Present State to Desired State

“Present State to Desired State” is a fundamental model in NLP. The present state is where you are. The desired state is where you’re trying to go. The larger the gap between where you are and where you want to be, the more turmoil you’ll feel.

The present state can also be called the comfort zone. Now, “comfort zone” doesn’t mean it’s comfortable. It just means it’s familiar.

The desired state is the goal or target. It’s where you’re trying to go, or what you’re trying to experience. Perhaps you want to build a business, or maybe you want to feel optimistic instead of depressed. It really doesn’t matter what the desired state is because this model applies to change and transition in any situation.

Unfortunately, change cannot really happen inside the comfort zone. Change requires you to move out into the unknown, into the gap between your present state, and your desired state. Moving into the unknown always causes unease because your brain fears change and the unknown.

When you encounter a gap between where you are, and where you want to be, you experience a crisis. If the gap is small, you may feel some unease, but you’ll likely be alright, and be able to make that change relatively easily. However, the unease you feel will increase in proportion to the size of the gap you perceive.

Sometimes the perceived gap can be so big, that you don’t even know how or where to being. Unfortunately, this is where people get stuck, and lose the motivation for change. To illustrate my meaning, I’d like to take you on a little journey.

Mind The Gap

There’s a place I’m trying to go. I need to hike there. I hear there’s a cooling pool, ripe raspberry vines, and everything that speaks of peace and relaxation.

I begin.

Dappled sunlight follows me up a twisting path through trees. It smells of damp earth and humid cedars. Treacherous roots try to trip me.

My quads burn with the steep climb. Then a gentle downslope feels like cool mist on my fiery muscles. The path slopes up again, and on and on.

I feel like I’ve been climbing forever.

It’s hard to draw a breath. The air feels humid and close like a steamy sauna. Panting, I choke on a bug. I push the odd branch out of my way, and grasp at others to propel me along.

My lungs and legs labour uphill; grasping, slipping, gasping along.

The cool relief of a downslope always feels heavenly. But, it doesn’t last. Before I catch my breath, I’m climbing again.

It’s tempting to give up, to turn around and go back. The climb is so hard!

However, I know I can handle it. I know it’s not impossible. In truth, I’ve made climbs like this before.

I keep going.

I feel like I’m tracing a path of upslopes and downslopes endlessly. It goes on like this for a few hours, or forever. It’s hard to tell at this point. Only sheer stubbornness, a belligerent certainty that it will all be worth it in the end, keeps me going.

Finally!

I see a break in the trees ahead – a wide patch of sunlight and blue that speaks to me of open space.

I push through, and emerge from the trees onto a small, flat-ish rocky space dotted with flaky pale lichens. It appears I’ve reached the top of a cliff.

The sun feels warm on my head and shoulders. A warm and gentle breeze cools the sweat that tries to trickle from the crook of my elbows. It’s refreshing after my climb. I close my eyes and take a deep breath, letting the cool relief wash over me.

I open my eyes, and scan around. It’s actually quite lovely here. There dramatic clifftop landscape gives me a feeling of solitude and serenity. I breathe it in for another moment before I refocus on my mission.

The place I was trying to go should be very near after my climb. That’s when I hear it.

To the left, the sound of water splashing on rocks lures me along. I spy the sparkle of sun on water.

This is it! I shiver with excitement and anticipation.

Suddenly, I stop. My stomach drops to my ankles like used, dirty underwear at the end of the day.

My mind rejects what my eyes see. It can’t be! I don’t want to believe it.

There’s a sheer drop in front of me, a gap. I look across the gap. My goal is just on the other side.

I look to the left, and then to the right. The gap, like a wound, scars the land as far as my eyes can see.

It’s too wide to jump safely. I look down. Yes, a fall from this height would almost certainly kill me. Still, the other side is heartbreakingly close.

I’ve come so far! This can’t be the end of my journey!

If this was a “Choose Your Own Adventure” book, this is where I’d have 2 or 3 options, so it would be easier to know how to proceed. I’d be able to eenie-meenie-miney-moe my way through it, and if I didn’t like the outcome, I could just backtrack and choose differently.

Life is the ultimate “Choose Your Own Adventure,” story, but life won’t lay out option 1, 2, and 3 like the books will. Instead, I need to create my own options.

What do I do now?

The End?

I’m going to let you write your own ending to that story because how we deal with obstacles, and the resources we can bring, varies from person to person. The point of the story was not to tie it up neatly, but to make you think about how or why we get stuck when trying to reach a goal. I’ll go over some possibilities with you.

  • Sometimes we can get stuck because the desired state isn’t defined well enough, so we aren’t entirely sure where we are heading. “There’s a place I’m trying to go,” is not a very clear goal. Perhaps if I’d had a clearer idea, I would have hiked up the correct side of the gap.
  • Sometimes when it’s hard to know how to begin, we never do. We get paralyzed. At the end of the story above, I face an obstacle, and I don’t know what to do. It is possible at that point that I could decide to give up. I could hike back down in disgust because I had come far enough, and tried hard enough. Alternatively, I could settle. After all, it’s not all bad on the clifftop. Although my goal would beckon and taunt me, and damage my serenity.
  • If the present state and desired state share no connection, we will lack clarity and struggle because clarity is essential to achieving any goal. In the story above, the lack of connection is physical, but the lack of connection can also be mental or emotional.
  • Other times, people make the leap into the unknown, but encounter obstacles in the gap that hinder progress to the goal, so they get stuck. I decided not to write that far into the story because I wanted to leave the story hanging at an earlier crossroads. Say, for the sake of argument, I grabbed a fallen log, and bridged the gap with the log. And, say I feel shaky crossing the log, and I lose my balance. In a situation like that, I will feel intense crisis.

Present State to Desired State

Sometimes, the journey from the present state to the desired state is simple, and all it takes is a little adjustment in our perception. Sometimes it’s not so simple because sometimes there are several things that we need to overcome to complete that journey from present to the desired state.

We all face varying challenges, obstacles and hurdles. We can feel like we can’t get out of a hole, or something sounds too hard, or a hurdle looks like it’s too big to get over.

This can be quite demotivational, so we should work hard to increase our motivation. We can do this by focusing on why we want the goal, and the benefits of reaching the goal for ourselves, and for the people we love. This then enables us to generate momentum, and take one step at a time along the journey.

When we face challenges and obstacles, we start to link the present and desired states with ‘resources’ These resources can be emotional states, mindsets, self-limited beliefs, or skills. These can be resources we already have, or resources we need to acquire. We can always work to upgrade and add to these resources.

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