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NeuroLinguistic Programming HOL-emblem1-web.GIF (3556 bytes)

The basic premise of NLP is that the words we use reflect an inner, subconscious perception of our problems. If these words and perceptions are inaccurate, as long as we continue to use them and to think of them, the underlying problem will persist. In other words, our attitudes are, in a sense, a self-fulfilling prophecy.


The word Neuro linguistic programming can be broken down to three distinct words: 


linguistic and 


Neuro refers to the brain and neural network that feeds into the brain. Neurons or nerve cells are the working units used by the nervous system to send, receive, and store signals that add up to information. 

Linguistics refer to the content, both verbal and non-verbal, that moves across and through these pathways. 

Programming is the way the content or signal is manipulated to convert it into useful information. The brain may direct the signal, sequence it, change it based on our prior experience, or connect it to some other experience we have stored in our brain to convert it into thinking patterns and behaviors that are the essence of our experience of life.

Our experiences and feelings affect the way we react to external stimuli. Let me illustrate. I am afraid of snakes. The impulse I get if I see a snake or even hear a sound close to resembling that of a snake is a feeling of total fright. This is because, I was born in an area infested with several deadly snakes. One day a boy from my neighborhood came to our house. He knocked on the door. I opened the door. He had a snake in his hand. He wanted to show me the prize catch he had. He was holding it like we hold a pet cat. For him it was a pet. So, it gave him lot of joy to hold one. To me, it gave a migraine headache! 

Both myself and my neighbor boy saw the same thing. The same signal was passed to our brain. It was the picture of a snake. However, our brains interpreted the implications of the snake entirely differently. In processing the information, our brains used our experiences (good and bad), our biases, our opinions, our value systems, etc. to convert it into useful information that we can use.

Neuro linguistic programming (NLP for short) was developed in the early 1970s by an information scientist and a linguist at the University of California at Santa Cruz. They had observed that people with similar education, training, background, and years of experience were achieving widely varying results ranging from wonderful to mediocre. They wanted to know the secrets of effective people. What makes them perform and accomplish things. They were especially interested in the possibility of being able to duplicate the behavior, and therefore the competence, of these highly effective individuals.  It was the golden era of modeling and simulation. They decided to model human excellence. They looked at factors such as education, business and therapy. They have then zeroed in on the communication aspect. They started studying how the successful people communicated (verbal language, body language, eye movements, and others). By modeling their behavior, John Grinder and Richard Bandler were able to make out patterns of thinking that assisted in the subject's success. The two theorized that the brain can learn the healthy patterns and behaviors and that this would bring about positive physical and emotional effects. What emerged from their work came to be known as Neuro-Linguistic Programming.

The basic premise of NLP is that the words we use reflect an inner, subconscious perception of our problems. If these words and perceptions are inaccurate, they will create an underlying problem as long as we continue to use and to think them. Our attitudes are, in a sense, a self-fulfilling prophecy. 

The neuro linguistic therapist will analyze every word and phrase you use in describing your symptoms or concerns about your health. He or she will  examine your facial expressions and body movements. After determining problems in your perception, the therapist will help you understand the root cause. The therapist will help you remodel your thoughts and mental associations in order to fix your preconceived notions. These preconceived notions may be keeping you from achieving the success you deserve. 

NLP will help you get out of these unhealthy traits and replace them with positive thoughts, and patterns that promote wellness.

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How Does Neuro Linguistic Programming Work?

NLP uses self image and attitude towards illness to effect change and to promote healing. Hope is our greatest asset. It is one of the main reason why placebos (sugar pills used in clinical studies) work. We also know how effective prayer can be when it is combined with faith and hope. When a person loses hope and feels helpless in the face of a chronic disease such as AIDS or cancer, it is very easy to lose the hope; the body may just "quit trying." If the patient is made aware of his or her unique abilities and possibilities, he or she may see things differently. Now, the body's natural healing power can be harnessed to do the job.

NLP is based on several useful presuppositions. NLP places great emphasis on concepts that work as opposed to concepts that should work. NLP therapists will tell you that if what you're doing isn't working, you should try something else that will work for you. Every person is different. Flexibility is the key element in a given system. The person who is most likely to do well responds to changing (or unchanging) circumstances appropriately. This is one reason why NLP has made so much progress. NLP is much more interested in getting results.

Other tools that are available to NLP therapists are meta model, sensory acuity, Milton model, system representation and submodalities.

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NLP makes a number of presuppositions. Presuppositions or assumptions are the beliefs a person will find useful in effecting changes to themselves and/or to the world. (Some people call these as the "givens".) 

Examples of presuppositions:

  1. Communication is more than what you are saying.
  2. No one is wrong or broken. People work perfectly to accomplish what they are currently accomplishing.
  3. People already have all the resources they need.
  4. Behind every behavior is a positive intention.
  5. Every behavior is useful in some context.
  6. The meaning of a communication is the response you get.
  7. If you aren't getting the response you want, try something different.
  8. There is no such thing as failure. There is only feedback.
  9. Having choice is better than having no choice at all.
  10. In any system, the element with the most flexibility exerts the most influence.
  11. The map is not the territory.
  12. If someone can do something, anyone can learn it.
  13. You cannot fail to communicate.

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Representational Systems

Representational system in NLP consist of our five senses. These are:

  • Visual (images)
  • Auditory (sounds)
  • Kinesthetic (touch and internal feelings)
  • Gustatory (tastes)
  • Olfactory (smells)

Every one of us uses one or a combination of these senses to perceive the world. The brain gets the "picture" of what we are talking about from one or from a combination of these senses and from these senses alone. For example, we see a dead dog on the road. The eyes senses the visual image and send it to the brain. The nose will sense the smell and send it to the brain. For example, if the smell is rotten, the brain may infer from what it had received so far (a picture of a dog lying still that is giving out foul smell) that the dog had been dead for some time. If the dog is crying, the ears will send this information to the brain. In addition, we might touch the dog. We probably won't taste the dog. So, these are the "inputs" to the brain.

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The qualities and attributes of the representations you make using your five senses are called modalities. Let me illustrate. Think about a dog. This evokes different reactions in people depending on what we perceive. One person may visualize a cute, poodle. Another person may think of a vicious bull dog chasing after him. What is the color of the dog? Our imagery and the reaction to it can change depending on whether we see it "in vibrant colors" or "black and white". Make the colors more vibrant. What is the reaction you get as a result? Now move the picture further out and see how it "changes."

One of the great advantages of using a spreadsheet such as Excel is that once we make a model in it, we can change it by asking "what-if" questions. We examine various scenarios till we are satisfied that the model is satisfactory for our purpose. A similar thing is happening in our mind or brain with the information that is "input" by the sensory system. The information can be represented in different ways based on our feelings, prejudices and value systems. These values are unique to each of us. It is part of our "internal" system. These are our submodalities.

The great power of this concept is that once we recognize how our submodalities may mask our perception, we can make changes to our subsystem to effect the change or to "correct" the situation..

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Meta model in NLP is a set of questions designed to find the explicit meaning in a person's communication. It is important that the therapist makes no assumptions regarding the communication. The therapist may ask probing questions to find out what is in the mind of the person being treated.


Subject: I am so tired.
Analyst: What makes you tired?
Subject: He is always taunting me and making fun of me.
Analyst: Who is making fun of you?
Subject: Bob.
Analyst: Bob who?
Subject: Bob Sullivan, my neighbor.
Analyst: Why is Bob making fun of you?
Subject: He is such a tease!

An untrained person would have made the assumption that the person was physically tired. By asking probing questions, the analyst learned what the subject is really saying. The therapist will use the sound, the way the subject is talking, the pitch of the voice etc. to understand the communication.

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Sensory Acuity

We can take one look at a person and can infer a great deal about what they are thinking or what their thought process is at that time. For example, we will know when a person is happy or unhappy. We will know when a person is depressed. We know when to avoid our bosses - it may be his or her "bad day." Of course, some people are good at hiding their true feelings. We call it a "poker face."

In general, a person's thought process is very closely tied to his/her physiology. A dog can sense when you are afraid. How did he know? We pick up clues from the body language of the person we are communicating to: slumped shoulders, downcast eyes, drooping head, lack of animation etc. Sensory acuity takes these observations beyond the more obviously recognizable clues and uses the physical feedback in addition to someone's words to gain as much from the communication as possible.

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Milton Model

Milton model refers to a set of linguistic patterns derived by Milton Erickson, the father of modem hypnotherapy. These language patterns are used to help guide someone without interfering with their experience. For example, "Think of the time you saw the dog." The suggestions are made purposely vague so that the subject will have ample opportunities to shape it in his or her mind. For example, the therapist did not suggest what kind of dog it was, what was its color etc. It is up to you to fill in those blanks. This way, you can personalize it the way it makes most sense to you. Thus, this suggestion is very general and can be used for everyone. The Milton-model helps the therapist to maintain rapport with the patient. It is often used in hypnotic or trance state sessions.

By using these models, (many of them modeled from the behavior and actions of successful people) NLP enables us to recognize how we and others create our own unique maps of reality. It enables us to understand our own and others' processes of decision making, communication, motivation and learning.

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Making Changes To Our Life Style Using NLP:

Once we understand our own map of reality, we can make changes to it in order to obtain the life experiences we want. NLP provides us "maps" used by other people. We learn how others have responded to a particular situation we are facing. We see the differences in the approaches and in the outcomes. Based on it, we may voluntarily make changes to our own behavior. We step out of our own map and step into the other's. When this happens, the rewards are many. We experience a deep connection to the successful person. And our life will never be the same again.

NLP increases the depth and effectiveness of our relationships, beginning with our self and extending through personal and intimate relationships to our professional and work lives, and finally, to the therapeutic arena or working with others to bring about healing, change and growth. NLP provides the tools that enable this rich connection with self and others to happen.

Many of NLP's tools and applications are widely used in business, management, education, training and therapy. Many of us may have encountered and applied these principles in our life, without even realizing that it came from NLP.

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