Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP) has been around for about 30 years now. Developed originally by Richard Bandler and John Grinder, nlp and nlp techniques were quickly picked up by people from many different backgrounds. Initially a model for brief therapy, it has now become the organized study of the human mind, the subjective human mind. NLP is a collection of different approaches to healing and communication, and has helped people around the world to feel that they get more out of life, work, relationships, and themselves.
So, how then does it work? Well, the great thing about NLP is that it deals with the structure of experiences, no the content. One of the underlying beliefs in neuro linguistic programming is the idea that all behaviour has a structure, and that that structure can be found and taught to others. As such, even our problems have a specific structure, as we have to pass through certain steps to actually have them. NLP is about finding that specific structure, finding the very way you construct your problem, and that then becomes the first step in finding the right solution for you.
This is where the specific NLP techniques come in. Anchoring, Submodalities, Language patterns, etc., all these are designed to help you attach what you want to what you used to do. Let’s say you want to quit biting your nails. Firstly, we would find out what let’s you know it is time to bite your nails. Then, we would look at what biting your nails does for you. Once we know all that, it is time to find out other ways of fulfilling your desires, and then we attach that new behaviour to the thing that let you know it is time to bite your nails. That way, every time you want to bite your nails, you are immediately transported to your new outcome…and your desire to get that outcome wins out!
Now, when browsing the web, there is a lot of criticism regarding NLP, mainly saying that it is unscientific. Well, firstly, the word science refers to “the systematic study of the structure and behaviour of the physical and natural world through observation and experiment”. That is the textbook definition of science, and as such, nlp fits that description very nicely. Yet, in our culture and society, I believe that the word “science” has become mixed up with the idea of scientific proof, which is very different from the text book definition above. For scientific proof to occur, the process is as follows:
- Make an observation
- Form a testable, unifying hypothesis to explain these observations
- Deduce predictions from the hypothesis
- Search for confirmation of prediction
NLP is the study of the subjective experience, and does not make specific predictions of what something means. As such, and since it is about what works subjectively, it cannot possibly conform to the standards of scientific proof set out above. Interestingly enough, neither do psychology or psychiatry, string theory, or several other fields we have commonly accepted as “science”. In truth, psychology is not a science as it fails to make falsifyable predictions of anything. Its success hails from the fact that people actually believe it is scientifically rigorous, and the fact that most psychiatrists and psychologist believe this too. Fascinating what delusions the mind is capable of, no?
So, in terms of science, NLP is a descriptive science. Whether we choose to add the value judgment “only” or not, depends on you. I firmly believe that the human mind is not rational, and each one of us is different, and as such think that the only way of studying the mind is through accepting that we are not scientific. Is love scientifically sound? Can desire be rationally explained? NO! In my humble opinion, the mind is best approached in small individual steps. Each person has to find their own way, and that is specifically why NLP is so successful. It aims to help you find your own way, and does not talk about there being a “general” way for everyone.