NLP was born when a
linguist called John Grinder and a mathematician called
Richard Bandler asked themselves a simple yet
fascinating question: What is it that makes the
difference between somebody who is merely competent at
any given skill, and somebody who excels at the same
People typically answer
that question in one of two ways. Either that some
people have natural gifts or talents for a particular
skill, or that practice and experience is what counts.
NLP side-steps these
answers by focusing not on what has made the difference
in the past between two people of different abilities,
but on what can be done now to turn the competent
person's performance into one of excellence.
NLP proposes that there are
three elements to any skill or behaviour.
|| There is external behaviour. That
is, what the person actually does and says.
|| There is the person's internal
computation. That is, what they think, and the
way in which they think.
|| There is the person's internal
state. That is, what and how they feel.
Each of these three elements can be examined in detail.
A movement, for example, can be reduced to the level of
micro-muscle movements. An internal image can be defined
by size, position, colour, clarity, contrast and so on.
An internal voice by the words themselves, tone of
voice, volume, location and similar. A feeling can be
described by position, intensity, temperature, direction
By following this process,
it is possible to build up and extremely comprehensive
model of any excellent behaviour. This model of
excellence can then be acquired by the competent person
simply by reversing the process; the competent person
makes the same movements, images, voices, feelings. In
some cases, we may need to expand our model to include
such things as beliefs and what NLP calls 'perceptual
filters'; the ways in which our past experiences affect
the way we now perceive the world.
Modelling need not involve
somebody else. It is equally possible to model yourself.
Suppose, for example, that you feel nervous when you
have to speak to a large group of people. Instead of
finding somebody who is a confident public speaker and
modelling them, you could simply find a different
situation in which you feel confident (perhaps talking
to two or three people) and model yourself in that
NLP is the name given to a
set of tools, techniques and approaches used to carry
out this transformation.
The type of modelling we
have described has long been applied to the objective
world. Most of the science we now call engineering, for
example, came about by people studying what worked in
natural structures, working out the principles involved
and then applying those same principles to new
NLP simply applies the same
process to excellence in people. It studies the
underlying structures of the skills, behaviours and
experiences of excellence. And then assists people in
using those structures effectively. Thus NLP is
sometimes defined as "the study of the structure of
NLP has been successfully
applied to the fields of business, sport, therapy,
education and the performing arts. The tools it offers
can be applied equally well to any human activity.
In modelling examples of
excellence in fields as diverse as hypnotherapy, tennis,
training, acting and team management. NLP has also
developed a number of specific models of excellence
which are now considered part of NLP. Examples include a
highly successful phobia cure, an elegant format for
resolving internal conflict, and an impressive format
for running streamlined meetings. These models are
typically taught as part of NLP training programmes.
The work done using NLP
has also resulted in a number of attitudes, or
presuppositions, which seem to be useful when aiming for
excellence. Note that NLP doesn't claim that these
presuppositions are true, merely that it is useful to
behave as if they are.
The distinction is an
important one. NLP doesn't insist that you change your
beliefs about the world; merely that you be prepared to
experiment with other approaches. It's rather like
catching a train to an important meeting ... it may not
be true that British Rail timetables are unreliable, but
- if it is important to be at the meeting on time - it
might be useful to behave as if they are, and phone
first to check that the train is running.
Among the presuppositions normally
presented on NLP training are:
|The map is not territory
other words, the description of an experiences is not the
same as the experience itself. We live in a world in which
we pay a great deal of attention to words. We often behave
as if words were a direct and undeniably accurate
description of experience. NLP invites us to make a
distinction between words, and the experience they
|Choice is always better than no
of us have an understanding tendency, when we succeed in
something, to view our successful approach as the 'right'
approach to use in future. NLP suggests that, even when we
have behaviours that work perfectly, it is still useful to
have other options: to be able to choose from several
successful behaviours. That way, if one of them turns out
not to work, we have other successful behaviours to call
|There is no failure, only feedback
things don't work out the way we'd hoped they would, a
common response is to consider that we 'failed'. NLP
offers an alternative view. That what actually happened is
neither good nor bad, but merely information. Think back
to when you learnt to drive. You almost certainly crunched
the gears at some point. That didn't mean that you failed
as a driver and would never be able to operate the
gearbox: it simply meant that changing gear in that
particular way didn't produce the result you wanted. You
then used that information to improve the way that you
|The meaning of the communication is
the response it produces
follows on from the previous presupposition. If our
communications don't produce the responses we would like,
we can either decide that the other person is to 'blame'
for not responding appropriately, or we can simply accept
that our communication produced the result it did and
decide what we would like to do now. The first approach
leaves us powerless: we are in the hands of the other
person. The latter approach enables us to treat the
response as information, and change our own behaviour
accordingly. This places us in the powerful position of a
flexible communicator willing to take responsibility for
achieving the things we would like. (We use the word
'responsibility' in it's literal sense: the ability to
You'll hear quite a lot in NLP about
three ways of doing things. NLP takes the view that one option is
(obviously) no choice at all, two options is a dilemma and that
choice begins only when you have a minimum of three approaches.
Having at least three powerful approaches to any goal, and being
willing to use whichever option is most appropriate at the time,
is what NLP refers to as behavioural flexibility.
One of the most powerful
forms of behavioural flexibility is what NLP calls
1st, 2nd and 3rd person shifts.
When we are experiencing
things through our own eyes and ears, we are said to
be associated, or in the 1st person. If we now wonder
how somebody else is experiencing, and 'put ourselves
in their shoes', we are said to be in the 2nd person.
And if we see and hear both ourself and other people
if we were an observer, we are said to be dissociated
or in the 3rd person.
We all of us switch
between 1st, 2nd, and 3rd person quite naturally,
often without really being aware that we're doing it.
NLP teaches the skill of deliberately shifting
consciousness in this way in order to gather
information - to literally see things from another
point of view.
And where did that awful
name come from? Despite the numerous and amusing
apocryphal stories, the truth is that the co-founders
of NLP, Grinder and Bandler, were in a log-cabin, high
in the hills behind Santa Cruz, pulling together the
insights and discoveries that were to result in the
book The Structure of Magic. Towards the end of the
marathon 36-hour session, they sat down with a bottle
of Californian white wine and asked themselves "what
on earth shall we call it?".
Grinder says the result
was "'Neuro' because the patterns we were discovering
seemed to operate at the level of our neurology,
'linguistic' because of the ways in which our language
patterns reveal and impact our neurology, and
'programming' because the new discoveries enable us to
break free of the way we have been programmed by
socialisation, and offers us new choices".
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