Podcast and Blog
“What do you want meaning for? Life is desire, not meaning.” —Charlie Chaplin
It was many years ago, when I was living in London; early on a summer Sunday morning. The sun was just touching the rooftops. The streets were quiet. I was woken by loud banging on the door of the flat downstairs. The banging went on for several minutes. I got up and opened my door, and called down that my neighbor was away for the weekend, and anyway, you shouldn’t go around waking people up at the crack of dawn! A young man came up the stairs, walked into my flat, sat down and said, “Wake you up? Wake you up? Nothing could wake you up, mate!” Then he stood up, walked back downstairs, and left the building.
I went back to bed and imagined that perhaps the stranger had been a messenger. Perhaps he was giving me a messages from the universe. Was there a hidden meaning here, something he knew, that I didn’t? Or had I, like him, simply had too much to drink the night before?
I told the story to my friends and it became an ongoing joke. So it has stuck with me, a reminder to ask what ‘waking up’ could even mean.
We all invent our own unique meanings for life, and for the things that we experience. It’s how we make the map that we navigate by. That summer, in the late 1970’s, I had spent the past several months at silent meditation retreats. I was learning to question a lot of what I had previously taken for granted. ‘Meaning’ was already up for grabs.
Milton Erickson, the man who helped make hypnosis acceptable in the world of medicine and psychiatry, and who was to become one of the original inspirations for NLP, said that everyone walks around in a trance of disempowerment, and that our work is to change that trance, to a trance of empowerment – in other words, to wake up. His genius in helping his clients was in his ability to recognize the maps they used to navigate the world, the meanings they gave to things. Waking-up was simply waking up to the possibility of making new meanings, new maps. and opening yourself up to doing things in new ways.
We are meaning-making creatures. It’s what we do. It’s how we learn, communicate, and create. As children it’s how we define who we are, and who we will become. It becomes a problem when the meanings we attribute to things make us feel bad or do harm to others. Fear, and our longing to make the world safe, causes meaning to coagulate into fixed beliefs, and fixed beliefs to become assumed truths.
It’s clearer if you consider the words of Charlie Chaplin,
“What do you want meaning for? Life is desire, not meaning.”
Meaning hesitates, desire acts. Meaning doubts, desire loves. Meaning is a mirage, a trap, that takes you round in circles. Desire goes straight to the source. It’s the old dance between the Apollonian and the Dionysian, between Logos and Eros. It’s NOT a battle between opposites. Desire is not a pathway (as some fear) towards losing control, or to indulging in unbridled appetites, and losing yourself to addiction. Desire is how you cultivate your creativity, vision, integrity, and sense of being connected to the whole.
If there’s a clear message from the universe it’s that you have a choice as to how you shape meaning; so that the meanings you make, carry you forward, rather than hold you back; and NLP is a useful messenger that brings you the skills to help you turn desire into creativity, and your vision into reality.
Were you ever in a situation where you felt powerless to change? a situation that had been going on for so long you had started to believe it might never change? Had you even started to wonder if maybe you were the problem?
Then you learned something about how you could make change happen. Perhaps you learned it though NLP coaching. It was as if someone handed you the key to a closed door that had been locked for so long that you had forgotten there was even a door there.
Up until that moment, you had certainly known you were stuck. You may have even understood something about why you were stuck. But your understanding didn’t help. Insights alone can sometimes dampen your motivation to change, because they make the prospect of actually changing look like one more insurmountable problem. Until you know how to change, any amount of understanding of why you should, or why you got stuck in the first place, doesn’t help much.
Until you learn the ‘how to’ of change, the ‘why’ can actually hold you back.
NLP is the ‘how to’ of change.
In spite its short forty-year history, NLP has roots that go back for as long as human beings have been looking for smart win-win solutions.
Like Hypnosis, NLP has fallen outside the mainstream; and like hypnosis, NLP has aroused suspicion and jealousy for helping people when all else has failed. We have lost track of how often clients have come to us as a last resort –for chronic pain that the doctors had pronounced to be incurable; for addictive behaviors that wouldn’t go away, or kept coming back; or for phobias and fears that nothing ever seemed to help. .. not to mention the entrepreneurs and artists whose success had seemed to elude them until they learned to get out of their own way and to work with themselves, instead of against themselves.
What is NLP?
NLP means Neurolinguistic Programming. The term was coined by Richard Bandler and John Grinder after they developed a therapeutic modality based largely on the work of family therapist Virginia Satir and hypnotherapist Milton Erickson. The underlying insight that drives NLP is that there is a gap between experience and perception; that your emotions, memories, beliefs, as well as everything you experience in life, is made up of patterns in your neurology. Because there is a gap between external reality and our experience of it, we live in an inner world of distortion and separation. In the words of Richard Bandler, “we make it up with words and pictures” hence, Neuro .. linguistic .. programing.
What the creators of NLP discovered is that there are practical skills you can use to bridge the gap between external reality and the words and pictures in our mind, and that those skills can be consistently used to transform self-defeating behaviors, negative emotions and attitudes that have a detrimental effect on our life at home or at work or anywhere else.
NLP is the art and science of providing alternatives to how we imagine the world, of changing internal representations, emotional states, external responses, and ultimately of actually and measurably changing our neurology. NLP is neuroscience in action.
NLP is more than a set of clever techniques. It is learning to be your own source of innovative skill and solution-based thinking.
1. Mindset is the sum of your beliefs, expectations, attitudes, values, and above all, your emotions. A consistently positive emotional state, will determine how well you learn, how effectively you communicate, how much you enjoy your life, and the results you achieve. NLP coaching is a direct way to learn how to master your emotions. Mastery does not require taking control, rigidness or repression. It simply means learning how to bring awareness to the inner patterns that determine old emotional habits, and then making appropriate choices to change them.
2. Reaction or Response? If your emotions are a choice, and your actions are determined by your emotions, including the emotions that support your beliefs about what you can achieve, then NLP is not just mastering your emotions. It also lets you navigate your own course in life. It’s not about taking control of everything that happens. Who would want that anyway? It’s that you can learn to utilize every situation to your own and everyone else’s best advantage. You can learn to respond, rather than react. You can choose, rather than just revert to old habits.
3. Awareness + choice. A well-known (and notoriously inhumane) experiment raised kittens with cardboard tubes on their heads so that they had no peripheral vision. After some months the cardboard tubes were removed and it was discovered that the kittens, now grown cats, were incapable of seeing anything that wasn’t directly in front of them. They had lost all peripheral vision.
Whenever there is unfinished emotional business it’s as if you have a cardboard tube on your head. You are locked in a narrow capsule of your old unresolved issues. It’s all you know. You end up resigning yourself to the life you see through the tube. The constrained perspective blocks all your creativity, joy, natural intelligence and any sense of the possibility of freedom – which you don’t even realize you don’t have.
Unless the unresolved negative emotions – fear, resentment, shame, anger, disappointment – are addressed, that narrow field of vision becomes who you are. When it’s removed, or transformed, your field of awareness open, and you can now choose your focus. It is no longer predetermined by your negative emotions.
4. Personal Congruity. Congruity means that you are in agreement with yourself, that your conscious and unconscious mind are working together. When part of you wants to change other people’s lives for the better, but another part of you feels that you are a fraud, there is a problem, there is an incongruity.
When you are moved to work hard on a project, but when you are immersed in the project something always seems to come up to distract you, that’s also incongruity. Something inside you is fighting yourself.
When you are continually fighting against the very thing, or person, you love most, that’s another example of an incongruity. NLP is very good at identifying and resolving incongruities and invisible inner conflicts you are not fully conscious of yet.
5. Intention and results. Everything mentioned so far:
Mastering your emotions and mindset
Taking control of your direction
Learning to respond rather than just reacting
Growing your freedom of awareness
Developing personal congruity
are all the domain of NLP coaching. They are things that NLP is good at helping you with. Put together, they provide you with a vision for the scope of your life. Anything you choose or imagine, or envision for yourself becomes possible. One of the key lessons of NLP is that when you are emotionally, physically, and psychologically healthy you have immense resources of creative energy available to formulate and realize possibilities for your life and for your work in the world.
These are five ways that NLP coaching works for you personally. Stay tuned for how NLP works in the domain of team and community building, and of leadership development.