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NLP Processes: Recipe, Ritual, Neurological Change, or Distractor?

NLP Processes: Recipe, Ritual, Neurological Change, or Distractor?
An NLP process can be viewed as a recipe where the practitioner leads a person through certain fixed steps.
Or it can viewed as a ritual, which incorporates a healing intention, a relationship with the client, and steps to follow
In the video series, NLP Mastery, Jamie Smart says
“When change takes place, people want to be able to ascribe it to something.
I did this thing …”
People don’t want to just say “I changed my mind!”
Or as a neurological process …
“A process can also be described as a set of discrete identifiable neurological processes which take place … doing certain things with the mind and body to get certain results.”
Or the NLP process can be “viewed as something to distract the unconscious mind while the conscious mind does its stuff”
The map is not the territory, so our description is always different to what is actually happening.
Each person doing an NLP process has their own interpretation, their own style, and their own map of the world – which is also interacting with the client’s unique map of the world. And personalizing the process is a good thing – making it your own.
In the video, Jamie reminds us that there is no replacement for sensory acuity (open sensory channels in Jamie’s words), behavioral flexibility, and a sense of direction based on a positive intention. In addition, we must keep the relationship in mind and remember that the person’s map of the world makes sense to them, no matter how strange it may appear to us.

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Evidence of Change in NLP

Evidence of Change
In a recent video by Jamie Smart, he gave a number of forms of evidence for determining whether an NLP process has successfully produced the desired outcome.
1. Long-term change in circumstances
If the phobia is still gone after five years, that is very strong evidence that the NLP process (or something else along the way!) was successful.2
2. Reality-based testing
Test the results right away. If the person had an allergy to peanuts, and they are willing to try to eat peanuts right away, this can be a powerful form of evidence for both parties.
3. Imaginary testing
Have the person visualize the situation and go into it.
4. Involuntary shifts
Many unconscious processes cannot be controlled consciously and thus provide a useful indicator of change. For example, a change in skin colour, change in posture, change in language patterns, or a change in breathing can indicate significant internal change in beliefs.
5. Covert questioning
If you ask people directly, they will sometimes respond in order to please you, so covert questioning can be better.
For example, you can say:
“I’m not going to ask you, ‘did that work’, because I know that you are going to find that out for yourself.”
The unconscious mind of the client will tend to respond to the embedded question, often non-verbally with a nod or shake of the head.
6. Changes in other patterns/Novelty
If the client reports a major shift in another area of their life, that is also a good sign that the process has been effective. Generally, it is good to accept and acknowledge all changes as evidence that things are moving in the right direction (in some way!).
7. The Conscious Mind Report
It is easy for a client to verbally report that the process worked very well. But this is probably the weakest and least reliable form of evidence. The conscious mind report is simply a story about the process that the client has made up.
As always in NLP, if you’re not sure if the evidence is sufficient, you can practice your behavioral flexibility and do something different.

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End of Year Thoughts

I just watched a great holiday video by Tony Robbins in which he suggests four things to think about at the end of the year. And it certainly is a good time to look back. In Japan where I live, end-of-year parties are called bonenkai which literally translates as forget the year. It is a lovely tradition and a great opportunity to both remember and forget. Cognitive psychology suggests that we need to take the time to look back at things in order to restructure their meaning in a useful way in our long-term memories.
First, Anthony suggests three important questions to think about, either by yourself or with a loved one.

1. What were your magic moments for this year?

Take the time to brainstorm and write down a list of the magic moments of the year that you remember. Of course, you will include the big things like promotions, weddings, and other events. But also remember the little magic moments – the ‘small’ things like stories, and smiles and songs …
Thinking about your magic moments gives you momentum going into next year and helps you focus on what it is that brings real happiness into your life.

2. What sucked?

Tony admits that ‘suck’ is a technical term 🙂 In remembering the year, most people actually focus entirely on this question, but Tony recommends answering it after looking at the good things.
To answer question two, think about:

  • What did you dislike?
  • What didn’t work?
  • What bugged you?
  • What upset you?

You don’t want to duplicate the bad moments and bad habits next year, so think abouthat you could learn from it that you won’t do next year. A core NLP presupposition says that there is no failure, only feedback. Richard Bandler said that you only have failure if you give yourself a time limit. We have another whole year coming up, so we want to learn from last year in order to make the best use of the upcoming year. See if you can discover any common patterns that didn’t work. Think about your health, work, relationships and any other areas where you seem stuck in a pattern that is not helping you to be as happy as you deserve.

3. What are you committed to for next year?

A calendar year is, of course, an arbitrary deadline because huge decisions and changes can happen any day that you choose, but it’s still a useful deadline and one that we can make use of, especially if we’re on holidays and have more time than usual to think.
So be clear on the changes that you want for next year. Little changes, big changes – it’s useful to think about them all.
And on to number four which isn’t a question, but is also a wonderful bit of advice.

4. Set up a ritual or two that you’re going to follow

Rituals and patterns are the very fabric of life. Aristotle said that we become our habits. Whatever you are doing every day is what you have become, so it is useful to think about those rituals and patterns that we use to run our own lives. For example, in the next year, what are you going to do when you come home in the evening first – is it jumping into email or hugging your spouse, or taking ten minutes to meditate? Similarly, what are you going to do first thing in the morning? Or what are you going to do when you walk into your workplace?
Some rituals can be changed immediately. Others take a few weeks to really retrain your unconscious mind. But once you have set that new waking time, that new bedtime, that new training schedule, or those new eating habits, and you have carried it out for the few weeks necessary to get your whole body and mind used to it, it’s amazing how easy it is for us to change in ways that allow us to lead happier lives.
Thanks to Tony Robbins for his wonderful Christmas message. If you have a chance, I recommend watching the original video.

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The Two Monks

Many many years ago, two monks were walking through a town where a great rain had fallen and the main street of the town was flooded. A beautiful lady in her best clothes was trying to cross the road, but couldn’t cross because she was afraid that she would damage her clothes.
The older monk looked at the lady, and despite his religious vow to never touch a woman, he gently lifted the woman off the ground and carried her safely across the flooded street to the other side. Then he returned to the younger monk.
The younger monk said nothing, but had a look so fiery on his face that it could have boiled the water around their feet. All day, they continued to walk, and the younger monk continued to display his angry face.
Finally, the younger monk stopped, turned to the older monk and said:

“How could you have done that?”
“Done what?”, said the older monk.
“How could you have carried that woman like that? You know that our vows forbid us from touching a woman.”
The older monk smiled gently and said,
“I carried her for one minute a long time ago. Are you still carrying her in your heart?”

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Buddha and the Heckler

Buddha was giving a talk one day underneath a tree in front of a group of people. Many of the people were already believers, several were interested in hearing what he said with an open mind, but there was one man there who had already made up his mind that he was right and that Buddha was wrong.
All during the Buddha’s talk, the man interrupted and heckled rudely. The Buddha simply responded to each interruption calmly and quietly and despite himself, the man began to become impressed by the Buddha’s words and attitude.
After the talk, he went up to Buddha and congratulated him on a good talk. Then he asked,

“Why didn’t you respond to my heckling – usually people get very upset or start arguing back at me.”

Buddha smiled at him and asked the man a question in return.

“When a person offers you a gift and you refuse that gift, who does that gift now belong to?”
“It belongs to the other person.”
“That’s right,” said Buddha. “And so I left your gift with you to enjoy as you see fit.”

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NLP Practitioner Recommended Books

This page is a list of recommended books and readings for the NLP Practitioner Certificate Course offered by Standing in Spirit. Some of the readings have been written specifically for this course and are available on this website. Others are references to classic works in the field of NLP that you will enjoy and benefit from.


  1. Turtles All the Way Down: Prerequisites to personal genius
    by Judith DeLozier and John Grinder
    ISNB: 1555520227
  2. My Lessons With Kumi: How I Learned to perform with confidence in life and work
    by Michael Colgrass
    2000 Moab, Utah: Real People Press
    ISBN: 0911226400
  3. The Structure of Magic Volume I
    Richard Bandler & John Grinder
    Science & Behavior Books (1975/06)
    ISBN-13: 978-0831400446
  4. The Structure of Magic Volume II
    Richard Bandler & John Grinder
    Science & Behavior Books (1975/08)
    ISBN-13: 978-0831400491
  5. Frogs into Princes
    Richard Bandler & John Grinder
  6. Coaching With NLP: How to Be a Master Coach
    Joseph O’Connor
    Element Books Ltd (2004/07)
    ISBN-13: 978-0007151226
  7. NLP: The New Technology of Achievement
    Edited by Steve Andreas and Charles Faulkner
    Publisher: 1996 Quill; Reprint edition
    ISBN: 0688146198
  8. Joseph O’Connor

    Nlp Workbook: A Practical Guide to Achieving the Results You Want

  9. Richard Bandler’s Guide to Trance-Formation: Make Your Life Great. (Book & DVD)
    Richard Bandler


Modeling Modeling
by Steve Andreas
Putting The “Neuro” Back Into NLP
Dr Richard Bolstad

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NLP Research & Recognition Project

I visited and registered at the NLP Research and Recognition Project today. Because I believe in the benefits of putting NLP on a more solid research basis, I was delighted to read the mission statement: Dedicated to Advancing the Science of Neuro-Linguistic Programming.
I was also delighted to see many of my NLP trainers involved in this project including Robert Dilts, Judith DeLozier, Richard Bolstad, and Suzi Smith. I am looking forward to learning more about the activities of the project and hopefully adding my own research experience to the mix.

Blog Reviews

Review: Michael Hall and the History of NLP

Michael Hall is a well-known trainer of NLP and the founder of neurosemantics. I have not met or trained with Michael, but recently I have been reading or re-reading some of his books which include:

  • Mind-lines: Lines For Changing Minds
  • The Spirit of NLP
  • Users Manual of the Brain (Volumes I and II)
  • Figuring Out People
  • Communication Magic
  • Winning the Inner Ga,e

Over the next few months, I hope to get around to posting reviews of some of these books.
Michael Hall also writes about the history of NLP in a very informative manner. Although his viewpoints are quite strong and critical in places and they may be questioned by some people within the field, NLP values multiple perspectives, so I would recommend reading his history of NLP articles if you are interested finding out more about where NLP came from or why it seems such an unintegrated field today.
Along with Robert Dilts and Judith DeLozier and some other trainers, Michael Hall seems to be one of the most effective writers in drawing the field of NLP back together and setting it on a more solid research footing. However, he has set up what can be viewed as a repackaging of NLP under the name Neuro-Semantics.
To be fair, his use of the term, Neuro-Semantics seems to come from Korzybski’s writing in which the terms neuro-linguistic and neuro-semantic were used. Korzybski’s field of General Semantics is also still a relatively strong movement and Hall’s tying of the two areas together may be ultimately useful for NLP. His focus on carrying out research-backed work is also very admirable. Since Hall writes about history, it will be interesting to keep reading his work and remember the old adage:

Those who do not study history are destined to repeat its mistakes.

That is not to say that those like Michael Hall who study history won’t repeat its mistakes and produce further divisions and splits. There is even the potential criticism that the writing of a history is a very political act in itself.  Was it Winston Churchill who said:

History will be kind to me for I intend to write it.

What the field of NLP could certainly benefit from is less of what Hall cleverly called The War of the Magicians. Instead, NLP could move towards becoming a more unified field that supports solid research into its techniques and yet retain the flexibility that continues to encourage the attitude of curiosity that is at the heart of NLP.


©Copyright 2010 by Dr. Brian Cullen

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Alternative Definitions of NLP

NLP didn’t even have a name for its first few years. One story told by Isabelle David reports how Richard Bandler and John Grinder were up a  log cabin in the mountains, after many hours and a bottle of California wine asking themselves, “What the hell are we going to call this?” And they decided on Neuro-Linguistic Programming. This story and many other details of interest from the early years of NLP are reported by Michael Hall who addresses the difficulty of defining NLP. Some definitions are given below:

  1. NLP is an attitude of curiousity
    The founders of NLP were always willing to adopt a “know nothing” attitude.
  2. NLP is the modelling of excellence
    Joseph O’ Connor (1995) describes NLP as
    “a way of studying how people excel in any field and teaching these patterns to others.”
  3. John Grinder, one of the co-founders of NLP gives the following definition.
    “There are people who are recognized as being particularly adept in their performance. NLP is the bridge between being jealous of these people and admiring them… it gives a third way … a set of strategies to unconsciously assimilate precisely the differences that make the difference between this genius and an average performer…. It is an accelerated learning strategy, a mapping of tacit to explicit knowledge … a program that allows you to explore one extreme of human behaviour – namely excellence.”
    Transcribed from:
    Or more simply in Grinder’s words on another occasion:
    “NLP is an accelerated learning strategy for the detection and utilisation of patterns in the world.”
  4. NLP is the structure of subjective experience
    The other co-founder of NLP, Richard Bandler, coined this definition for the Oxford English Dictionary:
    “Neuro-Linguistic Programming is a model of interpersonal communication chiefly concerned with the relationship between successful patterns of behaviour and the subjective experiences (esp. patterns of thought) underlying them.”
  5. NLP is a system of alternative therapy
    In the Oxford English Dictionary, Richard Bandler describes it as
    “a system of alternative therapy based on this which seeks to educate people in self-awareness and effective communication, and to change their patterns of mental and emotional behaviour.”
  6. Judith DeLozier often gives a simple four word definition that can be considered to take account of the TOTE model, well-formed objectives, behavioural flexibility, and sensory acuity:
    “NLP is what works”
  7. NLP is a trail of techniques
    NLP is based on modelling, so there are lots of techniques that form a trail that is often called NLP. For example, the phobia cure or parts integration process are on this trail of techniques.

There are lots more definitions for NLP out there and I have no doubt that I will come back to revisit and expand this page at some point in the future, but perhaps there is no definitive answer for this definition (pun intended).
I have seen long discussion threads on LinkedIn and other websites where people have tried to pin it down to one thing or another. It is perhaps the many influences on NLP and the many directions that it has taken that makes it so difficult to give a simple definition. Or perhaps, it is a more paradoxical issue because if the map is not the territory, perhaps no single definition can be sufficient, just as no single map is the right view of the world.


©Copyright 2010 by Dr. Brian Cullen

Blog Reviews

Review: The Structure of Magic (Volume II)

After rereading the Structure of Magic (Volume I), I went straight onto rereading the Structure of Magic (Volume 2). These two volumes were published in 1975 and 1976 respectively. Over the same two years, Grinder and Bandler were also writing and publishing their study on the hypnotic patterns of Milton Erickson as well as carrying out training seminars for therapists and carrying out their modelling activities–it was truly a productive period of time. This is even more evident when we look at the depth of detail in The Structure of Magic (Volume 2).

Part I – Representational Systems

Part I starts out relatively simply with description of representational systems and the strong claim that people have a highly-valued representational system that can be identified by listening to the predicates that they use in their speech.
In this book, Grinder and Bandler claim that we represent our experiences of the world most strongly in our most-valued representational system, first within the deep structures of language within our minds, and then later in the words that we use in describing our perceptions.
Examples of representational systems are visual, auditory, and kinesthetic and they still lie at the very heart of NLP. A  person with a highly valued visual representation system is likely to use predicates (verbs) such as see or view. A person with a primarily auditory representation is likely to use words like hear, say, and listen. A kinesthetic  person might say feel, touch, or grasp.
A knowledge of the client’s representational system can help an NLP practitioner in several ways:

  1. By noticing the predicates in a person’s speech, an NLP practitioner can match those predicates and talk into that person’s map of the world, thus making it much easier to both create rapport and to help that person to change in some way.
  2. The practitioner can help the client to change representational system in order to represent experiences in a different way.
  3. In some cases, a client will have almost completely blocked one representational system out of consciousness. For example, a person brought up in a very strict traditional household may have learned that it was wrong to express emotion and learned to repress his own feelings so much that they are no longer easily available for conscious reference. The practitioner can gradually help the person to move from the highly valued representational system slowly into the repressed representational system. This may provide a richer map of the world and a more useful way to re-experience trauma or to cope in future situations.

Part II – Incongruity

Part II discusses incongruity at length, also bringing in issues of logical types and describing Virginia Satir’s four categories: placator, blamer, computer, and distractor. Incongruity is described as non-matching output from different representational systems. For example, a high shrill voice and a pointing finger (both indicating blame or anger) combined with the words “I love her very much.” The transcripts of the therapeutic sessions in Part II are particularly useful, and the authors provide many useful ways that an NLP practitioner can help a person to use multiple representational systems congruently and usefully. This section also discusses the use of meta-position (an important concept throughout NLP) and the bringing together of two parts in something which is now roughly equivalent to visual squash or parts integration.

Part III – Fuzzy Functions

Fuzzy functions involve an input channel or output channel in which the input or output channel involved is used in a different modality from the representational system from which it is being used. This is now more generally known as a synesthesia. For example, if a client says “when my father looks at me this way, I feel angry,” this can be called see-feeling.
The authors connect the metamodel patterns of mind-reads and cause-effect to fuzzy functions. In a mind-read statement such as “He doesn’t like me,” the client thinks something and this preconception influences what they actually see or hear from another person (feel-see or feel-hear). In a cause-effect statement such as “He makes me feel bad,” the client sees or hears something and believes that it causes a certain feeling within themselves (see-hear or hear-feel). Again, the transcripts of therapeutic interventions are very informative.

Part IV – Family Therapy

Grinder and Bandler modelled the highly respected family therapist, Virginia Satir, and this section provides good examples and explanations of translations from one representational system into another. For example, if the mother is primarily visual and the father is primarily kinesthetic, their communication can be greatly facilitated by the practitioner stepping in and translating between these modalities.

Part V – Formal Notation

The title of Part V says it all. This is a highly technical section which introduces the idea of six-tuple which consists of:
I: the input channel used by the client for the problem
R: the client’s most highly valued representational system
O: the output channel which the client is using for the problem
S: the Satir category for this problem (Blamer, Placator, Computer, Distracter)
F: the type of semantic ill-formedness of the client’s utterance
M: the most frequently occurring metamodel violation
While the six tuplet is certainly comprehensive and this section gives a good example of its use, it would need considerable use to become familiar with it and there are perhaps more useful tools available.
Overall, The Structure of Magic (Vol. II) is a useful book, but its primary influence can perhaps be found in Part I where representational systems are explained in detail.


©Copyright 2010 by Dr. Brian Cullen