What is neurolinguistic programming?
Also known as NLP, neurolinguistic programming is an approach that tries to tie together ideas about human development, psychotherapy and communications systems to explain human behaviour. At its simplest, NLP describes language acquisition and usage as a neurological process. As this has a physiological and psychological effect on the brain so that humans behaviours can be ascribed to their use of language. At its heart is the idea that neurolinguistic programming means behaviours are learned – or modelled, according to the theory's proponents. Another key factor is to do with the way a subjective conscious experience is reinforced in our heads. In other words, as well as gaining experience from our senses, we also 'rehearse' the experience of phenomena in our minds which can often come in the form of thinking in a language system. This, according to NLP, means we programme our behaviour with language without ever really realising it.
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How does neurolinguistic programming work?
To explain how neurolinguistic programming (NLP) works you would first have to say that there are many ways of interpreting it. However, a good way to think of it is like hypnosis
. During an NLP treatment, for example, a therapist may encourage the person they are working with to relax or even get into a trance-like state after having first established a rapport with them. The layers of beliefs and perceptions that may have been reinforced in the brain by patterns of behaviour over years and years can then be assessed to effect positive changes. A crucial part of NLP's popularity is that no specific events or personal history need to be gone into – unlike psychotherapy – which means privacy between the therapist and the patient can be maintained.
What is the history of neurolinguistic programming?
Richard Bandler, a self-help
author, and John Grinder, a linguist, were responsible for coming up with the theory of neurolinguistic programming in the 1970s. Based in California, the pair claim to have built on the theories of noted thinkers, especially Noam Chomsky's hypothesis of transformational grammar, an idea that relies on a theory of natural language – something that is key to NLP. Various workshops and books were produced by the pair including many that were aimed at general readers rather than academics as their earliest publications had been. Other thinkers, mainly from the United States, had influences of Bandler and Grinder, notably Virginia Satir, an author and psychotherapist, and Milton Erickson, a renowned specialist in medical hypnosis.
What are some of the applications of neurolinguistic programming?
Despite some criticisms of neurolinguistic programming being nothing more than an untested pseudoscience, it has been widely used in several fields. For example, some practitioners have attempted to use it as an alternative therapy for conditions such as HIV/AIDS and Parkinson's disease. It has also been tried as a treatment pathway for cancer. Some practitioners have also used it in the psychotherapeutic professions. People with certain mental conditions and learning difficulties, including dyslexia among others, may have undergone an NLP treatment or two. However, the scientific basis for the success of such alternative medicine
applications is widely contested. More widely, NLP has gained ground in teaching, coaching
, management training and negotiation techniques. It is in sports coaching and sales technique methodologies that NLP tends to be most widely applied nowadays.
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Is neurolinguistic programming like a religion?
Some people – mostly, although not exclusively, critics of NLP - have referred to it as a quasi-religion. This is principally to do with the way neurolinguistic programming gained the support of much of the New Age community in California in the 1970s. Some equate the sorts of human transformations that it can bring with similar experiences which might come following spiritual enlightenment
. Indeed, some have gone on to compare NLP to cults and secretive quasi-religions, such as Scientology, for example. Nevertheless, it is also fair to say that NLP has no deep spirituality
underpinning it. People who attend NLP training may get a sense of rebirth or cleansing from workshops and courses they go to but this is not to say it is anything like a religion
in its own right.
What are some neurolinguistic programming exercises?
People who want to programme themselves with NLP have a number of options open to them. Various techniques and methods form part of the approach. For example, there are so-called meta-programmes that try to focus an individual's attention on the words they say in conversation, their body language and so on. Particular attention is given to what people do and say habitually to break from certain mindsets. One such technique that is designed to help this way is a programming exercise is called future pacing. In it, a person images doing and saying something in the future and observing one's own body language. If it changes, then NLP has helped. Another programming exercise in NLP is called metaphor expression. By using metaphors to express ourselves, the idea is to communicate on all levels, including the unconscious mind to help overcome simplistic assumptions.
Which are the NLP reframing techniques?
To answer what a neurolinguistic programming reframing technique is, it is first important to note that, like anchoring and future pacing, reframing is an NLP programming exercise. This one means changing your perception about something, such as an event, purposefully. By 'reframing' it in this way, the idea is that you will feel differently about it. In other words, the meaning of it will alter just like the meaning of a word can subtly vary with context. That said, reframing is not unique to NLP and is widely used by therapists offering different services. One technique for reframing is called emotional accounting whereby you transform negative thoughts into more positive ones. You can also try cognitive reframing which means thinking more positively about events. Reframing an event you thought was a disaster might entail, for example, picking out one or two things that were a success
and focussing on those.
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What does neurolinguistic programming anchoring mean?
Another NLP exercise is called anchoring whereby a unique stimulus is introduced in certain emotive states. This is so that new associations are made with the aforementioned emotions to break down the habituated associations that went with them before. Let's say, for example, that being placed in positions of leadership
make you feel vulnerable. What NLP might suggest is to think of something funny or to touch something distinctive at times of such sensations. This way, a new association will be created over time, rather like the way dogs can be trained to behave in certain ways to new stimuli like commands or ringing bells. When you feel an unwanted emotive state coming on from a particular situation, you simply expose yourself to the anchor and your mind will do the rest. If someone touches something for luck, then it is likely they are deriving a similar mental association from that act even if it has no bearing on the chances of an outcome changing.
What is the difference between neurolinguistic programming and natural language processing?
The answer to the question of how neurolinguistic programming and natural language processing is clear cut. NLP is an approach that aims to alter the way you think and feel about various mental and emotive states you might get into. As such, it is like any other therapeutic method that attempts to deal with mental health
disorders or behavioural problems and to achieve some level of enlightenment into them. On the other hand, natural language processing is a branch of computer science. In natural language processing software, developers try to convert human linguistics into something that computers can understand. This might be converting speech into text or the ability to 'read' text in the sense of understanding it with all of the subtexts that might be present. In short, it is a branch of science and engineering that attempts to replicate human language in its vocal and written forms.
Does neurolinguistic programming work?
The question of whether NLP truly works is a vexed one. This is because many people take the view that it has very little value in helping to reshape people's minds or to provide them with a toolkit that they can use to alter their behaviours and mental states. However, adherents of NLP advocate that it often works and, indeed, frequently provides excellent results. Some scientific studies suggest that it does have some value, especially when dealing with specific low-level psychological symptoms. However, such studies are thin on the ground and much less established than ones into alternative methodologies, such as CBT cognitive behavioural therapy
, for example. One British review of ten studies into NLP found it wasn't reliable while a 2014 report in Canada found there was no proven clinical evidence to support its use.
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Is neurolinguistic programming a pseudoscience?
For some academics, NLP is a pseudoscience and that is an end to the matter. However, the true answer is probably a little more subtle than that. This is because proponents of NLP rarely make the claim that it is an exact science. It may use some scientific terminology here and there which causes confusion but it is often better to regard it as an approach to thinking about the way linguistics can programme our minds and, therefore, some of our emotive states. If someone were to have a bad habit they wanted to stop and used some of the techniques involved in NLP, then there might not be a truly scientific basis for explaining the cause and the effect. What supporters of NLP would say is that this does not matter – the results speak for themselves.
Is there any criticism of neurolinguistic programming?
There is plenty of criticism of neurolinguistic programming to go along with the widespread support it also enjoys. Many of those who are critical of it point out that its earliest exponents tended to use metaphorical concepts of the brain and its functions to explain what would go on at a neurological level rather than in concrete terms. Some also say there are fundamental errors in the way NLP has been conceived, including inconsistencies that could have been ironed out from the start, let alone with the progress that has been made in neural science in the last 50 years. What's more, some people do not like the fact that practitioners of NLP have few professional bodies they belong to or consistency with regards to treatments.
How do you do NLP on yourself?
Questioning yourself and being more reflective is a vital part of making NLP work for you. You have already read about anchoring, reframing and future pacing. All of these can be done by yourself, especially with a little guidance at the outset. Another helpful technique that many people try on themselves is called swishing. When you are about to do something habitual that you'd prefer not to, you should 'swish' away from it rather than telling yourself 'no'. This might mean thinking about a positive outcome of not doing the thing you were going to rather than being negative about stopping. Another NLP method you can try is called visual-kinesthetic dissociation, or VKD. With VKD, you try to remove the negative thoughts and feelings you might have with something from the past. This way you can effectively reframe past perceptions about yourself and events you were involved in.
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Neurolinguistic programming in summary
Like medical hypnosis, NLP has numerous applications but cannot be regarded as an exact science because it deals primarily with people's minds. There are plenty of different reactions that people have from workshops and courses in NLP. Some people find that it changes their life and their perceptions about themselves greatly while others consider it to be nothing more than mumbo jumbo. Unfortunately, the science into NLP is not exactly clear cut with some studies suggesting it can be of use while others effectively say that it is entirely useless. For those people who advocate for NLP, it can seem like a religion or something close to it because a degree of faith is needed in it.
That said, NLP has been shown to help with certain psychological conditions, such as anxiety
disorder. However, there appears to be no consistency with such results. As such, NLP has tended to move from the mainstream into alternative medicine and even further from what those who developed it first had in mind. NLP is now more likely to be referred to in a self-help book that is to do with life coaching, team building or sales. In fact, one area where NLP has been remarkably successful is in the field of marketing. It is, perhaps, for this reason, that it has become so popular around the world despite a lack of evidence to support the claims made about it. In other words, those who espouse the ideas and methods of NLP have been successful in marketing them under the guise of neurolinguistics by utilising the very methods they advocate for.