Meta programs

NLP Meta Programs – a Type of Filter

Meta Program Meaning

Our Meta processes or programs are our inputting, sorting and filtering preferences. They guide and direct our thought process and behavior. They determine how we motivate ourselves, make decisions, buy things, what we are interested in, how we manage time, how long we stay in a job or relationship, our effectiveness with tasks and how we solve problems.

They are the programs, which guide and direct other processes. Meta means about, above, outside or beyond, so a meta program is one that influences other programs or routines in our brain.

Because of this, they play a key part in what others see as our personality.

A program is something we do rather than who we are. They are typical patterns in the strategies or thinking styles of the person.

Michael Hall considers them as frames of mind used in processing.

Sorting and filtering

How do we sort?

Representational systems are an example of a sorting and filtering preference. If I prefer visual system processing, I will tend to “see” my problems, and am more likely to notice visual stimuli, rather than say changes in voice tone and tempo. Out of the millions of pieces of information in the environment, which type will someone systematically pay attention to?

While some sorting preferences apply to us overall, they are not necessarily the same in all areas of our lives. For instance, we may sort, process and perceive differently at work than we do at home. Meta preferences or programs evolved as a way to explain how we as individuals with the same sequence of representational systems can end up with different results.

Coding Preferences

We may even code our experiences in an habitual way. Imagine how differently your life would seem if you coded experiences in black and white rather than full vivid color. In this way, certain submodalities can become a kind of metaprogram.

One Meta Program is Color or Black and White?
Are Memories Color or Black and White?

The Association Dissociation Submodality in particular is a biggie here. Becoming flexible can make a huge difference to someone’s view of the world. Do you want to engage in the memory or be separate from it?

NLP Meta Programs and Strategies

The “Meta” part relates to patterns outside the strategy. They influence how we represent and sort our experiences, and where we direct our attention.

A meta program is not the same as a strategy, which is a sequence of representations.

Strategy Example

For instance someone’s problem solving strategy might be “First I see something (Visual external), that doesn’t fit (Kinesthetic internal feeling of wrongness) with everything else then I say to myself “rats” (Auditory Digital Processing internal). This leads me to stop what I am doing (kinesthetic) and focus all my attention (visual external) on the piece that doesn’t fit until it does” (kinesthetic internal feeling of rightness)

If we wanted to model this person’s expertise, or help find a better strategy we would also need to know something about how she perceives that something is wrong, and how she sorts for solutions.

Can we change these programs?

Our ways of filtering and perceiving can often interfere with or sabotage our outcomes. Because our filtering programs are processes rather than traits, we can alter them.

Basic Meta programs

Motivation Programs

Motivation Direction – Toward Pleasure and Away From Pain

Toward or Away From what we want?

Whether we generally move toward what we want (pleasure) or away from what we don’t want or want to avoid (pain), profoundly affects many aspects of our lives. Anthony Robbins organized much of his early work on this one Meta program.

The motivation reason Meta Program for NLP or Modal Operator Filter

Somewhat similar to Toward and Away from is how we are motivated to make choices, options and take action. Someone who thinks in terms of possibilities and desires lives in a very different world than one who sees only what she has to do and the demands in her life.

Motivation Action

Action Filter– our level of activation and reflection.

Motivation Source – Internal and External Frame of Reference

Do we get our direction from within ourselves (internal) or from outside sources (external)? Who is our authority?

Motivation Preferences or Primary Interest:

Who, what, where, doing or knowing?

Where do we direct out interest? This is the primary focus of our attention. Are we more interested in people, places, activities, things or information. As an example, for instance when someone talks about their holiday, do they tell you about the people they met or the things they did?


Values are also meta programs in a sense. We sort and filter our world by them. If I highly value connection, I will create a different world for myself than if I value status and money more.


Options Procedures Filter

This is also known as Motivation Reason or Operational Style (just so you have lots of options). It is best discovered by asking the question “why did you choose?” The options filter is good at generating procedures but not following them. The procedures filter can follow procedures but get stuck if they don’t have one.

Convincer Strategies – Building and Changing Beliefs

How do you become confident or certain that something is true? What makes something believable?

Convincer Channel – Presenting to Persuade

Where do you gather information? Are you convinced because it looks right, sounds right, feels right or makes sense?

Convincer Mode – How do we Trust?

How long or often it takes to be convinced. For some people they trust only after many years of dealing with someone. For others they trust right away until proven otherwise. Some are never convinced you are trustworthy and you have to prove it to them time after time.

Judging perceiving

See the Myers Briggs Type Indicator’s Judging Perceiving pattern. A judging preference creates the need for closure and sometimes a premature decision, while a perceiving preference generally has difficulties making decisions.

Focusing or attending

Global Specific or Chunk Size Meta Program

Big picture or details?

Do you prefer to get the big picture or the details? This pattern relates to the size of the information chunks we are happy dealing with. Global people get bored with details whereas a specific person gets frustrated with overviews and summaries.

Of course it is useful to have both. Starting with the big picture of a project – the elements, can give you a place to fill in the details.

Sometimes we start with details and build up a bigger picture from them. Clues that add up to a pattern.

Relationship Filter – Sameness and Difference

This pattern is part of our process of understanding and deciding. It also predicts how often we need to change things. Sameness or matching doesn’t like things to change. Differences or mismatching need variety and notice how things are different.

Attention Direction Filter – Sorting by Self or Others

This filter is about how we pay attention to other people. Do we notice their reactions, their body language and voice tone for instance? The pattern has a correlation to introvert extrovert.

Personality Typology

The Myers Briggs Type Indicator or MBTI explains differences in behavior resulting from different ways people use their minds.


Independent, proximity or cooperative/dependent

Do you like working as a team????

This work style sort has to do with how well people work together in groups. Independents work best by themselves when they have control of their own projects. Proximity wants to be part of the team but also have their particular area of responsibility. Cooperative likes to work with others, and share responsibility and rewards.

Task or relationship

Task or Relationship focus?

A relationship orientation focuses on people and their feelings. The task is secondary to the relationship building. The task orientation focuses on the actual project and can often be abrupt with the people working with them. People tend to think of this as an either/or. It doesn’t have to be, one of the tasks needs to be relationship building.


Meta Programs for time and memory sorting

Time Meta Programs


In-time – Experiencing Life in the Present

Thru-time – learning from experience

This filter is about time storage. How do you know the difference between the past, the present and the future? How do you know you have done something, or that something happened a long time ago rather than yesterday?

Time filter – past, present, future, atemporal

This is about how we perceive and are oriented in time. It is where we prefer to have our attention, on the past, present or future. Atemporal is when we are outside or unaware of time, perhaps in a flow state.


Further reading

Figuring out People: Reading People using Meta Programs By L. Michael Hall

Words that Change Minds by Shelle Rose Charvet.

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