Can NLP be what it has become?
Can NLP be what it has become?
Amazon has over 500 books about NLP and most of the best-sellers are written by people who the original creators and developers of the field haven’t met and don’t agree with. This article is to ask the question: can NLP be what it has become?
Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP) is an unwieldy name for an unusual field of study that is – or was – about the structure of subjective experience. What do we do inside our mind and body that creates our experience of the world? And, by extension, what can we do to influence other people’s experience of the world?
The field originally grew out of a small study group at the University of California in the 1970s. The key players were a mathematician, Richard Bandler, and a linguistics professor, Dr John Grinder. They began building “models” of how they and others thought, behaved and communicated. They “modelled” the legendary hypnotherapist and father of Ericksonian Hypnosis, Milton H Erickson; the pioneering family therapist, Virginia Satir; and the founder of Gestalt Therapy, Fritz Perls. Non-therapists included some very successful sales people and negotiators, as well as many “ordinary people” who had made changes in their own life. The Phobia Project, for example, involved Richard Bandler modelling a whole series of volunteers who used to have a phobia and no longer had it. He was interested in what they had done to “lose” their phobia, and he found they had all done more-or-less the same thing. Once he had a model of that, he taught it to others and demonstrated that anyone could do the same thing at a structural level and get the same results.
The key point here is that Richard turned his model into a technique. He called it the Fast Phobia Cure and taught it as part of his NLP training programs. He said: “NLP is an attitude and methodology that leaves behind a trail of techniques”. But quite early on there was already some confusion between a) NLP – the study of the structure of subjective experience, using the processes of modelling, and b) Applications of NLP – using the “trail of techniques” to influence yourself and other people.
Nowadays there are techniques for almost everything. An average NLP practitioner course will teach you techniques for becoming more confident, motivated and determined; changing beliefs; stopping pain; ending addictions; inducing hypnotic phenomena… and the list goes on and on. Paul McKenna famously modelled how naturally thin people think about food, and he turned that into a best-selling book, I Can Make You Thin. Then he modelled how extremely rich people think about money – including Richard Branson, Peter Jones, Sir Philip Green and Stelios Haji-Ioannou – and he turned that into another best-selling book, I Can Make You Rich. John Grinder is excellent at modelling performers. It’s the same story over and over: find out how someone does something and then use that model to create a technique/formula/set of rules that will get other people to do the same thing and get the same results. These techniques give people the chance to get what they want. They are popular and commercially valuable. Paul McKenna and others have helped millions of people by sharing these techniques in easily-accessible formats.
It’s become confusing though. As a brand, NLP is in chaos. Some people have heard there’s this thing called NLP that can make you rich. Others have heard there’s an NLP diet that can make you lose weight. I heard on the radio that NLP is a way to become more confident and successful. I read on the internet that NLP is about overcoming phobias.
From what I understand, these are all misunderstandings. NLP is about the structure of subjective experience. It’s about learning to recognise and interact with the structure of how people think. It’s a meta-discipline. You can use the “trail of techniques” to do many things, but the techniques don’t define the scope of NLP.
It’s got more confusing too. Like most groups of young people, the original NLP creators and developers fell in and out of love. Some even got married, and then divorced. 35 years on, most of them don’t speak to each other. And while mummy and daddy both still love their baby very much, they have different hopes and dreams for it, and very different parenting styles.
John Grinder has developed what he calls New Code NLP, to move things forward for a new generation. It’s a brave step forward, arguing against some of his previous ideas. His book Whispering In The Wind explains it all, but good luck finding a copy. It’s not one of the 500+ NLP books on Amazon and I’ve never seen it in a bookshop. It did come up on eBay recently, but it was listed for bids over £50.
Richard Bandler has advanced his ideas too – some would say even more so – adding submodalities to the core of NLP, refining and adding many techniques, and developing the new appended fields of Design Human Engineering and Neuro Hypnotic Repatterning, among other things.
NLP has become like a horse with two riders, each going in different directions. In fact, it’s like a horse with hundreds or maybe even thousands of riders, because each of the co-creators and some of the developers have anointed a series of trainers, master trainers and apprentices to spread their word. And, inevitably, after a few months or years, these people discover they have ideas of their own too, and they start adding their own spin on things. Gradually or suddenly, they start spreading their own version of NLP.
So while the key players have been distracted by their game of “mine’s bigger than yours”, I think the debate has moved on. There’s a new generation of highly-motivated people selling NLP as some kind of catch-all miracle cure. It’s often combined with positive thinking, the law of attraction and affirmations. My question is whether NLP can be what it has become in our collective consciousness? Most people who know about NLP know it as a way to Change Your Life in 7 Days. Most of the 500+ books promote it as a strategy for success. But what is it really?
Bandler and Grinder’s pioneering work led to a paradigm shift that – like the development of positive psychology (studying people who are doing well rather than people who are unhappy or “mentally ill”) – has had a tremendous impact on the success of millions of people. I find their creation useful in many ways and especially as a way to gather and structure information in a systematic way. I have learnt a lot from them both, directly and indirectly. They both have my respect and they are very talented, clever and original people.
But how have they been as leaders of their field?
“Follow me, I’m right behind you.”
The problem is that many of their students are better known than they are. It’s their students who go on tv, get their books into bookshops and use the web to promote their own versions of NLP.
And a lot of these students have had no more than a few days training, learning things like the Fast Phobia Cure in a class of 100+ other students. Often they had no chances to ask their teacher questions.
These are the people who present themselves as the field’s great ambassadors, and they get away with it.
I think someone needs to tell Bandler and Grinder that they’re killing their legacy. They’ve both taken the easy path. They’ve both certified and encouraged people who have no understanding of what NLP is and no skill to even use the techniques. There are people out there right now misleading others and taking money under false pretenses, damaging not only themselves and their clients but also tarnishing the whole field of NLP.
Yeah, someone needs to tell them that. But it isn’t going to be me. I’m probably the only person who gets paid as a promoter to promote both Bandler and Grinder events. I’m not going to rock the boat.
Chris Morris is an advanced NLP trainer and coach. This article was originally on his blog.