Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP) Is An Attitude of Curiosity

NLP Consultant and client talking in silhouette

In this, which is the first of a couple of articles, I shall explore Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP) in more depth such as it’s history, development and a basic understanding of how NLP works as an efficient tool for change. Think of it as a primer of NLP. We explore how important it is to have an attitude of curiosity rather than just depending on techniques alone. This interview was conducted back in 2005 when I was teaching NLP to students as an NLP Trainer.

So ‘Bob’ what is NLP?

Dean: So Bob tell me about NLP in a way that I will understand.

Bob: Well, let’s start with the word Neuro Linguistic Programming. This can be broken down to three distinct words:




Neuro refers to the brain and neural networks that feed 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.

Where as Linguistics refer to the content, both verbal and non-verbal, that move 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.

Dean: So what does that mean when it’s all together?”

Bob: Our experiences and feelings affect the way we react to external stimuli. Let me illustrate with a story from a student of mine.

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 worked in an area infested with several deadly snakes. One day a boy from my neighbourhood 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 me a migraine headache! 

However both my student and their neighbour saw the same thing. The same signal was passed to their brains. It was the picture of a snake. However both of their brains interpreted the implications of the snake entirely differently. In processing this information, their brains perceived their experiences (good and bad), due to their biases, opinions, beliefs and value systems. Through a number of NLP techniques I was able to change their response by altering their perception of the event. Can you now see what I mean?”

So how did NLP develop ?

Bob: Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP for short) was developed in the early 1970s by an information scientist Richard Bandler and a linguist John Grinder 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?

Image of Richard Bandler Founder Of NLP, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Richard Bandler Co-Founder Of NLP

Bandler and Grinder 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, looking at factors such as education, business and therapy, then zeroed in on the communication aspect.

Bandler and Grinder started studying how these successful people communicated (verbal language, body language, eye movements, and others), and by modeling their behavior, were able to make out patterns of thinking that assisted in the subject’s success.

Bandler and Grinder 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 the field of Neuro-Linguistic Programming.

Dean: Sounds so easy when put like that.

Bob: One of the basic premises 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.

Hypnosis or Not Hypnosis?

Dean: So do you have to do all that magical stuff?

Bob: Modern NLP techniques can be made more effective if we associate them with hypnotic and self-hypnotic methods, instead of using positive thinking techniques. We can use a metaphor to explain the differences between these two methods:

Hypnosis can be compared to modeling with clay aided by water.

Positive thinking can be compared to modeling with clay without water.

Dean: So even though both work they work in a different way?

Bob: Yes, it’s as obvious as that. In the first example, using water allows us to be more efficient in our modeling, unlike in the other example, where only the dampness of our hands is used. The changed conscious state that hypnosis induces allows us to mould the structures of a group of neurons (cerebral cells) that are present in the brain.

NLP is a hands on tool.

Dean: So how Does Neuro Linguistic Programming Work?

Bob: Richard Bandler once said NLP is an attitude of curiosity that leaves behind it a trail of techniques. It must always be remembered that this attitude of curiosity is what creates our flexibility when working with clients.

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 the meta model, refining sensory acuity, The Milton Model, and sub-modalities.

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