Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) is a body of knowledge made up of two parts. The first is an attitude or philosophy, the second a set of tools and techniques created by that philosophy.
The simplest definition of the attitude is that ‘subjective human experience has a structure that can be usefully manipulated.’
What does that mean? Well, ‘subjective human experience’ refers to each human’s unique and personal experience of reality. For example, if three people are on board the same aircraft flying from London to New York, one might find the experience exciting, another very dull and the third terrifying. Even though each of them is doing roughly the same thing, they have their own unique and personal experience of it.
NLP takes the approach that this experience has a structure; it is not random but governed by rules and the law of cause and effect. If these rules are understood, then the experience can be usefully manipulated – turning fear into excitement for example.
Given this attitude, it is possible to experiment with the rules to see if a particular change in a person’s experience will produce a particular effect. Once you discover that changing one thing systematically changes another, you have a technique that can be repeated. This is the second part of NLP – all the techniques and tools that have been created by experimentation with the structure of subjective experience.
An example of NLP
To experience NLP for yourself, try the following experiment. Read the instructions first, memorise the steps and then try them out.
- Close your eyes and think about someone that you love. Notice what image comes to mind when you think of this person. Pay attention to the feelings this image evokes and be aware of how intense they are.
- Pretend that you can push this image away into the distance until it looks small and far away. Be aware of any change in the intensity of your feelings about it.
- Pretend that you can bring the image close to you and make it larger and brighter. Again, be aware of any change in the intensity of you feelings.
- Repeat steps 2 and 3 a few times and check whether they consistently produce the same result.
For many people who do this experiment pushing the picture further away decreases the intensity. Bringing it closer and making it larger is equally reliable in increasing the intensity of feeling. It does not matter if your experience is the same – each person’s experience is different – but you should at least notice that changes in the way you see the image consistently and predictably affect how you feel about it.
So, your subjective experience – the image of the person you love – has a structure (it’s size and distance from you) that can be usefully manipulated (varied to increase the intensity of pleasant feelings).
Since its beginnings in the 1970s, the attitude of NLP has been adopted by many people who have used it to conduct experiments. As a result, many techniques or patterns have been identified which predictably and usefully affect a person’s subjective experience.
For example, the fast phobia cure is an NLP technique which predictably and usefully reduces the fear a person experiences when exposed to something that frightens them. This could be anything from a spider to an enclosed space to the experience of driving on a busy road.
There are many such techniques and they can be broadly classified into two groups.
Personal techniques allow a person to affect some part of their own experience. For example, NLP can be used by presenters and performers to put themselves in a confident and energetic state before going on stage. Other personal NLP techniques can help a person be more effective in setting goals, thinking clearly, motivating themselves and much more.
Communication techniques allow a person to affect how they interact with others. NLP includes techniques for building rapport and trust with other people, for persuading them and for hypnotizing them.
A brief history of NLP
NLP was first developed in the 1970s by two men. John Grinder was a linguistics professor and Richard Bandler a computer scientist. Much of the development came from studies the two men made of successful people. They identified various patterns and structures that were present in the way these people behaved, thought and experienced the world. That process of studying or modelling formed much of the attitude of NLP, and the resulting patterns formed many of the techniques.
Among the first group of successful people studied were several outstanding therapists. These included Fritz Perls, the gestalt therapist, Virginia Satir, the family therapist and psychiatrist and hypnotist Dr.Milton Erickson. As such, many of the early NLP patterns had a significant therapeutic element and many of the early adopters of NLP were therapists.
Over time however the technology has advanced and is now increasingly popular with all kinds of people include salespeople, managers, trainers and those interested in self-development.
NLP is both an attitude and a collection of techniques created by that attitude. It centers on that belief that subjective human experience has a structure that can be usefully manipulated. Experiments based on this belief have created many techniques. These allow a person to influence and affect themselves and others more effectively. From early beginnings in the 1970s, NLP has grown to be accepted and practiced worldwide.