What The Heck is NLP? – Guest Post


Dean here… I spoke to a guy called Tim Brownson a couple of months ago, I told him of my HUGE fear of public speaking, and said: “Tim, if you can help me with this, I will let you guest post on my blog, and I will name my first born child Tim (let’s hope it is not a girl).

The fact that you are reading this post, should be a clue that I went on stage, and rocked the house.

So without further a do, I bring to you, Tim Brownson, and the weird and wonderful world of NLP:

get drunk

When I tell people I’m an NLP (Neuro Linguistic Programming) Master Practitioner I usually get one of two responses. It’s either the thousand yard stare usually reserved for when a fat guy plops down in the seat next to them on a long haul flight and mutters something about hoping his snoring, body odor and anger management issues aren’t going to be a problem.

Or it’s a look of sheer terror as though I have just announced I am Lucifer Prince of Darkness and one glance into my eyes will render their soul unto me in perpetuity. Which of course is absolutely ridiculous, because soul stealing is severely frowned upon in NLP circles and I could get into a lot of trouble with my peers for partaking.

NLP suffers because it’s a huge umbrella term that consists of many different techniques and processes. Some, like the fast phobia cures and the removal of fears can seem weird to people that don’t understand how they work.

Imagine you’ve been in therapy for years with issues around intense fears and I bound into the room and declare “Worry not kind sir/lady, I can have you hugging snakes and kissing spiders within the hour. Once that is, I’ve remembered where I put my magic wand, black cloak and top hat”

You’re likely to be suspicious at best, and at worst, downright terrified of the loon stood grinning in front of you. And quite honestly I wouldn’t blame you.

I have received nervous laughs and the strange sideways look many times after making bold claims of what I could achieve. I’ve even had the ‘crying with laughter as somebody rolls around on the floor pointing at me whilst I shuffle away trying to look cool, calm and collected as a crowd forms to check out the hilarity’, response.

However, if I can get past the initial stage of disbelief and actually explain what I do and more importantly how and why it works, people are usually a lot more amenable and open to discussion.

NLP was co-developed by Richard Bandler and John Grinder in the mid 70’s when the two met at Santa Cruz University in California. Grinder was an assistant professor in linguistics and Bandler was studying for his Masters in computer science. I must stress at this point a lot of the early days of NLP are hazy at best and it’s difficult to pin down exactly what was going on, although I’m not even sure that matters at this stage in its evolution.

However, what isn’t in dispute is that Bandler and Grinder modeled the leading players of the time in their various therapeutic fields. World renowned gestalt therapist Fritz Perls, brilliant family therapist Virginia Satir and world leading psychotherapist and hypnotherapist, Milton H Erickson.

Bandler and Grinder spent thousands of hours studying and working closely with these three in an attempt to unpick exactly what it was that made them great. They then set off to show that their success could be modeled and thus replicated. Whether they reached those heights is debatable (especially with Satir and Erickson), but they got very, very close and achieved some remarkable results.

In the early days NLP got pilloried and accused of everything from witchcraft to being a pseudo-religion. Even as recently as ten years ago you’d have been more likely to bump into a computer programmer that was taking the Y2K holiday period off work, than found a psychiatrist admitting he or she used NLP.

And therein lies some of the problems with NLP. A reluctance and/or fear of change by the establishment and an unwillingness to accept that there may be better ideas out there which to this day still plagues the therapeutic and mental health fields.

Not that I’m suggesting NLP can cure everything, of course it can’t. But it’s brilliant at achieving certain things such as removal of fears and phobias very quickly and very effectively. Conditions that traditional counseling and therapy had previously taken months and in some cases years to achieve (or not), can now be eased or even removed entirely in one session.

I once had a lady come to me who had been in Counseling for 20 years. I was tempted to ask her when she realized it wasn’t working? Maybe when her therapist invited her round to the opening of the new wing of his house she’d so kindly paid for.

We made more progress in 6 sessions than she had in the last 6 years. That’s not because I’m some weird concoction of magician, soothsayer and alchemist, but because I took a different approach. I also explained what I was doing and why I was doing it so she could move into a position of understanding the process and see why it would help.

As well as really cool stuff that can invoke rapid change like anchoring, submodalities, swish pattern, core transformation work etc (I encourage you to check them out because time permits me from explaining them all here) NLP uses other more mundane, but nonetheless powerful stuff, round the use of language.

This is probably the most valuable part of NLP to me because I can use it on a daily basis with clients and not have to worry about having garlic thrown at me and crosses waved in my face. You may find it a tad suspicious that a man who butchers the English language with the kind of gay abandon you’d normally associate with a bunch of very drunk lemmings off on a hang gliding expedition, studies the English language, but it’s true.

The starting point for NLP was the rather dry but nevertheless brilliant book ‘The Structure of Magic Vol 1’ by Bandler and Grinder. In it Bandler and Grinder introduced the world to the Meta Model of language.

The Meta Model requires total specificity so in a client session I am always aware of what he or she means, especially early on in the process. In other words somebody may comment after this post

“The guys a complete idiot and he’s full of it”

The natural presumption would be the commenter means the author of the post (me) is a complete idiot and arrogant too. But it’s possible (although highly unlikely in this rather weak example) the person could have been talking about Richard Bandler. Also there is no definition of what “full of it’ actually means, it’s completely subjective.

Yes we probably know what that person meant, but we can’t be absolutely sure without further questioning. 95% of the time in real life it’s ok (and probably necessary to avoid insanity) to presume, but sometimes we jump to the wrong conclusions and in coaching that can be a crucial error.

Note: If a loved one trains in NLP. Plan to be on vacation without them when they are taught the Meta Model. Otherwise somewhere around the fifteenth time they ask “What do you mean when you say ‘Everybody knows that?’ Who is ‘everybody’ and what is ‘that’?” you’ll be on your hands and knees sobbing like a baby and cursing the day you were born.

The flip side of the Meta Model is the Milton Model. This was named after the greatest hypnotherapist that ever lived, Milton H Erickson. Another name for the Milton Model is artfully vague language and it’s a close relative of cold reading so beloved by wannabe psychics. It’s also a skill adopted by people that write horoscopes.

Erickson developed artfully vague language as a tool for hypnosis. The direct form of hypnosis that most people think of e.g. “You are under my spell, now stop smoking you damn fool idiot. Oh and give me you’re your money and the title to your house on the way out of my office” isn’t very effective for most people.

To make change at an unconscious level you have to get past the interfering conscious mind first. Artfully vague language allows you to do this by talking abstractly and in metaphor. It allows the unconscious to fill in the gaps created by the hypnotherapist so the story makes sense to them and their circumstances.

It is also beloved of politicians that want to talk for hours on end without actually saying anything. They will often leave huge gaps knowing that the listener will fill them in with what’s relevant to them.

That’s why two people can come away from listening to the same speech with wildly different opinions about what was said and/or meant. Both believe firmly they were right and even if you showed them the speech again would see the bits they wanted to see that supported their currently held belief.

That latter part involves something called deletion, distortion and generalization, which we all do, but often fail to realize and is covered in great detail by good NLP instructors.

I hope I have given you enough a taster to read up a bit more on NLP with an open-mind. I haven’t even touched on whole areas like the incredibly powerful and useful reframing (also used by politicians, although they call it spinning), anchoring, rapid rapport building, submodalities and model operators of necessity (more language stuff).

If you have any questions please feel free to ask away in the comments and I’ll do my best to answer. It maybe a tad tricky and time consuming to describe entire processes though, so please bear that in mind.

  • http://wahmbizbuilder.com Melinda

    Very well said Tim.

    I love your comment on taking a vacation when a loved one is studying Meta Model. My DH’s favourite saying around then was “Go away and stop analysing me!” LOL!

    That’s actually probably the best and simplest definition of the Meta Model that I’ve heard. Well said.

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  • Chris B

    Nice article.

    I’ve been wanting to get into NLP for years.

    Tim, if you’re reading this, what book or course would recommend to get started on?


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  • http://advancedsalesconnection.com Jon Selin

    A great NLP trainer for those in the Seattle area is Todd Fahlman – the link here is for his site. – Jon

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  • http://www.thediscomfortzone.com Tim Brownson

    Chris that really depends massively on what elements of NLP appeal to you most.

    As for courses I’d sign up for a Practitioner course run by an accredited company. If you want to e-mail me and tell me where you are I can point you in the right direction.

    tim at adaringadventure dot com

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  • Dare

    Nice informative article Tim. Just you need to get better at your writing. It reminds me of the usual stuff I learn at school…no storytelling, no humor, not some “wow” information or any other information that causes some other emotion than…reading..reading…reading…you get what I mean? :)

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  • http://deanhunt.com Dean Hunt

    Dare – Do you ever have anything positive to say?

    Honestly, I delete half of your comments these days.

    Tim has a great writing style imo, and his info is life-changing.

    I dont know if you have a chip on your shoulder, or perhaps you are just generally negative?

    Perhaps you can point us towards the content you write that has “storytelling, humor and WOW”?


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  • http://www.thediscomfortzone.com Tim Brownson

    LMAO @ Dave!

    I actually have no idea what you mean, I can’t work out whether you’re being serious or joking. It did make me laugh though, but I’m not sure why.

    Maybe you need to get a bit better at your writing bud if you can’t explain clearly what you mean about something so simple ;-)

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  • Dare

    Yeah I’ve noticed, no I’m not generally negative at all…it’s been that I started to change the way I look at things reading so much about skeptics these days and even I started to act like a skeptic in everything lol. It’s not a negative view it’s a bit of radically critical view lol.

    Tim, have you read “Made to stick?” If not I guess I’ll have to simplify.

    Your title is: “What the heck is NLP?” In your title you talk about:
    - the past/present state of NLP
    - Claims of NLP (relevant to the title)
    - History of NLP
    - How NLP works
    (I’m not sure if I told all of the points you were trying to make but you get the idea.)

    Let’s compare it to Wikipedia:

    Do you see how up to “history and founding” the first paragraph all of the stuff there is an “Overview of NLP” i.e. content highly relevant to the lead called “Overview of NLP.”

    What you have done here is bury the lead…and really confused me while I read this. By the way, the information is great…I’ve read some stuff about NLP but have never heard some of things you just said in the post.

    By bury the lead I mean you talked about so many things not really relevant to your title (to give the reader a general idea of what NLP is.)

    My critical reaction was that you should have probably separated the content into organized sub-titles where you would talk about the criticism, your experience, history…because this confused me a lot (I don’t know about the other people.) So it’s a just a friendly suggestion.

    Dean, sorry for not noticing that your “Internet marketing is FAKE” post is April Fools joke I actually got sucked in multiple times during that day lol

    I don’t know about some of the other comments I left on your blog you deleted but I was just trying to point you and start some discussion.

    For example, this one:

    It’s impossible that lady have written only 30 mins per day…ok maybe at the beginning yes but over time she surely increased it. So your advice is good and bad. Going little is good for the first month or so but then you have to incrementally increase…otherwise the task usually becomes boring.

    I will try in the future the comments I leave to sound like starting a friendly discussion than bitching and leaving an impression of negativity. Regards

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  • http://www.thediscomfortzone.com Tim Brownson

    @ Dare – Firstly, sorry for getting your name wrong first time!

    I have an e-book (never published) called by the same that runs to about 12,000 words. The above is approx 1,500 from memory.

    I tried to give a flavor of NLP by mixing a lot of stuff up. I knew there was no way I could cover all bases in one post.

    I hate the formulaic approach to writing that you talk about and I’ll never write like that. The reason is, I tend to write like I think, a tad unstructured.

    It seems to me more and more people are scanning and writing in that method encourages that. I’d rather have 2,000 subscribers that read, than 25,000 that scan.

    Some people will hate it and that’s cool, they’ll find other sources, but I won’t change to fit other peoples expectations of me and then miss my own.

    You said there was some good information. So take it and run with it. The need to criticize other parts tells me more about you than it does about me.

    I take criticism (feedback) better than almost anybody I know. I have to as a coach. I take what I think is relevant and use it if I can, but I appreciate I can’t please everybody.

    I love it when people tell me I’m wrong on my own blog because it makes me think. I often accept I’m wrong in the comments if somebody had made a valid point I hadn’t considered.

    OTOH when people tell me my writing sucks or the use of language or my layout, I just laugh and move on. It’s purely subjective. There is no right and wrong, just right and wrong for the individual.

    As for humor. Yeh well you see I think there was lots of humor in that post. I don’t take anything too seriously (other than helping people) and I have a particular sense of humor. Some people love it, lots hate it and again that’s cool.

    I’m glad you posted what you did, but I have to be honest and say I’m not sure you told me anything I didn’t know (9rules turned me down because I wouldn’t compromise on my site to fit their idea of what makes a good blog) or really care about. And I don’t mean that in a ‘screw you’ kind of way. More a “yeh well, we’re just different”

    BTW, I don’t think anything in that post was irrelevant to the headline except maybe some of the juvenile humor ;-)

    Next time you comment here, ask yourself this “What is my end game? Am I genuinely trying to add value and open up the debate, or am I just trying to look clever?” Only you know the answer to that, but it did *appear* to me to be the latter in this thread.

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  • http://www.personalgrowthmap.com Haider

    Great article, Tim! (and thanks for hosting it, Dean!)

    Tim, I’d be interested to know what approach you took with Dean to rid him of his public speaking phobia as a demonstration of how NLP works! :D

    And about politicians using vague language, I always ask people what they mean when they say “justice” or “we should help others” because there seems to be a huge gap between intention and practice. We all want justice, but what do we mean by it in terms of policies, or conduct?

    When it comes to the practice, we might end up realizing how we disagree over definitions. What you mean by “justice” could be the exact opposite of what I mean.

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  • Dare

    It seems to me more and more people are scanning and writing in that method encourages that.>>yeah (read Jakob Nielsen if you want more info on that) that’s why I actually suggested to use that approach + it makes things more clear because you’re focusing on content highly relevant to the title (not that this isn’t, 80%+ is). But you told me your writing style and there’s many people that write the same like you so that’s no problem for me ;)

    Man I told you it was a friendly suggestion just I made it more critical. The thing wasn’t 1) to look clever 2) to genuinely contribute like you guys think there are 2 reason for anything ;) just kidding.

    The thing was that after reading halfway through your post I felt confused and combined with my state of “pissed-offness :) ” I told you the problem but not any suggestion (ouch.) But I fixed that in the second comment so it’s okay, right? :)

    I like your humor btw. THAT’s what I was talking about when I suggested to add some stories, humor, make it more interesting ;)

    About the relevance, you seem not to get what I mean by that. Yeah, all the stuff is related to NLP but to the title…however, considering that you decided your writing style to be “free flow” that’s no problem mate, I was talking from a perspective of a structured style (that you said you hate.)

    So now looking from unstructured point of view (lol) your writing is kind of cool ;)

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  • http://www.thediscomfortzone.com Tim Brownson

    @ Haider – Yikes! I’m trying to remember and I’m not sure I can exactly but here’s a generic approach that I’ll adapt according to the client and obviously it’s not all NLP.

    1. Understanding the breathing controls everything and what the correct method is ie making the exhale at least 50% longer than the inhale.

    2. Visualization prior to the event (content free)

    3. Submodalities – Mapping over positive experience to negative one.

    4. Swish pattern – Using submodalities to ensure old negative cue image is replaced by positive cue image.

    5. Anchoring positive state.

    Rinse and repeat.

    And btw, I fully agree what you said about the interpretation of words.

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  • http://greatestreviews.net/ Agent 001

    I have heard of NPL. I even tried it out. I used a software. I usually didn’t like to eat vegetables first but now I do not hesitate much.

    NPL can do miracles. It is brain programing/suggestions.

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  • http://www.personalgrowthmap.com Haider

    Tim, thanks for the reply.

    I wanted to know how you used each technique in relation to public speaking, but I imagine it’ll be very different for each person you use the techniques with.

    The danger with NLP is considering the exercises too trivial to do! I’ve fallen in this trap several times (except for visualization, which I started doing before learning about NLP).

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