What is NLP? You may already know that these letters stand for Neuro-Linguistic Programming. Neuro means nervous system and in particular, our brain. Programming – means changing the way we think. And Linguistic means – doing it with language.
More and more I think about NLP as simply learning. This was probably the biggest take away from the Master NLP Practitioner course with Dr. Richard Bandler I attended this summer. As he said during one of the talks (calling them lectures just doesn’t sound right, since they are so much fun), “This blob of gray matter between your two ears has a special function. It is called learning.”
And you may remember learning as something you did when you were younger. At first you looked at letters and saw them as pictures – a collection of symbols with no particular meaning. Then you started learning the alphabet and soon you would see the same letters differently. You were able to attach meaning to words, and connect words to images in your mind. Your brain changed the way it represented those symbols and started doing it in a new way.
Maybe at some point you were afraid of the dark. You would lay in your bed and your mind would fill the room with monsters. They were in the closet, under the bed, behind the curtains. And then maybe something changed in your mind and you all of a sudden realized that at least when you were in your room it was safe to be alone in the dark. In fact it is sometimes even safer than in the light, because it is easier to hide. Your brain changed the way it represented your experience with darkness and your feelings changed as well.
There was time when you believed your parents were the most powerful people in the world. Then you started seeing that it wasn’t so. How your brain represented your parents changed.
You can also think of many beliefs that you had as a child and now no longer believe. As your beliefs changed so did your emotions. Things that excited you as a child may no longer seem that appealing. I had my Master Practitioner training in Orlando and could see many excited kids who were dragged along by their exhausted parents. Noise, crowd, ice-cream and attractions lost their glamor, while an afternoon nap and a quiet evening in a comfy chair sounded pretty good to those adults.
Every time your learned a new behavior, acquired a new belief or let go of an old one, your brain changed the way it represented your reality. Dr. Richard Bandler was first to realize that we can study those internal representations by listening to what people are saying, paying attention to what they are doing and asking them specific questions. Then we can change them using precise language patterns. It is called thinking on purpose.
When I attended the Master Practitioner training, there was a girl who was afraid of the dark. As Dr. Bandler found out by asking her questions and observing what she was saying and doing, every time she was in a dark place alone, she would see in her mind a big picture of a grizzly ghost zooming on her. Big, scary picture. Frankly, if I formed giant images of grizzly ghosts zooming toward me in my mind, I would be scared too. In about 20 minutes, using humorous stories and metaphors, as well as a simple NLP technique called the swish pattern, he removed this fear so efficiently that the girl was able to enter a dark closet in the room and in a few minutes emerge from behind the closed doors with a big happy grin. Her mind did the same work it did for you when you stopped being afraid of the dark as a kid. It changed how it represented the experience. As a result the experience changed and was no longer terrifying.
To me it sounds pretty cool. And I agree with Dr. Richard Bandler that it is not only learning, it is evolving. Never before in human history had we a tool that allows us to change how our brain represents our reality. Never before we had a tool that allows us to go through a learning process so fast and with such astonishing results. Now we have a choice – we can either allow learning to happen to us by accident and be a product of our parents, our educational system and many accidental experiences we encounter even before we have capacity to analyze them, or we can start getting smarter and start thinking and learning on purpose. To me this is a very exciting perspective. Knowing how my speech and my life changed when I started learning and thinking on purpose using NLP tools and Dr. Bandler’s wisdom, I can only imagine how far we can go if we really start doing this. Not just when we have a problem, but every day and in all situations.
After all, there is no reason why learning should stop when we become adults, isn’t it? And learning to change thinking patterns that do not serve us and do not help us achieve our goal, makes lot of sense, doesn’t it?