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Psychological Skills for Understanding and Influencing People
By Joseph O'Connor, John Seymour
Red Wheel/Weiser, LLCCopyright © 1990 Joseph O'Connor and John Seymour
All rights reserved.
WHAT IS NEURO-LINGUISTIC PROGRAMMING?
As I sat wondering how to begin this book, I remembered meeting a friend a few days before. We had not seen each other for some time, and after the usual greetings, he asked me what I was doing. I said I was writing a book.
"Great!" he said. "What is it about?"
Without thinking, I replied, "Neuro-Linguistic Programming".
There was a short but meaningful silence. "Same to you", he said. "How's the family?"
In a sense my answer was both right and wrong. If I had wanted a conversation stopper, it worked perfectly. This book does deal with a way of thinking about ideas and people that goes by the label of Neuro-Linguistic Programming. However, my friend wanted to know what I was doing in a way he could understand and share with me. And he could not relate my reply to anything he knew about. I knew what I meant, but I did not put it in a way he could understand. My reply did not answer his real question.
What then is NLP? What are the ideas behind the label? The next time someone asked me what the book was about, I said it was about a way of studying how people excel in any field and teaching these patterns to others.
NLP is the art and science of personal excellence. Art because everyone brings their unique personality and style to what they do, and this can never be captured in words or techniques. Science because there is a method and process for discovering the patterns used by outstanding individuals in any field to achieve outstanding results. This process is called modeling, and the patterns, skills, and techniques so discovered are being used increasingly in counseling, education and business for more effective communication, personal development, and accelerated learning.
Have you ever done something so elegantly and effectively that it took your breath away? Have you had times when you were really delighted at what you did and wondered how you did it? NLP shows you how to understand and model your own successes, so that you can have many more of those moments. It is a way of discovering and unfolding your personal genius, a way of bringing out the best in yourself and others.
NLP is a practical skill that creates the results we truly want in the world while creating value for others in the process. It is the study of what makes the difference between the excellent and the average. It also leaves behind a trail of extremely effective techniques for education, counseling, business, and therapy.
SANTA CRUZ, CALIFORNIA 1972
NLP started in the early seventies from the collaboration of John Grinder, who was then an Assistant Professor of linguistics at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and Richard Bandler, who was a student of psychology at the university. Richard Bandler was also very interested in psychotherapy. Together they studied three top therapists: Fritz Perls, the innovative psychotherapist and originator of the school of therapy known as Gestalt, Virginia Satir, the extraordinary family therapist, who consistently was able to resolve difficult family relationships that many other therapists found intractable, and Milton Erickson, the world-famous hypnotherapist.
Bandler and Grinder did not intend to start a new school of therapy, but to identify patterns used by outstanding therapists, and pass them on to others. They did not concern themselves with theories; they produced models of successful therapy that worked in practice and could be taught. The three therapists they modelled were very different personalities, yet they used surprisingly similar underlying patterns. Bandler and Grinder took these patterns, refined them, and built an elegant model which can be used for effective communication, personal change, accelerated learning, and, of course, greater enjoyment of life. They set down their initial discoveries in four books, published between 1975 and 1977: The Structure of Magic 1 and 2 and Patterns 1 and 2, two books on Erickson's hypnotherapy work. NLP literature has been growing at an increasing rate ever since.
At that time John and Richard were living very close to Gregory Bateson, the British anthropologist and writer on communication and systems theory. Bateson himself had written on many different topics—biology, cybernetics, anthropology, and psychotherapy. He is best known for developing the double bind theory of schizophrenia. His contribution to NLP was profound. Perhaps only now is it becoming clear exactly how influential he was.
From these initial models, NLP developed in two complementary directions. Firstly, as a process to discover the patterns of excellence in any field. Secondly, as the effective ways of thinking and communicating used by outstanding people. These patterns and skills can be used in their own right, and also feed back into the modeling process to make it even more powerful. In 1977 John and Richard were giving very successful public seminars all over America. NLP grew quickly; in America to date, more than 100,000 people have done some form of NLP training.
SANTA CRUZ, 1976
In the spring of 1976 John and Richard were in a log cabin, high in the hills above Santa Cruz, pulling together the insights and discoveries that they had made. Towards the end of a marathon 36 hour session, they sat down with a bottle of Californian red wine, and asked themselves, "What on earth shall we call this?"
The result was Neuro-Linguistic Programming, a cumbersome phrase that covers three simple ideas. The "Neuro" part of NLP acknowledges the fundamental idea that all behavior stems from our neurological processes of sight, hearing, smell, taste, touch, and feeling. We experience the world through our five senses; we make "sense" of the information and then act on it. Our neurology covers not only our invisible thought processes, but also our visible physiological reactions to ideas and events. One simply reflects the other at the physical level. Body and mind form an inseparable unity, a human being.
The "Linguistic" part of the title indicates that we use language to order our thoughts and behavior and to communicate with others. The "Programming" refers to ways we can choose to organize our ideas and actions to produce results.
NLP deals with the structure of human subjective experience; how we organize what we see hear and feel, and how we edit and filter the outside world through our senses. It also explores how we describe it in language and how we act, both intentionally and unintentionally, to produce results.
MAPS AND FILTERS
Whatever the outside world is really like, we use our senses to explore and map it. The world is an infinity of possible sense impressions and we are able to perceive only a very small part of it. That part we can perceive is further filtered by our unique experiences, culture, language, beliefs, values, interests and assumptions. Everyone lives in their unique reality built from their sense impressions and individual experiences of life, and we act on the basis of what we perceive our model of the world.
The world is so vast and rich that we have to simplify to give it meaning. Map making is a good analogy for what we do; it is how we make meaning of the world. Maps are selective, they leave out as well as give information, and they are invaluable for exploring the territory. The sort of map you make depends on what you notice, and where you want to go.
The map is not the territory it describes. We attend to those aspects of the world that interest us and ignore others. The world is always richer than the ideas we have about it. The filters we put on our perceptions determine what sort of world we live in. There is a story of Picasso being accosted by a stranger who asked him why he did not paint things as they really are.
Picasso looked puzzled. "I do not really understand what you mean", he replied.
The man produced a photograph of his wife. "Look", he said, "like that. That's what my wife really looks like".
Picasso looked doubtful. "She is very small, is she not? And a little bit flat?"
An artist, a lumberjack and a botanist taking a stroll through a wood will have very different experiences and notice very different things. If you go through the world looking for excellence, you will find excellence. If you go through the world looking for problems you will find problems. Or as the Arabic saying puts it, "What a piece of bread looks like depends on whether you are hungry or not".
Very narrow beliefs, interests and perceptions will make the world impoverished, predictable and dull. The very same world can be rich and exciting. The difference lies not in the world, but in the filters through which we perceive it.
We have many natural, useful, and necessary filters. Language is a filter. It is a map of our thoughts and experiences, removed a further level from the real world. Think for a moment what the word "beauty" means to you. No doubt you have memories and experiences, internal pictures, sounds, and feelings that let you make sense of that word. Equally, someone else will have different memories and experiences and will think about that word in a different way. Who is right? Both of you, each within your own reality. The word is not the experience it describes, yet people will fight and sometimes even die believing the map is the territory.
Our beliefs also act as filters, causing us to act in certain ways and to notice some things at the expense of others. NLP offers one way of thinking about ourselves and the world; it is itself a filter. To use NLP you do not have to change any of your beliefs or values, but simply be curious and prepared to experiment. All generalizations about people are lies to somebody, because everyone is unique. So NLP does not claim to be objectively true. It is a model, and models are meant to be useful. There are some basic ideas in NLP that are very useful. We invite you to behave as if they are true and notice the difference that makes. By changing your filters, you can change your world.
Some of the NLP basic filters are often referred to as Behavioral Frames. These are ways of thinking about how you act. The first is an orientation toward outcomes rather than problem. This means finding out what you and others want, finding what resources you have, and using these resources to move toward your goal. The problem orientation is often referred to as the "Blame Frame". This means analysing what is wrong in great detail. It means asking questions like: "Why do I have this problem? How does it limit me? Whose fault is it?" These sorts of questions do not usually lead anywhere useful. Asking them will leave you feeling worse than when you started, and does nothing toward solving the problem.
The second frame is to ask How rather than Why questions. How questions will get you an understanding of the structure of a problem. Why questions are likely to get you justifications and reasons without changing anything.
The third frame is Feedback versus Failure. There is no such thing as failure, only results. These can be used as feedback, helpful corrections, a splendid opportunity to learn something you had not noticed. Failure is just a way of describing a result you did not want. You can use the results you get to redirect your efforts. Feedback keeps the goal in view. Failure is a dead end. Two very similar words, yet they represent two totally different ways of thinking.
The fourth frame is to consider Possibilities rather than Necessities. Again this is a shift in focus. Look at what you can do, what choices are available, rather than the constraints of a situation. Often the barriers are less formidable than they appear.
Finally, NLP adopts an attitude of Curiosity and Fascination rather than making Assumptions. This is a very simple idea and has profound consequences. Young children learn tremendously quickly, and they do it by being curious about everything. They do not know and they know they do not know, so they are not worried about looking stupid if they ask. After all, once upon a time, everybody "knew" the earth went around the sun, that something heavier than air could not fly, and of course to run a mile in less than four minutes was physiologically impossible. Change is the only constant.
Another useful idea is that we all have, or can create, the inner resources we need to achieve our goals. You are more likely to succeed if you act as if this were true than if you act the opposite.
LEARNING, UNLEARNING, AND RELEARNING
Although we can consciously take in only a very small amount of the information the world offers us, we notice and respond to much more without being aware. Our conscious mind is very limited and seems able to keep track of a maximum of seven variables or pieces of information at one time.
This idea was outlined in 1956 by the American psychologist George Miller in a classic paper called The Magic Number Seven, Plus or Minus Two. These pieces of information do not have a fixed size, they can be anything from driving a car to looking in the rear-view mirror. One way we learn is by consciously mastering small pieces of behavior, and combining them into larger and larger chunks, so they become habitual and unconscious. We form habits so we are free to notice other things.
So our consciousness is limited to seven plus or minus two pieces of information, either from the internal world of our thoughts, or from the external world. Our unconscious, by contrast, is all the lifegiving processes of our body, all that we have learned, our past experiences, and all that we might notice, but do not, in the present moment. The unconscious is much wiser than the conscious mind. The idea of being able to understand an infinitely complex world with a conscious mind that can only hold about seven pieces of information at once, is obviously ludicrous.
The notion of conscious and unconscious is central to this model of how we learn. In NLP, something is conscious when it is in present moment awareness, as this sentence is right now. Something is unconscious when it is not in present moment awareness. The background noises that you can hear were probably unconscious until you read this sentence. The memory of your first sight of snow is almost certainly out of conscious awareness. If you have ever helped a young child learn to ride a bicycle, you will be aware of just how unconscious that skill has become in yourself. And the process of turning your last meal into hair and toenails is likely to remain forever unconscious. We live in a culture which believes that we do most of what we do consciously. Yet most of what we do, and what we do best, we do unconsciously.
The traditional view is that learning a skill divides into four stages. First there is unconscious incompetence. Not only do you not know how to do something, but you don't know you don't know. Never having driven a car for example, you have no idea what it is like.
So you start to learn. You very soon discover your limitations. You have some lessons and consciously attend to all the instruments, steer, coordinate the clutch, and watch the road. It demands all your attention, you are not yet competent, and you keep to the back streets. This is the stage of conscious incompetence when you grind the gears, oversteer, and give cyclists heart attacks. Although this stage is uncomfortable (especially for cyclists), it is the stage when you learn the most.
This leads you to the stage of conscious competence. You can drive the car, but it takes all your concentration. You have learned the skill, but have not yet mastered it.
Lastly, and the goal of the endeavour, is unconscious competence. All those little patterns that you learned so painstakingly blend together into one smooth unit of behavior. Then you can listen to the radio, enjoy the scenery and hold a conversation at the same time as driving. Your conscious mind sets the outcome and leaves it to your unconscious mind to carry it out, freeing your attention for other things.
If you practice something for long enough you will reach this fourth stage and form habits. At this point the skill has become unconscious. However, the habits may not be the most effective ones for the task. Our filters may have caused us to miss some important information en route to unconscious competence.
Excerpted from Introducing NLP by Joseph O'Connor, John Seymour. Copyright © 1990 Joseph O'Connor and John Seymour. Excerpted by permission of Red Wheel/Weiser, LLC.
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