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Neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) is an approach to communication, personal development, and psychotherapy created in the 1970s. The title refers to a stated connection between the neurological processes (“neuro”), language (“linguistic”) and behavioral patterns that have been learned through experience (“programming”) and can be organized to achieve specific goals in life.
I’ve studied NLP quite a bit. From Charles Faulkner, to Chris Howard, to Tony Robbins (much of what he teaches was formed through NLP). Although there are things in NLP that I’ve run into that I would considered hokey, there is also a lot of golden truths within NLP. Specifically, I have found certain NLP presuppositions to be very useful and empowering ways of looking at life.
So what is a NLP presupposition? Basically, within various NLP circles there have been core beliefs about life, reality and people that have been formed. These beliefs were coined “presuppositions” and were literally created, added to, and evolved over many years through many people. Many of these presuppositions I’ve found to be terrific modes for operating and living. What I’ve found is they’ve been the foundation that has allowed me to influence myself to take action and really live life on my own terms. In addition, they planted seeds in my mind to begin seeing human beings in more depth, and begin the process of ridding myself of negative social conditioning.
The following are 15 of my favorite presuppositions.
NLP Presupposition 1: People respond to their perception of reality, not to reality itself
When you really get this the quality of your relationships will expand 10 fold. No human being is capable of obtaining an objective reality. We are all running around in our own subjective realities. Another way of putting this is ‘the map is not the territory.’ Your perceptions of reality could never be reality itself. The best map of California could never be California, it will always just be a map. Or in other words, a representation.
So as human beings, you and I, only have the ability to represent reality to ourselves. Based on our experience, our upbringings, our genetics (to some degree) we get a certain map of the world. We get a certain way of representing reality in our own minds. This is the basis for how we operate. If you had a
Some maps work well in situations where others don’t. It’s all context related. If your map/perception of reality says that “life is a fight” you’ll probably be a very useful trial attorney. It will work well in that circumstance. However, if this perception is taken home it’s almost certain to cause relationship issues.
What if one person has a perception of reality says that “people are basically good” and another has a perception of reality that says “people are as evil as they can get away with?” Each of these people are going to respond to circumstances radically differently based on this perception of reality. Neither perception is necessarily accurate, but the person will respond as if it is.
If you are ever to influence someone, you must first realize this basic truth about the nature of reality; our reality is only a perception. Perceptions can be altered. Perceptions are sometimes completely inaccurate, and many times incomplete. When you, as an influencer, help someone to upgrade their perception of reality, you help aid in upgrading that persons life.
NLP Presupposition 2: Having a choice is better than not having a choice
There is a vast difference between the size of different people’s realities. Someone who travels a lot has a much bigger reality than someone who has never flown. The older you are, the more likely you are to have an expanded reality. Personal experiences expand the size of your reality. The bigger your reality, the more choices you have. The ‘decision space’ expands because you have more options. The more choices you have, the freer you are and the more influence you have. Most problems that we face as humans are unconscious traps where we feel that our only choices are leading toward something negative. The real issue is when we get stuck in those moments, we lack choice. At least we think we do.
If you want to increase the quality of your life, work to expand your reality. This will allow you to make better evaluations and ultimately better choices. As a person of influence, it is your responsibility to help people see positive and empowering choices.
NLP Presupposition 3: People are doing the best they can with the resources they have
This presupposition is somewhat controversial, but I believe it to be generally true. Don’t get hung up on the word resource. The word resources can mean many things. In fact, most resources are mental. Beliefs, values, pain/pleasure associations, etc. When someone acts negatively, it’s generally because in that moment that person is lacking the resources that would allow them to act in a more productive way. When you offer someone a better choice or more effective resources people will take it. Even better, give them a superior map with more choices in it. See how the presuppositions start to act hand-in-hand?
Start to look at your own behaviors through this light. If you’re acting in a way that you know you shouldn’t be, what mental resources are you missing that need to be added? When you start to ask yourself these kinds of questions, resources will begin manifesting. Once you’ve begun making these types of evaluations with yourself, start to use this same analysis when dealing with other people. Doing this will make you a person of influence.
NLP Presupposition 4: All actions have a purpose
Our actions are not random; we are always trying to achieve something, although we may not be aware of what that is. People are trying to achieve pleasure, and avoid pain. People’s actions are the result of what beliefs, values, and associations they have stored in their subconscious minds. Every action a person takes, is an outpouring of an entire web of thinking, mostly unconscious, in an attempt to gain pleasure, and avoid pain. That is the purpose.
NLP Presupposition 5: Every behavior has a positive intention
All our actions have at least one purpose – to achieve something that we value or benefits US. A person is not their behavior. When a person has a better choice of behavior that also achieves their positive intention, they will take it. The problem is, most people are trapped in their subconscious perceptions of reality. When you help someone realize there is a better way, they will take it.
NLP Presupposition 6: The meaning of your communication is also the response you get
The goal of communication is to express what’s inside of you to someone else. The issue is there’s a gap between your intentions of what you’re attempting to communicate, and what is being received as the communication by the other person. When attempting to influence someone, do not get frustrated, do not blame them if what you’re attempting to communicate isn’t coming across. Instead, change YOUR approach.
NLP Presupposition 7: People already have all the resources they need to succeed, or they can be created
There are no resourceful people, only unresourceful states of mind. Everyone has resources to make positive changes in their life, they just need to realize they do. For example, if someone claims they can sustain the determination to make a shift in their diet, all you have to do as an influencer is help them to realize that in SOME area of their life they have determination. The resource exists, it just needs to be transferred.
NLP Presupposition 8: Mind and body are different expressions of the same one system
Mind and body interact and mutually influence each other. When we think differently, our bodies change. When we act differently we change our thoughts and feelings.
NLP Presupposition 9: We process all information through our senses
Developing your senses so they become more acute gives you better information and helps you think more clearly. In fact all learning is really just gaining sensory acuity, which allows you to make better decisions.
NLP Presupposition 10: Modeling successful performance leads to excellence
If one person can do something it is possible to model it and teach it to others. If it is humanly possible, consider it to be within your reach. When you model people who are successful at something that you’d like to be successful at, you are literally taking the short cut. One of the best things you can do for someone who is struggling in an area, is get them hooked up with people who AREN’T struggling in that area.
NLP Presupposition 11: If you want to understand – Act
The learning is in the doing. Through action is the only way true learning occurs. Watching as a 3rd party, you will never learn or understand the depths.
NLP Presupposition 12: There is no failure, only feedback
This is my personal favorite. Every action, every thought is a cause set in motion. There will be an effect that will result from that cause. Cause and effect. When the effects you experience in life aren’t what you desire, it is only feedback to change the causes that created those effects. If you learn, you win.
NLP Presupposition 13: A person is not his or her behavior
This is a presupposion of compassion. So often we judge and label people based on behaviors we observe. The reality is we all do stupid things. Most of those judgments and labels we make toward people lack the proper context anyhow. Remember, actions don’t always self-represent. This is true for you, and everyone else as well.
A belief I have is there is eternal goodness within all people. There is spirit/consciousness. People’s spirit/consciousness, sadly, isn’t always running the show. A lot of times people are acting through ego. This includes me. However, when you realize this, you can start to see people through a lens of compassion. Does “forgive them for they know not what they do” ring a bell?
NLP Presupposition 14: You can’t not communicate
Even if you’re attempting to not speak, you’re communicating. Everything we do, every way we act, everything we say or don’t say, is communicating. You can’t not communicate.
NLP Presupposition 15: You can’t not think about what you don’t want to think about without thinking about it
Don’t think of the color purple. In order to understand that command, you must think of the color purple. How does this apply to our lives? Simple, negative habits, negative thoughts, negative actions, must be replaced and upgraded not ‘overcome.’ When a person is attempting to not thinking about something, the battle has already been lost. If you’re trying to not overeat and you keep trying to not think about the company candy that sits at the end your work kitchen table, it’s only a matter of time until your willpower will run dry. So how do we overcome situations like this? Setting standards and creating habits where the the thought to eat junk food never enters your mind (well at least not at work).