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Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP) is a powerful and effective tool for intrapersonal and interpersonal communication. A short definition of NLP is: ‘NLP is the structure of subjective experience’. A more practical definition is ‘The study of Human excellence’. Richard Bandler, the co founder of NLP said that ‘NLP is an attitude and a methodology that leaves behind a trail of techniques’.
The above definition may not seem that helpful so let's look a little deeper into it.
NLP stands for Neuro-Linguistic Programming. Although this name might sound a little complex at first, it can be thought of as being made of three simple parts:
Neuro - refers to the ways we use our nervous system and senses of sight, hearing, feeling, taste and smell. ln NLP our senses are considered to be the basic building blocks of all our behaviour.
Linguistic - refers to how we use language (both verbal and non-verbal), and how it affects us.
Programming - refers to the way we organise our senses and language (Neuro-Linguistics) to produce results.
ln more concise terms:
Neuro equates to our senses and nervous system.
Linguistic means our language and non-verbal communication.
Programming is how we combine our senses and language to achieve things.
NLP then is the study of the structure of subjective experience. It studies the pattern or 'programming' created by the interactions among the brain (neuro), language (linguistic), and the body that produce both effective and ineffective behaviour.
NLP originated when Richard Bandler, a student at University of California Santa Cruz, and linguist John Grinder were listening to and selecting portions of taped therapy sessions of the late Gestalt therapist Fritz Perls. Bandler and Grinder recognised that the way people used language had some effect on their behaviour.
Bandler and Grinder were interested in how people influence one another, and in the possibility of being able to duplicate the behaviour, and therefore effectiveness of highly influential people. What made their search special was their use of technology from linguistics and information science, combined with insights from behavioural psychology and general systems theory, to unlock the secrets of highly effective communication.
More ideas were developed when the pair were introduced to Milton Erickson. In particular, Erickson’s use of language and the individual way he addressed each person made them realise that it was an effective way to tailor therapy.
The actual technology, or methodology, that Bandler and Grinder used is known as human modelling - the building of models of how people perform or accomplish something. This modelling process actually means finding and describing the important elements and processes that people go through, beginning with finding and studying a human model.
A quick explanation of that would be that every human experience has 5 component parts:
we see something,
we feel something,
we hear something,
we smell something,
we taste something.
NLP provides the techniques and tools that you could use to recreate times in your life when your five senses were representing an incredible experience. Then by applying those same five 'ingredients' to a time when you had a 'bad experience', you might find that your experience of the 'experience' is very different ... empowering instead of defeating, fantastic instead of horrible. In other words, NLP techniques add choice back to your life … it achieves this in a way that is both insightful and unintrusive. It encourages the direction of therapy to be client focused and future orientated.
NLP was originally promoted by its co-founders in the 1970’s as an effective and rapid form of therapy capable of addressing the full range of problems such as phobias, depression, habit disorder, psychosomatic illnesses, and learning disorders. There is some debate now over how effective NLP is, but certainly the fast phobia technique and the Swish pattern have proven to be effective.
Using metaphors and re-framing situations can help people to focus on the more positive aspects of their lives. Techniques such as ‘anchors’ are repeatedly used in sports hypnosis to fix a certain feeling, thought or action firmly in the mind of the sports person so that they perform exactly how they rehearsed mentally. If you watch sports events carefully, you will often see a competitor move their hand or finger in a slightly odd way; this is the anchoring technique in action. You may also see them mentally rehearse the task they are about to undertake.
The first application of NLP was the ‘Meta Model’, which appeared in Bandler and Grinder's first joint publication 'The Structure of Magic' published in 1975.
The Meta-model is a set of questions that you ask in order to clear away any fluff in communication and to help you understand how a person perceives a certain experience.
The following are several more examples of NLP patterns and models:
The Milton Model - A set of verbal patterns for inducing a hypnotic trance in another person indirectly. It is the opposite of the Meta Model.
Meta programs - How we sort our perceptions. i.e. 'ls a cup half full, or half empty?’ Same cup, different ways of looking at it.
Mirroring and matching - Gaining trust and rapport with others by subtly imitating certain aspects of their behaviours and speech patterns.
Representational systems - How we structure thoughts using our five senses.
Sub-modalities - How we code and make sense of these internal structures.
Pacing and leading - influencing a person's behaviour by taking your time to understand the persons reality and then introducing a new behaviour or idea.
Our raw experience of something (deep structures) and our representations of those experiences through words, symbols, music etc. (surface structures).
Sensory acuity - Noticing how a person sends non-verbal clues to how they are thinking.
Eye accessing cues - How a person's eye movements let you know how they are thinking.
Anchoring - How we can trigger internal states in a person by touching them or saying something in a certain way.
Well-formed outcomes - How best to structure your goats in order to achieve the results you want.
There are a few underlying principles that need to be employed in the use of NLP. The importance of these can be explained using a simple computer analogy.
A computer has something called an 'operating system' by which it runs. This operating system helps organise the computer files and generally makes things run smoothly. It is built on rules, patterns, sub routines, programs.
In a similar way, NLP also has an 'operating system' by which it runs. This system is made up of the NLP presuppositions. They are called presuppositions because we pre-suppose them to be true. The principle is that you act 'as if' the presuppositions are true, and notice the results you get.
There is no orthodox list of NLP presuppositions, however, some of the more important ones are:
‘Reality is Plastic’, that is to say people respond to their mental map of reality and not to reality itself. We don't respond to the 'real' world, but instead to our mental representations of the world. Believing that the map is the territory is like eating a menu instead of the food.
We are systems, living within a system and we are made up of smaller systems – Our bodies, our societies and our universe form an ecology of complex systems and subsystems all of which interact with and mutually influence each other.
You cannot NOT communicate. Try saying nothing and you will still be saying something.
The meaning of your communication is the response you get - No matter what you say or do in your communication; it is the response you get that counts.
Underlying every behaviour is a positive intention. What does a certain kind of behaviour do for that person?
People are always making the best choice(s) available to them - We each have our own unique personal experience (mental map). From it, we must make all of our choices. A new map would be useful.
Experience has a structure - Our thoughts and memories have a structure to them. NLP studies these structures and shows us how to use them.
lf one person can do something, anyone can learn to do it - Because experience has a structure, with NLP we can learn an achiever's mental map (experience) and make it our own. In NLP this process is known as modelling.
People already have all the resource they need - Our five senses are the basic building blocks of all our mental and physical resources. We can use them to build up any thought, feeling, or skill we want.
There is no such thing as failure ONLY feedback. If what you are doing isn't working, do something else. Do anything else! Then pay attention to the result.
The trail of techniques that the NLP attitude and methodology leave behind them are useful in learning:
How to run your own brain.
How to effectively represent your experiences.
How to map the world of experiences that you've been through, that you think is possible to experience, and that you hope you will get to experience.
How to take charge of your states.
How to develop effective strategies for your everyday life.