What exactly is NLP?

Just what is NLP?

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

NLP is like an owner’s manual for your brain – one which provides you with practical tools to run your mind and body more effectively.

At school and college, we learned wonderful things like history and geography and algebra.

But we learned little 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 methods and insights of NLP to be more in charge of your thoughts and feelings.

… and to run your own life more successfully.

… and to communicate with other people more effectively.

NLP is an ever-growing collection of information and insights into how human beings function. And this is backed by a vast 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 well, even better.
  • acquire skills and attitudes to do what you cannot do right now but would like do.

We have an article here on the benefits of learning NLP. 

NLP: ‘the study of success’

People often describe NLP 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.

Newcomers to NLP often describe it as the “new” science of achievement or of success or whatever. But it is certainly not new – NLP has been around for over half a century! (I’ve been using it for 43 years!)

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 are available in the better workshops and extended trainings. These provide shortcuts to more successful living – because 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?

As one trainer told us, back in the 70’s, the essence of the NLP attitude and skills is in the question: how is it possible to be an idiot or an expert?

How come?

Because we can use NLP to identify the attitude and the skills underlying either type of performance.

In a practical and very down-to-earth way, we can use NLP to ‘model’ a person’s behaviour and…

  • Identify the ‘ingredients’ of excellent performance, i.e. what they do that differs from less-expert people
  • Add these ‘ingredients’ to 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 – why the strange name?

An answer to the ‘what is NLP?’ question must explain That Name!

In the early 70’s the founders of Neuro-Linguistic Programming invented the name to encapsulate the scope of this extensive body of insights and skills:

  • Neuro – how the mind and body interact
  • Linguistic – the insights into a person’s thinking that we can get carefully assessing their use of language
  • Programming – this is not to the activity of programming – it’s about the thinking and behavioural habits 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 were Richard Bandler, Frank Pucelik and John Grinder. They wanted a name that would comprehensively describe everything that NLP could do.

This was a mistake and gave rise to two problems:

  1. ‘Neuro-Linguistic Programming’ sounds too complex. It’s not a very catchy and it doesn’t illustrate what NLP can do.
  2. Some people find the name sinister – they think the ‘programming’ part of the name suggests that NLP has something to do with ‘being programmed’! (See above.)

But the name Neuro-Linguistic Programming has been around for some 5 decades and now we’re stuck with it. Which is why it is generally abbreviated to the initials NLP.

In fact..

…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?

No. And this is unfortunate if you’re trying to figure out where to learn NLP – or which ‘brand’ of NLP to take up (because there are many of these!)

The quality of NLP that you get depends on which organisation you learn it with 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
  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 they applied NLP.

Some organisations still follow these guidelines and, as a Founder Member of the former Professional Guild of NLP, so does Pegasus NLP.

In fact, we go a little further: to ensure impartiality and thoroughness in certification, 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 Pegasus NLP knows that they have truly earned their certification.

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

Skill with NLP – or information about it?

The term NLP Practitioner has traditionally referred to the level of skill demonstrated in an assessment by a practitioner.

The candidate for NLP Practitioner Certification had to have a good working knowledge of NLP – and they had to be able to demonstrate skill in using NLP.

‘Had to’? Past tense?

Yes, because nowadays very few organisations engage in a thorough assessment of candidates for certification.

Why? Training people to this level of skill is expensive and takes up too much time – most people want to ‘earn’ a certificate in the shortest and easiest way – and knowing they will be assessed tends to deter people who just want a ‘certificate/title’.

However to develop skill with NLP, as opposed to information about NLP, requires practice and personal hands-on guidance and feedback from a qualified NLP Trainer – something which must be acquired in a small group which includes time and space for hands-on experimentation, discussion and practice.

Learning to drive a car via a lecture

Let’s say two friends announce that they have just learned to drive.

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.

(1) Sally has read a couple of books on driving, watched some videos and has been part of an audience watching an inspirational speaker demonstrating driving.

Sally has not

  • actually trained in a car accompanied by a qualified instructor.
  • been assessed on her level of hands-on skill.

But she does

  • have an impressive certificate saying she is a ‘qualified driver’
  • feels incredibly positive about her skills and ability.
  • and is very enthusiastic about driving.

(2) Kathy has taken a different route to driving competence… and

  • has had 120 hours of actual firsthand driving experience – equivalent to three 40-hour working weeks.
  • her experience was with a qualified driving instructor – who has guided her through the process from start to finish.
  • she then successfully demonstrated her skill in a driving assessment and was awarded her licence.

You choose – in whose hands will you feel safe?

The Professional Guild standard

The above comments are not objective – they are quite biased!

Why? Because here in Pegasus NLP we are, of course, prejudiced – in favour of providing and supporting thorough and in-depth NLP training.

We have been doing this 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 were co-founders of the former Professional Guild of NLP 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 will learn a special ‘advanced’ form of NLP.

Our customers tend to be a pretty savvy bunch and prefer substance over hype – they are, as our Pegasus NLP by-line suggests, ‘people who like to think for themselves’!

To sum up: the simplest answer to ‘What is NLP?’

It is a way of precisely understanding how you do the things you do – along with a rich set of tools to enable you to improve what works well and replace what doesn’t!

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

The Pegasus NLP Newsletter

Most articles on this site originally appeared in The Pegasus NLP Newsletter – which has been published continuously since January 2001.

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