What NLP is Not: the story of Six Blind Elephants

Have you heard the story about the six blind men and the elephant? How about the story about the six blind elephants? No NLP is not actually about elephants… Let me explain.

The Six Blind Men and the Elephant

Six Blind Men and an Elephant

Six blind men set out to discover what an elephant really was. They were led to the place where the elephants were kept.

The first one bumped into an elephant’s leg and realized that an elephant must be a kind of pillar.

Another reached up and grabbed onto the tail and learned that elephants were like ropes.

The next one found himself touching something smooth and cylindrical and understood how elephants were a kind of tube or pipe.

Another felt the ear and thought that elephants were a special kind of cloak or garment.

The next put his hands on the elephant’s trunk and imagined it was the branch of a tree.

The last man reached up and felt the elephant’s belly and realized that elephants were huge cooking pots, miraculously suspended in the air.

Whatever we think we know about something is filtered through our own unique experience, partial and incomplete, subjective and often based on hastily drawn conclusions. We’re all blind in one way or another. Our certainties are never certain.

It’s true for everything we ever experience. Whatever you think you know about something is invariably incomplete, slanted towards old assumptions, the already-known, hearsay; filtered through subjective perceptions and second-hand conclusions and experience.

NLP is particularly helpful because it continually seeks to help you remember and acknowledges this. It leads you to always be questioning, and testing your assumptions. It asks you to see the bigger picture, and to them put what you see into action. It asks you to look at pictures other than the ones you currently mistake for the truth.

This is not so you get lost in relativity, but so you begin to look for what actually works, rather just sticking with the same old pictures and patterns and habits than you’re accustomed to. In addition, it gives you the skills to help the people you serve, as clients, customers, students, loved ones, to do the same. NLP is not about making assumptions it is about learning to see elephants for what they really are .. whatever that may be.

Six Blind Elephants

Six blind elephants think people are flat

Six blind elephants wanted to find out what people were really like. They arrived at the place where they thought they would find some people. The first elephant stepped on one and flattened him. The elephants gathered round and agreed – people are flat!

How often do we come to a personal conclusion, or reach consensus with others, based on completely false information?

How often do personal frames of reference overwhelm any possibility of our having a fresh point of view?

When Heisenberg determined, early in the 20th Century, that the observer always influences what they are observing, he was thinking about physics, not elephants. But the blind elephants get his point across nicely.

And the point is this .. sometimes the only exercise we get is jumping to conclusions. NLP is not about helping you to do that. It’s about helping you to exercise your imagination, so can get better results than the ones you get when you keep on making false assumptions, running your old limiting beliefs, and continuing to be paralyzed by emotions that no longer work.

NLP is about helping smart people make real change in a three dimensional world .. for positive transformation .. professionally, in their relationships, and in their inner life. And because it has no fixed ideology, no overarching theory other than the search for what works to benefit most, it remains the most flexible, efficient, and effective systems for total personal transformation.


Six Blind Elephants, What NLP is not, assuming false information, personal frames of reference,  positive transformation, Mediation, NLP, spiritual practice, Neuro linguistic programming, Hypnosis, personal development, unconscious mind.