• Posted in July 2016 - written by Michael Carroll

To me the answer is simple, by applying NLP tools in life, you increase the choices available to you and as a coach the choices available to your clients.  In Classic Code NLP the co-creators, presented early NLPers with a number of presuppositions to work as operational assumptions in the practice of NLP.

The NLP presuppositions present and stabilise the plethora of choices NLP can bring.

In this article, I will explore three of the NLP presuppositions which when embraced will open up the world of perceptual choices.


The Map is not the Territory


In the Structure of Magic I, Grinder and Bandler state, human beings operate on a map of the world, and not the world itself (Bandler and Grinder 1975).  The notion, map is not the territory comes from the Alfred Korzibski who created the field of General Semantics in which states humans are limited in what they know by the structure of their nervous systems, and the structure of their languages (Korzibski 1933).

The epistemology of NLP as articulated by Carmen Bostic St Clair and John Grinder (2002) refers to two maps of the world, the sensory based First Access map and linguistic representation of the sensory map.

These two maps are of very different logical types, one is visual, auditory, kinesthteic, olfactory and gustatory [VAKOG] and has been subject to neurological filtering process and the other is the labels we apply to the sensory map based on filters formed from our experience where we form a description of the sensory map.  The linguistic map is removed from the sensory map and even further removed from the world outside (territory).  In NLP we recognise our constructed maps are not reality, and are subject to change.


The basis of NLP is the content of the map is malleable and we can change perception by changing the form (structure) of the current map.


Respect each person’s map of the world


Given a core aspect of NLP is we explore form and not content, respecting the content of a map is choice (or not).  For example you may deeply disagree with the ideology of another’s beliefs and not respect the ‘content’ of their map.  This presupposition is about respecting the processes of how someone arrives at map of the world and the processes are restricted by neurological constraints, social constraints and individual constraints.  The notion of pacing (mirroring) a client’s processes enables an NLP Practitioner to enter another person’s map by forming a similar map and then leading them to a solution that is a different map of the world.


A classic example of this is when Milton Erickson learned to speak ‘world salad’ (a confused or unintelligible mixture of seemingly random words and phrases) to a patient who had been in mental health care who had seemingly suffered a stroke and was left without the ability to speak understandable English and spoke in word salad. 

Erickson engaged in long conversations in word salad with the patient (pacing) and gradually shifted to structured English (leading) to which the patient followed and eventually learned to speak in regular sentences again.  This is an excellent example of Erickson respecting the current map (word salad), entering the client’s world and leading the client to different and more useful map of the world.


All behaviour has a positive intention

This is an interesting presupposition as it is also a meta model violation.  How can we know that all behaviour in everyone has a positive intention?  We obviously can’t affirm the previous sentence, yet it seems like good belief to work with as a coach, that your client’s current behaviour is their best choice in their current map and is motivated by a positive intention for them.

For example when a person has a phobia their nervous system has an immediate fight or flight response when presented with the stimuli associated with the phobia.  The phobia response is frequently learned from a single event, with the positive intention being protection from whatever it is the person is phobic off. 

The unconscious mind learns quickly and will seek to protect the client for years after the initial event even although in most cases the conscious minds thinks the phobia is illogical.  In this example there is a disparity in the sensory map where the kinaesthetic response is experienced and the logical response in the linguistic map where the client recognises the phobia is illogical.


Another example of behaviour being motivated by a positive intention is addictions.  If we, take for example someone who drinks alcohol excessively, there are numerous surmised positive intentions with this behaviour, for example increasing confidence, relaxation, blocking things out etc.  The drinking will achieve the positive intention in the short term, but the consequences of excessive consumption of alcohol are usually out of alignment with the positive intention in the long term. 

So in this example excessive drinking will have the opposite effect of the positive intentions of increasing confidence, relaxation and blocking things out.  In NLP we call this an intention/consequences conflict and the NLP Coach will support the client to find more constructive behaviours to satisfy the intention.  In the absence of finding new choices to satisfy the benefits of the alcohol (positive intention) the client may continue to drink or be challenged to reduce their intake.

In this article, I have presented three of the NLP Presuppositions, there are between 10 and 13 depending on where you learn NLP.  Many of the presuppositions overlap and are best considered as convenient beliefs rather than universal truths.  Calibration is the mother of all NLP skills and NLP is a discipline based on subjectivity and not universal generalisations, so it is important for an NLP Practitioner to keep their senses alert to any exceptions to the presuppositions that may arise.

About The Author

Michael Carroll is the founder and course director of the NLP Academy and co-founder with John Grinder and Carmen Bostic St Clair of the International Trainers Academy of NLP.

He is the only NLP Master Trainer in the world certified by John Grinder and Carmen Bostic St Clair and he works closely with them in developing and delivering high quality NLP training.