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NLP basics 1

So what is NLP? Its all about your attitude

Neuro Linguistic Programming is widely misunderstood, and surprisingly often by those who claim to know something about it. Developed by Bandler and Grinder in the early 1970's it gained popularity due to some of the impressive successes with the therapeutic techniques, before later being treated with some suspicion when researchers found they could not consistently replicate those results in later studies. Considered to be a pseudo-science and operating in an unregulated world, there are many mixed views about the benefits of NLP. So as a trainer, is this the best place to get you started?

Well, yes. All too often people hold back from finding out more because they are concerned about rumours of how NLP is used by salespeople, or simply put off by the title. So this part of our website is dedicated to explaining more about NLP to allow you to choose for yourself whether you want to take things any further.

There are two definitions of NLP. The first explains the title. Neuro relates to the senses, and how we receive information about the world. Linguistic refers to what we 'say' both verbally, in words, and also in our body language. And Programming can be thought of as our habits, and our strategies for doing things, a succession of steps to achieve a particular result. The second definition is what NLP is truly about. It is an attitude (of curiosity, experimentation and acting as if), and a methodology (modelling) that leaves in its wake a trail of techniques.

The commonest mistake people make is to think that NLP is the techniques that are associated with it, rather than understanding that the techniques are simply an output from the core concept of attitude and modelling. At least in part this is where the researchers came unstuck when they looked to prove the validity of the 'techniques' in isolation from the attitude of NLP. So lets talk about the attitude for a moment.

Curiosity is at the heart of successful NLP. As human beings we have a habit of jumping to conclusions. Its a shortcut your brain runs to speed things up. Unconsciously we make rapid assumptions about information and then treat those assumptions as if they are what actually happened, or was said. Young children are simply curious about things in life. They have not yet reached the point where this filter of fitting things into preformed beliefs begins. Do you remember the tale of the Emperor's New Clothes? Two thieves offer to make for the Emperor, who was famed for spending lavishly on new clothes, the finest suit of clothes that were invisible to those who were stupid or incompetent. Of course the Emperor did not want to be considered either stupid or incompetent so paid well for the new clothes, going along with the thieves description of how wonderful they were. Riding through the town, in his new garments, a child, called out his nakedness, until the whole town was laughing at the Emperor. Whether a tale about pride and pomposity, or about the simple innocence of how a child sees the world, it also serves to highlight how we grow out of curiosity and into judgements.

In my experience curiosity takes practice. To notice, observe and wonder, whilst setting aside preconceived ideas, is not as simple as it first seems. Our natural inclination is to look at things as good or bad, right or wrong, and they may well be any of those things, but before reaching a judgement you need to first get into the habit of being actively curious.

Experimentation is simply about trying things to see what happens next. Thomas Eddison is the famous example when he was inventing the light bulb. It is said that it took him 10,000 experiments before he was finally successful. He did not consider that any of his experiments failed, only that he had learned one more thing that did not work yet. When you are trying to achieve something, and keep repeating the same mistakes, stop for a moment, and find at least one small thing you could do differently.

And then there is 'acting as if'. Fake it til you make it? Well no, not quite. In an uncertain world, where we can never be absolutely sure what will happen next, 'acting as if' is simply behaving in such a way that the outcome you are seeking will be the thing that happens next. The power of positive thought is simply wishful thinking. To make those thoughts reality requires action. When you think back to when you learned to ride a bike, you may have initially set off slowly, wobbling the first short distance, waiting to fall. What if you had acted as if you would be successful first time. You would have set off confidently, as you do now, and the outcome may have been very different. When you can never know with certainty what will happen next, what stops you from assuming the best?

So with the right attitude, comes the methodology of modelling. On the same principle of not reinventing the wheel, if someone is already doing something really well, start by understanding what it is that they do. Bandler and Grinder initially modelled the work of three people, Fritz Perls, Virginia Satir and Milton Erickson. Each was achieving exceptional results in their own field of therapy and hypnosis. If you have ever learned to drive a car you may remember when you first began to learn, having to pay conscious attention to so many things you just couldn't do them all at once. Gradually with practice, things became easier and no longer required conscious thought, as they became habit. You became unconsciously competent. So the modelling process is more than observing the actions and listening to the words out 'models' of excellence' are using, but also involves understanding the values, beliefs and strategies that are going on at the unconscious level.

Finally this left Bandler and Grinder with their trail of techniques that people have largely come to think of as NLP. Because they chose to study models of excellence in the world of therapy and hypnosis, the trail of techniques created as a result reflect this. In the coming sections we will explore more of the basics underpinning those techniques, as well as the techniques themselves.

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