What is NLP?

What is NLP?

Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) is about noticing patterns. So, in NLP, we are not so much interested in content as in process – not so much in what happens, but how it happens.

Often this shift to focusing on process rather than content, is an interesting transition for us to make. The first step is to pay attention to the process of your interaction with others — listen to the form, watch the form, feel the form, and not get involved in the content.

NLP Modalities

The modalities of NLP are one way of categorizing exactly what a person does inside their head as they think. They are a way or a model for what a person does in their head as they make up an Internal Representation (I/R). In the process of creating Neuro Linguistic Programming, Bandler and Grinder discovered that by looking at someone’s eyes, you could tell HOW they think. Not what they think, but HOW they think. You can tell what they’re doing inside.

Based on observations by Bandler and Grinder, when people look up, they’re visualizing. When they look horizontally to the left and right, they’re either remembering or constructing sounds. When they look downward and to our left, they’re accessing their feelings. And when they look downward and to our right, they’re talking to themselves (Auditory Digital). Many left-handed people and some ambidextrous people will have eye movements that are reversed.

NLP began as a model of how we communicate to ourselves and others which was developed by Richard Bandler and John Grinder in 1975. This model explains how we process the information that comes into us from the outside. The belief is that “The map is not the territory.” And so the internal representations that we make about an outside event are not necessarily the event itself.

Typically, what happens is that there is an external event and we run that event through our internal processing. We make an Internal Representation (I/R) of that event. That I/R of the event combines with a physiology and creates a state. “State” refers to the internal emotional state of the individual — a happy state, a sad state, a motivated state, and so on.

Our I/R includes our internal pictures, sounds and dialogue, and our feelings (for example, whether we feel motivated, challenged, pleased, excited, and so on). A given state is the result of the combination of an internal representation and a physiology. So what happens is that an event comes in through our sensory input channels which are: visual, auditory, kinesthetic, olfactatory, gustatory.

The external event comes in through our sensory input channels and it is filtered — we process the event. As we process the event, we delete, distort, and generalize the information that comes in, according to a number of elements that filter our perception.

So, one question is, when two people have the same stimulus, why don’t they have the same response?

The answer is, because we delete, distort, and generalize the information from the outside.

We delete, distort and generalize the information that comes in from our senses based on one of five filters. The filters are, Meta Programs, belief systems, values, decisions, and memories.

Meta Programs

The first of these NLP filters is Meta Programs. Knowing someone’s Meta Programs can actually help you clearly and closely predict people’s states, and therefore predict their actions. One important point about Meta Programs: they are not good or bad, they are just the way someone handles information.


The next filter is values. Values are essentially an evaluation filter. They are how we decide whether our actions are good or bad, or right or wrong. And they are how we decide about how we feel about our actions. Values are arranged in a hierarchy with the most important one typically being at the top and lesser ones below that. We all have different models of world (an internal model about the world), and our values are the result of our model of the world. When we communicate with ourselves or someone else, if our model of the world conflicts with our values or their values, then there’s going to be a conflict.

Values are what people typically move toward or away from (see Meta Programs). They are our attractions or repulsion’s in life. They are essentially a deep, unconscious belief system about what’s important and what’s good or bad to us. Values change with context too. That is, you probably have certain values about what you want in a relationship and what you want in business. Your values about what you want in one and in the other may be quite different. And actually, if they’re not, it’s possible that you may have trouble with both. Since values are context related, they may also be state related, although values are definitely less related to state than are beliefs


The next filter is beliefs. Beliefs are generalizations about how the world is. One of the important elements in modeling is to find a person’s beliefs about the particular behavior we are trying to model. Richard Bandler says “Beliefs are those things we can’t get around.” Beliefs are the presuppositions that we have about the way the world is that either create or deny personal power to us. So, beliefs are essentially our on/off switch for our ability to do anything in the world. In the process of working with someone’s beliefs, it’s important to elicit or find out what beliefs they have that cause them to do what they do. We also want to find out the disabling beliefs, the ones that do not allow them to do what they want to do.


The fourth element is our memories. In fact, some psychologists believe that as we get older, our reactions in the present are reactions to gestalts (collections of memories which are organized in a certain way) of past memories, and that the present plays a very small part in our behavior.


The fifth element, and related to memories, is decisions that we’ve made in the past. Decisions may create beliefs, or may just affect our perceptions through time. The problem with many decisions is that they were made either unconsciously or at a very early age, and are forgotten.

These filters will determine our internal representation of an event that is occurring right now. It is our internal representation that puts us in a certain state, and creates a certain physiology. The state in which we find ourselves, will determine our behavior.

Remember that in this model the map, the I/R, is not the territory. Our every experience is something that we literally makeup inside our heads. We do not experience reality directly, since we are always deleting, distorting, and generalizing. Essentially, what we do experience is our experience of the territory and not the territory itself.

-adapted from Tad James, nlpcoaching.co