Presuppositions of NLP

Neuro Linguistic Programming has become widely recognised as a valuable coaching tool – an effective instigator of change that sits well alongside conventional coaching models. The following series of statements, or presuppositions, represent a set of beliefs upon which NLP is based.  These could also be considered to be ‘excellence beliefs’ for coaches.

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Presuppositions of NLP

  1. There is no such thing as failure; there is only feedback.

Put another way, what would you do if you knew you couldn’t fail?  Thomas Edison was a great example of this one, taking thousands of attempts to perfect the filament light bulb.  He insisted that at no point had he failed; every option that didn’t work was just another one eliminated, moving him ever closer to the successful one.

  1. The meaning of communication is the response it elicits.

The only way you know how your verbal, non-verbal or written communication has been received and understood is by the recipient’s response.  This is a key component of listening and questioning skills for coaches.

  1. If one person can do it, others can too.

When Roger Bannister ran a mile in under 4 minutes in 1954, he proved that contrary to popular belief, it could be done.  Within weeks, other athletes, empowered and inspired by Bannister’s performance, had also run a 4 minute mile. This is a very powerful example of modelling excellence in others.

  1. I am in charge of my mind and therefore my results.

Others may influence your way of thinking, but you are the only person in charge of your mind.  As everything, both tangible and intangible, starts with a thought, it is vital that these thoughts are positive and optimistic.  Holding negative and pessimistic thoughts can have a serious impact on goal achievement.

  1. If what you’re doing doesn’t work, do something different.

Persisting with an action that isn’t yielding desired results is a waste of time and energy.  It is the like the fly that persists in bashing itself against the glass of a closed window in it’s search for a way out, when all it has to do is look for the open window that it came through.  Deliberately breaking old and familiar patterns of behaviour often leads to exciting new opportunities.

  1. Memory and imagination use the same neurological pathways.

The brain uses the same neurological circuits for remembering the past as it does for imagining the future.  This means that both elements can have the same impact on an individual.  If a desired goal is ‘visualised’ using all five senses, the effect on the brain is so vivid that it thinks it is looking at something that has already been achieved and is a reality.  This triggers a different perception of the goal, making it more achievable and helping to remove any mental obstacles that might otherwise have got in the way.

  1. People have access to all the resources they need to achieve the results they truly want.

Everyone has the potential for excellence – to achieve whatever success they desire in life.  It is largely a matter of tapping into ‘inner resources’ and activating them.  These are things such as self-belief, determination, self discipline, trust, motivation, etc.  Add to these inner resources, external resources such as books, training courses, mentors and coaches, and the individual opens up the possibilities of truly fulfilling their potential.

  1. The Law of Requisite Variety – the person with the most flexible behaviour can have the most influence on an outcome.

Successful entrepreneurs are good examples of this presupposition in action.  Those who can ‘think on their feet’, using their intuition to produce innovative ideas and solutions, often achieve phenomenal results.  In intelligence tests, these people often score higher EQ (Emotional Intelligence Quotient) scores than traditional IQ (Intellect Quotient) scores.  A good example is Richard Branson, whose wide range of seemingly unconnected industries – from cosmetics and bridal wear to trains and planes – unite under the Virgin brand to form a highly flexible and largely successful business portfolio.  At an individual level, having flexibility means always having choices.  Options are numerous and defeat is just not on the agenda.  For further information on EQ, see ‘Emotional Intelligence’ by Daniel Goleman, published by Bloomsbury Press, ISBN 0-7475-2622-2

  1. It is easier to change the meaning of an experience rather than the content.

Once an experience has happened, the event itself cannot be rerun.  However, the meaning of the experience has been determined by the individual’s filters and stored in their memory with an associated emotional state.  This can be re-examined, and by reframing the content of the experience, quite a different

meaning and emotional state may emerge.  This in turn can then trigger a more positive and resourceful state for the individual.

  1. People always make the best choice available to them based on the knowledge and resources they have at that time.

The phrase “it seemed like a good idea at the time” sums up this presupposition nicely. We make decisions without knowing what the full consequences will be. All we have to go on is our present knowledge of the situation, combined with resources such as instinct.  Retrospectively, we may decide that we made a bad choice but at the time, we believed it to be the best option.  People instinctively opt for choices that seem to be in their best interests rather than their worst interests.

  1. There is a distinction between people and their behaviour; behind every behaviour is a positive intention.

Depending on what is going on around us at any time, we behave in response to that stimulus.  Because our behaviour can change from minute to minute depending on the stimulus, no one’s behaviour can define the person displaying it.  For example, if you were driving along and another car suddenly cut in front of you, almost pushing you off the road, you might feel very angry and perhaps even shout aggressively at the other driver.  This does not mean that you are an angry/aggressive person.  Your behaviour at that time might have been perceived in that way but you know it was only in response to what had just happened.  The person and their behaviour are different.  Similarly, every behaviour is driven by a positive intention. In the car incident, shouting may be your way to release your anger.  In another situation, you might use a pillow as a punch bag to release anger.  Both behaviours may appear negative to an onlooker but are achieving your positive intention of releasing anger.

  1. There is a solution to every problem.

This is an essential belief for a life coach to have, however the solution may not be the ideal one.  For example, you are running your own business and someone owes you money.  Before they can pay you, they are declared bankrupt with no assets.  The solution you wanted was for the debt to be settled.  The solution your Accountant suggests is that you write it off as a bad debt and clear it from your books.  Not the ideal solution but a solution nevertheless.  When working with clients, coaches often need to help the client identify alternative solutions when it becomes clear that the ideal solution is not going to materialise.  Sometimes an alternative turns out to be even better than the ‘ideal’ one!

  1. The map is not the territory

Everyone creates their own unique ‘map’ or ‘model of the world’ and responds to this rather than to the external reality.  To quote Shakespeare, “there’s nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so”.  The way that we make sense of the world going on around us (the territory) is to use our own internal map, which has been formed by our unique set of filters.  Everyone’s ‘map’ is different and therefore the interpretation we give to an event can be completely different to that of someone else who witnessed the same event.  Neither is right or wrong; their interpretations are just different because they are based on different ‘maps’.

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