” goal is vital to success—one that’s in place because it’s a goal that I want, it feels right to me, and I’m committed to owning it [versus having one that I (or others) think I should have].

Realistic – “I want to be a millionaire within the first month in business!” Could it happen? Anything’s possible, yet odds are it’s unrealistic for the majority of business startups. We may set ourselves up for disappointment if goals are unrealistic. This is not to say one shouldn’t dream big—you may be the exception to the rule! My strategy is to consider if the goal—including the expansiveness and desired timing—feels true to, and aligned with, me. I  consider the odds, stay open to feedback from others, and always trust my gut!

Time-lined – How successful am I likely to be with a goal if I bump up against the term or concept of being “Time-bound?” For that reason, I shifted from the SMART wording to “Time-lined.” The latter implies more openness and flexibility in the event certain milestones aren’t met or if I’m taken on a different path than planned.

Drawing on NLP, I’ve created the WISE approach to goal-setting, which I use in conjunction with SMART:


If …?

State In Positive


Here’s what’s involved in each of the above:

What If …?  I see goal-setting as a creative activity, so I had fun creating my WISE approach. I combined “W” and “I” in “WISE” to create “What If …?”

“What if” questions can lead to catastrophizing, if attached to anxiety about the future. However, when applied to considering potential impacts of a goal, “what if’s” can facilitate enlightenment of what’s possible as well as potential speed bumps along the way. Here are some examples:

What If …  I achieve my goal?  What will I gain? What might I lose? What will the impact be on me—as well as family and friends?

What If … my goal isn’t attained? What will I gain? What might I lose? What will the impact be on me—as well as family and friends?

What If … I knew I’d reach my goal?  What would be different?

These types of questions form what is considered “Ecology” in NLP goal-setting. In essence, it involves connecting with the impacts/consequences to optimize goal alignment.

State In Positive  – In NLP, wording desired outcomes in the positive is a core element in goal-setting. It involves using words that reflect what you want (versus what you don’t want). As an example: “I want to travel to Europe next year” versus “I don’t want to spend another vacation at home.”

Why state in positive wording?  Have you ever told yourself:  “I don’t want to forget to pick up … at the store,” yet you forgot to pick it up? Or maybe it was your keys that you didn’t want to forget, and you did? I reword those two examples as: “I must remember to pick up … at the store,” or “I need to remember my keys.” I’m mindful in wording goals, and it can be as easy as replacing “I don’t want to fail at reaching this goal” with “I want to achieve this goal!”

Envision – This is where the dream of goal achievement comes to play! What could your life look like once your goal is achieved? Using all your senses, ask yourself:  “When I achieve my goal:

  • Where will I be? What will it look like?”
  • What do I look like? What will I be doing and/or saying? What will I be wearing?”
  • Who will be with me? What will they be doing and/or saying?”
  • What sights, sounds, smells, tastes will surround me? How will I feel?”

In NLP, visualizing goal attainment using all your senses is referred to as “Evidence.”

I’ve always been a goal-setter and introducing NLP has helped in maintaining connection to, and motivation of, my goals. Many goals have been achieved, and others are in progress.

My hope is that sharing both the SMART and WISE goal-setting approaches will help you jumpstart goals and keep them on track until you live your vision!

Carolyn Hamilton-Kuby, CEC, PCC

Carolyn Hamilton-Kuby, CEC, PCC, owner of Morningstar Centre For Engagement, is an executive coach, corporate trainer, spiritual director and public speaker who specializes in leadership and professional coach development. She is a member of the WBECS Coach Facilitator Team, an ICF Mentor Coach and a thought leader on coaching competencies. Carolyn invites you to visit her website or connect with her on LinkedIn.

The views and opinions expressed in guest posts featured on this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and views of the International Coach Federation (ICF). The publication of a guest post on the ICF Blog does not equate to an ICF endorsement or guarantee of the products or services provided by the author.

Comments (19)

  1. Baljit says:

    Thank you Carolyn. I love that you ask them same questions after asking them what if they achieve or don’t achieve the goal: What will I gain? What might I lose? What will the impact be on me—as well as family and friends?

    Very nice!

    My best wishes to you,

    • Thanks Baljit! I find that drilling down to find out the answers to those questions helps in pondering the potential outcomes of achieving — or not achieving — the goal. Doing so helps connection to the visual of attaining the goal as well as to perspective if goal attainment doesn’t unfold as planned — very valuable information to have at the outset, in my experience.

  2. Jose Nunez says:

    Loved the WISE model. It opens up the space for rich questions.

    • laxmi jamdagni says:

      Yes indeed.It is too easy to be smart without being wise.

      • Thanks so much for taking time to read and comment on my blog, Laxmi.

        One`s smartness, intellect and knowledge do not necessarily imply that wisdom is in place, which was part of my inspiration in developing and wording my goal setting approach as “WISE.“

      • Thank you for your comment, Laxmi — having knowledge, intellect and/or being smart does not imply one is wise, which was my part of the creative inspiration involved in developing the WISE approach to goal-setting!

    • Thanks so much for your comment, Jose! Having developed and used the WISE model personally and professionally, I can attest to how beautifully it works in conjunction with, and expands on, the SMART approach.

      Launching from the cleared space created by asking the kinds of questions generated by SMART, the WISE approach helps dig deeper for meaningful info — I agree totally — it opens space for rich questions. Thanks again!

    • Dr Praveen Mohil says:

      Thanks for sharing highly valuable information.

  3. […] Source: ICF – SMART & WISE Goal-Setting Using Neuro-Linguistics Programming (NLP) […]

  4. To CVM Consulting, thanks so much for sharing this month’s blog with others!

  5. To Jose and Laxmi,

    Thank you both for your comments — there seems to be a system glitch in that the response I sent to Jose appears as a reply to Laxmi, and the reply to Laxmi doesn’t appear on the blog at all (despite several efforts.) ICF is aware of this system error.

    Since my reply to Jose appears in the above sequence, I’ll insert my reply to Laxmi here as a comment:

    Thank you for your comment, Laxmi — having knowledge, intellect and/or being smart does not imply one is wise, which was my part of the creative inspiration involved in developing the WISE approach to goal-setting!

    Thanks so much to you both for taking time to read and comment on my blog! Carolyn

  6. Hi Carolyn
    Great to see a different perspective on the SMART model. I never felt any….. shall I say great “love” it as I was never been able to connect with the box standard way. So to add a the ecology and that “what if ” plus ecology is great to feel any misalignment. Thank you for putting it out there.

  7. What a brilliant addition to S.M.A.R.T goals, how perfect. I’m a huge fan of “What If” questions , they actually can make me quake in my boots and that is a good thing. AND a good thing for coachees too. Thanks Carolyn! Warmly, Alison

  8. James wan says:

    I always agree with the measurable standard or metrics. If you can measurable a goal you can achieve it. The whole insights explained above makes it a great and valuable read.

  9. Goal Setting says:

    Goal Setting is an important part of one’s life. Biggoals is helping people in goal setting. Set your goals and work hard to accomplish them

  10. Glad I found this article. SMART goal setting is the key to accomplish the goal. Thanks for sharing the Article

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