The myth of fast NLP mastery

Updated 9 March 2010, version 1.1

In “NLP and the myth of the quick fix,” I discussed how promoting NLP as an instant cure-all causes problems for NLPers an our customers.

Unfortunately, NLP’s “quick fix” mentality also extends to NLP training.

Instant NLP mastery!

NLP includes advanced technology for quickly transferring skills. However, while training can expose students to skills and techniques, mastering skills takes practice. And practice takes time.

NLP’s content has expanded enormously since the early 1970s. But NLP trainings are still short, especially compared to training in disciplines like therapy and psychiatry. And recent years, most NLP trainings have gotten even shorter!

The expectation of “fast NLP mastery” combined with short, relatively inexpensive trainings has combined to create a business climate in which an NLP training long enough for students to actually master NLP skills would cost far more than most people are willing to spend.

Hype creates unrealistic expectations

Before getting licensed to practice, therapists typically must complete years of school, then do hundreds of hours of work with clients, some under supervision by other professionals. NLPers get no such training to learn to use tools and techniques promoted as far more powerful. What’s wrong with this picture?

Many NLP students start courses with ridiculously inflated ideas of what they can expect to learn and do during and after their training. Some NLP trainers encourage students to believe that they can take a course or two (sometimes just a few days long) and gain “NLP mastery.”

(Think how hard you’d laugh at marketing that claimed “Master the skills of brain surgery when you take our 18-day Master Brain Surgeon training!” Yet this type of claim is so common in the NLP world that NLPers hardly notice.)

As a result of training hype, I’ve met all too many graduates of NLP trainings who were dangerously under-trained, yet overconfident. In fact, I used to be one of them. (Some people might argue I still am…)

“Instant mastery” trainings cost the NLP field

Because of poor-quality trainings and unreasonable expectations about Neuro-Linguistic Programming, the NLP field is rife with:

  • Insecure newbie NLPers smart enough to know they really don’t have the skills they took classes to get. Many are afraid to apply what little they know. Far too many have no idea how to gain the skills they thought their training would give them.
  • Arrogant newbie NLPers blind to the limitations of their skills and knowledge. Some of these newbies start practices, fumble a bit, and eventually turn into good practitioners. Others disappoint clients by giving them poor results, or even harm clients.
  • “Professional” NLPers who don’t do followup with clients or trainees to make sure their interventions and trainings actually worked. NLP is all about calibration, feedback, and course-correction… but all too many of us NLPers don’t apply that standard to the long-term outcomes of our own work! (I feel somewhat embarrassed by my own track record in this regard.)

What you can do

Frankly, I don’t know how to fix the problems with NLP trainings, although I’ll discuss some ideas in future posts.

In the meantime, what can you do about the problems I outlined?

As an NLP student:

  • Expect to get what you pay and work for. If you want a few NLP skills, a short training might suffice. If you want to master NLP and do NLP professionally, take lengthy NLP trainings from first-rate trainers, and attend every practice session you can.
  • Expect NLP to work differently outside the classroom. Your trainers picked demo subjects and issues that would be easy to succeed with. Real life isn’t like that! Outside the classroom, there are a lot more complex issues, mixed motivations, people who are unmotivated or difficult to work with, and risk. (Jørgen Rasmussen’s excellent book Provocative Hypnosis explores strategies for working with real-world “difficult” clients.)
  • Do lots and lots of real-world application and practice. Start with calibration skills. Then practice simple, harmless techniques, such as anchoring good feelings, or using embedded commands to give people empowering suggestions. As your skills improve, work your way up.
  • Protect the safety of the people you work with. Start with simple techniques applied to small issues whose outcomes don’t matter. This lets you gain skills and help people without significant risk to them. Notice your results, especially ecology issues, and make corrections to what you do. As your skills improve, work your way up to bigger issues and more complex interventions.
  • Plan on spending hundreds to thousands of hours improving your skills before you achieve any kind of mastery. Some kind of daily practice will help, as will joining local practice groups. (Google NLP practice group to find a group near you. Somnambulistic Sleepwalkers is a member-run group that hosts free or low-cost NLP and hypnosis practice sessions in various cities worldwide.)

As a NLP practitioner:

Underestimate your skills and mastery. You probably got trained to overestimate your skills, so compensate.

  • Base your skills evaluation on your actual results, not wishful thinking. Include not-so-good outcomes and failures.
  • Pay attention to failures and mistakes. They provide useful feedback to help you improve.
  • Do followup with people you work with. Tracking their long-term results will give you useful feedback about what you do that does (and doesn’t) work.
  • Underestimate your results and undersell your skills. If a client thinks it will take 6 sessions to solve problem X, and you do it in 4, they’ll be thrilled — and they’ll get the beneficial outcome. If they think you can solve the problem in only 3 sessions, they might leave before session 4 when they would have gotten results that would have benefited them for a lifetime.

As an NLP trainer:

Help students set realistic expectations of your and other people’s NLP trainings.

  • Sell realism, not hype. Market what your students will actually get in your trainings. (Scoffing a bit at other trainers’ unrealistic offerings might help your students reset their expectations to realistic levels.)
  • Differentiate between learning skills, which students will do in your training, and mastering skills, which students will need to do on their own after your training ends.
  • Tell your students that “NLP mastery” consists of having high-level skills, which requires practice and experience they won’t get in your training.
  • Require your students to practice their skills as part of your training.
  • Encourage your students to practice after training, and provide resources to help them do so.
  • Start thinking about what it would take to shift at least part of the NLP training market from the “instant mastery” paradigm to something more like a college degree in therapy, complete with supervised practice with real clients.

World-renowned NLP trainer Steve Andreas has been saying for years, “What we really need is a 4-year college program for a BA in NLP. In four years, we could turn out Milton Ericksons by the hundreds!”

That kind of real result, not hype and unrealistic expectations, is something the NLP world desperately needs.




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