NLP techniques provide clients with the tools to overcome certain life obstacles. NLP is, in short, a way of helping people help themselves to reach a state of excellence, happiness and peace of mind.
NLP is a learning model devised by two American academics back in the early 70s. The academics were fascinated by the relationship between language, behaviour and 'excellence' (reaching the highest potential).
They believed that by analysing the unconscious linguistic techniques used by people who were experts in their fields of work or study, other people could consciously learn to apply them. Therefore, NLP techniques can be used for analysing and applying excellence. As the authors Joseph Connor and John Seymour wrote:
'NLP is the art and science of personal excellence'.
The 'science' aspect is the process of extracting and learning the techniques. The 'art' is the act of applying these techniques to our own lives.
NLP techniques can be used to:
- teach effective communication
- ensure continual personal development
- enhance learning
- encourage a greater enjoyment of life.
On this page
- What does 'NLP' mean exactly?
- The history of NLP
- How does NLP work?
- NLP filters
- 1. Neurological constraints
- 2. Social constraints
What does 'NLP' mean exactly?
NLP stands for neuro-linguistic programming:
All of our experience is gained from the neurological processes that govern our five senses: taste, touch, smell, sight and sound.
We make sense of these experiences through a set of filters, including language. The language we use can also affect the way we experience things.
Programming is a way of controlling the outcome of something. Using NLP, one can predetermine excellence by adjusting the language we use.
NLP rests on the premise that by adjusting the words we use and the meanings associated with them, we can adjust the way we view the world, which in turn can alter our behaviour and the outcomes of our behaviour.
The history of NLP
NLP was first developed in 1972 by two men: John Grinder, the then Assistant Professor of Linguistics at the University of California, and Richard Bandler, an undergraduate psychology student studying at the same campus. Together, they analysed the work of three ground-breaking therapists:
- Fritz Perls - the famous German psychotherapist who developed Gestalt therapy.
- Virginia Satir - the therapist widely regarded as the 'Mother of Family Therapy'.
- Milton Erickson - a world famous hypnotherapist.
What made Perls, Satir and Erickson so special?
Bandler and Grinder examined hours and hours of footage and audio of these three notable therapists in an attempt to unravel the secrets behind their perceived excellence. Why did these three individuals stand out among other 'self-help gurus'? What was the 'special touch' that gave them the ability to turn peoples' lives around so spectacularly?
One patient described Perls' technique as nothing short of sorcery. He wrote:
"You might be some stuck, rigid, long-dead character, seeking help and yet fearing that it would come and change things. He [Perl] would put you on the hot seat, then do his magic. If you were willing to work, it was almost as though he could reach over, take hold of the zipper on your facade, and pull it down so quickly that your tortured soul would fall out onto the floor between the two of you."
- Sheldon Kopp.
Could this 'magic' be learnt?
Bandler and Grinder wanted to identify the technique behind this so-called 'magic' in order to extract it and use it to build a model that others could learn and apply to their own lives. These observations were developed and recorded by Bandler and Grinder across four books between 1975 and 1977:
- 'The Structure of Magic 1'
- 'The Structure of Magic 2'
- 'Patterns 1'
- 'Patterns 2'
Bateson's influence on NLP
The academics' work was later enhanced by British anthropologist Gregory Bateson, who is famous for developing the concept of cybernetics in therapy. 'Cybernetics' is the study of communication and control processes in both mechanical and biological systems. In particular it explores the similarities between the two. How does the 'mind' of a computer compare to the mind of a human? Bateson drove Bandler and Grinder's project towards the 'programming' element of NLP - the idea that we could consciously teach (or programme) our own brains for a particular purpose; in this case, to reach a state of excellence.
Since its conception in the 70s, NLP techniques have grown hugely in popularity across the world. There are now over 1000 books published on the subject of NLP, and approximately 20,000 people undertake training in NLP every year.
Many hypnotherapists listed on Hypnotherapy Directory are trained in NLP. To search for one, simply type 'NLP' into the grey 'search entire site' box at the top of this page.
How does NLP work?
NLP is a form of programming, or more accurately - a form of reprogramming. We usually associate the term 'programming' with computers, or other man-made devices such as washing machines or central heating systems. The reason we can programme these machines so easily is, quite simply, because we designed them that way. For example, all central heatingpro systems are fitted with a little panel of buttons, so people living in a building can adjust the temperature according to how hot or cold they feel. Similarly, all washing machines have adjustable settings so users can specify cycle lengths or intensities depending on the nature of the clothes they want to wash.
The human brain is not man-made, and as such, does not come with a nicely designed control panel. The brain is in fact the product of three billion years worth of trial and error (otherwise known as evolution), having grown from a cluster of simple cells, into a hugely complex network made up of billions of neurons that each make around a million connections in every one second of human life. We are a very long way from understanding the full complexity of the brain - so, considering this lack of understanding - how is it really possible to reprogramme our own brains? First of all, we need to understand how programming works.
From programming a computer to programming a brain
Billions of people across the world either own or have access to computer technology. Today we rely on computers for everything from driving our cars to staying in touch with loved ones. But how many of us really understand what's going on behind all the flashing lights and swanky interfaces?
Computers are controlled via something known as 'source code', which is essentially a list of commands, or instructions that a computer follows. The source code is a kind of language, commonly referred to as programming language, consisting of symbols and words that a computer associates with different commands. To adjust what a computer does, a programmer will change the source code. The computer will then adapt to these new commands and change its 'behaviour' (the processes it carries out). If we can control a computer's processes by adjusting its source code (its language), could it then be possible to control some of the brain's processes by following a similar rule?
How to reprogramme a brain
The notion of 'reprograming' your brain has nothing to do with changing your beliefs, values or the fundamental person you think you are. It is about understanding that these are not 'truths' - they are personal to you and they can be changed. To reach our true potential, we need to gain greater understandings of how our behaviour affects the outcome of certain things, and how in turn our behaviour is determined by the people we are. The 'person you are' is essentially an amalgamation of all of your past experiences, which have essentially programmed you to behave the way you do.
So before we look at how to reprogramme a brain, we must first look at how our brains are already programmed.
How are our brains programmed?
Bandler and Grinder argued that the way we see the world, and the way we respond to those experiences (our behaviour) is dependent on a complex set of filters. These so called filters are, in essence, the programming language, or source code, of our brains.
To understand this idea, it is first crucial to understand that there is a fundamental difference between the world itself, and how each person perceives it. This is otherwise known as subjectivity - the idea that experience and perception differs from person to person.
Bandler and Grinder identified three main NLP filters through which we experience the world:
- Neurological Constraints.
- Social Constraints.
- Individual Constraints.
1. Neurological constraints
How do we experience the 'outside world'?
The neurological system
The neurological system is more commonly known as the nervous system and is, in effect, the body's porthole to the external world. The nervous system controls and coordinates our five senses: sight, touch, smell, sound and taste, via hundreds of billions of neurons (messenger cells) that pass signals through the body. Imagine not being able to see, hear, taste, smell or feel - how would you be able to experience anything of the world at all?
How does the nervous system work?
As an example, think back to a medical appointment when a doctor or nurse might have tapped your knee with a reflex hammer. Do you remember what happened?
Providing you had a healthy nervous system, at the point of contact with the hammer, the receptor cells in your knee would have registered a stimulus. This stimulus, or message, would have been passed through a synapse (which is the junction, or meeting point between two cells) to a sensory neuron. The sensory neuron would then have carried this message to the spinal cord before being transferred to a motorneuron. The motorneuron's job is to transport the stimulus back to the muscles around the knee, which would then have contracted, causing your leg to jerk or kick out sporadically. Of course, all of this would have happened in a fraction of a second. Reactions like this are happening all over our body at every moment- whether we are sitting at a desk at the office or sleeping at night. Whether we are conscious or not, the nervous system is constantly reacting to environmental stimuli.
Do our bodies react to everything?
Our nervous systems allow us to register environmental changes constantly - but do our bodies really register everything they encounter? This, according to Bandler and Grinder, is the idea behind the first 'NLP filter' between the world, and our experience of the world.
Scientists have, over the years, developed instruments to measure the physical world in ways even our bodies are not capable of. Such instruments include:
- pressure gauges
- Gieger counters
- alpha wave detectors.
These instruments translate undetectable phenomena into measurements we can understand. For instance - we cannot sense alpha waves with our bodies, but we can use sight to register alpha waves when they are translated onto paper.
The nervous system cannot physically pick up on everything that exists in the Universe. This means that, already, our perception of the world is constrained by the physical limits of our own bodies.
2. Social constraints
Once certain signals have been processed and translated by our nervous systems, they are then filtered yet again by what Bandler and Grinder called 'social constraints' (our own interpretations of neurological information).
Language is, according to Bandler and Grinder, the most important and influential social constraint.
How do we interpret, express and communicate our experiences? What bearing does language have over our thoughts and ideas about the world? Bandler and Grinder were fascinated by the connection between language and experience- predominantly by the extent to which language could limit or enhance our experiences.
E.g. Imagine you work for a company that isn't doing very well. Your boss is giving you and your team a talk, saying things like:
- 'who's fault is it?'
- 'why do we have this problem?'
- 'we have failed'.
Bandler and Grinder believed this negative language would have a negative effect on the outcome of the situation. A more effective approach would be to ask questions such as:
- 'what is it we want to achieve?'
- 'what steps are we going to take to achieve our goal?'
- 'what can we learn from this experience?'
This form of language focuses on moving on from the setback, whereas the first form dwells on what went wrong and prevents the team from moving on positively. Essentially, the same issues are still being addressed - the team will still need to identify what went wrong, but instead of addressing them as 'failures', the boss is encouraging them to see the events as stepping stones towards improvement.
3. Individual constraints
The third set of filters - individual constraints - are considered the most unique of all three and include:
- past history - memories
- cultural beliefs - religion/spirituality.
Everybody's experiences are different. Even identical twins who have been bought up together will have slightly different outlooks on the world due to their individual experiences, however slight these differences may be. Our experiences shape who we are. Sometimes, our negative experiences can have long-lasting effects on our behaviour and the way we view the world.
For example, somebody who was attacked by a man with a beard as a teenager might go on to develop a fear or distrust of men with beards in the future. Although the beard had little to do with the attack itself, it can still become synonymous with the memory of being attacked, and therefore hold negative associations.
The societies we grow up in have a profound effect on the people we become, the way we view the world and our resulting behavioural patterns. For example - many religions consider homosexuality to be wrong. These people may associate the word 'homosexuality' with negative ideas, such as 'unnatural', 'evil', or 'sin'. However, people who have never been instilled with these ideas may associate the word homosexuality with non-emotive ideas such as 'Elton John', or 'Soho'. Our cultural beliefs dramatically change the way we view the world, and the way we view the world dramatically effects the way we behave. For instance, a person instilled with ideas that homosexuality is wrong may behave differently in the presence of a homosexual person, compared with a person who is not instilled with those ideas.
Breaking our behavioural constraints
All three of the above constraints impose limits on our experiences of the world. Bandler and Grinder illustrated this idea by comparing it to a map:
A map is a representation of reality. Each person's perception of the world around them is a representation of reality. We construct 'neurological maps' according to the filters through which we see the world. There is no 'right' map, but it is possible to expand the territories and detail of our maps.
Excellence is achieved through broadening your horizons, opening your mind and breaking the limitations of your filters. Accepting that your view of the reality is one representation of many is the first step in NLP.
NLP techniques focus on breaking down our assumptions and associations in order to open and expand our territories:
1. Outcome vs. problem - when faced with a challenge, do you focus on the possible problems, or do you focus on the desired outcomes? Focusing on problems is known in NLP as following the 'blame frame', which involves analysing all of the negativities in great detail and asking questions such as 'why do I have this problem?' and 'who's fault is it?' People who focus on outcomes, on the other hand, find out what it is they want to achieve, what others want, what resources they have and how they can utilize these resources to reach an outcome everyone wants.
2. How vs. why - when asking 'why' questions, all you are really doing is seeking affirmation of a problem that already exists. 'How' questions, on the other hand, get you further towards understanding the structure of a problem. For example 'why did this happen?' is limited in that it searches for blame. However, 'how did this happen to me?' searches for a cause and effect. It is far more objective and logical compared to the question 'why', which is abstract and insubstantial.
3. Feedback vs. failure - what happens if you don't manage to achieve your goal? The term 'failure' connotes 'dead-end' and negativity. Seeing 'failure' instead as a form of feedback can open up your possibilities and help you to achieve your goal the second, or third, or fourth time round. When you fail to reach a goal, you can analyse the steps you took and identify which ones to alter. This is essentially the common idea of 'learning from your mistakes'. In NLP, there is literally no such thing as 'failure'- at least, not with the associations it commonly comes with.
4. Possibilities vs. necessities - considering the possibilities in a difficult situation is more positive than considering the necessities. Possibilities open up potential, whereas necessities (thinking about what it is you have to do) are restricting and only serve to narrow potential.
5. Curiosity and fascination vs. assumptions - a big part of NLP is opening the mind to change and possibility. Assuming that we 'know' something can limit the expansion of that knowledge. You may 'know' that the world is round, but you should not assume that your knowledge is stationary. Knowledge is transitory and the more we learn, the more that knowledge changes. For example, a few hundred years ago, many people 'knew' that the world was flat.
How could NLP benefit me?
NLP techniques can be applied to all areas of life, including:
- personal development
NLP is a huge topic. There are thousands of books, seminars and trained coaches dedicated to teaching the subject. If you would like to explore more, you could contact a hypnotherapist who specialises in NLP.
NLP and hypnotherapy
NLP combined with hypnotherapy techniques can be a powerful tool. Hypnotherapists aim to induce a relaxed and receptive state in their patients in order to open up and access the subconscious mind. Many of the obstacles that prohibit or limit a person's experiences are deeply embedded in the subconscious By accessing the thought processes that usually remain hidden, hypnotherapists can work towards changing their patients' restrictive thought processes and make room for positive development.
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