I keep finding that one of the most tricky question to answer is What is NLP? I’ve been an NLP practitioner for about a decade now, and I still don’t like being asked that question!
You can describe NLP in a lot of different ways, and that’s probably what makes it challenging. Also the name in itself is a little bit nebulous: Neuro-Linguistic Programming. What on earth?!!!
I heard one of the creator of NLP, Richard Bandler, during one of his workshop, tell the anecdote on how he came up with that name ; apparently he was driving and on the passenger seats he had books about neurology, linguistic and computer programming. He got stopped by the police as he was speeding, and as a justification he explained he was late on his way to a conference he was giving. The policeman, doubtful, asked with a smirk “Oh, really?! And what’s the conference about?!” Bandler glanced over on the passenger seat, and replied: “It’s about Neuro-Linguistic Programming”. And apparently that’s how NLP was born.
I am sure there are other stories on how Bandler and Grinder came up with the name NLP, but I like that story as it may explain why the name is so obscure!! 😀
In any case, there are various definition on what NLP is and I’ve talked about it in a previous video that I’d also like to share with you:
However today, I would like to expand on one aspect of NLP: the mindset. Even though NLP has a series of useful techniques to create quick and powerful change, what I like the most about it is the mindset it encompasses. How we can significantly improve our life using an NLP lens.
This mindset is best described as the NLP presuppositions. A list of assumptions or principles we choose to adopt in everyday life. A different way to look at the world.
I was teaching the NLP presuppositions once, during my NLP Practitioner Course and one of my students had a wonderful observation: he said that as he was discovering those presuppositions, he realised that choosing to live by those rules in life would make him feel much more empowered than he was currently feeling.
Even though I had been living those principles and teaching them for many years, it was the first time I saw them through this angle. And that was a light bulb moment for me. And probably the reason why I became such a big fan of NLP! I think the mindset is so much more powerful than the mere techniques!
Anyway, I wanted to share my favourite presuppositions with you and my personal interpretation of them. I believe they can give us our power back, and I’m curious how your life improves when you adopt them yourself?
The map is not the territory This means that our perception of reality is just a perception, not the reality itself. We often jump to the conclusion that what happens around us is factually true, when it is often only our interpretation of it. But we respond to those events as if they were true. And that links well to another presupposition that says that “People respond to their experience, not the reality itself“. If we link that to CBT, it is quite similar to the story we tell ourselves, isn’t it? So this presupposition is here to remind us to question what we believe is true, and check what distortion we may have already assigned to it.
There’s no failure, only feedback: how different would we feel if every time we don’t manage to achieve our goal we saw it as an opportunity to learn instead of as a failure? Because of our upbringing and a general attitude in our society, we are very quick at beating ourselves up and at judging ourselves when we “fail”. How about having a more neutral reaction and simply learn from our mistakes to do better next time?
The meaning of the communication is the response you get: This one can be a bit challenging. I see it as being flexible. A lot of the time we think we are being clear in how we communicate, but we are not being understood or the message doesn’t come across. However, where it is easier to blame the other person for misunderstanding us, this presupposition invites us to take responsibility for our communication. Yes, maybe we were clear and they don’t understand us – but in the end, does it matter? If the message doesn’t get across, who cares who’s fault is it!? Isn’t it better to focus on how best to get the communication going? So NLP suggests for us to be more flexible until the communication is successful. There’s actually another presupposition that illustrates that concept quite well when it says that “In any system, the element with most flexibility exerts the most influence“. If we are flexible in how we communicate, in order to be understood rather than in order to be right, who knows what might change…
You can’t fail to communicate: whatever you do or don’t do, whatever you say or don’t say, you are still communicating something. Even when you try to stay silent and not express your opinion, you are still communicating. We actually don’t communicate mainly through words, but much more from our non-verbal communication. Our body language, our facial expressions, the tone of our voice give it away much more than our actual words!
Individuals have all the resources they need to achieve their desired outcomes: This is quite a controversial one but at the centre of transformational coaching philosophy: we assume that our role as a coach or therapist is merely to facilitate our clients finding their inner resources, rather than fixing them by giving them solutions. Sometimes, the resource is to actually realise they need to learn or change something ; but the change will come from them, not from an external coach or therapist. In the end, we can’t fix nor change people ; we can only help them through the change, or even help them to realise they need to change. But the change will always come from within.
Every behaviour has a positive intent and Every behaviour is useful in some context: Think for a moment: what if everything you feel, everything you do was motivated by a positive purpose? what if there was no such thing as a “bad” feeling or a “bad” behaviour? NLP suggests that every thing we do, even the most unhealthy behaviours, are actually designed by our subconscious to try to fulfil a positive outcome. It might not succeed in doing so, but that’s what’s its purpose is. I think this is a major assumption, because most of the time we are very harsh on ourselves when we display those behaviours. But if we begin to understand that they come from the right place, from a place of trying to achieve something positive for ourselves, we might begin to be a bit kinder on ourselves. And that would be the best starting point to start changing those behaviours – perhaps by trying to achieve its outcome in a more useful way?
No one is wrong or broken. People work perfectly to accomplish what they’re currently accomplishing. It might be difficult to believe based on our common paradigms. We are programmed by our society and upbringing to think that when we feel bad or when we behave in ways that are unuseful – there’s something wrong with us. But here, we are actually saying it’s not true. It’s not that when we engage in unhealthy habits or even destructive behaviours it’s a good thing – but rather that it’s not because we’re broken. It’s because our unconscious mind is using an outdated program to actually fulfil a positive purpose as we’ve seen in the previous presupposition.
The mind and the body are connected and influence each other: There are a lot of scientific studies supporting that assumption, that is becoming more and more commonly accepted. I’ve recently read an article featuring Ellen Langer, one of the leading researchers in the mind-body field. She did an experiment where in a nursing home she was encouraging people to make decisions for themselves. They noticed that 18 months later, less than half of the elderly in the more engaged group had died than those in the control group. The placebo effect provides another documented evidence on the mind-body connection and it might be useful to explore behind every illness you face, what might be the emotional aspect of it…
People make the best choice they can at a time: I love this one, as I often find myself getting caught in the “hindsight” trap: when in hindsight, I curse myself for having made the choices I’ve made, and then given myself a hard time for it. Now, I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but anytime we make a choice, at that specific moment it is actually our best choice. Even if five minutes later we might make another one. But right here right now, this is the best choice based on the options and knowledge we have. Otherwise we would make another one! So I like to remind myself this when I have regrets about past choices…
There are more presuppositions, and of course a lot of different take on them – but I personally feel that those ones are the most influential ones. At least they’ve been for me. Are there others that you’ve benefited from too?
I hope you also manage to improve your life by starting to shift your perception of yourself using NLP.