As an NLP modeler, I have learned to ask “How do people do that?” about nearly everything. Often the most mundane, taken-for-granted behaviors yield the most surprising and intriguing results.
Unresourcefulness, for example. It’s not surprising that people can get unresourceful when they have no clue how to do something, or have failed in the past. Especially if the task or project is important, or has large consequences.
It is surprising that people get unresourceful about skills they know they can do, and have done successfully many times before.
Perhaps you know someone like Mario. When he’s feeling confident, Mario easily approaches and talks with strangers at parties. But when he feels unresourceful, Mario can’t make himself approach anyone. Moreover, he’s convinced that even if he tries, he will fail — despite the evidence of his many past successes.
When Mario is resourceful, he is equally convinced that he does have the ability to approach strangers successfully. Numerous past experiences when he couldn’t approach strangers don’t make him doubt or question his ability.
How can Mario’s brain “know” that he can successfully approach people, and also “know” that he can’t successfully approach people, when it has plenty of examples of both?
This intriguing question got posed by my research buddy Jan (pronounced “yon”) Saeger. It took us down a bunch of dead ends before we finally figured out how people create unresourcefulness and resourcefulness. The answer revealed some very interesting things about how people think.
Unpacking contextual resourcefulness
Rather than simply reading through the rest of this article, I strongly recommend that you do the activities as you read. You will understand the material much better, discover fun things about how your brain works, and get practice doing NLP modeling. (Modeling is one of the best ways to improve your NLP skills.)
1. Find an example from your experience
To find out how contextual resourcefulness works, think of an example from your own experience. Pick an ability you have that:
- when you are resourceful, you do easily, and know you can do…
- …yet during times when you were unresourceful, it seemed like something you couldn’t do.
Got an example? Great, now you’re ready to do some contrastive analysis.
2. Set spatial anchors
The easiest way to contrast two states is often to use anchors. Anchors help you keep the states separate while you switch quickly from one state to another.
Set up 3 spatial anchors: resourceful, unresourceful, and a neutral observer meta-position. You will step from anchor to anchor, so arrange them in a triangle within a step or two of each other. (If you just started using spatial anchors, do yourself a favor and use labeled sticky notes to mark the anchor positions.) Put your Observer anchor close enough to your computer monitor that you can read these instructions.
When you create your anchors, establish Resourceful and Unresourceful in relation to your ability. A person can lack the resources to do one ability (such as driving) while simultaneously having abundant resources for another ability (such as falling asleep).
Also, test to make sure your anchors trigger associated experiences of feeling unresourceful and resourceful.
Now grab a pad so you can take notes. Notes help you track details accurately, so you can focus on what you’re exploring. (Notes will also help when you post your results in the Comments section below.)
3. Check evidence for your ability
Start on your neutral Observer anchor, then step onto your Resourceful anchor. Think of 3 incidents you use of evidence that you have your ability and can use it successfully. Now check your timeline. In your resourceful state, how do you represent those success experiences? What are the submodalities of your representations? Where are they located? How are they positioned in relation to your timeline? How real do they seem?
After you’ve established that, step back onto your Observer anchor as a break state.
Next, step onto your Unresourceful anchor. Once you’re in your unresourceful state, check your timeline for your success experiences. How are they represented? Where are they positioned in relation to your timeline? What are their submodalities? How real do they seem?
If necessary, step back and forth from Unresourceful to Resourceful several times to compare and contrast how you represent your success incidents in each state. Interesting, isn’t it?
Finish by stepping onto your Observer anchor, and writing down your results before you continue to the next step.
4. Check evidence for lack of ability
Next, standing on the Unresourceful anchor, choose 3 incidents you use as evidence that you don’t have the ability or can’t use it successfully. Now check your timeline. In your unresourceful state, how do you represent these experiences? What are the submodalities? How are these experiences positioned in relation to your timeline? How real do they seem?
Once you’ve established that, step back to your Observer anchor as a break state.
Now step onto your Resourceful anchor. In your resourceful state, check your timeline for the 3 incidents that indicate your lack of ability. How do you represent them? How are they positioned in relation to your timeline? What are their submodalities? How real do they seem?
If necessary, step back and forth from Unresourceful to Resourceful to compare and contrast your representations in each state.
Finish by stepping onto your Observer anchor… and writing down your results before you continue.
5. Check your resources
Step onto your Resourceful anchor. Pick 2 resources that your ability relies on. How and where do you represent them? What are their submodalities?
Now step onto your Unresourceful anchor. How and where do you represent those resources? What are their submodalities? Step back to Resourceful to compare… then to Observer when you finish… and write down your results.
Jan and I consistently found that people’s timelines change depending on how resourceful or unresourceful they feel.
Note: How resourceful a person feels may have little or nothing to do with how resourceful they actually are. An unresourceful person who tries an activity they think they can’t do often discovers that in reality, they can do it. It may even prove easy!
Both resourcefulness and unresourcefulness seem real because these states delete or minimize counter-examples.
How people feel resourceful
- Examples of success and examples of resourceful behavior are represented as real and on the timeline.
- Examples of failure and of unresourceful behavior are missing, off the timeline, grayed out, or unreal.
- Resources have submodalities of reality, and are positioned within reach.
In most circumstances, confidence and focus help you perform skills. Deleting examples of failure from your resource state, or making them seem unreal, makes it more likely that you will feel confident and perform effectively. You are less likely to get distracted by doubts, or by wondering whether or not they will succeed. And when you expect to succeed, you probably also expect to do the actions that helped you succeed in the past. These actions contribute to your success.
However, deleting or minimizing counter-examples and failures can also make a person overconfident. It can stop them from taking preventive measures to avoid problems they encountered before. And any problem that disappears or becomes unreal while they are resourceful won’t get worked on in their resourceful state.
How people feel unresourceful
- Examples of failure and of unresourceful behavior are represented as real and on the timeline.
- Examples of success and of resourceful behavior are missing, off the timeline, grayed out, or unreal.
- Resources have submodalities of unreality, and are positioned out of reach.
If your resource experiences were present, real, and within reach at all times, you probably couldn’t maintain an unresourceful state. The incongruity between your unresourceful feelings and beliefs, and your real resources and success experiences, would just seem too ridiculous. I suspect that integrating resourceful and unresourceful anchors works partly for this reason.
Sometimes feeling and acting unresourceful can have good payoffs. By feeling unresourceful about approaching strangers at parties, Mario avoids risk and rejection. The more unresourceful he feels, the more valuable avoiding risk seems.
Yet when he feels resourceful, Mario enjoys risks. And he doesn’t mind rejection, because it helps him focus on people who want to interact with him. The payoff of unresourceful behavior is only a payoff from within the unresourceful context. However, even that limited payoff is enough to keep the behavior active.
For Mario’s friend Veronica, unresourcefulness provides a way to get others to take care of her. It also keeps her from taking actions that might have significant negative consequences. And since Veronica has trouble saying no to requests, she can avoid unwanted activities by getting too unresourceful to do them. Any intervention to deal with her unresourcefulness will need to find her better ways to get these benefits.
Some people only have realistic representations of their problems when they feel unresourceful. I used to do that. When I was most resourceful, I didn’t work on my problems because they didn’t seem significant. When they seemed real and significant, I lacked the resources to deal with them effectively. However, having any realistic representation of my problems was much more useful than not having a representation. Unresourcefulness thus provided much-needed resources that I eventually figured out how to utilize.
Implications of contextual timelines
A lot of NLP is about literally getting resources into contexts where the client didn’t have them before. Once you know about resourceful and unresourceful time representations, you can check how clients represent resources when they are in state.
When a client is having trouble accessing a resource, it may be literally out of reach, unreal, or (especially in extreme states) deleted. Spatial anchors and meta-position can help such clients work on an unresourceful state from outside the state, where they have the needed resources to do the work. (I think a lot of NLP meta-position techniques are so effective because they bypass contextualized inactivation of resources.)
You can also have a client copy resources from a resourceful state to add to their unresourceful state. I always have the client duplicate resources rather than simply move them in order to avoid having the client think, even subconsciously, that they might have removed the resource from its original state in order to add it to their unresourceful state.
Resourceful and unresourceful timelines are just one example of how the brain uses contextualized time representations to categorize experiences and build robust states and abilities. I’ll dig deeper into this fascinating subject in future posts.