Is NLP only for ‘good visualisers’?

NLP techniques don’t work for me!

Not long ago I got an email: ‘I have been reading … (naming a well-known NLP-based self improvement book) and listening to the accompanying CD which a friend of mine has used quite successfully and recommended to me.

I am struggling with it because much of it seems to rely being able to clearly visualise some scenario and feel all the feelings associated with it. I find it very hard to visualise (hard to visualise the good stuff at least) and even harder to feel it so I am becoming rather disillusioned with the whole process – especially when the book tells me how great I will be feeling after doing some visualization, and I actually feel nothing.’

NLP is great for great visualisers

In his email Jack (not his real name) touched on one of those rarely discussed apparent flaws in how NLP is traditionally taught and presented i.e. that many NLP techniques work easily and excellently for very good visualisers – and not very well for those who prefer to think in sounds, in words, or in feelings.

If you can close your eyes and make wondrously colourful, three-dimensional, moving pictures you’ll find using traditional NLP techniques, as found in most workshops and books and recordings, a breeze.

And if you can’t – you won’t!

‘But, we’re all good visualisers, aren’t we!’

I first began reading NLP books and listening to recordings just over 30 years ago. Later I began attending workshops and still later went through the different certification workshops to become an NLP Trainer. And one of the things which puzzled me from the beginning was that no NLP ‘experts’ presented NLP in a way which was could be easily assimilated and used by non-visualisers, such as myself.

The mythology offered to us was that, since everyone visualises out of conscious awareness, you only have to keep practising and you’ll become a good ‘in-consciousness’ visualiser. Which for most people is simply not true.

It is one of those rarely discussed ‘awkward bits’ in conventional NLP workshops and books and A/V recordings that, as it is typically taught or offered, it works great for people who are very good visualisers and not so good for the rest of us – as it is conventionally taught.. .

Why is this? Well, the reasons are many and complex but they do start with how NLP has been and, in some cases, still is taught by the traditional Big Names – how they teach the people who teach the people who teach the … etc etc.

You need the right ‘volunteer’!

In attending training events by most of the NLP Big Names over the years I have observed one very common ‘method’. They tend to be very careful in prepping and selecting ‘volunteers’ for technique demonstrations during workshops. They do this to ensure that the volunteer’s experience with the technique provides a good example to the rest of the group on how to succeed with the technique.

Unfair? Well, they are business men and women after all and they also need to be good show-men and show-women.  And they have a living to earn… If they’re doing an international tour they need to quickly get sign-ups to their latest workshop tour and/or to sell their merchandise, so wowing the audience is important.

Ethics?

And if you really want to wow an audience in this way you need to make sure that you select the right demonstration ‘volunteers’ – and this means you need to make sure they are good visualisers. If they are they’ll  do the technique quickly – so the audience won’t get bored. They’ll also be ‘high responders’ so when they succeed people will see this because they will have a great (and very noticeable) buzz from their success.

Result: the audience will be impressed with the presenter and with the technique and will be more likely to find the technique easily works for them. Crowd dynamics will ensure that few people will ask awkward questions. The ones for whom it doesn’t work will keep quiet as they’ll recognise they’re obviously in a tiny minority of inadequate people.

Is NLP only for ‘good visualisers’?

NLP techniques don’t work for me!

Not long ago I got an email: ‘I have been reading … (naming a well-known NLP-based self improvement book) and listening to the accompanying CD which a friend of mine has used quite successfully and recommended to me.

I am struggling with it because much of it seems to rely being able to clearly visualise some scenario and feel all the feelings associated with it. I find it very hard to visualise (hard to visualise the good stuff at least) and even harder to feel it so I am becoming rather disillusioned with the whole process – especially when the book tells me how great I will be feeling after doing some visualization, and I actually feel nothing.”

NLP is great for great visualisers

In his email Jack (not his real name) touched on one of those rarely discussed apparent flaws in how NLP is traditionally taught and presented i.e. that many NLP techniques work easily and excellently for very good visualisers – and not very well for those who prefer to think in sounds, in words, or in feelings.

If you can close your eyes and make wondrously colourful, three-dimensional, moving pictures you’ll find using traditional NLP techniques, as found in most workshops and books and recordings, a breeze.

And if you don’t – you won’t!

“We’re all good visualisers, aren’t we!”

I first began reading NLP books and listening to recordings just over 30 years ago. Later I began attending workshops and still later went through the different certification workshops to become an NLP Trainer. And one of the things which puzzled me from the beginning was that no NLP ‘experts’ presented NLP in a way which was could be easily assimilated and used by non-visualisers, such as myself.

The mythology offered to us was that, since everyone visualises out of conscious awareness, you only have to keep practising and you’ll become a good ‘in-consciousness’ visualiser. Which for most people is simply not true.

It is one of those rarely discussed ‘awkward bits’ in conventional NLP workshops and books and A/V recordings that, as it is typically taught or offered, it works great for people who are very good visualisers and not so god for the rest of us.

You need the right ‘volunteer’!

In attending training events by most of the NLP Big Names over the years I have observed one very common trick. They tend to be very careful in prepping and selecting ‘volunteers’ for technique demonstrations during workshops to ensure that the volunteer’s experience with the technique provides a good example to the rest of the group on how to succeed with the exercise.

Well, they are business men and women after all – and they’re there to get sign-ups to their workshops or to sell their merchandise, so wowing the audience is important. And if you really want to wow the audience be sure to have a volunteer for your demonstration who is a good visualiser – they’ll do it quickly, they’ll get a great (and very noticeable) buzz from their success, and the audience will be convinced the technique is easy and will be more likely to make it works for them.

How to select and prep such a ‘volunteer’? That’s in the next article which will be out shortly…

8 Comments

  1. Russell on 9th June 2010 at 7:23 AM

    When I saw the title of your article I hoped that you had an answer on how to help people who’s preferences are for representational systems other than visual to experience NLP techniques but perhaps that is coming in a later article?

    Instead your article raises the important ethical question but I’m not sure what to take from that. Is it simply a question of ‘buyer beware’ or should we avoid presentations by ‘big names’?

    I recently attended a presentation by Richard Bandler in Amsterdam. As you might expect he selected a couple of volunteers for a demonstration of how dispel a negative feeling or state. In this he focused not on the visual but on the feeling within the body (where it is, which way it moves…) Is this a new direction away from the visual focus or a new way of convincing the audience?



  2. lizzie on 9th June 2010 at 7:33 AM

    This is a very interesting article, I am curious about how we can overcome this for those who find visualising challenging so that they have a great nlp experience…



  3. Reg on 9th June 2010 at 7:48 AM

    Hi Russell: yes, there will be some tips on useing the other thinking systems in a later article.

    On the other point I think that anyone considering a training course in something as wonderfully powerful as NLP would be wise to evaluate the motives and the attitude of whoever is presenting it.

    This is why I describe some of the less-obvious methods which some use to booost their own image/profile by means of powerful and subtle methods unavailable to the people who seek to emulate them.



  4. Reg on 9th June 2010 at 8:05 AM

    Hi Lizzie: I think people need to be provided with a wider range of methods than NLP Visual Submodality techniques – or variations of these which work for us not-very-good-visualisers, such as we use in our own Pegasus NLP courses.

    Bandler’s use of Kinaesthetic Submodalities in Amsterdam (mentioned by Russell above) is an example of making the ‘technology’ more widely available.



  5. Em Coste on 9th June 2010 at 10:20 AM

    Part of the explanation for this can possibly be found in John Medina’s Brain Rules (about practical applications to the biology and mechanics of the brain):

    http://www.brainrules.net/the-rules

    …where it is explained how “Vision Trumps All Other Senses”.

    I think early NLPers captured the concept empirically while modelling on a small sample, something that worked well enough for a group of, likely, V-driven individuals. After all, a lot of them were academics, which means that they could easily extrapolate words (generally A-driven content) and construct a meaningful experience from what they read.

    Now, we are 30 years later. The population sample of NLP has increased considerably. This means people hering about NLP from friends and family and coming to it because of V/K motives. It is not surprising that they struggle with the model.

    What this means, I think, is that the exeperiential model used by NLP needs actualisation. From there, tools, techniques and applications can be tweaked and adjusted easily.



  6. Reg on 9th June 2010 at 2:49 PM

    Haven’t read the book but checked out his ‘vision trumps’ claim – and I’d certainly question this. Yes, vision will ‘trump’ for good visualisers. But I’ve come across loads of people who specialise in the other systems and who would claim that K trumps or A trumps or Ad trumps. 🙂

    The old Irish seanchai or story tellers had prodigious oral (autitory) memories and were able to repeat memorised stories which could go on for days. Same is true of story-tellers of many other cultures.

    Nevertheless the point of the blog article is that too often NLP is not made accessible to people who do ‘not’ specialise in visual thinking.



  7. Em Coste on 9th June 2010 at 7:01 PM

    I like the examples, which resonate somehow. Playing along, the next question would be to make the use of the “NLP” word more explicit:

    – NLP is not the NLP model
    – NLP is not how NLP is being taught / transmitted

    As the model contains some of the modeller’s map, it makes sense to check if there would be modalities that the modeller would favour. For the case of NLP, I would assume that, with a lot of academics / people coming from the world of books, the visual sense dominates.

    You are a good person to have this discussion with. If I remember, Will Mc Donald was one of your mentors. Considering his salt of the earth background, would you say he was as V- driven as the majority?



  8. Kate Gladstone on 28th August 2010 at 12:16 AM

    Where is the promised second part of this article?