is NP mind control?NLP is great, wonderful, amazing etc etc

It goes like this; you’ve been interested in and using NLP for a while and have found that it has made a difference in your life. You’ve used it to solve some problems and to make a few valuable breakthroughs in how you think, feel and communicate. And you want to let others know about it – family, friends and work colleagues.

So you enthusiastically tell them about this wonderfully effective and powerful body of knowledge and how easily you can use to change your life and how it’s simple to use and it’s very practical… so on and on and on!

And each time, within a minute or two, you begin to get sceptical looks – because you’re starting to sound like a starry-eyed convert to some cult or religion.

Then you begin to explain…

However a few people are prepared to hear you out so they ask ‘Okay, so what exactly is NLP – what does it mean?”

“Well, NLP stands for Neuro-Linguistic Programming.”

And that does it.

They hear ‘Programming’ and they’re off! “I don’t want to be programmed! I’d heard somewhere it was about mind control and hypnosis – and you’ve just confirmed my worst fears! Thanks, but no thanks!”

That “programming” bit

It’s the word ‘programming’ which, quite understandably, puts a lot of people off NLP.  They hear the word and they think of the activity of being programmed – or of programming others!

So you then have to attempt to logically explain that “programming” is about our mind-body programmes – the learned or wired-in ‘recipes’ we have for doing what we do every day.  Even as you begin developing this straight-forward explanation you can see them backing off. They’re heard ‘programming’  the emotional part of the brain has now sounded warnings.

The word has triggered their mental defence programmes(!) and their emotions are being nudged towards flight or fight.

How do you deal with that name?

Since 1979 I’ve been involved in using NLP in my own life and in empowering others.  Yet it took years before I succeeded in devising some down-to-earth and common sense ways of explaining what exactly NLP is. And, interestingly, people are more prepared nowadays to at least listen to your explanation than, say, in the 1980’s.

I tell people that NLP means “Neuro-Linguistic Programming” and that the name was devised by NLP co-founders Richard Bandler and John Grinder as a way of succinctly getting across how comprehensive a body of knowledge and insight it was. They wanted to succinctly encapsulate the body of  knowledge and methods:

Neuro:  NLP looks at how our neurology operates: how our mind and body communicate with one another and influence one another

Linguistic: A key part of NLP is how we use both verbal and non-verbal language to communicate with ourselves and others — the insights which NLP provides in this area are significant and profound

Programming: Our ‘programmes’ are our mental ‘recipes’ for doing what we do.  The programmes let us know how to do things automatically such as brush our teeth, make a cup of coffee, prepare a meal, walk, get angry, do what we do at work, etc. If we didn’t have these programmes we’d have to learn how to make the cup of coffee all over again each time.

And what about hypnosis?

Some therapists who use NLP do use it alongside hypnosis or hypnotherapy. And NLP did begin in the early 1970’s as an attempt to form a new form of psychotherapy. Even today many NLP courses still include hypnosis – especially the ‘fast track’ NLP courses. Properly used by a trained hypnotherapist hypnosis can be useful in psychotherapy as long as it’s  the non-directive Ericksonian Hypnotherapy.

I originally trained as a hypnotherapist:  it was actually on a hypnotherapy course that I first heard of NLP.  And as soon as I recognised the power of NLP and the way in which it can be used to empower people (rather that ‘treat’ them)  I gave it up, forever.

Things have changed in the past four decades since the embryonic therapy-led beginnings of NLP. Nowadays NLP is now widely used in just about all walks of life – including business, management, life coaching sports psychology, self-development, and selling. It’s no longer therapy-based.

What might have been

The composite name does a comprehensive job and it covers the important functions which NLP addresses. It’s just a pity they choose programming rather than “programmes”. Neuro-Linguistic Programmes might have worked better.

Or Neuro-Linguistic Thinking Systems. Or Neuro-Linguistic Patterns. And there are so many other words that would have done the trick. (Although Neuro-Linguistic Recipes might have been a bit misleading.)

But no, we’re stuck with Programming and have been for around 40 years!

Yes, the name comprehensive encapsulates what NLP covers.  But as a branding operation it wasn’t too clever: the name does NLP no favours. In fact, you could say that NLP has become successful world-wide despite rather than because of its name!


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5 thoughts on “NLP – that scary P-word…”

  1. Margaret E Johnson

    Oh the Hazards of being hip. Its a bit like looking at some of those old photos of the more outlandish fashions. Born in the age of early computer development on the American university campus Programming must have seemed a great way of promoting what Bandler and Grinder were launching into in the world of Psychology.

    Computers were fast at doing what could be a long and laborious job and NLP was the antithisis of Psychoanalysis. The language connection was a good one at the time. Later many people would recognise that we are manipulated in many ways and the word programming became associated with robotics and machinary. Human beings do not generaly like to be viewed as a machine, so the word has become unnatractive.

    On the Practitioner course at Pegasus I noticed how Reg explained the NLP demystifying and avoiding the misconception that we were about to be programmed like The Borge.
    I also explain the meaning of the Initials by breaking them up and explaining how the brain has been programmed by our past experiences and how we can reprogramme it, being in charge of ourselves and the process of the change throughout, simply being prompted and helped by someone trained and experienced in NLP.

    What a great feeling to be able to chose when and how you react to the outside stimulus that once would have set in motion a pre programmed reaction from long ago.

  2. Another option could be to leave the breakdown of the acronym until the 2nd conversation with the 3rd party. ‘Sell’ the NLP concept to them without the breakdown first, there are surely loads of effective ways of ‘selling’ the many benefits of it.

    Here’s something I found on a certain website 😉

    ‘NLP is a set of insights and skills……with which you can actively use your mind and your emotions and your body to run your own life more successfully and to communicate with other people with ‘extra-ordinary’ effectiveness’

    Loads more good advice on describing NLP there 😉

    Also the ‘toolkit for the brain’ first heard either on one of the Pegasus manuals or undoubtedly many times on Core Skills, normally gets people’s minds ticking and inquisitive!

  3. Hi Margaret: great point about the connection with the growing popularity of computers in the early 70’s – and one that had completely escaped me 🙂

    ‘thing is that in some ways NLP is, indeed, a bit like software for the brain – giving us so much choice in how we can think, feel, and react.

    And NLP was way ahead of its time. Insights into how the brain functions (especially from fMRI scanning) seems to be explaining why NLP processes, which we have been using for decades, achieve their successes.

  4. Hi Russell: thanks for the indirect complement 🙂

    And, yes, making people aware of the benefits works for many.

    Yet if you think back to your NLP Core Skills 4-Mat, that’s great for ‘Why?’ learners. But with the What? style people you won’t get far unless you give them the Big Picture first i.e. explain what it is.

    I was going to include this in the article – but it would have made it too long.

  5. This post reminded me of the metaphor that I drew following my Practitioner training last year….

    An image of an old fashioned telephone exchange with leads and connectors (in comparison to the modern computerised system) coming out of the back of my own head (Bear with me here!!!!) with a mini-me seated behind listening in to the conversations of each connection and then rerouting them to make new connections…

    Makes me smile every time I look at it!

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