- Posted: January 2010
- By: Michael Carroll
What Is NLP?
An insight into the background of NLP
One of the questions I am routinely asked on my travels is ‘What is Neuro Linguistic Programming?’. This seemingly simple question often challenges even the most accomplished Practitioners who often respond with nervous waffle or technical jargon. The challenge with defining NLP arises from the fact that NLP is a broad field that has been developed from many disciplines including hypnotherapy, linguistics, psychology, systems theory, and systems for understanding the body. In this article I will provide the background of NLP, an insight into the different applications and then conclude with a meta description that is relevant to any application of NLP.
Neuro Linguistic Programming was created by two people, John Grinder and Richard Bandler in Santa Cruz, California in the early 1970’s. Both men had an attitude of adventurism, curiosity and fascination with human excellence. The NLP co-creators focused on human behaviours of excellence which led them to create a process called modelling. Modelling is a way of assimilating and unpacking the behaviour of geniuses, so that other people can learn to get the same results. To create NLP John Grinder and Richard Bandler originally modelled people who were ‘change agents’ operating at genius level, in helping people redirect their lives after major crises. The ‘change agents’ were master communicators, motivators and their clients’ experienced powerful shifts in behaviour as a result of working with these remarkable people. NLP modelling can be applied in any field where there is human excellence i.e. business, sports, innovation etc. This area of NLP still holds a deep fascination for NLP co-creator John Grinder who says modelling is the primary domain of NLP. Grinder defines NLP as a discipline for modelling human excellence.
As a result of the initial modelling projects, Grinder and Bandler had a toolkit that consisted of models and techniques that could be used to facilitate change and empowerment in other people. The test of a model is whether it can be taught to others so that they can then get similar results to the original source. The NLP co-creators began to run public seminars, attracting people who were professionally involved in empowering people to change i.e. therapists, coaches, teachers and team leaders. Needless to say, their seminars were both hugely successful and popular as the participants were taught what Grinder and Bandler had modelled. They hadn’t even thought of a name for their techniques, yet the interest was increasing rapidly.
The co-creators decided to formalise their work by publishing a book. It was at this time that they came up with name Neuro Linguistic Programming. It was after a 36 hour writing session, locked away in a cabin in the redwood forests of Santa Cruz, that they jointly decided on the name. If you have read the Structure of Magic I (Grinder and Bandler 1975), you will be aware that the book is written in an academic style. My thinking is that Grinder and Bandler were in academic mode when they came up with the name Neuro Linguistic Programming.
Neuro: Your sensory experience. Each individual absorbs information through their five senses and form a sensory-based map of the outside world, consisting of images, sounds, tactile awareness, internal sensations and tastes and smells.
Linguistic: We label what we see, hear, feel, taste and smell by comparing immediate sensory experience with our internal maps. Our internal maps consist of recalled data e.g. images, sounds, internal sensations, tastes and smells. We assign personal meaning by labelling it through language.
Programming: The behavioural output that occurs as a result of what has been received through the five senses (neurological processes).
A fundamental element of NLP is that we don’t experience the real world as it is. We operate on heavily filtered internal mental maps of the world. Our mental maps are formed as a product of the way we filter and perceive information absorbed through our five senses from the world around us. Your map is your internal representation of external events. Your map of the world is formed by interpreting information absorbed through your five senses, and then ‘coding’ your sensory experience with language. These maps are just interpretations of the outside world, not real or accurate. It’s the filtering process that establishes the degree of choice you have in your map of the world.
Whilst the name seems quite heavy, it does accurately capture main domains of NLP i.e. modelling, empowerment, change work and communication. So in terms of modelling, Neuro is how the expert sees, hears and feels the world, linguistic is the filtered mental internal maps and Programme is the experts visible output or behaviour. The three elements are a system which the modeller models and then codes. In terms of change work, if a person lacks choice in a given context, we say he/she has an impoverished map. The person has established filters that determine how he/she sees hears and feels the world (neuro) and then defines it through language (linguistic) Programme again is the behavioural response in the situation.
Modern day NLP generally consists of the models Grinder and Bandler coded way back in the 1970’s. More innovative schools of NLP teach newer material such as New Code NLP developed by John Grinder, Carmen Bostic St Clair and their close colleagues in recent years. Richard Bandler has also added to the field in recent years. The main focus of modern day NLP is applying the NLP models in the context of human change, successful communication, human excellence and accelerated learning. NLP can be applied in business, education, coaching, sports, therapy, and in fact anywhere where there is an opportunity to improve human performance.
With 40 nearly of history in a mullti disciplinary field, it is not always easy to provide a concise definition. However, simply put, ‘Neuro Linguistic Programming provides a description for how people unconsciously organise their thinking, feeling, language, state and behaviour to produce the results they do.’