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Understanding NLP

The technique was developed in 1972 by John Grinder and Richard Bandler. Fascinated with human excellence, they decided to look at the work of Fritz Perls, the psychotherapist behind gestalt therapy, Virginia Satir, the “mother of family therapy” and Milton Erickson, the first therapist to use hypnosis for medical purposes.

While NLP is a vast and complex technique, the fundamental ideas behind the subject can be broken down into three parts:

    Subjectivity – At the heart of NLP lies the understanding that each one of us has a unique                                 perspective of the world we live in.

    Maps –           The belief that our own worlds are made up of complex territories and                                          boundaries that are drawn out for us as we grow.

    Language –     It is understood that we have the power to shift and redraw these boundaries                                using our ‘control systems’. The most influential control system we hold is                                      language.

NLP and subjectivity

To put it simply, imagine the following situation: two people have been made redundant. Due to a lack of work available in either of their current locations, both have been forced to move out of the area for new opportunities.

Person A is initially upset by the unexpected loss, but has become accustomed to the idea. They make the most of the free time by searching for a new home and going out to meet a new social circle. The new job is less money, but the area is cheaper so there is money leftover for luxuries. After thinking about the situation, person A has managed to turn the potential confidence blow and source of anxiety into a positive, new experience.

Person B however, is not doing well. The redundancy was a blow to their self-esteem and feels like the new, lower grade job is a sign of failure. This loss of self-confidence and self-worth has caused distraction and soon enough it is time to make the big move. Only person B was dwelling on the sadness for too long and was forced to make a quick decision on a home much smaller than originally planned. Person B feels lonely and angry at the situation he has been put in.

The moral of this story is that, regardless of what happens to a person during his or her life, it is the way they look at the situation that affects the experience. But is it really that easy, to change your perspective on the world? What determines how we see our lives?

NLP maps

NLP maps (also known as models) are the next component behind the technique. The idea is that each of us have a unique map marking out the journey of our lives.

NLP practitioners use the idea of a map to illustrate how we can only view our own representations of the world, not the world itself. Think of it as though we are all wearing goggles that only show certain parts of the world. Even if two people are standing side by side, witnessing the same event, both will come out with a different experience. Whether we are aware of it or not, every event in our lives impacts our future in some way. This may be our beliefs, behaviours or the decisions we make, but each one will make a mark on our future.

This understanding is fundamental to NLP. A practitioner will use NLP to understand how and why clients back themselves into a corner or "get stuck in a rut". Some may feel restricted, as though they lack the skill or worth to reach their goals. While this may not be their choice, it may be a result of something that happened in the past. A harsh rejection, a personal loss or perhaps public embarrassment may have left a mark on their map, preventing them from pushing forward in the future.

Language and NLP

The final theory behind NLP coaching is that it is down to the person to push the boundaries of our maps by ‘reprogramming our internal control systems’. Language gives us the ability to formulate, express and communicate our thoughts. It structures our world and the meaning and associations of words not only describe, but shape the world around us.

By altering their use of language, a person can expand the limits of their maps and take the first steps to starting the changes they want to make. For example, think of the word ‘failure’ – what does this mean to you?

To some, the word may represent disappointment, sadness and the sinking sensation in the stomach. These associations may alter how they will react to a failure - or risk of failure - in the future. However, others may associate the word with new beginnings, a fresh start and another life experience.

By altering the way different words and associations shape a person’s network of vocabularies, they can begin to change the way they think and their perception of the world.