What is NLP

What is NLP- Neuro Linguistic Programming?

The term itself, Neuro Linguistic Programming offers a few clues.  Neuro – it involves our thinking, Linguistic – our use of language and Programming – our strategies for getting our outcomes.

The NLP Theory

It’s at heart an internal and external communication model. It is a model of how we send and receive messages both verbal and nonverbal, how we process that information, and how that information puts us in particular states. Our states underlie and direct our behavior and therefore our outcomes and results.

The Focus of the Techniques and Processes

The outcome of NLP techniques and processes is to facilitate change, not gain insight, and find out “why” or to develop a scientific theory. Psychology has historically gone for the opposite. One of the major influences in the History of NLP is focusing on what works rather than why it works.

This has been good and bad. Good because it’s enabled many free thinkers and therapists to generate ideas, explore and find out what actually works in practice. It has allowed the field to expand beyond anything Bandler and Grinder might have imagined.

The downside is the lack of coherent standards and regulation of the industry. Many have taken on their own versions and interpretations. Many apply the label “NLP” to weird and wonderful ideas, concepts and techniques, only some of which come close to the original concept.

Beliefs and Assumptions

The foundational beliefs or working guidelines of NLP are the NLP Presuppositions – basic beliefs and assumptions. An important working assumption is that people are not broken. They create results consistent with how they represent the world and go about getting outcomes.

Another important concept is that The Map is not the Territory. The way we represent the world refers to reality; it isn’t reality itself. We don’t respond to reality. We respond to our internalized map of reality.

Our “mapping” can change naturally under stress or a disruptive counter example. Neuro Linguistic Programming seeks to change mapping deliberately.

The Elements of the NLP Model

The foundation of NLP, the models the model was based on are the two language models and presuppositions developed by Richard Bandler and John Grinder from modeling Fritz Perls, Virginia Satir and Milton Erickson.

Other notable people who have contributed extensively to NLP include

  • Steve Andreas – publisher, trainer and author
  • Robert Dilts – prolific author and active contributor to NLP since its early days.
  • Anthony Robbins – one of the most recognized personalities in NLP.

The Meta Model

The Meta model is a language model for changing our maps of the world. Its purpose is to uncover specific content from the unconscious to remap. We cause many of our problems by our unconscious rule governed behavior. We Delete and Distort and Generalize whole portions of reality to make the world manageable, and in the process don’t see all the choices we have.

The Milton Model

Milton Erickson’s strategy was to distract the conscious mind by using abstract vague language to communicate directly to the unconscious and access resources. He did not make unconscious material conscious like the Meta model.

NLP Modeling

The ideas and techniques underlying NLP came from modeling extraordinary therapists and thinkers, but also ordinary people who did useful things (like responding to criticism) well.

Of course, we all model or observe people all the time. We imitate their words, postures and habits without thinking. This is how we learn language and basic skills as children. Just watching and imitating someone such as Angelina Jolie won’t give me her level of acting skill however.

Recreating a skill consciously in order to teach it needs a different kind of thinking. What is the difference between amazing skill and the mediocre? Listening to someone’s theories on the subject doesn’t help.

Bandler and Grinder were able to recreate the same results as these amazing therapists. They made the process they used to develop the Meta and Milton models explicit by codifying aspects of subjective experience including:

Representational Systems

Representational systems are our internal senses. We “re-present” what we experience on the outside on our internal mental screen. Our external senses (our seeing, hearing, feeling, smelling and tasting) match our internal senses.


Within our representations are fine distinctions such as color, location and size. They help us remember what we have seen, heard, felt, smelt and tasted both externally and imagined. This coding in our thinking effects meaning and changes how we react.

NLP Strategies

The basis of NLP Modeling is codifying and mapping the cognitive sequence someone uses to achieve something in order to duplicate his or her result. NLP strategies are the sequence of mental representations or steps we use to generate our outcomes and experiences. That is sequences of images, sounds, sensations, internal dialogue, tastes and smells.

We use strategies to remember, learn, decide, solve problems and motivate ourselves.

Meta Programs

Meta programs are a person’s typical patterns in their strategies or thinking styles. They guide and direct our thought process and behavior. They are the programs, which guide and direct other processes (hence the “Meta”). Because of this, they play a key part in what others see as our personality.

Other Concepts

Criticism of NLP

Critics have honed in on the lack of scientific validation for the model itself as a reason to dismiss it. This has always been an issue with “soft subjects”. You cannot apply the same kind of scientific method to someone’s subjective experience as you can to a rock rolling down a hill.

So what is NLP? When we understand how we create and maintain our inner thoughts and feelings, we can change them to ones that are more useful.

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