Bruce Farrow NLP Master Trainer – Neuro-Linguistic Programming, or NLP, was created by Richard Bandler and John Grinder in the 1970s to answer the question – “why are some people good at some things and others are not”. Essentially NLP started because of their curiosity around this question so they began by researching and then modelling the top communicators of that time. They wanted to know how these people did what they did and over a period of time they began to model those communicators and, by modelling, they began to understand the keys to their success.From those models they became able to teach others how to become more excellent communicators with themselves and others.
This is where NLP started really through a complex modelling process of communicators. In the years that followed others contributed to the field of NLP by modelling other skills and thus NLP became the go to art/science of how to create excellence in both self and others.
From these models grew a host of techniques for rapidly and effectively changing thoughts, behaviours and beliefs that previously had limited peoples development but It is important to note that NLP is a set of guiding principles, attitudes and finally, techniques about behavioural change in real life. It is NOT a scientific theorem. It gives individuals choice; choice to choose their behaviours, emotional states and physical states of well-being by understanding how the mind works. It helps them remove self-imposed limits.
So, what is NLP really? NLP explores the relationship between how we think (neuro), how we communicate both verbally and non-verbally (linguistic) and our patterns of behaviour and emotion (programmes).
NLP is an Instruction Manual for the Mind by Bruce Farrow NLP Master Trainer
This was an expression I coined about 12 years ago. Imagine getting a mobile phone without any instructions. In fact mobile phones are a great example. These days mobile phones have a string of features that we do not ever use because 1. We didn’t understand the instructions 2. We didn’t read them 3. We didn’t get any instructions.
Well let’s assume for example we didn’t receive any instructions. So we have a phone and we can figure out how to make a call and how to receive one, and with a bit of fiddling around we can teach ourselves how to store some numbers in the memory. But the rest of the features go unused purely because we didn’t know they were there.
Now think of your brain, which is a slightly more complex item! We were born without an instruction manual. The only instructions we received were hearsay, in other words, our parents, teachers and peers conditioned us. So no real instructions and certainly not a comprehensive set. A bit like having that mobile telephone and just knowing how to send a call.
Imagine getting into a car for the first time with no instructions. Reckon you would get far? Not a chance! Probably crash and burn if you ever got the thing started! So without an instruction manual we are likely to fail. Hold on, I here you say, we haven’t got a manual for the brain so we are likely to fail? Yes, that’s the idea! With no manual we are likely to fail first time and then after that we learn through our experiences, hopefully! This is why when we attempt even the simplest task for the first time we often meet with failure.
So what’s all this got to do with NLP? Quite simply NLP studies the structure of how humans think and experience the world. Now this structure is something quite complex and subjective and does not always lend itself to precise formula. What it does do is to lend itself to models of how the mind works and from these models NLP has derived techniques for easily and rapidly changing thoughts, beliefs and behaviours
These ‘models’ were derived from the studies of people who did things exquisitely well. For example the Meta-model was derived from a person called Virginia Satir, a renowned therapist and communicator, and the Milton model was derived from the great hypnotist Milton Eriksson
The models were created not by asking these talented people how they did something but more from understanding the underlying structure of how they represent the beliefs and attitudes and strategies within their minds when they are completing a particular task. This is why much of NLP in therapy is content free.
Another example would be to understand how a resourceful person in a particular situation perceives the world through their 5 senses, and once we have done this, it is easy to teach others how to do the same thing.
For example a phobia is an irrational fear. A person phobic about spiders will often picture the spider being particularly large and very close to them. Now someone who is not concerned about spiders will have a representation of a small creature that doesn’t do anyone any harm and is insignificant to them (far away and small). In NLP we would ask the question “if someone can not be concerned about spiders to the extent they are not significant then why cant the other person be the same”? So we would use a technique with the phobic person so that when they think of a spider they represent it to themselves in a similar way to the person who is not concerned about the little creatures i.e. at a reasonable distance and a proportionate size. Thus we have modelled the phobic persons behaviour on the person who is not concerned about spiders.
What you will find about NLP is that it is results orientated and flexible. We are not interested in the slightest about what SHOULD work only what ACTUALLY works. Too many people do things and fail because they feel what they are doing should be the right thing. If it doesn’t work, in NLP, we would go a different route, and keep trying different ways until it works. Remember in NLP there is no failure, only feedback and flexibility is the name of the game. In NLP we are only interested in the results and giving people what they truly want from life.
Where many people go wrong in their understanding of NLP is that NLP is not just a pile of techniques . People with a lack of understanding of the subject think that is what it is – and it isn’t! Richard Bandler was quoted as saying that “NLP is an attitude of curiosity and a willingness to experiment and THAT has left behind a trail of techniques.” This is the key. Without the NLP mindset any technique is worthless and it is the mindset that is critical and that is precisely how we teach it. Get the mindset and sure, we have some processes that work incredibly well and create long and lasting change in individuals.
One of the major benefits when we use NLP in therapy is that we are not interested in the what – we are interested in the how! What do I mean by that? Quite simply, to affect change into an individual we do not need to know the ‘content’ or the details of any negative experience because we deal solely in the ‘how’ they do whatever it is they are doing and, by understanding that, we can assist them to make changes.
By understanding how a human being processes information and their individual experiences and relating that to the final behaviour, it is possible to assist someone to change their thought processes thus resulting in a different behaviour. This is also a key component. The understanding that behaviour is the outcome of a multitude of thought processes that occur at the unconsious level. To change a behaviour, we have to change what is driving it. Unlike many forms of therapy where the individual is encouraged to change ‘consciously’ (which is incredibly hard) we focus on the drivers to the behaviour and change those to change the final outcome.
Whilst the terminology of NLP has only been around since the 1970s, it draws on many other psychological concepts that have been around for decades. For example, one of the unconscious filters of the unconscious mind are meta programs. Now these were first brought to the attention of the world by the famous psychologist, Carl Jung (a student of Sigmund Freud) in his book “Psychological Types” (1923).
Another filter of the unconscious mind are values and our work with these eminates from Clare Graves’s work back in the 1950s. In fact one of the key assumptions in the world of NLP comes from the works of Alfred Korzybsky and his book “Science and Sanity” (1933) and that is “The Map is not the territory” or put simply, the words we use are not the event that they describe – just a perception of it.
So, you can see, NLP draws on much from traditional psychology and adds to it. It adds processes that assit people to change and to communicate better.
So, to answer the original question, what is NLP, we can say that NLP provides you with an instruction manual of how the mind works and introduces you to your unconscious mind. It provides you with techniques that will support change in either your life or others and will give you a map of how to REALLY achieve success in your life. It will empower you with the art of TRUE communication that will allow you to understand and to influence your peers. It will allow you to make real changes easily in the way you work and live and provide you with the manual to fully achieving your potential.
Bruce Farrow NLP Master Trainer has retired from full time NLP Training but still trains the International NLP Trainers Training in Thailand every year. He lives in Windsor with his wife, 2 children and Barney the dog!