Blog post and Podcast
NLP, Neurolinguistic Programing, has had a huge impact on public speaking, education, business, and therapy for over forty years. For those of us who can see its all-pervading influence, it’s hard to imagine how things were before NLP became part of the current human environment. NLP continues to evolve, and to provide cutting-edge skills that help top leaders, speakers, sales-people, creative artists, teachers, and therapists become better at what they do.Yet, to most people it still remains invisible.
I first came across NLP through the recommendation of a Buddhist monk I met in Sri Lanka in the 1970’s. I began by reading the handful of books then available. Later in the mid-1980s I attended my first NLP seminar. The trainer was remarkably uninspiring and dull, but I was intrigued, and started using elements of NLP in my Hypnotherapy practice, even though I wouldn’t fully appreciate its brilliance and power until years later.
When NLP is being used well, you don’t notice it at all, because NLP is more than just a technique or a skill. Actually, it’s not even really a modality in the usual sense. It’s like a chameleon. When used well it can enhance any situation to help you to communicate, influence, heal, or effect change in yourself or others, remarkably quickly and effectively. It has been called “an attitude followed by a trail of techniques.” But the techniques are only the beginning. In the hands of an experienced practitioner, NLP is a truly improvised art.
Much of contemporary Neuroscience only affirms what NLP-trained therapists, teachers, leaders, and group-facilitators, have been doing to help people change their lives for forty years, based on precise observation and intuition.
NLP was born from the simple inquiry, “Is it possible to reproduce the results of the very best contemporary therapists (at the time that was Fritz Perls, Virginia Satir, Milton Erickson) by copying what they did?” NLP was created by learning the art of copying effectively (Modelling), and then from the specific details that were discovered from doing so. The emphasis on modelling, or emulating, what works, rather than getting rid of what doesn’t work, sets NLP apart from many other approaches to change that rely heavily on theoretical analysis and the diagnosis of what’s wrong.
Modelling in NLP doesn’t stop with the luminaries that inspired its creation. There’s no limit to what, or who, you can model in order to be effective – visionaries, innovators, therapists, healers, scientists, artists; Socrates, Mozart, Mother Teresa, Einstein, Korzybski, Jimmy Hendrix, Oprah Winfrey. NLP existed long before the term Neurolinguistic was coined. It’s as ancient as the first time someone systematically began to exemplify or copy others in order to improve their own performance. Contemporary NLP is simply the ongoing refinement of how you can do so most effectively.
The Spiritual Side of NLP Training
Michele and I both became serious about NLP after we had been teaching meditation and leading retreats for many years. We were feeling stagnant. We needed a change. We were noticing that many people used meditation not to transform their lives, but to reinforce who they already were, and what they already believed. In the words of our teacher of many years, Thich Nhat Hanh, they were practicing ‘bomb-shelter’ meditation.
The effect that we noticed NLP had, both on ourselves and on our students and clients, was that it accelerated deep transformation and change in ways that meditation alone usually could not.
Here are three examples of some of the many ways \NLP supports systemic and spiritual change.
Big Picture Thinking
Among the principles we teach our clients and students is the importance of seeing the big picture. When you see the big picture and have greater perspective, you have more choices. Having more choices, you learn to recognize the opportunities that life is continually giving you, as well as the long term consequences of your actions.
Most errors of judgment, missed opportunities, regret and unhappiness, are the result of failing to see a bigger picture. I remember a French movie I saw many years ago. It is the story of an illicit claustrophobic love-affair in a claustrophobic provincial town. The two protagonists eventually murder their respective spouses. At the end of the film, when they are arrested, the detective ask them, “Why couldn’t you just elope?” They had failed to see the obvious solution. They had missed the big picture. How many times do we miss the big picture because we are so focused on the problems immediately in front of us that we miss the obvious solution?
Awareness and Meditation
Mindfulness and Meditation have become part of our collective culture in ways that we could never have imagined a few years ago. Although we no longer teach mindfulness or meditation as we used to, we have taken elements from traditional Mindfulness training skills and combined them with elements from NLP – Expanded Awareness, Anchoring, and the use of Sub-modalities – to help people develop sustained focus and awareness. (You may not know those technical terms yet, but you’ll certainly appreciate them when you understand what they mean)
The results have been extraordinary. We have seen students raise their grade-point average by one or two points; and we have seen how NLP, in conjunction with enhanced awareness, can address chronic anxiety, emotional trauma, as well as panic attacks and phobias.
Most people are controlled by their emotions, even though they’d like to think that they are not. Suppression is often the only option they know. But when you learn that emotions are messengers, and that the information they bring is always relevant, you can free yourself from being held hostage by them.
Every emotion is connected by association to other emotions, memories, and expectations. When you learn to navigate through the intricate tangle of your emotions and mental states, you create a chain of positive emotion that can liberate you from the emotional maze that the majority of people spend their lives in. This is a central aspect of NLP – how to be the architect of your own emotional state.
Michele and I tend to avoid the word ‘spiritual’ because it creates a division. The biggest so-called un-spiritual experience can also provide a priceless opportunity for change; and transformational change is inherently ‘spiritual’. Whatever broadens your perspective teaches you something you didn’t know before, and if you’re really paying attention it will enhance the quality of your life. Creating a split division between spiritual and not-spiritual is how we have created war, environmental destruction, and our own human alienation from the fabric of life on the planet.
I knew a dedicated spiritual seeker who meditated in a closet because the birds outside the window disturbed his meditation. As an ardent twenty-year-old meditator I would swear at the neighbors’ children for disturbing my tranquility. I had no idea that ‘truth’ and ‘spirit’ are everywhere. Decades later, to my surprise, I noticed how going back and forth between the serenity of Manzanita Village and Los Angeles made no difference to my mental equilibrium. Apparently something had rubbed off on me.
‘Truth’ is not a rule book, or a story about an extra-terrestrial supreme being. Truth is what is useful to help you lead a better, more beneficial life, for yourself and others, here and now. Your spirituality is whatever leads you to do so most effectively.
Because NLP helps you to obliterate emotional baggage, break through limiting beliefs, presumptions, and self-negating behaviors, and to recognize your greater potential, it is a very real spiritual discipline. Perfectionism and self-judgment are obstacles that get in the way of understanding that everything you experience is a way forward. Inherent to NLP is the recognition that there is no failure, only feedback. When you are able to learn from the feedback you become like an engineer of your own human potential, and you move forward, spiritually, and in every way, because every way is connected.