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Remembering to Be Curious

StayCuriousBrian Cullen, Nagoya Institute of Technology

Sarah Mulvey, Nagoya City University

From its beginnings in the 1970s, at the heart of NLP has been the attitude of curiosity. When Richard Bandler and John Grinder started NLP by modelling the language patterns of Fritz Perls, Virginia Satir, and Milton Erickson, they were really curious as to how these therapists were able to be far more effective in their communication than other people. This curiosity was their first step in being able to try to see the world from other points of view. It is this attitude of curiosity that makes it possible to step into someone else’s map of the world and begin to understand the patterns that make up their excellent performance. So let’s begin this article with one of the greatest tools that we have to get people curious… a story:

Once upon a time, there was a small boy who banged a drum all day and loved every moment of it. He would not be quiet, no matter what anyone else said or did. His parents were quite forward-thinking people and believed that it is important to make your own decisions. So they didn’t just take the drum away from the boy. Instead, they tried to persuade him. They called upon many wise men and asked each one of the these people to convince the boy to stop playing the drum.

The first person who came was a scientist. The scientist explained to the boy about sound waves and the power of sound. He told the boy if he continued to play the drum in that way, that there was a good chance that he might break his eardrum. However, the boy was just a child and this scientific thinking was too difficult for him, so he just kept playing his drum.

The next person who came was a priest from the temple. He came dressed in his colourful robes and burning incense. He explained to the boy that drum-beating was a sacred activity and should be carried out only on special occasions and at certain ceremonies. But the boy didn’t really understand, and besides, he really wasn’t all that interested in these gods that he couldn’t even see, so… the noise continued.

The third person who came was an engineer who had studied in the university in the capital and she was very smart indeed. She was also very practical at finding good solutions. She didn’t even bother talking to the boy because that seemed inefficient. Instead, she gave the parents and the neighbors earplugs. It was a great idea, but unfortunately, the earplugs couldn’t keep out the constant drumming from morning to night.

The fourth person who came was a teacher. He gave the boy a book and tried to get the boy interested in education. “There is so much more to learn – so many amazing things in this world – and books can be the doorway to a new world for you.” The boy looked at the pictures for a while and then turned back to the drum. It seemed so much more fun.

The fifth person who came was a therapist who believed that the child suffered from anger issues. Obviously, the child was playing the drum all the time because he was angry at the people around him. So the therapist gave the boy meditation exercises to make him calm and explained that all reality was imagination. The boy sat in the right pose and made the right ‘om’ sound for what seemed like a long time to the boy – almost one whole minute, in fact! And then he picked up the drum again and the noise continued.

And you’re probably curious about how the story ends, and it’s good to be curious, isn’t it? Because when we are naturally curious about something, it is so much easier to learn. If we’re teaching something, or trying to persuade someone of something, or even trying to sell something to someone, doesn’t it make sense to try to engage their natural curiosity?

When I was a kid, I had this great old radio that used to belong to my grandfather. Actually, it was never really mine – I just sort of made it mine by taking it out of the garage and putting it into my bedroom. And I was a curious kid – of course, all kids are naturally curious. So naturally, I wondered what was inside the radio. And one day, I got a screwdriver and I took the radio apart and I laid out all the pieces carefully. And I learned so much as I examined each bit and became even more curious about what all the pieces did. Then I carefully put the radio back together… and found that I had three extra pieces! The radio never did actually work again, but I sure learned a lot.

And there was another time at Christmas when I was about 11 years old when my brothers and sisters had combined their pocket money and they bought me a single present. So of course, I really wanted to know what that present was. There it was sitting under the Christmas tree, wrapped in purple shiny paper, and every day I would sneak into the room and carefully shake it, smell it, try to judge the size, and even try to carefully peel back some of the wrapping paper… all because I was so curious about what was inside.

My Christmas present curiosity wasn’t unusual! If you look at any children, they are naturally curious – always wanting to find out stuff and driving adults crazy by asking, “why? But why?”. It’s not just humans either – look at a kitten or a puppy and you’ll see real curiosity. Everything is so fun and so new.

So to help you remember your own times of natural curiosity, and to develop and anchor those states of curiosity, here is a fun exercise to try now.

Exercise 1

Remember back through your childhood. What were three things that you were really curious about?




If you can’t remember, I’m sure that your father or mother will be able to help you!

And then what happened to us? Because most adults aren’t nearly as curious as kids.

Exercise 2

Think of three reasons that might lead to people being less curious as they get older.




Yet some people never lose that natural curiousity. Some people just keep learning all through life. Some people are always willing to find out more. And don’t we live in an amazing time to find out more with tools like Google and the Internet and easy access to millions of books and videos? When I was a child, we had a really expensive set of encyclopedias that my parents bought – they were probably $1000 or more. And anytime we had a question like, “Why is the sky blue?”, my mother would immediately send us to check the encyclopedia. And naturally, we would then spend more and more time finding out about all the other fun stuff. Now, you have Google! That’s the most amazing encyclopedia in the world right there on your telephone or computer! It’s so easy to be curious now. And while many people lose that sense of curiosity, others seem to be able to keep it right through their lives. So how do some people stay curious?

Exercise 3

Think of someone you know who has a really strong sense of curiosity, someone who always wants to learn.


What is different about that person that allows them to be curious like that?


It’s not just that it’s fun to be curious and to learn all through your life. The attitude of curiosity is at the heart of NLP because it’s so important for helping us to understand other people’s maps of the world.

Being curious is also good for your health, it’s good for your career, and it’s good for your communication. In research, it has been shown many times that your brain stays healthy when you keep learning new things. Learning a foreign language, a musical instrument, or a skill like knitting helps you to stay healthy and to decrease your risk of alzheimer’s disease. And in today’s job market, things change so quickly. If you want to keep a good job all your life, the single most important thing that you can do is to keep learning. Of course, being curious is good for your communication and relationships because as you learn new stuff, you will be more enthusiastic and a more interesting person!

Enjoy life – be curious! And if you were curious about the end of the story…

And then finally, an old woman came by and heard the drum and said, “What is that noise?” The neighbours explained about the boy and how the scientist, the priest, the engineer,the teacher, and the therapist had all been unable to help. It seemed like nothing could be done.  The old woman looked at the situation calmly and smiled at the boy. Then she picked up a hammer and chisel and said to the boy,  “I wonder what is inside the drum?”

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NLP Tips for Storytelling in the Classroom


Brian Cullen, Nagoya Institute of Technology
Sarah Mulvey, Nagoya City University
Brad Deacon, Nanzan University
Storytelling has many benefits in the EFL classroom and other learning contexts including providing listening practice, aiding in vocabulary acquisition, and motivating students. In this paper, we will introduce some tips from the field of NLP to help you make storytelling into an even better learning experience in your classroom or learning context.

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NLP Connections 2013 – Event Report

Connections-IndexOver the weekend, we had the honour of hosting the NLP connections 2013 event at my university, Nagoya Institute of technology. After months of preparation and  imagining the event, it was wonderful to see it actually coming into existence. We had participants from Nagoya, of course, we also had people coming from as far away as Tokyo and Chiba. As always, we first have to create something in our minds and then we can bring it into the world! Thanks to Yuko Yamamoto and so many others for helping to bring this NLP Connections Event into the world.
On Saturday November 23rd, we started the event with a lovely Introduction to NLP workshop. Some new faces, some familiar faces, and lots of great learning. As always, it’s great to see new folks becoming aware of how useful NLP can be.
Sunday morning (11/24) began with the Meet and Greet at Starbucks near the venue. We all picked up our caffeine for the day, introduced ourselves,and then headed across the road over to the university to begin the conference at 10 AM.
The first event of the day was a state management activity which was designed to help the participants get into a good state to stay in a good state for the entire day of learning. Sometimes caffeine just isn’t enough to keep people going throughout the day 🙂 And NLP recognizes that managing our own state is vital to ensure that we can keep learning. Brian Cullen and Yuko Yamamoto carried out the COACH process in both English and Japanese, simultaneously. The COACH process is a beautiful state management process which we learned from Robert Dilts at NLP University in Santa Cruz, California. Every morning at NLP you, Robert Dilts led us in the coach process and it was a beautiful way to start today to ensure that we were centered, open, aware, connected, and holding onto those resources all through the day. There is an audio version of the COACH state available if you would like to use it yourself. It’s currently only in English, and we will try to get a Japanese version up there soon.
Next, Yukari Horiguchi from the NLP Institute of Japan carried out a lovely session which focused on the characteristics of high-performing people. Yukari is a successful business coach and trainer, and she carries out executive training and coaching both in English and Japanese. Recently, she has been doing training in Canada as well as Japan. During her presentation, she did a live demonstration, working with of the participants and helping him through a coaching session. Later, she summarized the characteristics of highly performing people. One of the key points that I took away from Yukari’s presentation is that high-performing people have the ability for self acknowledgment. Of course, they are also open to external feedback and have highly developed sensory acuity and self-expression in Visual, Auditory, and Kinesthetic.  In addition, however high-performing people have a strong ability to recognize their own success and to self-acknowledge, without having to rely on external supportive feedback.
After lunch, Yuko Yamamoto from Tokyo talked to us about the use of NLP in the workplace. Yuko is a pharmacist, and she uses her NLP skills on a daily basis with co-workers and patients. Yuko led us in a very useful process for helping people in the company to come into alignment with the same purpose or goal. When people come into alignment, they can often discover that personal conflicts and friction are reduced as they recognize that they are moving towards the same goal.
The next session of the day went straight to the heart of NLP – modeling. Most of the session was led by Brad Deacon from Nanzan University, Nagoya. Brad did a great modeling session by asking one of the participants to come up as a volunteer. In the presentation, the experiential array was introduced as a tool for modeling. The experiential array is a tool developed by David Gordon, one of the members of the original group of NLP back in the early 1970s. Because the experiential array takes quite a long time to use in its complete version, the participants were offered four questions which concisely address the same areas as the entire experiential array. These four questions addressed four of the primary factors underlying a person’s performance: beliefs, emotions, strategies, and external behaviors. The participants had time to get into pairs and model an ability that one of the people was good at doing. In this way, participants were able to truly experience modeling, a core element of the NLP approach.
For a break and recreation of a good state, Brian Cullen then played us one of his NLP-based songs, My Friend John which had people beaming with its embedded Milton Language patterns and the suggestion to smile!
Finally, Ben Backwell from Nagoya City University introduced positive psychology and helped participants to explore connections between positive psychology and NLP.  NLP has been described by Michael Hall as having originally arisen from the human potential movement, and it is wonderful to see that psychology is revisiting these ideas and has now begun to look at how humans can be happier and be more effective in the world, rather than simply focusing on their problems. Through Ben’s fascinating talk, we were able to understand how many of the ideas of NLP are now being reflected in positive psychology, and how these ideas are beginning to have a positive impact on millions of people’s lives.
At the end of the day, Brian Cullen and Yuko Yamamoto took a few minutes to thank everybody for the dissipating and to draw the threads of the day together. Everyone also had an opportunity to look forward to seeing how NLP connections could continue in the future to provide a space in the venue for sharing and expanding on the concepts of NLP on exploring how these useful ideas and techniques can be brought further and really be put into action in Japan and beyond.
NLP connections 2013 was a great success on many levels. It has provided an opportunity for us to share, it gave us all fresh inspiration, and it is the first step towards bringing NLP trainers in Japan together even more in order to put this powerful technology of NLP into effect in order to improve people’s personal and working lives.
You can sign up for the NLP connection mailing list here, and be sure to join the Facebook group.
Looking forward to seeing you all again soon and at NLP Connections 2014!
Dr. Brian Cullen.

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15 Ideas for Using Metaphors and Stories in Class

The metaphor database at Standing in Spirit provides hundreds of stories and metaphors that you can use in your EFL classes. You can of course use them as listening practice or to teach particular language patterns or vocabulary. One of the other useful ways to use these stories is to introduce your students to concepts and ideas that will motivate them and help them to learn more effectively. This  article suggests how 15 of the stories in the database could be used. I have chosen 15 ideas because that is the number of weeks that we have in one semester at our school. These are not intended as lesson plans – simply little ideas that will spark your own creativity. Please share your ideas, too! Oops, I seem to have gone above 15 – there are just too many good things to do with stories and metaphors 🙂

1. Imagine that you could speak English.

Encourage students to consider the possibilities which would open them to them if they could speak English well.

  • How would it feel if you were able to speak English really well?
  • What opportunities and possibilities are open to really good speakers of English?

Suggested Metaphor(s): The General

2. Take responsibility for your own learning

Class time is very limited. I meet my students once a week for 90 minutes. Apart from their English study, they have many other classes. As teachers, we do what we can to help our students learn English, but ultimately a person must take responsibility for their own learning. Some words like “sell” have a natural and required opposite word like “buy”. Even when “Teaching” occurs, that does not necessarily mean that “Learning” takes place! Suggested Metaphor(s): Balls and Cats, The Blue Butterfly

3. There are many ways to learn English

Some students successfully learn English through watching movies. Some achieve it through studying for a TOEIC or TOEFL test. Others learn by listening and singing along to their favourite songs. There are many ways to learn English, and all students can benefit from trying out different ways of learning. Suggested Metaphor(s): Blind Men and an Elephant

4. Set Learning Goals

Having students set learning goals can be very helpful in keeping motivated and tracking progress. There is also a great sense of achievement when the goal is achieved, or at least feedback if it isn’t reached! There are many possible goals. Making a numerical goal of some form is often useful because it can be clearly measured.  Possible numerical targets include getting 700 in the TOEIC test, holding five conversations of at least 10 minutes, reading 10,000 words of English in the semester, or writing two academic essays. Suggested Metaphor(s): Caps

5. Look on Difficulties or Problems as ‘Challenges’

In Japan, we often hear our EFL students say “Eigo ha muzukashii”, i.e. “English is difficult.” And of course, learning a language can be difficult. We can remind our students of other things that they have learned in their lives, such as a sport or a musical instrument and let them notice how rewarding it ultimately can be to overcome a difficulty. Suggested Metaphor(s): The Obstacle in the Road

6. Pay Attention and Notice Things

We want our students to pay attention and to focus on their learning. That will really help them to improve. I like to use this particular story because it talks about how to get good results in tests, and students always pay attention to that! Suggested Metaphor(s): Exam Questions

7. Manage Your Own Feelings

Students have a life outside the classroom (and I am very glad that they do!) and sometimes they bring in feelings and issues that negatively affect their learning. It is good for their learning of English (and for their whole lives) to remind them each person is in control of their own emotions and feelings. In NLP, we use the word ‘State’ to mean the total physical and mental condition that a person is in. A good state facilitates good learning. Suggested Metaphor(s): Two Wolves Inside 

8. Try Something Different

Sometimes students get stuck in their learning and can’t seem to progress forward. Sometimes students come to me and say, “no matter how many times I can’t listen, I never understand” or “I’ll never be able to write a proper essay in English.”  As Einstein is supposed to have said, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing again and again, and yet expecting a different result. Sometimes, the very best approach to a problem is to do something completely different. Suggested metaphor(s): The Calf

9. You Get What You Work For

There is no royal road to learning. The way to learn English is pretty clear – study it and use it! There’s going to be lots of difficulties (and fun) along the way, but you will get back whatever you put into it. Suggested metaphor(s): The Carpenter

10. See Your Own Improvement

There is so much standardized testing that students are always comparing themselves with other students. Even in cases when a student has improved greatly, she may not recognize this because her peers have improved, too. While standardized testing can be useful in some cases, it is also useful to look back and consider how much you have improved since one year ago or two years ago. I like the story “Choosing the Emperor” because it reminds us that learning and progress is something that we must do as individuals. Of course, working in a group can help, but ultimately learning is a personal endeavour. Suggested metaphor(s): Choosing the Emperor 

11. You Already Have the Resources You Need

Some keen students keep buying new books or DVDs or whatever materials are being promoted in the latest fad. Realistically, the Internet has made resources available for learning English to anyone with a decent Internet connection: Free materials on websites, free dictionaries, free quizzes, free lessons, free telephone calls on Skype … all the resources are now available. The resources are out there, and the teacher can introduce them to students, but the person who needs to learn from them can only be each individual student. Suggested metaphor(s): Treasure

12. You are not your (Past) Behaviour

Some students have been told things like, “you will never be good at English”, or they have acquired this belief by failing a test or getting a bad score. It is useful to separate Identity from Behaviour. Sure, in the past a student may have failed a test (Behaviour), but that does not mean that the student is a failure (Identity). The student may be a Japanese person (Identity), but that does not mean that they cannot speak English (Behaviour). Suggested metaphor(s): Writing Teacher

13. The Impossible can Become Possible

When a student is a low level of fluency in English, it may seem impossible to ever reach a high level and this can be very discouraging. This kind of limiting belief  is very common. Using stories and introducing role models of people who have walked the same learning path can be very useful. Suggested metaphor(s): The Four Minute Mile 

14. One Step at a Time

Pretty much anything can be learned if we break it down into little chunks and take it one step at a time. Suggested metaphor(s): Mountain Climbing, Eating an ElephantThe Starfish

15. Relax in Tests

Tests make people nervous. Unfortunately, in most cases, being nervous is actually bad for your performance. Suggested metaphor(s): The Archer

16. Identify what is Important to You

Get students to think about their own values – what is important to them in their lives and how does English relate to that? For example, some students will recognize that English is helpful for getting a good job. Others will connect English to their hobbies such as travel, music, or soccer. Some students really want to talk to people from other countries. Identifying values can really help to direct learning in the best directions. Suggested metaphor(s): The Fisherman and the Businessman

17. Keep Trying

Learning can be a long old road – keep trying, keep moving forward, stay open! Suggested metaphor(s): The Rose