NLP is an acronym that stands for Neuro Linguistic Programming. NLP is basically a collection of concepts and ideas that allows for the analysis of the way human beings 'experience', 'perceive', or 'relate' to the world around them. Neuro Linguistics is the mind body connection between language (linguistics) and neurology. Programming describes the ability to change the patterns that define the way we perceive ... and how we are likely to respond to those perceptions.
NLP describes a model of how individuals structure their individual experiences of life. NLP is sometimes referred to as the art & science of excellence ... obtained from the study of top performers in their fields and the means for attaining their results. Various communication skills & strategies for identifying & optimizing the patterns that people use in their daily life are the tools of NLP.
It's all about the way your mind takes in what it sees, hears, feels, and smells for any encounter at any point in your day. How does your mind 'filter' these encounters, how does it compare any of what it sees and hears w/ what it has remembered from previous experiences. How do you then recall a memory and express it so as to recreate it for yourself or for others. Was your re-created version of what you experienced an accurate representation of what really happened ... what the true reality really was ... before all your 'filters' got involved?
It's an interesting, and potentially useful set of tools if you're into understanding the way people think ... the way they respond in certain situations ... the way they 'see' (perceive) the world around them and the experiences they encounter every day. It can serve as a way to tune the means (the words, the linguistics, the context) you use to communicate with others … so as to ensure that your message is being interpreted with the meaning you intended. And it’s possible to use the techniques and methods defined within NLP to assess the likely tendencies and preferences of others … thru the means (the words, the linguistics, the context) they use to communicate to you … and in many cases without them realizing that they’re using them … or that anything is driving their view of the world.
NLP evolved from the work of a group of individuals who were psychology & behavioural sciences professionals in the late 60's and early 70's. In 1972 a professor of linguistics at the University of California Santa Cruz named John Grinder met a pschology student named Richard Bandler who was interested in the subject of psychotherapy. Bandler & Grinder became extremely curious of the noted and unusual successes being made with a handful of psychotherapists and the lanuage patterns they had been using in their therapies. These doctors (Fritz Perls, Virginia Satir, and Milton Erickson) did most of their pioneering work independently between the 1950's thru the 1970's. Their tremendous success with previously untreatable conditions drew the attention of Bandler and Grinder whose desire it was to create a model of these three therapist's approach based on fundamental theories of tranformational grammar [ref]
Many of these doctors had specific strategies and processes for applying their treatments but didn't necessarily know of the common patterns resident within their approach or the similarity in their technique to these other successful therapists. It was the modelling efforts of Bandler and Grinder that ultimately tied together some of the common threads between their differing approaches.
Around the same time in the mid '70s ... and just down the road a bit in Palo Alto, CA ... a man by the name of Gregory Bateson, a British anthropologist, social scientist, and linguist had been studying similar behavioural dynamics as part of his interests in systems theory [ref]
and cybernetics [ref]
. His long career and unusual approach to the sciences greatly influenced an indeterminate number of others in these fields. His contributions to NLP are just now beginning to be fully appreciated. Other key contributors to these fundamental concepts include Alfred Korzybski who supplied a key foundation theory of General Symantics [ref]
and the idea of 'The Map is Not the Territory' [ref]
. And of course there's Robert Dilts who had defined some of the earliest 'Sleight of Mouth' patterns [ref]
used in NLP. His contributions defined the early frames used to change one's perspecitve and response to experience. The rest is history and there have been countless books written and studies done to understand (or debunk) the efficacy of NLP in clinical or other applications.
So ... How Does it Work?
Since the fundamental concepts of NLP revolve around communication ... words, and their meaning are clearly a critical part of the process. Words obtain their meaning from the context they're used in ... in nlp terms what's called a frame [ref]
. Controlling or changing the frame (the context) can radically change meaning. The ability to control and change this contextual frame of language can have profound and powerful effects on the mind and emotions … and the best part is that these effects can be manifested without the recipient realizing where the influence is actually coming from. Using language selectively w/ the appropriate framing can direct that power to affect change, to motivate, and/or completely change one's current perspective. The structures that lay behind the process of how words and symbols can have such magical effects upon people are the tools, techniques, and models of NLP. This is the Neuro Linguistics element ... a mind body connection between language and neurology.
So ... NLP can be described as a set of models, skills, and techniques for speaking, thinking and acting effectively in the world. These models are representations of the way we perceive the experiences we have ... and how we deal with them within our mind. The NLP process of Modeling is the discovery and categorization of these patterns that we typically follow. The idea is to identify, develop and use patterns of excellence ... those that serve us and help us move forward in life. But these patterns can also become counterproductive ... and ultimately serve as patterns of failure ... preventing us from getting what we want. Understanding these dynamics and ensuring that we minimize these patterns of failure while maximizing those that serve us can increase the options we have in any given situation or experience ... and can thereby enhance the quality of your life.
We humans are perceptual creatures ... we experience the world thru specific perceptual channels ... mainly visual, audible, and emotional (see, hear, and feel). There are other perceptual channels that align w/ our other senses but these three dominate and can be used to best outline the process of experience … how we perceive it … the meaning we associate to it … and how we react to it.
We are bombarded each minute of each day w/ an overwhelming array of external stimuli ... sights, sounds, smells, touch, or other resultant emotional responses to the things that we encounter. Studies have shown that the conscious human mind has a limited capacity for concurrent processing [ref]
... the limits vary from seven all the way up to roughly forty depending on the source. This dynamic of limited capacity in the conscious mind has been referred to as the 'The Magic Number Seven' (George Miller 1956). The unconscious mind, on the other hand, has a seemingly limitless ability to process information and provide responsive control as needed. The unconscious mind is responsible for ensuring all those bodily processes keep firing off when they should and leaving you without a concern for how they all happen. Just think of standing up from a seated position. Put your hand on your lower back or the back of your legs as you stand ... and feel all those muscles firing at different points. Who's controlling this ... how does the body know what to do ... what muscles to relax or constrict ... and by how much ... to get your body completely erect and in balance? It's your unconscious mind doing that ... what some might call muscle memory ... an apt moniker for this example.
So how do we deal w/ the deluge of stimuli that surrounds us ... the overwhelming flood of input that hits your senses ... all vying for the attention it thinks it deserves? We filter ... we omit ... and we generalize. We preprocess all that comes to us ... we compare it to all that has gone before. We will allow in what we think fits with what we know ... and we generally reject that which does not. We do this filtering with what are known as 'Representational Systems' [ref]
... which align w/ our primary means of perception ... the eyes, ears, and our emotions. We all favor these representational systems differently ... some have their visual perception in the lead ... others have their audible system in the lead.
This preprocessing of inbound stimuli w/ it's selective inclusion and exclusion of what's really out there (the reality) creates a resultant image of what's real ... a perception ... something that has had much of what was really there modified, generalized, omitted, or redefined so that you could deal w/ it. This concept of one creating a perception .... one that may be something other than the given reality is often referred to in NLP as 'The Map is Not the Territory' ... a phrase that was coined by Alfred Korzybski's in his General Symantics theories. These theories are fundamental to the underlying concepts of NLP and help to describe the key differences between what perception and reality are. To put it simply ... your perceptions w/ all their requisite filters and lead or dominant input representational systems are the resultant Map ... with the true reality ... that which occurs outside your mind ... that which really did occur before you filtered, generalized, and omitted ... as the Territory. See the links section for a further discussion of this key ‘map is not the territory’ NLP concept.
Another key concept here is the idea of frames ... the idea that words obtain their meaning from the context they're used in. This also applies to the perceptual understanding of words that others may use or that you yourself may use to convince yourself of some given state ... for yourself or for others. So the words alone are not necessarily defining meaning ... but the way the words are 'framed' or how you feel when you hear the words. There are a handful of key frames that were defined early on ... almost before the existence of NLP per se ... that have served as foundational frames for the whole study. They are:
The Outcome frame vs. the Problem frame
- The Outcome frame vs. the Problem frame
- The How frame vs. the Why frame
- The Feedback frame vs. the Failure frame
- The Possibilities frame vs the Necessities frame
speaks to a view of what you or others may want from a given situation ... determining what resources you have at your disposal to get this desired outcome ... and working toward reaching that goal. The Problem frame leaves you mired in a state where all your energy and focus is directed at assigning a blame for the problem ... rather than working toward a desired outcome. The Problem frame rarely results in Problem resolution ... but rather further frustrates and entrenches you in the problem.
The How frame vs. the Why frame
is based on a focus of asking How type questions rather than Why type questions. The Hows will move you toward understanding where the Why's will just provide explanations, excuses, and reasons for it ... but not help you solve or change any of the issues at hand.
The Feedback frame vs. the Failure frame
speaks to the fundamental idea that there is no such thing as failure ... only results that can be used to effect change. The 'results' ... good or bad ... can be used to make corrections and adjustments to one's approach in order to improve the outcome of one's actions. The idea here is to look at what you may now be viewing as Failure and treat it as another way to characterize an outcome that you didn't really want. Viewing these dynamics in this frame this way keeps you focused on your desired outcome (your goal).
The Possibilities frame vs. the Necessities frame
is a shift of your perspective from that of what's required of you or what you must do ... to a view of what's possible ... or what choices you have ... what capabilities are available to reach the goal.
Frames are another powerful mechanism and technique in NLP and can be used in everyday interaction w/ others to affect the results you desire. It is said that those who define or control the frame will define or control the discussion ... and likely define the result. The only question is whether this is you that controls the frame … or is it those you are dealing/communicating with?
Eye Accessing Cues
Eye accessing cues describe an unusual physiological connection between the tracking of eye movement and its direct relation to the mind's current activity ... specifically the minds processing method. At any given moment are you recalling a stored image from memory ... or are you creating one that you haven't yet experienced ... maybe as part of your imagination or fantasy? Are you playing back conversation that you stored away from a few days ago or are you constructing the right words or phrases to respond to an inquiry or to make a point. Or ... are you connecting to your feelings in some way or are you carrying on an internal discussion w/ yourself ... maybe working out a difficult problem or issue. All of these mental actions ... all of these mental processes will be reflected by way of your eye movements ... even if just for a fleeting moment. The eye accessing cues are best outlined and remembered when viewed visually ... as is shown below:
|Up to Right
||Up to Left
|Down to Right
||Down to Left
Most people have the responses listed above. There are some cases where the whole thing will be reversed (left/right) and is typically associated w/ handedness. The diagram above shows the typical behavior for a right handed individual. It’s not uncommon for this whole thing to be reversed for a left handed person. It's not guaranteed that this will follow the handedness of a given individual, therefore it should be checked to verify what means any given person is using if you plan to use the eye accessing cues. One way to verify the tendency for any given person is to ask them the color of their first car … which should force a visual memory recall … which for a right handed subject should be ‘up to the (their) left’. There are also a few people who will be able to process mentally while looking straight ahead ... defying all the norms for this approach.
Not a believer? Try it out. Ask someone who doesn't know anything about NLP if they can recall the last time they were at the beach and if they can tell you what that experience was like (don't tip your hand as to why you're doing this; don’t tell them about eye accessing cues). This is actually many tests all rolled up into one. It should trigger some eye accessing movement and it will likely end up giving up what 'lead representational system' that person uses to describe a stored experience (the outbound half of communication). Anything is possible here but what's likely is that you have in front of you a person who 'leads' w/ their visual system (this is quite common statistically). Their eyes will likely move up to their left (a visual recall of stored memory) ... then they'll likely use visually laden words and phrases to describe their experience. Their response might go something like this:
[they'll first look up and to their left ... visual recollection] "It was a beautiful sunny day ... the sky was an almost uniform azure blue ... only a few soft puffy clouds in the distance. Reflecting from the water were the rays of the bright morning sun ... and the wind was blowing the tips of the waves as they curled and broke ... creating a fine mist reflecting the colors of the rainbow. The seagulls were flying effortlessly above it all w/ swooping loops as they dove downward to check their prey".
So that was a visual lead system recalling their last beach visit. Here's one for someone who leads with an audible representational system when asked the same question:
[they'll first look across to their left ... audible recollection] "It was a beautiful day w/ the sounds of those on the beach filling the air ... the silent clear sky was broken only by the passing of a culling seagull looking for it's prey. I could hear the waves crashing on the shore ... with the wind rushing over the edges of the waves as they curled and broke. The cyclical rush of a wave ... followed by the waves retreat ... and yet another crash of the break".
I'm exaggerating a bit w/ a response that's more 'purely' one or the other system. Most people will mix their representational systems and therefore have responses that aren't so clear cut ... but there will be a lead system used ... it might just be a bit more difficult to spot.
The key to these eye accessing cues is in what they 'tell' about someone and how they process information ... information they take 'inbound' ... and the way they reconstruct reality from their memories and other cognitive abilities (the 'outbound'). These 'tells' will define the representational systems one uses to experience and reproduce reality ... and can be used to tailor other patterns that can be used to program your responses to specific experiences. There are potentially many uses for this type of information, but one use could be to identify the lead representational system (visual, audible, emotional) a given subject is using to describe an experience they’ve had. Once you know their tendencies for their lead representational system, you know their linguistic preferences (speaking in visual terms vs. speaking in audible terms vs. speaking in emotional terms). This can then be used to adjust the language you choose to use to effectively convey the meaning you want to get across to them. They’re likely to hear what you’re saying more clearly … and with the meaning that was intended … if you speak in their terms.
An anchor is a physiological association between a stimulus and a response. Think of the stimulus as being a sound or possibly the combination of a sound and a touch of some kind. For many of us we already have some really powerful anchors set in our psyche. Music often provides a connection to a time ... or a place ... or a feeling that you may have had when that song (the audible stimulus that defines the anchor) was associated to your current mental state. When you hear that song at a later time ... sometimes it only takes a few notes of the song ... you're taken back to that time ... that place ... or that emotional state when the anchor was first set. It turns out this mechanism is a powerful tool to control your responses to given situations. It can be used to program a response ... one that's desired ... to a given situation or stimulus. And in some cases, anchors can be undesirable, with connections between an emotional state and a stimulus creating anxieties, fears, and phobias.
NLP anchors are very powerful tools that are most often made up of a combined audible and tactile stimulus ... like a touch of the arm or hand along w/ a certain word, phrase, or sound. The response is usually a positive state that's desired ... although anchors can be used to bring to the forefront the undesirable associations so that they can be modified.
You can even program these anchors yourself to increase self esteem ... build confidence ... or just feel more positive about yourself when you have situations that you feel you need some extra 'push'. These mechanisms are often a part of many a personal excellence program or 'How to be the best you can be' type programs where they use language (words) and mental state to motivate and control mental perception and limit negative influence. They're not likely to refer to them as anchors ... and you may not even hear the letters NLP together in any of their literature ... but they're utilizing these concepts in their most fundamental forms.
The Magical Angle
They say that perception is everything. If this is true, then as a magician I should be interested in what your perception may be. If I have means to affect it ... or more dramatically ... control it ... then I'm in a position to create a reality for you that you didn't see coming. Controlling may be a bit over the top for what can be expected ... but I don't really need to control ... just some subtle nudges in the right direction is all that's likely necessary and I'll have you where I need you to be ... to create the illusion that you knew was coming ... but to surprise you nonetheless.
Where can it be used?
It's not easy to learn ... it takes practice to get any of the skills to any useful level ... and of course as with all things that relate to people ... there's always going to be factors of uncertainty. For magicians it can be a hugely powerful tool depending on the types of effects you do and the people you do them for.
In its decades of history NLP has produced many techniques that can assist w/ issues like performance enhancement, motivation, phobias, anxieties, social interaction, obsessive compulsive behaviors, learning, and others.
Dont Try This At Home
Just like on the Mythbusters ... you should never try any of this at home if you don't know what you're doing. If you thought you had problems as it is ... some funky anchors tied to the wrong stimulus could really screw you up!
They'll always be those that see it the other way ... and I know of a few people who know NLP well ... have actually used it in varying situations ... and will openly outline what they think it's limitations are. There's a link below to the Sceptics.com site that has a profile on NLP and you'll likely be able to find other 'debunking' summaries on NLP. It's a controversial subject and even to some in the professional psychology/therapist realm where they have concern for charlatans and quacks wasting peoples time ... or even worse ... making their problem or condition worse w/ ineffective or damaging techniques.