An Introduction to NLP – Neuro Linguistic Programming

By Julian Burke in Learning on December 22nd, 2009 / No Comments

NLP - What is Neuro Linguistic Programming?
Neuro Linguistic programming (usually shortened to NLP) is a method of high-speed psychotherapy. It relies on concepts of behavioral modification to treat a host of psychological problems, and has been successfully used on everything from mild social anxiety, to severe phobias.

NLP has also become popular as a way to optimize your personal performance. Many self help guru’s and personal life coaches incorporate elements of NLP into their systems. It can be used to make you more aggressive in business and more confident in your personal life. If you have a life-long hang-up, or some mental scar from a past experience, NLP has many tools that can help you overcome those kinds of challenges.

The History
Richard Bandler and John Grinder founded NLP in the early 70’s. Bandler was studying psychology at the University of California, Santa Cruz. He became intrigued when he noticed certain language patterns used by the famed psychotherapist Fritz Perls in some of his therapy sessions. He took this information to Grinder, who was a well-known linguist and professor at the University. Grinder was impressed, and the two embarked on long, detailed study of all the various types of psychotherapy.

Most methods of therapy are very hit-and-miss in terms of effectiveness. A person may be cured of a problem, but it can take years before something finally clicks. Bandler and Grinder planned to examine each method, and find out what aspects were helping people. They wanted to trim away the fat, and get to the core of what makes the brain tick, so that they could make modifications. The end product needed to be totally practical, with a focus on fixing people’s problems as quickly as possible.

As a result of their studies, in 1975, the two published The Structure of Magic I: A Book About Language and Therapy. More volumes followed which gradually fleshed out the NLP system, and codified the techniques.

What makes NLP so popular?
Most traditional therapy methods can take months or even years before the patient starts seeing any major benefit. The most amazing thing about NLP is how fast it can help people. The speed with which NLP works can be truly shocking, or even unbelievable. Patients can overcome barriers that have been holding them back for their entire lives with one short session. These quick fixes aren’t necessarily permanent, and reinforcement is usually required, but surprisingly fast results are often possible with NLP.

Another great thing about NLP is that an individual can learn it, and then apply the techniques alone without the aid of a therapist. One of the core ideas behind NLP is the concept of self empowerment. You are given the tools to fix your own mind, and you don’t need anyone else to keep it running smoothly. Many conventional therapists have no interest in NLP, because they would prefer to have patients returning to their offices for years at a time. A cured patient doesn’t pay fees anymore.

How does it work, and what does it to do?
At the core of NLP is the belief that people have inner programming that dictates their actions. Understanding how your brain is motivated allows you to make adjustments. In order to make those changes, you also have to know how the brain stores and reads information. Knowing all these things, gives you “levers” that you can pull to modify your behavior.

There are several basic principles on which the techniques of NLP are based. Below I will outline some of these ideas and provide an overview so that you can see how the system works.

Emotions and behaviors: They aren’t just window dressing.
In most cases, people demonstrate behaviors, and experience emotions for a reason. When something bad happens, you get angry or sad. When your life is unfulfilled, or you haven’t been successful, you get depressed. Emotions are the minds way of telling us how to react to the things that happen in our lives.

Positive emotions reinforce behaviors that get good results, while negative emotions are warnings that something is wrong. Chronic emotional problems develop when people are unable to react properly to their emotional cues. In simple metaphorical terms, they’re like a lion with a thorn in its paw, unable, or unwilling to remove it.

The Pleasure Principle
One of the primary reasons people react incorrectly to their emotional cues is because of the way we’re motivated. People move towards pleasure, and away from pain, but short term effects are always considered more important than long term effects. For example: We all know that physical exercise will make us stronger in the long term, but we have trouble motivating ourselves because of the short term pain it can cause. Another example would be eating candy: We know that it makes us fat and unhealthy in the long term, but we keep doing it because the short term pleasure is too tempting.

One of the ideas behind NLP is to teach people how take control of this natural mechanism, using pleasure and pain as motivators in whatever way we choose. You will learn how to train your brain to focus more on long term results, both good and bad, so that you can make better decisions in life.

Working With Beliefs
In the NLP sense of the word, a “belief” is a rule that we use to govern our behavior. These rules develop over time from experiences in life. Usually these are very logical, but sometimes something will happen and we’ll develop an illogical or wrongheaded belief. For example, a person with a certain kind of mindset may ask someone out on a date, and get painfully rejected. This single rejection may cause them to believe that asking someone out will always result in pain and loss of confidence. They become paralyzed by fear, and they don’t ask anyone out ever again.

Beliefs form because of strong emotions, and those can sometimes defy logic. In the example above, the pain of rejection was so strong that it created a permanent imprint on the person’s brain. Every time he or she starts to ask someone out, that fear will spring up and the person will be unable to overcome it.

Learning to change your beliefs can help you remove barriers that are holding back good behaviors, and create barriers against negative behaviors. It’s one of the most important parts of NLP.

The Imagination is the Gateway to the Mind
We experience the world through our five senses, and based on those experiences we program ourselves to behave in certain ways. Fortunately, people are equipped with a way to experience things without actually having them happen in real life. Many NLP techniques are based on visualization.

A person will be asked to imagine a past event, or some hypothetical situation, and then coaxed into experiencing a certain emotion at the same time. The NLP therapist will use very descriptive language, and call on the patients memory to make the experience as vivid as possible. These techniques are used repeatedly, so that the patient associates a different set of feelings with a particular event. Once the basic principles are understood, this kind of therapy can also be done solo.

Over time, NLP visualization therapy will cause you to have different reactions when you encounter situations in life. You’ll get results from the first session, and they’ll get stronger with each repetition. You’re basically running through practice sessions for experiences in life, and teaching your brain the right way to deal with things.

Body + Mind
The body and the mind are inextricably connected. Emotions have physical feelings, and postures associated with them. When you feel confident, you walk a certain way, and you talk with a particular rhythm. When you feel nervous or afraid, your physical actions become timid and measured. NLP teaches that these things can also work in reverse. For example, studies have proven that if a person smiles long enough, they start to feel happy. You’ll also find that if you start moving like a confident person, you’ll actually start to feel more confident.

These reactions can also be engineered from scratch. A patient may be asked to feel a certain emotion (usually through a visualization exercise) and perform a small physical action at the same time. This is done repeatedly so that it becomes second nature. Eventually you have a physical trigger that can cause you to experience a certain emotional state. There are many techniques for creating these kinds of triggers, and they’re a big part of NLP.

How Do I Get Started?
NLP is a complex subject. It’s certainly much more complex than the scope of this article, but there are numerous sources out there where you can find lots of information about specific techniques.

There are many certified NLP therapists, and you are encouraged to study NLP on your own. Once you have access to the levers that control your thinking, you’ll find that changing your life is easier than you ever dreamed. Removing the impediments that hold us back can be an incredibly empowering experience, and it’s so easy, there’s no reason not to do it.

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