Some Thoughts on Neuro Linguistic Programming
I have long had an interest in the relationship between
mind and body. From personal experience in my aikido training
I know that quite small changes in posture can radically change
ones attitude and make the difference between a technique
working and not working. I also know that I can trust my
unconscious mind to help solve complex problems and generally
point me in the right direction via my instinct.
For me, these items constitute intriguing hard data. Looking
further afield: psychosomatic illness is a well-established
concept; it is known that depression and chronic stress
affect the immune system, and there is also extensive anecdotal
evidence about the profundity of the mind/body linkage
people have died after being cursed, and terminally-ill
patients have been suddenly cured. Then there is the notorious
placebo effect. This is so well known that,
in scientific medical experiments, great pains are taken to ensure
that it does not contaminate the results by either
the patient or the practitioner knowing whether the drugs being
administered are genuine or placebos. (Why
the medical fraternity so resolutely declines to study the placebo
effect in its own right is a question I would be very interested
to hear a logical explanation for).
The unconscious is that part of the mind which contains everything
that is not in immediate conscious awareness. Everything
you have ever done is probably in there somewhere. Parts
of it are readily accessible what you had for breakfast,
for example. Others, less so what you wore on your
first day at work, say. It is by far the largest and most
powerful part of the mind, and it is responsible for the many
things we do automatically.
It always tries to act in our best
interests evolution has ensured that. There
are times however, when parts of the unconscious do things with
good intentions which result in adverse consequences when they
reach our actual behaviour. NLP is a series of self-improvement
and therapeutic techniques for communicating directly with the
unconscious via physiological signs muscle tension, colour
change, temperature change etc. It does not attempt to say
why its techniques work. It is wholly pragmatic. If
what youre doing isnt working do something
else! is perhaps its guiding principle. From their
writings, its originators, Richard Bandler and John Grinder, seem
to be hard-nosed, practical men with hearts in the right places.
They take no dogmatic stances and they constantly emphasize the
need for accepting personal responsibility and for flexibility
of thought and attitude. It is sufficient for them that
the techniques work. (Though I have a personal
fancy that the next great leap forward in medical knowledge
akin say to discovering microbes or the circulation of the blood
will be discoveries about the nature of this mind/body
Imaging and Posture
As the word is used here, posture includes every physiological
element that you can sense, however slight: how the
limbs, joints and muscles feel, facial expression, sense of smell,
hearing, temperature etc. The more aware we can become of
these, the more precisely we will be able to sense what is going
on around us via the messages our unconscious is giving us
virtually every part of the body picks up information about the
It is no news that mood can affect posture. We routinely
read peoples moods from their posture Youre
looking happy/miserable/sick etc. Few pause to consider
however, that just as mood can affect posture, so posture can
affect mood. The simple act of straightening up, relaxing
the shoulders and looking upwards will improve anyones mood.
To those who think that our mood is our mood its
not something we can (should?) control, we have no responsibility
for it, itll pass when its ready and that manipulating
posture to change it is somehow cheating, it has to
be said that deliberately using posture to change mood is no different
from deliberately moving a leg because it has become uncomfortable
through sitting in one position too long. What is the point
of suffering an uncomfortable emotional state when a change of
posture might alleviate it? We each have a choice about what we do with our thoughts. An
NLP adage is: when something happens, accept responsibility.
We can allow our thoughts to wander about aimlessly as usual or
we can manipulate them so that bad experiences and images from
the past, while being faced and accepted, lose their power to
affect us adversely in the present.
- Close your eyes and relax.
- Remember relive some pleasant experience in
as much detail as you can: how everything looked, sounded,
felt, in the widest sense of the word, i.e. including smell,
facial expression, how the limbs, joints and muscles felt (down
to your fingers, toes, face muscles everything)
every physical and mental response you can recall. (Which
of these aspects dominates sight, sound or touch
varies from person to person and is unimportant).
- Imagine next this image to be brighter, sharper, louder,
clearer, more vivid. Note how your mood and physiology
have changed. You should feel more positive.
- Do the same with an unpleasant experience. You should
feel more negative.
- Next, drain this last image of colour, make the sound fuzzier,
broken, more erratic, like bad radio reception. Shrink
the whole thing, and see how your state changes. This image
from the past should have lost some of its power to control your
This can be used for changing behaviour you are unhappy with (say,
smoking, for example).
- Form a detailed image of yourself behaving in the way you
want to change.
- Form one of the ways you want to be with all the benefits
that will give you.
- Make the first image big and bright.
- Somewhere in this, form a small dark picture of the second
- Very rapidly, expand the small picture to burst through and
destroy the first one, at the same time say Whoosh!
with great excitement. This verbalization may seem juvenile
but it sends important positive messages to the brain.
- The key to this exercise is speed and repetition. Blow
the old image away and do it several times. The object
is to say to the brain, See this old picture? Whoosh! Its
gone Look at this new one, until the old picture
automatically triggers the new.
Modelling and Mirroring
These are not items which can be easily summarized. Modelling
involves copying the posture (in the fullest sense
of the word) of someone who already does what you want to do.
This really means spending time with the person and discussing
the matter with them in depth. In the absence of this, it
is beneficial to visualize yourself as having already succeeded
at what it is you want to do and noting and remembering the physiological
responses that come with that.
Mirroring relates to interactions with other people. At
its simplest it is being as relaxed as possible and trusting your
unconscious to pick up the signals that others are giving.
This is using a device, e.g. a touch, as a cue to bring about
some desired condition immediately.
- Form an image of the state you wish to be in.
- When it is exactly as you want it to be, say to yourself,
Yes! and establish the anchor, e.g. pressing the
thumb and forefinger together.
- Repeat several times until just pressing the thumb and forefinger
will bring about the state you want automatically.
At its simplest, re-framing is little more than positive thinking
counting your blessings. While clichés are
frowned on in writing, they are usually true and it is a grievous
mistake to bring traditional literary contempt for them into our
ordinary thinking. In our responses to events there are
no absolute truths the cup is both half empty and
half full and we can choose which mental view we want and
accept the physiological consequences that go with that choice.
Equally we can choose our physiological response and change our
mental view. If we take a dismal view and suffer dismal
and disabling responses as a result, then it is a deliberate and
You are a plumber called out in mid-winter to repair a burst pipe:
(a) It will be a miserable journey through foul weather and an
unspecified length of time in a cramped space in which at some
point you will be doused in icy water.
(b) It will be an opportunity to settle
into your familiar old van and take a leisurely and relaxed drive
watching all the other idiots driving dangerously while you are
taking it steady. You are going to do something youre
good at and you will solve a problem that will bring considerable
relief to some poor householder, bring you some income and enhance
your reputation for promptness and efficiency. Its
also perhaps a chance to make a new friend or renew an old acquaintance,
and if you get wet, youll enjoy having a warm dry down when
you get back home.
I can see this example provoking caustic comments but nevertheless
both alternatives are valid and available. The situation
is what it is neutral. How you view it the
choice of response and the physiological consequences that go
with it is up to you and you alone, and it is important
to accept responsibility for this. Granted, in Britain,
where the national sport is grumbling, being constantly and evangelically
positive can be deeply irksome to others, to put it mildly.
However, you dont have to bang on about it. Just do
it for yourself. Changing your responses from negative to
positive is both important and beneficial and is a habit well
worth acquiring. What can possibly to be gained by being
Reframing can be taken beyond this stage and pursued at a much
more profound level to negotiate with those parts of the unconscious
whose actions are resulting in something unwanted in consciousness.
The procedures might seem strange but, as mentioned, NLP does
not debate how and why, it merely describes techniques that work
Fundamentally it should be understood that all
parts of the unconscious act for our good
The procedure for establishing ‘communication’ with the parts of
the unconscious is as follows:
- Make yourself relaxed and comfortable.
- Say inwardly, Is the part of
me responsible for (whatever behaviour it is you wish to change)
prepared to communicate with me in consciousness?
- Take careful note of any physiological responses. These
could be anything: hands going cold, jaw stiffening, stomach
fluttering, eye twitching, brow furrowing etc.
- To determine whether this is a yes or a no,
thank the part for the communication and ask, If this response
is a yes, please intensify it. If it is a no,
please diminish it.
Bandler and Grinder break this more advanced reframing into six
While clarity and precision of questioning is important, the above
is not a rigid procedure. It is a device for deliberately
communicating with a part of our minds the greater part
which, by definition, cannot readily be reached consciously,
and helping it to work to our greater benefit.
- Decide what behaviour it is you want to change, call it X.
- Establish communication with the part responsible for X,
(call it Part-x), and obtain clear yes/no signals as above. If
you get a no, it doesnt matter, it means that your unconscious
does not wholly trust you and you must respect that. Despite
its denial however, it is communicating in your consciousness
simply by giving a no, so thank it, perhaps apologize
to it for having built up such a mistrust, and press on.
- This is to separate the behaviour of Part-x and its intention.
Ask Part-x if it would be willing to let you know what it is trying
to do for you.
If yes, ask it to communicate this.
If no, carry on. This refusal does not matter.
There may be many reasons why Part-x does not wish to tell you why
it is doing what it is doing. You do not need to know
its intentions will be good.
Ask Part-x if there were other ways of achieving its intention would
it be interested in trying them out?
If yes, carry on.
If no, (unlikely given that Part-xs intentions
are good) tell Part-x that while its intentions are good, the effects
of what it is doing are not acceptable to your consciousness
and ask it again.
- This is to establish behaviour for Part-x so that it can achieve
its intention in a manner that is acceptable to you. (Note
you do not need to be consciously aware of any of these
Establish communication with a creative part of your unconscious
(you do have one) and ask it to ask Part-x what it is trying to do
and then to create as many other ways as it likes by which Part-x
could accomplish this. Ask Part-x to evaluate these and to select
three which it thinks will work at least as well as what it is
doing now. Ask it to give a yes signal for
- When you receive these signals, ask Part-x if it would be willing
to accept responsibility for generating these three new alternatives
in appropriate circumstances for say, six weeks.
If yes, carry on.
If no, go back to your creative part in 4
- Ecological check. This is important.
Part-x does not act in isolation. Changing what it does may
result in adverse consequences elsewhere. Ask Is
there any part of me that objects to any of these three alternatives?
If the answering signals are uncertain, ask for a confirmation
of yes and no intensify for yes,
diminish for no. If there is an objection,
go back to 2.
Take your time. Establish clear signals Is
this tension in my legs a yes or a no?
Intensify for yes, diminish for no
etc. You can trust your unconscious.
It does almost everything for you anyway.
There is an self-referential element the eye seeing
the eye in this inner talking to oneself.
It would be naïve to imagine that the mind is divided into
tidy, ordered parts which talk to one another.
Everyone recognizes consciousness self-awareness
but no-one knows exactly what it is or how it comes about.
The human body has some 10 to the power 13 cells, most of which
are in a permanent ferment of highly complex chemical activity.
(10 to the 13 is ten million million.
It is a very big number: 10 to the 13 millimetres = 12 round
trips to the moon!). Our brains have some 10
to the power 9 neurons, each of which has between ten and a hundred
thousand connections. With countless elaborate physiological
feedback mechanisms and levels of organization within us we are
I suspect that the very act of pausing quietly and concentrating
on physiological responses will, for many, start to break long-established
patterns of thought and (tense) behaviour and set them on the
way to an increased, relaxed, awareness that can only improve
mental, physical and emotional balance and in so doing, help to
smooth a way through many problems.
However unusual NLP techniques may seem, they are well worth a
try. They are methodical, wholly pragmatic, make no judgements, do not involve any changes in lifestyle, and are quite free from
any New Age nitwittery. They also work. In his seminars,
Anthony Robbins uses them to empower people so they can walk across
beds of hot coals. As he himself states, there is not a
lot of call for this but most of us would deem it impossible
and the fact that it can be done after only a day of practising
mind/body techniques is a dramatic demonstration which understandably
has a profound effect on those who do it. On a more personal
level, I have always reframed events, though never
under that name, i.e. made the best of what was happening, but
reading and thinking about it has made me use it even more effectively.
I have actually used the more advanced six step reframing to help
me demolish years - nay, decades - of not being able to memorize
piano music and with a small problem of jaw stiffness at the dentist.
The message of NLP is not new: always we have choice.
NLP can help you realize just how much choice you really have.
Anthony Robbins adds a touch towards the end of his book which
gives a keen insight into him:
Give, he says. If you see a beggar or
someone in need, dont question the rights and wrongs of
their circumstances just give them something. Further,
if you were thinking of giving 50p give a £1.
This is much more profound than it appears. There is nothing
like giving to put you into an open, receptive mood, with all
the physiological benefits that this brings.
Useful NLP Adages
If what you are doing isnt working, do something else.
There are no mistakes, only outcomes. There is no failure,
Its not what happens to you thats important, its
what you do.
When something happens, take responsibility.
Dont focus on blame, look for solutions.
The meaning of a communication is the response it gets, not the
Whether you believe you can or you cant, you are right.
Pay attention to what people do, not what they say they do.
Nothing has power over you other than what you give it through
The map isnt the terrain. The blueprint isnt
Frogs into Princes Richard Bandler and John
Reframing Richard Bandler and John Grinder
Unlimited Power Anthony Robbins.
Understanding Neuro Linguistic Programming in a week
Mo Shapiro ISBN 0 340 71123 X
Principles of NLP Joseph OConnor, Ian McDermott.
ISBN 0 7225 3195 8
Introducing NLP Joseph OConnor, John
Seymour. ISBN 1 85538 344 6
Bandler and Grinders books are edited transcripts of symposia
and are not very good for organized study. They are worth
reading though, as their conversational approach does give a vivid
insight into the attitudes that inform NLP.
Robbins book is full of rather daunting cheer-leading razzamatazz
but is well worth reading.
The others are less anecdotal and more along the lines of conventional
textbooks. They are all worth reading, OConnor and
Seymours book probably being the most comprehensive.
Since writing these notes I have learned a couple a tai chi forms.
The opportunity that these offer for the body to remember
how to be relaxed (and thus more aware) while moving, is
not to be underestimated. It is not necessary to believe
in chi or any mystical flim flam to gain great benefits (and enjoyment)
from doing the forms and I would recommend them to anyone. I
find that the mutual feedback between my aikido, tai chi, and
just thinking about these things is profound.