What exactly is NLP?

What is NLP? : Why learn it? : Hidden skills : How to learn it : That name : NLP history : FAQ

NLP Core Skills: 4 days in the New Forest – Easter 15-18 April ’17  (5 places available)

Just what is NLP?

Many people have heard of NLP or Neuro-Linguistic Programming (or even Neurolinguistic Programming).  

It gets mentioned quite a lot on the web, in print media and in conversations.  

And there are many versions of what it is – but finding a simple, straightforward and Plain English answer to the question Just what exactly is NLP? isn’t so easy.  

So this page aims to provide you with that answer!

Your personal ‘owner’s manual’

NLP is a bit like an ‘owners manual’ for your brain!  At school and college we learned wonderful things like history and geography and algebra. But we did not learn much about how to feel good or to have great relationships.

That’s where NLP comes in.

NLP is a set of insights and skills

You can use the NLP methods and insights to be more in charge of your thoughts and feelings.

…and to run your own life more successfully.

…and to communicate with other people  much more effectively.

NLP is an ever-growing collection of information and insights into how we human beings function. And this is backed up by a huge range of mental NLP Techniques that can enable us to improve how you think, behave and feel – and to assist others in doing the same.

Becoming skilled in NLP will enable you to:

  • think more clearly.
  • communicate more effectively with others.
  • manage your thoughts, moods and behaviours more effectively.
  • do whatever you already do reasonably well, even better.
  • acquire skills and attitudes to do what you cannot do right now, but would like to be able to do.

We have an article here on the benefits of learning NLP and here are details of our NLP courses.

NLP: ‘the study of success’

NLP has been described as the technology of the mind, or the science of achievement, and or the study of success. It is based on the study of the factors which account for either success or failure in human performance.

Incidentally, NLP is often described as the “new” science of achievement or success or whatever. Not quite true: NLP has been around for nearly 45 years.  The author of this article has been using it since 1979.

It is, more correctly, called the study of success. That’s because, right from the start, NLP explorers have studied or ‘modelled’ the behaviour and thinking styles of particularly effective and successful people in business, education, sales, therapy, sport, and personal development.

The results of this work are nowadays presented in workshops and extended trainings which, in effect, provide shortcuts to more successful living – you learn in hours what may have taken the experts years to discover by trial and error.  (See also our NLP FAQ).

How is it possible to be an idiot… or an expert?

We think that the question how is it possible to be an idiot or an expert? expresses the essence of the NLP attitude and skills. This is because with NLP we can identify the attitude and the skills that produces either type of performance.

In a practical and very down-to-earth way we are able to use NLP ‘model’ a person’s behaviour to:

  • Identify theingredients of excellent performance i.e. what it is it that they do that is different from less-expert people
  • Systematically introduce these ‘ingredients’ into our own performance using NLP techniques and…
  • equally important, we can look at the ingredients of less-than-successful performance, in ourselves or in others, and use NLP to change or replace these.

NLP – that name!

An answer to the ‘what is NLP?’ question has to include an explanation of That Name!

The name Neuro-Linguistic Programming was invented in the early 70’s as an attempt to describe in a comprehensive manner the scope of this extensive body of insights and skills:

  • Neuro refers to how the mind and body interact
  • Linguistic refers to the insights into a person’s thinking that can be obtained by careful attention to their use of language
  • Programming refers, not to the activity of programming, but to the study of the thinking and behavioural patterns or ‘programmes’ which people use in their daily lives.

The name is a bit of a mouthful and is certainly not NLP’s strongest asset.

The original trio of founders (Richard Bandler, Frank Pucelik and John Grinder) wanted a name that would comprehensively describe everything that NLP could do. This was a mistake and gave rise to two misconceptions:

  1. ‘Neuro-Linguistic Programming’ sounds too complex and it’s not a very catchy and doesn’t describe what NLP can do
  2. To quite a lot of people it sounds sinister. This is because of the word ‘programming’.  Many initially think the ‘programming’ part of the name suggests that NLP has something to do with ‘being programmed’!) 

But the name Neuro-Linguistic Programming has been around for around over four decades so it looks like we are stuck with it. Which is why it is generally abbreviated to the initials NLP.

You could say that NLP has become successful not because of the title but in spite of it!

Let’s face it – if something with such a weird name can become so popular it must be good – because the title doesn’t do it many favours. 

(See our article the strange name of NLP and a blog article on NLP’s scary P word.)

Is all ‘NLP’ the same?

Definitely not – which is unfortunate if you’re trying to figure out where to learn NLP. The quality of NLP that you get is dependent on with which organisation you learn it and how you learn it.

Even terms like Certified NLP Practitioner or Certified NLP Master Practitioner are unreliable since there are no universal standards. 

Originally the title Certified NLP Practitioner indicated that the person had

  1. Participated in a thorough hands-on training programme of at least 120 hours – over 18-20 days
  2. Been personally assessed by a Certified NLP Trainer as having attained a certain level of skill
  3. Been observed to consistently adhere to a range of NLP Principles in how the applied NLP.

Members of the Professional Guild of NLP still adhere to these standards. And, as a Founder Member of the Guild, so does Pegasus NLP.  In addition, and to ensure impartiality and thoroughness, we have two certifying NLP Trainers on our Practitioner programmes and three certifying Trainers on our Master Practitioner Programmes.  This means that anyone who has achieved Certification as a Practitioner of NLP through the Guild process knows that they have truly earned their certification.  

There’s an article on the different styles of NLP here.

Pegasus NLP Courses are held in the New Forest

Training Standards

Since the late 90s training standards have changed – and not for the better.  In order to make NLP training more profitable lots of organisations began providing ‘practitioner certificates’ with less regard to skill achieved and more regard to hours or days spent in the training room.

A Google search provides interesting insights into this new approach of what constitutes an NLP ‘practitioner’. You achieve a piece of paper announcing that you are and NLP ‘practitioner’ merely by sitting in a hotel room for a few days – without having to go through any form of skills’ assessment.  In fact, you can even get such a piece of paper through online or distance-learning.  

The ‘fast-track’ or ‘accelerated’ NLP training courses are popular because people believe that having a piece of paper announcing they are ‘certified’ means they have the same skill as someone who has done a much longer and more thorough course.  They don’t.

Skill with – or information about?

The term NLP Practitioner has traditionally referred to the level of skill demonstrated by the would-be practitioner. 

Sitting in an audience of dozens or hundreds of people provides information – as does a book or online video. 

Skill with NLP, as opposed to information about NLP,  requires practice and personal hands-on guidance and feedback from a qualified NLP Trainer – so this skill can only be acquired in a small group which is allowed time and space for hands-on experimentation, discussion and practice.

Learning to drive a car from a lecture

Let’s say two friends announce that they have just learned to rive. And they each offer to take you out for an afternoon in their new car – a trip that will involve in-town traffic and fast motorway driving.

Sally has been reading about driving, watching some videos and had a few days of lectures. She has not actually trained in a car and with a qualified instructor. She has not been assessed on her level of skill. But she has does have nice piece of paper which say she is a ‘qualified driver.’

Kathy has had 120 hours of driving experience with a qualified driving instructor – who has guided her through the process from start to finish. She then did a driving assessment and was awarded her licence.

It’s now your choice. Who do you trust with your life?

The Professional Guild standard

This is not an objective article! We are offering a quite biased view.

Why? Because here in Pegasus NLP we are, of course, prejudiced – in favour of providing thorough and in-depth NLP training. We’ve been doing it for decades – uncompromisingly.  We train people in real NLP skills – and we do this because, even though it is not nearly as profitable, it results in our Practitioners and Master Practitioners being highly skilled – proud of having earned their certification.  (You can read what people have said about our courses here)

That’s why we are Founder Members of the Professional Guild of NLP – we helped form the Guild back in 2003 to fly the flag for uncompromisingly high standards of NLP.

The fast track training providers will counter this quality argument by telling their customers that

  • they will learn from extraordinarily wonderful trainers
  • they will learn through hypnosis(!) and
  • they they will learn a special ‘advanced’ form of NLP.

Our customers see through this form of marketing. As a result they tend to be a pretty savvy bunch. They are, as our Pegasus NLP by-line suggests, people who like to think for themselves!

To sum up

The simplest answer to the ‘What is NLP? question is that is is a way of precisely understanding how you do the things you do – so that you can improve your good methods and replace your not-so-good ones.


See also this article ‘not all NLP is the same!’


What people say about our courses

I didn’t know anything about NLP before the course. I found the whole experience constantly enlightening, fascinating, stimulating and thoroughly enjoyable. I met new people who helped broaden my knowledge and outlook and attitude.

It was a truly changing experience in a wonderful and non pressurised way.Really made me think about me and how I react to others and I am a better person for it … and hopefully people around me will benefit from that! It will complement my coaching perfectly.’

Vivienne Goldstein, Personal Development Coach, UK (3 August 2009)

This is the first course that I did not nod off on or get bored and after the first few days – I switched off my blackberry. A major result. The course was thought provoking, stimulating life changing – not in the dramatic ‘ride off in to the sunset’ sense but in terms of how I perceive myself, how I perceive others, my personal beliefs and desires, my general well being and my work/life balance.

The first comment I have already received is that I seem cactmer – that is excellent progress when you consider my high stress working life and busy personal life.

Charles Buckingham, UK (3 August 2009)

It was the best course that I have ever been on (and I have been on a lot of courses!). I have learnt more about what motivates me and others whilst on this course than any other previous course or study.

The team activities really consolidated my learning in a way that surpasses any other learning that I have undertaken.Four weeks after the course I feel refreshed and invigorated. I returned to work full of optimism.

I strongly believe that by participating in the Core Skills course I gained a new perspective about how humans think and communicate. This will help me become more effective in my personal and and my working life.

Gail Sherwood, Tutor, UK (8 August 2009) 

Click here for more comments from participants



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By Reg Connolly, Director of Training, Pegasus NLP