As a certified NLP trainer, I am often asked, “What is NLP?”
The term NLP stands for neuro-linguistic programming and was coined in the early seventies by John Grinder, an assistant professor of linguistics at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and Richard Bandler, a student of psychology at the university. They began their work by studying Fritz Perls, a psychotherapist and originator of the Gestalt school of therapy, Virginia Satir, a well-known family therapist and Milton Erickson, a world-famous hypnotherapist. Their intention was to model outstanding therapists and identify patterns in order that other practitioners could use these patterns to generate similar results. It may be said that NLP is about identifying excellence through an exploration of patterns, and then devising means for others to use those patterns to achieve similar results.
NLP also draws on earlier work, such as Ivan Pavlov’s conditioned reflexes (1904). In NLP this is called anchoring. NLP takes theoretical results developed by others and makes them available to you and me so we can improve our lives and well-being.
NLP is more than just techniques. It is a curiosity about how people who are high achievers accomplish what they actually set out to do. It is also a methodology that assists you in discovering those thinking and communication patterns that prevent you from being successful and shows you how to achieve the results of successful people. That is, NLP is a process of discovering the patterns of excellence of experts, and it makes these effective ways of thinking and communicating available for others to use for their own benefit or to assist others.
NLP had its origins in therapy and is now applied in all areas of human endeavor – education, health, sports, business and, perhaps most importantly, interpersonal relations.
Let us break down and analyze the terms neuro-linguistic programming.
Neuro refers to your neurology – sense organs. It is about how you absorb information. For example, you use your eyes to see things in your world. You also experience or perceive events through your other senses: aural (hearing), kinesthetic (tactile touch or emotional feeling), gustatory (taste) and olfactory (smell).
Linguistic refers to the language – pictures, sounds, feelings (kinesthetic), tastes, smells and words – that you use to remember and make sense of a particular experience (or to forecast a future experience). For example, can you recall your breakfast this morning? When you remember having breakfast, can you see a picture in your mind, or can you hear sounds (perhaps a radio was on or you were engaged in a discussion with your family)? What about tastes and smells? And how were you feeling – happy, tired, excited?
Think about a significant event in your near future. Do you envision yourself being successful? Or failing? The pictures, sounds, feelings, tastes, smells and words that you use to describe future experiences have a bearing on what actually happens. You do create your own reality!
Programming refers to your habits, patterns, programs and strategies. If it is a workday, do you follow a particular routine as you get ready for work? Perhaps you like to lie in bed an extra five minutes after the alarm goes off. Do you shower or bathe right away or have breakfast first? If you take time to look at what you do, I am certain you will see a pattern that you follow in getting ready for work. If for some reason you do not follow that pattern, do you find yourself feeling that something is missing?
You have patterns, habits, strategies and programs for everything you do. Some of these patterns serve you, but others do not – resulting in unwanted outcomes. You may be fully aware of some of your patterns. You may become aware of others only when someone else brings them to your attention. And you may choose to quickly forget about these patterns because you want to avoid addressing that part of your life. And there are still other patterns that you are not aware of at all, yet they continue to influence how you look after yourself, communicate with others and perform your daily tasks. If the patterns serve you – that is, generate positive results in your life – great! However, if you find that some patterns do not serve you, would it not be useful to identify those patterns and to change them so they work to your advantage?
Question: Who put your patterns, habits, strategies and programs in place? Of course, you did. So who can change them? Only you. But first, you must become aware that you run these patterns. This is one of the biggest benefits of NLP – becoming aware of the patterns, habits, strategies and programs that you have been running unconsciously and then using NLP techniques to change them in order to achieve the outcomes you desire.