What makes something NLP?

What do NLP techniques, applications, and models have in common? What makes them NLP?

Not a core theory of how the mind works. NLP doesn’t have one.

Not field of application. NLP gets used for therapy, business, sales, seduction, negotiation, writing, sports, education, personal coaching, and more.

Not origins or developers. Lots of people developed and expanded NLP. Many NLP models (including the first formal NLP pattern, the Meta-Model) got imported into NLP from other disciplines, or modeled from experts in other fields.

Given that, what makes a model or technique an NLP model or technique?

  1. NLP’s techniques, applications, and models were all acquired, developed, or refined using modeling . Without modeling, NLP simply wouldn’t exist.
  2. NLP models and techniques are prescriptive, and tell you what to do. Contrast with mainstream psychology, which uses mainly descriptive models and labels (ego, inner child, bipolar disorder) that don’t tell you what to do.
  3. NLP’s models and processes are designed to get outcomes. No armchair theorizing here! We NLPers don’t much care how something works, as long as it does work.
  4. Outcomes are specific, stated in positive terms, and sensory-based. In NLP jargon, they meet the NLP well-formedness conditions. A model like eye accessing cues doesn’t “tell you what someone is thinking,” a goal too vague to be useful or achievable. Instead, it gives you precise information about a specific aspect of people’s internal processing: the dominant sensory modalities of their internal representations.
  5. NLP models are (mostly) sensory-based, not abstract or theoretical. A few NLP developers (including Jan “yon” Saeger and myself) seek to develop more unified models of how people work. These general models are more abstract, more theoretical, and a lot harder to test. But they’re still NLP models because sensory-based evidence always trumps our theories!
  6. NLP’s models, applications, and processes are testable. You can easily try an NLP process or model and learn for yourself whether it works, and how well. (I find it interesting that people who use unsubstantiated, unprovable descriptive models such as the id and superego object to NLP on the grounds that it is “unscientific.”)
  7. NLP practitioners get trained experientially. We learn by doing, not reading, memorizing, or theorizing.
  8. NLP operates as an ongoing process of sensory-based feedback and course-correction. If something doesn’t work, as judged by sensory cues, you respond immediately and do something else. That makes NLP “techniques” dynamic and interactive rather than static formulas.

The result? Techniques and models that NLPers import from other fields “act like NLP” once we adapt them. We apply our NLP understandings to them, and use them like we use other NLP techniques. If their content is good, they work. If not, we quickly notice and switch to something that does.



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