Imagine if your computer came without instructions. No clicking on ‘Help’ to get information on how to change or undo something. You are stuck with whatever programming it came with and whatever information you have put in, whether that information was harmful or beneficial. No ‘Delete’ button. No ‘Backspace’. No re-programming of software. After a few months, your computer would start freezing and possibly crash altogether.

Your mind is far more complex than any computer yet built. And yet it came without any instructions. Your unconscious mind is about 95% of your thought processes. The initial programming took place in childhood and has probably not changed much since. Over the years, you have absorbed and developed patterns of thought and behaviours that may be harmful or beneficial. Traditionally, it is thought that it takes months, if not years, of hard work and introspection to change that programming. But NLP or neurolinguistic programming provides techniques to change the ways in which we code and store our subjective experience, thus changing our unconscious programming. It is like an instruction book for our minds.

Just take a moment now to think about a recent happy memory – make a picture in your mind of that event.

As you are doing this, start to notice the feeling that you are experiencing.

Now change the characteristics of the picture:

If it is in colour, change it to black and white.

If it is in black and white, change it to colour.

If you are looking at yourself in the picture, step inside your body so that you are looking through your own eyes.

Or if you are inside your body, step outside the picture.

Make the picture bigger or smaller.

Put a frame around it or take the frame off.

Bring it closer or push it further away.

Make it brighter or dimmer. As you are making these changes, notice if the associated feeling gets more intense or less intense. Whenever you notice a change that makes the feeling more intense, ask your unconscious mind to lock that change into place. (Assuming you want to feel happier when you remember that event!)

Now do the same with an unhappy memory, but this time try to make the feeling less intense. This is a simple example of how the coding of our memories influences the intensity of the emotion attached to that memory. I’m sure that most people would like to re-visit the intensity of their happy memories and tone down the emotions attached to negative events. After all, you’ve been through it once – why keep on re-living it?

What is Neurolinguistic Programming?

NLP uses many such techniques to help people to let go of crippling negative emotions and behaviour patterns and install beneficial patterns. NLP or neurolinguistic programming deals with the relationships between:

  • how we think (neuro)
  • how we communicate with ourselves and others (linguistic)
  • our habitual behaviours and emotions (programming).

Basically, it studies the structure of how we think and experience the world. This is obviously very subjective and does not lend itself to precise, statistical formulae. Instead it leads to models of how our minds work. From these models, techniques for quickly and effectively changing thoughts, behaviours and beliefs that limit you have been developed.

How did it develop?

NLP started in the 1970s with Richard Bandler and John Grinder. They studied people who excelled in their professions and asked “What is the difference that makes the difference?” Among those they studied were Milton Erickson (hypnotherapist), Virginia Satir (family therapist) and Fritz Perls (co-developer of the Gestalt Theory which revolutionised psychology). They concentrated, not on the content of what they did, but on the underlying mental structures that they used.

From these studies Bandler and Grinder developed an understanding of the way that we construct our experience of the world in our minds. The way in which we unconsciously code and store that experience determines our reactions and behaviour.

Re-programming your mind

Patterns of thought and behaviours set up “neural pathways” in our brains. A neural response will go down the most used path – the path of least resistance. For example, you’re feeling good and then you get home. You walk in the door and see the mess the kids (or your flatmates) have left. The visual stimulus of seeing the mess sets up a neural response which takes the path of least resistance – and you immediately react in the same way that you have reacted every other time this has happened, even although you know that it it isn’t going to help the situation. You may have promised yourself that you’re going to try a different strategy the next time this happens but you find yourself reacting in the same old way.

With NLP, you can re-program that neural response to help you develop a different strategy for handling the situation. NLP is beneficial for may different issues. Thought and behaviour patterns that no longer serve you can be changed. Issues like phobias can be helped. Old beliefs that are limiting you (e.g. “I’m no good at public speaking/making friends/building my business, etc”, “I’ll never be successful”, “I’ll always be poor”, “Life is hard”) can be identified and changed to beliefs that empower you.

Many of the techniques of NLP involve visualistaion but don’t worry if you find this hard – the techniques can be adapted to suit you.

Creating success

NLP is often used in coaching sports people – the visualisations help to improve techniques while empowering beliefs are developed. There have been a number of studies showing the benefits of visualisation in sport. One famous one was conducted at the University of Chicago. Athletes were tested to determine their free-throw proficiency. They were then randomly assigned to one of three groups. The first went to the gym every day for one hour and practiced throwing free throws.

The second group also went to the gym, but instead of physically practicing, they lay down and simply visualised themselves successfully shooting. The third group were instructed to forget about basketball and not practise at all. At the end of 30 days, the three groups were again tested to determine their free-throw proficiency.

The players who hadn’t practised at all showed no improvement in performance; many exhibiting a drop in performance. Those who had physically practised one hour each day showed a performance increase of 24 percent. The visualisation group, by merely imagining themselves successfully shooting free throws, improved 23 percent!

Elite athletes have been incorporating imagery into their training for years. In a study of 235 Canadian Olympic athletes who participated in the 1984 Games, 99 percent reported using visualisation techniques. American athletes also rely on these techniques. Rebecca Smith, a clinical research assistant in sports psychology at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado, stated that all elite American athletes use visualisation techniques.

So, if you want to create success in your life, or simply change some of those annoying habits – start visualising! Better still, find out more about NLP and its techniques. There are numerous books and courses that can teach you to develop these skills.

Suggested Reading

Frogs into Princes – Richard Bandler and John Grinder

Using Your Brain for a Change – Richard Bandler

The Emprint Period by Leslie Cameron-Bandler

Transforming Your Self by Steve Andreas

The Secret of Creating Your Future by Tad James