What is NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming)?

FACT: NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming) is used by millions of people around the world in a variety of fields including sports, business, education, therapy, and personal development (think Anthony Robbins).

FACT: NLP was first developed in California in the early 1970s.

FACT: There isn’t one, definitive version of the history of NLP that all of the parties involved agree on.

FACT: One thing everyone does agree on is that two twenty somethings at the University of California at Santa Cruz started NLP. Richard Bandler, a psychology student, and John Grinder, an associate professor of linguistics, began studying the thinking and behavioral skills used by particularly effective and successful people.

Two of the successful people Bandler and Grinder studied were Virginia Satir (who is considered the mother of Family Therapy) and Fritz Perls (who was the founder of Gestalt Therapy). They were able to distill down the thoughts and behaviors that they felt were largely responsible for the success of Satir, Perls, and the others they studied, and they presented their findings in workshops.

FACT: Bandler and Grinder were introduced to the work of Milton Erickson, and began pondering hypnotic techniques in addition to their growing (and by then diverse) body of knowledge about effectiveness and success that they called NLP. Their initial target audience was therapists and they published books, facilitated seminars and workshops, and produced a cadre of students, some of whom went on to start their own NLP centers.

FACT: By the early 1980s, Bandler and Grinder went their separate ways. But NLP kept growing and diversifying, with an increasingly strong presence in the UK. It was officially becoming a movement.

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So what exactly is NLP anyway?

NLP has been called an owner’s manual for your brain. It has also been called the study of excellence, the study of success, and the science of achievement. And all of that is accurate. NLP is a practical explanation of how to succeed. It is based on observable phenomena, not theories. And it works. Most important, it’s simple…

NLP examines success for its underlying patterns of thought, belief, and behavior.

Then it seeks to reproduce the thoughts, beliefs, and behaviors that create success, thereby reproducing success.

And when I refer to success, I mean in communication, in relationships, in work, and in any sports. Success in life.

When you become knowledgeable and, more important, skilled, in the techniques of NLP, you will be able to:

  • Learn new things faster than before.
  • Master what you can already do well.
  • Manage your emotions more effectively.
  • Think more clearly.
  • Concentrate better.
  • Achieve peak performance in all sports.
  • Enjoy life more than ever before.

Sounds appealing, doesn’t it?

Let’s get started!

Please note that much of NLP pertains to communicating and relating better with other people. Though that part of NLP is fascinating and has been highly successful, I am going to focus on the part that pertains to achievement and can help you on your way to peak performance in life. We’ll begin with the most frequently asked questions.

What exactly does NLP mean?

The name is the result of attempting to describe exactly what Grinder and Bandler were doing.

N = Neuro, referring to the mind (and particularly its connection to the body).
L = Linguistic, referring to the potential for change using language.
P = Programming, meaning the study of patterns that create success and failure, and programming yourself with the success-patterns.

Why do I need to learn about it?

  • Because it’ll improve your performance-and your life-in a short period of time.
  • Because it’s probably the easiest thing you can do to be the best you can be.
  • Because it has been working for three decades.
  • Because we all need all the help we can get.

Why Learning About NLP Isn’t Enough

If you want to produce any kind of lasting change in your behavior-including your performance-the decision to change is your first step. Then comes learning whatever it is you need to learn to create your change. And then comes the most important part: practice.

I constantly hear people saying things like, “I’m going to lose weight this year” or, “This is the year I’m going to start exercising.”

What keeps many people from accomplishing these types of goals is simple. What do you do when you start a new diet? You try and then you are always starting over the next day. What eludes most people is that changing the way we approach things mentally happens the same way. So if you feel like you beat yourself up over past mistakes and you want to change that behavior, you’ll be much more successful if you practice, practice, practice.

The bottom line is that we ought to learn from past mistakes and make adjustments in future behavior. The strategy of berating yourself for past conduct solves nothing and only serves to lower your self-esteem. You create a vicious cycle where negative experiences and negative feelings are reinforced, which leads to more negative outcomes and more negative feelings.

Practicing what you learn from NLP is a great technique for improving daily chooses, but if you really want to put yourself on the fast track to being the best you can be, you need to retrain your brain using hypnosis, as well. Hypnosis and NLP are like eating well and exercising: you’ll lose weight if you do them separately, but when you do them together, you’ll lose more weight, faster. You’ll turbo-charge your weight loss.

The Essentials of NLP

NLP’s most popular saying is:

If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.

NLP techniques set out to alter our verbal and nonverbal communication so that we produce the results and reactions we intend to produce. There are plenty of books on NLP in your local library and your local bookstore, and there are several websites dedicated to it. And while there are some subtle and not-so-subtle differences in interpretations of NLP and its use, there are also some essentials that everyone agrees on. Here is a set of essential principles of NLP, which we call presuppositions. No matter who you are, what job you have, or how long you’ve been trying to make change happen, these will be true.

Everything you do sends a message.

Think about it. Everything someone else can see, hear, or feel, that is coming from you, is communicating something about what you are thinking and feeling. From body language to eye movement, to tone of voice, to the speed of your breath and the pace of your speech. We all communicate virtually all the time, we can’t help it.

Some of the things that come from you that affect others are in your control, and others don’t appear to be. Emotions, for instance, begin internally. Then they produce physiological changes that occur in the human body that tend to produce predictable outer manifestations of those emotions. Here are a few examples of this phenomenon.


When you are angry your heart and breathing rates jump, your blood flows to your hands in preparation to hit something, and your overall energy increases. The volume and projection of your voice also increase, in order to attempt to instill fear in anyone who is threatening to you.


When you are in fear, your heart and breathing speed up as well, but your blood takes a different direction; it leaves your face and surges to your legs for a quick escape (the flight portion of Fight or Flight–see above for the fight part). Momentarily, your body freezes, making it possible to determine if hiding would be better than running. The volume and projection of your voice lessen to minimize the potential of drawing attention.


Disgust is usually indicated by the shunning of your senses. For instance, your eyes squint, your face turns away, your lips curl, and your nose wrinkles. Your vocalization becomes staccato and is marked by quick, short outbursts of breath, similar to what you do when you spit out unwanted food.


Love is a relaxed state marked by increasing blood flow to the lips and hands accompanied by an open physical bearing and deep breathing, which facilitate contentment and cooperation. Vocalization becomes more resonant, perhaps to soothe and charm.

You can usually tell what message has been received, as people-will respond in a way that tells you what message they have received.
There are no mistakes in outcome.

If you haven’t been as successful as you would like, chances are you have developed patterns of thoughts and feelings that have left little room for any other outcome. In fact, if you are regularly successful at anything, chances are you have developed patterns of thoughts and feelings that have left little room for any other outcome.

In other words, with a few exceptions, there are no flukes when it comes to outcome. Every failure-and every success-has a clear path that leads to it. NLP is about examining the clear paths to success and creating similar paths so you can reproduce success. NLP has the tools to help you create your path.

We are all products of patterns that we have created-consciously and unconsciously-for our entire lives. Nothing about us is because of chance.

That can be good, as we may have developed patterns that serve us: that work for us. But it can also be bad, as we have unwittingly developed patterns that are destructive, or at best unproductive.

There is no such thing as failure in NLP; there is only feedback.

If the feedback you have isn’t what you wanted, you should change what you did in order to change the feedback. In other words, if what you’re doing is not getting the results or outcome you desire, you ought to change what you’re doing.

You can create a list of behaviors that work and don’t work-in your own life.

If you work backwards from your successes and your failures, you can list what you did that caused the outcome. That’s NLP: a set of descriptions about what works and what doesn’t. There is no judgment about good and bad; there’s simply what works and what doesn’t work.

It’s easier to change yourself than it is to change anyone else. The map is not the territory.

Though you have an intention behind your communication, that intention is meaningless unless it matches the message that those around you receive. In other words, the map is not the territory-meaning our perception is what creates our reality. NLP is about altering your perceptions, as they are what define what you call “reality.” Similarly, your memory is not an exact replication of what has occurred in the past; it is your perception, your visual representation of past occurrences.

What you think is what you get.

Why do I need to learn about it?

There are four mental-conditioning laws for the conscious mind that I find are particularly helpful to my clients:

  • You are what you concentrate on.
  • What you concentrate on seems real (because real and imagined cannot be discerned).
  • What you concentrate on grows.
  • You always find what you concentrate on.
  • You don’t know what you don’t know.

In NLP’s model of learning, we call this unconscious incompetence. Experts/coaches/ therapists/ hypnotherapists are helpful because you don’t know what you don’t know. But once you do, you are at the point of choice. Then, you know what you don’t know, and you can choose to do something about it.

In NLP, when we achieve peak performance, excellence, or personal best, we say that we have evolved from…
unconscious incompetence –> conscious incompetence
–> conscious competence –> unconscious competence

You can change the way you communicate.

With some education and training, you can control your emotions and their corresponding physical manifestations. That will take some time, and although it is possible if you dedicate yourself to it, in order to achieve success you will need feedback, as that is what tells you how you are progressing (or if you are progressing).

If you try to change your behavior all by yourself, you can go off in the wrong direction and never know it. That’s why you need feedback.

When you combine NLP with hypnosis, you create the opportunity to speed up and deepen the changes you want to create. This powerful combo puts you on the fast track to excellence!

The fastest way to be the best you can be is to find someone who already exhibits it and do what they do.

NLP uses several techniques to produce and reproduce excellence.

The ones I use most in my practice are:

  • Modeling
  • Circle of Excellence
  • Theater of the Mind
  • Anchoring


The theory of Modeling says that we can achieve excellence in anything by finding a place where it already exists and copying the traits and behaviors present when excellence is present.

These are the thoughts and feelings you want to develop. This is modeling.

Circle of Excellence

The Circle of Excellence is the people and images, sights and sounds, you surround yourself with that are indicative of excellence, and that exude excellence. We can directly observe as the cause of excellence. This isn’t about theorizing about what actions might have resulted in or contributed to a state of excellence. Modeling is similar to what you may know of as cause and effect.

Theater of the Mind

If you’re thinking that Theater of the Mind is visualization, you’re correct. We must recognize the power of our imagination; it is 88% of our mind! The better you are at using your imagination, the more successful you’ll be when you use Theater of the Mind later.

Here are some tips for effective use of your imagination:<

  • Learn to control your imagination. Practice visualizing. Imagine that your hands are lighter and lighter and your feet are heavier and heavier
  • Learn to use your imagination when preparing for constructive activities, such as riding.
  • Develop your creativity. Visualize new inventions, new services, new movies, new approaches to living.
  • When your perception tells you that you’re up against a wall, let your imagination run wild. Brainstorm.
  • Don’t judge your ideas or edit them-just let them flow and associate freely.
  • Practice and practice and practice until you are comfortable using your imagination easily and effectively.

Anchoring is a technique that creates a response through the use of association. It is based on classical behavioral conditioning and involves using (or creating) a trigger that is connected to a desired response. It completely bypasses your conscious and creates an instant reaction. The conscious mind can’t stop the reaction.

Anchors can be just about anything: a touch (e.g., when your hands are on the steering wheel), a sight (e.g., when you see the color red), or a complex set of movements (e.g., when you leave the house). The key is to attach the anchor to a desired emotional response. For example: when you put you hands on your steering wheel, you immediately relax… I have found that anchoring is the tool that creates the most powerful, lasting changes in my clients. I use it multiple times in all of my personal sessions and all of my CDs, and I recommend that you get comfortable with it.

Know Thyself!

NLP will help you immensely in your daily performance because it is a vehicle for self-knowledge. The more you know about yourself, the better you’ll be able to plan your transformation and growth (yes, you can plan your personal growth).

Once you know, from observation, how someone else looks at the world, you are in a better position to effectively and efficiently communicate with them, as well. Furthermore, the more you know about someone, the better position you are in to predict their behavior. Think about it: You have two friends who are similar in a lot of ways and share many of the same interests. For instance, they both like to ski. However one prefers moguls while the other prefers cross-country skiing. Who do you think needs more stimulation?

Perhaps the most helpful aspect of NLP for hypnosis and self-hypnosis is to understand which sense is the dominant one you prefer to use when taking in and processing new information. Research has shown that most people are visual, auditory, or kinesthetic. Here are some quick tips on how to determine which one you are:

Visual people (55% of population) tend to focus on pictures, colors, sizes, angles, contrasts of focus, and brightness. They tend to talk fast, think in pictures and charts, and prefer to be shown how to do new things. They often speak of how they “see” things (“looks good to me,” “I see what you mean,” “the future is looking brighter”). They pay careful attention to their appearance and the appearance of others. Their respiration is shallow and quick. They use words like:

Appear | Clarity | Display | Emerge | Focus | Hindsight | Illusion | Look Notice | Peek | Peer | Probe | Scene | See eye-to-eye | Sketchy | Stare View | Watch | Witness

Auditory people (21%) focus on words, volume, cadence, inflection, pauses, pitch, and tempo. They are good at handling people, are open to both sides of an argument, and like good questions. They think in language, talk about how things sound (“sounds good to me,” “this rings a bell,” “I’m all ears”) and are dominators of conversations. Background noises can either bug or help them. If you want them to do something, you should explain it to them (not show them or give them written instructions). They breathe deeply and speak rhythmically. They use words like:

Announce | Boisterous | Confess | Deafening | Echo | Growl | Howl | Mention | Outspoken | Resonate | Screech | Speechless | Tongue-tied | Utter | Vocal | Whisper

Kinesthetic people (24%) focus on feelings, texture, vibration, intensity, pressure, tension, and movement. What they perceive is often a reflection of their feelings. They are touchers and they judge situations and people by how they make them feel inside (“that doesn’t feel right to me,” “she’s so thin-skinned,” “I have to dig deep for the answer,” “she’s all washed up”). They breathe deeply and slowly, are more patient than the other types, and they speak slower and lower. Because they take most of their cues from their feelings, they are more prone to moodiness. They use words like:

Burning | Caress | Euphoric | Firm | Heated | Lukewarm | Muddled Pressure | Relax | Rush | Shift | Solid | Stress | Stroke | Touch |Unsettled | Whipped


Up next: What are The Natural Laws of the Mind?