The meaning of NLP

Your chance to contribute to the NLP debate


What co-creators Richard Bandler & John Grinder have to say

The meaning of NLP or neuro linguistic programing may be debatable, and this article has been prompted by a communication from Erol Fox, one of our very many readers from the United States. 


We act on our representation of the world rather than the world itself


Erol writes: “Thought I’d offer a tip about NLP that many miss.  On your helpful NLP jargon buster page you share three different ways NLP is described.

“BUT we miss that all three of these authors [Dr Richard Bandler, John Grinder and Robert Dilts plus Judith DeLozier] used the same definition in 1980 with the title (and content) of their book The study of the structure of subjective experience

In Frogs into Princes (1979) they point out structure.  And in The Structure of Magic (vols 1 and 2) the first few sections are about structure.  It’s always been structure.”

Live interview with Dr Richard Bandler about the meaning of NLP

Erol refers also to Richard Bandler’s own definition of the meaning of NLP in a live interview with NLP Life.

“I think this confusion pattern started as a ‘move away from’ strategy after Bandler lawsuits, creating a confusing pattern to the world in perpetuity.  Maybe we can begin to agree on a definition again?”

Dr Richard Bandler says:

“Neuro linguistic programming came out of the work that I did modelling the way people thought and what we did was wholly unique.

“When I started out there were forty schools of psychotherapy all arguing about who had the right approach when none of them could reliably do a single thing.

“You know, they couldn’t fix phobias, they couldn’t do this, they couldn’t do that.  Every once in a while they were successful, but most of the time they were so busy arguing about the theory. 

“What I started looking at was the natural process by which people make mental changes.  We looked at the neurological configuration.

The meaning of NLP – the linguistic structure

“We looked at the linguistic structures that are hard-wired in the mind and found out about how people learn so that people were able, just like you programme a computer, to programme themselves to be able to do things. 

“We can reliably get rid of a phobia in ten minutes every single time because we found out – not by studying people who had phobias – but by studying people who had gotten over phobias and finding out how they did it: what they did at the neurological level and at the subjective level 

The meaning of NLP is the study of the structure of subjectivity

“Neuro linguistic programming is the study of the structure of subjectivity: the way in which we make pictures, where they are located and how big they are; and where we locate our voices and how we alter our feelings, and what are called emotional states: whether they rotate this way or that way. 

“All those little details give you a set of tools by which people can make absolutely profound changes easily and quickly.”

Essential to the meaning of NLP is modelling says John Grinder

Co-founder John Grinder, went deeply and technically into the subject when he spoke.  Interviewed by Inspiritive NLP, he said:

“The two major categories of activity that go under the title of NLP from my point of view are what I consider to be the crowning achievement, the most radical part of the proposal that is implicit in the whole approach in NLP which is modelling.

“I recognise a thousand different varieties of modelling. 

"I think as a species we are compulsive obsessive about modelling that is creating a knowledge based on internal maps that allow us to make guesses about what is actually going on out there and provide rules of engagement.

The meaning of NLP and genius

“Now, we have among us people who are recognised as geniuses who achieve such superior levels of performance in some physical or in some particular professional activity that they become avatars or exemplars and which give us, if our attitude is appropriate,  an opportunity to upgrade the quality of our own game.

“The question is how do you get access to these deep patterns of genius in order to assimilate them yourself so that you have the choice, and then finally in some cases the ability, to make explicit what you have assimilated and now have this behavioural competency, in the form of a transferable code, verbal or verbal plus, in some aspects. This, of course, is a history of the development of NLP.

Child-like qualities and the meaning of NLP

“And the answer surprisingly enough is to become quite childlike.  

"The paradox is the following.  Everybody knows that children are the most powerful accelerated learners in any context.  

"This is independent of language or culture.   

“What are children able to do that we as adults find difficult?  

The answer is that children do  not have to compare the incoming datastream of experience when they are in the presence of their parents, other children, and authority figures, with an already well-developed set of internal maps which are the basis of their trial and erroring in the world.  They have very little of this. 

“Therefore the task of unfiltered assimilation of what is going on in their environment becomes essentially the principal learning strategy by which all of [us] have achieved the most important part of our competency as human beings.  So we know this system works brilliantly. 

The meaning of NLP and the ability of children to learn languages

“It is very much in parallel with the fact that children have no problems learning languages, other than their native language or the local language, for the simple reason that they have a set of circuits (which Chomski once referred to as the organ language or the life language acquisition device) which given exposure to stimulation – that is the speech patterns of native speakers around them – will automatically go through this assimilation process unconsciously, uncritically and by trial and error and through play activities with no sense of self-consciousness, they will come to a quick mastery of a language.

“It is interesting because some of the most competent people I have met intellectually in terms of research in the world have not.  They have not succeeded in creating a single complete grammar of any significant portion of any natural language.  This, in a way, is the measure of complexity. 

“This is a very complex task obviously.  But it can be done if the stance that the learner takes is appropriate both in language learning and, more generally, in the modelling of genius.  

The meaning of NLP and our internal maps

“If you apply a non-NLP strategy - roughly a left brain analytic strategy – you will probably learn very powerful and important things and probably at high speed. 

“The problem is that the things you will learn are essentially confirmation of elements already in your internal maps.

“If you use your internal maps, your local knowledge base, as the basis for comparative analytic attempt to understand as you are exposed to the pattterns of the genius – you are essentially establishing a set of bandwidth filters – and anything that gets through these filters will get through simply because they are congruent with distinctions that are already in the knowledge base, the internal maps.

“This means that the key elements that makes this person genius will be unlikely to pass unless you are already a genius in this area, and even then the style, the particular patterns of this genius may not be compatible or commensurate with the ones that you have. 

The meaning of NLP and removing the filters

“If you really wish a deep appreciation and the ability to assimilate fundamental patterns of genius, one choice you have in a face to face communication in an encounter with the genius, is to suspend all that stuff which removes the filtering effects of the accumulated knowledge base (the internal maps), removes the filters, and allows you (exactly as a child does) with absolutely no affect, to understand what you are doing through imitation, micro muscle movement, mirror neurons and synaesthesia, to assimilate complex patterns at high speed with the same kind of depth as are typical of the source of these patterns - the genius.

“If, on the other hand, you activate your knowledge base, the internal maps, then only those elements in the genius’s behaviour which correspond to some element in your internal map will pass the bandwidth filter. 

“And there are many cases in which the extreme effort involved in doing NLP unconscious assimilation – difficult for an adult, easy for a child – making all those arrangements and actually carrying out this kind of modelling. 

The meaning of NLP and mixed modelling

“There are cases where you want to use mixed modelling:  that is you may want to do part of it consciously and part of it as unconscious assimilation.  In general, the question is a practical question. 

“In a corporate setting, for example, if you give me the top sales person or the top strategic planner or the team which is consistently more productive and profitable than any of the other work teams, it is possible for me to give you back a model which is transferable using either analytic or NLP unconscious  assimilation model. 

“If it is something that is relatively simple I may be able to get it analytically.  This, of course, once again depends on the state of my knowledge base, so there is a risk here that I may not allow it to pass, because of the filtering, exactly the difference that makes the difference between this top production team and all the other teams.

The meaning of NLP and getting the patterns

“So there are no mistakes here.  There are consequences to the strategy you use.  If you have the competency, or are willing to develop the competency, and you suspend access to your internal knowledge base, your internal maps, and participate in the subconscious assimilation, I guarantee you will get the patterns.”

In our NLP jargon-busting article, we endeavoured to simplify all this in order to give the casual reader a quick and ready grasp of the subject.  

Now it is your turn to contribute to the debate.  Tell us how you would explain NLP to someone who knows nothing about it, or just give us your views on the explanations offered by the co-creators.



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