How do I define NLP? Weirdly, this year marks my 25th year of being in the world of NLP. And over the years, I have paid my dues to gain mastery, and I still do. Before I became an NLP trainer, I did my training several times, both live and through countless videos. And NLP trainers training I did in 3 different ways, with 3 different companies. And if there is one thing I know to be true, put 30 NLP Practitioners in a room, and you will have 30 different definitions.
If there is another thing I know to be true, the definition of NLP has changed for me over time. Initially, I held on to the definitions you see everywhere:
Definition 1: What is NLP?
NLP is the language of the unconscious mind.
Definition 2: What is NLP?
Neuro: brain and thinking.
Linguistic: verbal & non-verbal communication and behaviors.
Programming: the coding of our brain and our ability to change this.
Definition 3: What is NLP?
The users manual of the brain.
Definition 4: What is NLP?
The new technology of achievement.
I always found these definitions a poor attempt to define NLP, to be honest. And when you spend any significant amount of time online, you find the same definition over and over. Yet, you still don’t know what NLP is.
What is NLP for me today?
- Grab a piece of paper and draw a horizontal line on it.
- On the left side write mental illness and ill-being.
- On the right side write mental health and well-being.
- In the middle of the horizontal line draw a small vertical line.
- Underneath it write the elements of well being: positive emotions, engagement & flow (the experience of being in the zone), positive relationships, meaning and purpose, achievement and accomplishment.
- Place a circle where on the continuum line you are.
Science of the traditional psychologists have endlessly studied everything on the left side of the line, in fact 96% of all scientific studies until about 10 years ago was mostly about depression, fear, anger, and anxiety. Then there are all sorts of illnesses, disorders, and ADHD. Studies about how we are unhappy, and how we are mentally ill. Studying those people who in life experience thoughts, feelings, and have behaviors that are below the median line.
The problem is by knowing how exactly someone is broken, the best place you can get them to through therapy is that midline. By studying the broken and the mediocre, allows you to develop treatments and pharmacology to fix them, and how the average person does success. The problem is, it gives you no idea, how to push beyond that line to the right. Where you start gaining well-being and mental health. And it gives you no idea how to be successful as a top performer in any given field.
What would happen if you started to interview people who are the dot above the median line? The people who know the secret sauce of positive emotions, being in the zone, how they do relationships, how they achieve their goals, fulfill their dreams. You find the top athletes, the master communicators, the top business people, people who fixed their own fears, the people who are more resilient than others, people who switch their own emotions etc. Think of anything you would like to learn how to do.
This is what happened during the creation of NLP. A family therapist by the name of Virginia Satir was studied, who had an extraordinary ability to ask questions to get the real problem or the real dynamic above the table. Family secrets! Moms, dads, and children, each with their viewpoints. What was discovered was a series of questions that allowed for something to be conscious what was otherwise unconscious. This is called the meta-model in NLP.
And this model was used to question successful people around the world. The dots above the median line. By studying these people they discovered tools, techniques, behaviors, thought patterns, and ways to verbally and non-verbally communicate to achieve the same. Some of these affect instant change; others require repetition to learn new habits that become conditioned and automated. Or to change the brain permanently through neuroplasticity (the ability for the brain to change itself.)
Because these tools and to be called something, the word “NLP” was used. And yes, they do not truly define NLP. How can you define a toolbox? And have it made sense.
How specifically do mentally healthy and people in well-being use their brain? How to their place their brain to experience more positive emotions? Even switching from a fear to empowerment? How do they light up the brain to make achieving their goal?
How do you ask questions to make the unconscious conscious? But also how do you use language to inspire, to motivate, to persuade? What would happen if you could allow brain waves to go up and down? From consciously focused to trance?
Everything is a coding in a sense. Our thought patterns, the programs we run inside our mind. When we experience an emotion, what do we do with them? Augment them, change them? Do we know how.
Sometimes people think that NLP allows you to control or someone’s mind, or influence them. This is true in some sense, but is probably not as mysterious, special or devious as someone may think. When someone educates themselves to understand how thoughts, feelings, behaviors, and communication work, they become more powerful. This is no different from someone who studies psychology, or an extraordinary writer, someone who knows how to motivate and inspire someone. And yes, also someone who knows how to sell. And yes, some people use tools for evil, and some use them for good. That’s not about the tool, it is about the person.
There is another reason why the definition for me has truly changed. Much like most successful trainers we originally trained with the co-creators of NLP, or people who drew large audiences. The problem is that in a training with large audiences, you can’t really go deep into the context of your unconscious values, identity, beliefs, and source you connect into. Think of things like self-esteem, trauma, not loving yourself, shame, grief, addiction, feelings of inadequacy, negative self-talk, guilt etc. These are things topics that require classes with 20 people, not 200. And it wasn’t until I understood that as an NLP trainer, that I decided to scale down from business NLP training, where I didn’t know my student’s names. To create a more intimate setting, to see how deep NLP can go. To create an amazingly complex meal, rather than go to a McDonalds drive-in. One NLP training is different from the other.