A Definition of Sorts…
NLP has been defined in a bewildering number of ways. Is it simply because the broad range of topics included under the term NLP make it difficult to categorize easily, or is there more to it than that?
Let’s start with one of the simplest definitions: “NLP is the study of subjective experience”. That seems pretty clear, doesn’t it? If you find yourself nodding in agreement to that last sentence you were demonstrating a trance phenomena called transderivational search. That simply means that you read those rather vague and nonspecific words and projected your own meanings into them from your past experiences. You have an understanding of the word “study”. You have your own personal meaning for the words “subjective experience”. But, do you really know enough about the specific ways that NLP goes about pursuing its studies from the definition to have more than a shadowy intuition of what it’s all about? The first time I heard the definition images of intense little scientists scurrying around in lab coats in a room filled with bubbling beakers labeled “surprise”, “curiosity”, and “giggles” popped into mind.
So how does NLP go about studying “subjective experience”, and what’s so important about subjective experience that a bunch of people got together to study it?
When we know how we structure our subjective experience, which includes our thoughts, feelings and behaviors, we can build a model that allows us to design our mind, thoughts, and feelings to suit ourselves. And, that’s exactly what NLP has done. At the simplest levels we can eliminate fears, build self confidence, and construct new habits easily and quickly. More profoundly, we can build internal programs that generate greater happiness, build and install new beliefs, and promote continuous personal evolution. In addition, we can become more competent as communicators, because as we learn how we individually structure our experience, we can begin to notice how others do so as well and communicate to them in the ways that are most compelling to them. This will, of course, allow us to be more effective in accomplishing what we want in our communications and relationships with others.
To get a tiny bit more technical, and maybe a touch historical…
NLP started when Richard Bandler and John Grinder, a computer scientist and a linguist got interested in developing a model of excellence in human communications and persuasion. They reasoned that psychotherapists must have some of the most exquisite skills, because they got people to make real and significant changes in their lives. The first model that they developed was based on the way that pioneering family therapist Virginia Satir challenged the deletions, distortions and generalizations in her clients language, by asking them questions that forced them to clarify their thinking. The next models that they developed were based on the hypnotic techniques of Milton H. Erickson, MD. Erickson provided Bandler and Grinder with a wealth of hypnotic language patterns, ways of taping into the incredible potential of the human mind through trance, and an introduction to the transformational power of therapeutic metaphor.
The core of NLP is modeling: learning to replicate the excellence of someone highly proficient in a desirable skill in a way that allows us learn and to teach that ability quickly and efficiently. And, that’s what Bandler and Grinder did with the communications skills of Erickson and Satir. They built a model of Erickson’s and Satir’s skills, beliefs, and attitudes that make it much easier for anyone to learn to use words and nonverbal communications more effectively and with greater precision. And, it’s within these skills and attitudes that the magic of NLP resides, both for personal change and in more effective communications skills. It should come as no surprise by now that NLP also teaches modeling, so that anyone who wishes to can quickly and easily acquire the abilities of the masters in any field.
More pragmatically, a hypnotherapist, having learned many of the skills of the most capable hypnotherapists in the world, can frequently teach clients how to use proven strategies for weight control, smoking cessation, or any other goal modeled from those who are already successful at maintaining slenderness, or at remaining a nonsmoker.