Manual for the Mind: NLP
In a room of some 100 people from all over the world, across all ages and occupations, in February 2006 it would seem that nearly all of us could identify with one or both of these statements.
The questions were asked by Ian McDermott, founder of International Teaching Seminars, and teacher of Neuro Linguistic Programming, as an opening line for the first day of the NLP Practitioner Certification Programme.
Ian explained that NLP was like a ”how to” to stop blaming the parents and teachers for our current state. These words echoed the sentiment of JK Rowling, author of the Harry Potter book series, as she delivered a commencement address at the Annual Meeting of the Harvard Alumni Association in June 2008.
In her address, The Fringe Benefits of Failure, and the Importance of Imagination, in which she highlighted her journey to success, she said: “There is an expiry date on blaming your parents for steering you in the wrong direction; the moment you are old enough to take the wheel, responsibility lies with you.”
This phrase took me to my next level and I decided to train as a European Certified Coach. I wanted my writing and my Coaching to centre on empowering people to figure out for themselves “how to” take on the responsibility that lies within them.
It is all very well saying “Here are the keys to your life, you are in charge.” But what if life circumstances have not given you the right tools? There are other subtle lessons that many don’t get a chance to learn for what ever reason.
Things like how to make choices; how to trust one’s Intuition; how to say no or even yes; and how to live rather than just exist.
When I first came across NLP, I was recovering from The Biker and his email ending and the depression that ensued. I had finally hit rock bottom; I had decided enough was enough.
I knew I was responsible for changing my life; I knew there must be another way rather than endlessly repeating mistakes; but other than sitting in therapy for hours discussing my past, I did not know which way to go.
I was due a catch up with my school friend over pizza one night and unintentionally all my confusion and sadness came tumbling out. Somehow the conversation shifted to the NLP self development course her husband had done.
Within a week, he had given me the names of different places and teachers I could learn NLP through and a few days after that, forwarded a flyer to an ITS taster weekend.
During the taster, Essential NLP, my swirling mind got respite and a little nourishment. I knew there was something powerful behind the idea that through the words we use and thoughts we have, we create our own mental and often physical prisons.
“By assembling your own toolkit of practical techniques to help you see new perspectives and fresh possibilities, you can help yourself move towards a richer and more satisfying future, in both your work and your personal relationships….All true management begins with self-management. And all true self-management, inevitably, begins with self-knowledge,” according to Manage Yourself, Manage Your Life, written by Ian and Ian Shircore.
Despite everything indicating this was the right path, my conscious, logical, mind was at war with my intuitive mind. I was emotionally ready to sign up for the the NLP Practitioner but I had two blocks to overcome.
My first hurdle was the cost. As if by magic, for this first course, I received a tax rebate almost to the penny of the amount required to pay for the course.
My second hurdle was my day job in journalism that involves seemingly immovable deadlines. Somehow with the support of my colleagues I managed to take two working days off a month (plus the weekend) on deadline for the next five months and was able to do both.
The course structure was perfect for me, although I did think initially that 100 people in the class was too large. But as the weeks progressed, I realised the sense in working with a different person for each exercise.
There are many NLP courses that can give a practitioner qualification in a week, but Ian is very keen to let “processing” occur in the 20 days between each module. For me the best way to road test some of the ideas and principles were to put them into practise into every day life and then come back the following month with questions.
Ian realises different people learn in different ways and any homework, none of which was obligatory, was given via films to watch, books to read, CDs to listen to. The course text was Thorsons Wayof NLP by Joseph O’Connor, who teaches NLP through Judith Lowe’s PPD Learning, and Ian.
NLP, effectively applied psychology, uses the principle that language programmes behaviour via the mind. But talk about NLP to a room full of seemingly unconnected strangers and there seems to be one of three reactions.
The first is the enthusiasm akin to being re-united to a long lost love, while the second reaction is a kind but bland expression of someone who has never heard of NLP.
The third is look of disgust usually reserved for an invitation to eat the contents of a mouldy fridge. The detractors of NLP call it “brainwashing,” and linguistically perhaps that is an accurate description. Brainwashing in its purest sense is all about cleaning the mind of negative and self harming language such as “I am not good enough”.
For me, NLP is a tool box and manual of mental exercises designed to assist in change: disarming phobias; breaking old habits and making new habits. Ian once joked that when one is born the manual of the mind is thrown away. By exploring some of the NLP exercises we remember how to really make the most of both the conscious and other than conscious minds.
“The heart of NLP is noticing what works,” says Ian, who advocates doing more of what works and less of what does not. Awareness is the first step. Action, is the second. For this, practitioners start to ask themselves questions such as “Is this behaviour serving me well?” or “Is there another way to look at this?”
Taking an almost Buddhist approach to human potential, Ian, who once planned to enter a Buddhist monastery in Thailand, believes that we are all born with the potential to learn.
“We are born learners unless something happens. Look at children they learn to stand and walk by trial and error. They do not give up, but have relentless energy and curiosity,” says Ian, explaining the learning process.
Trial and error is as valuable a way to learn as any other but until one wakes up to the idea that in every “failure” there is feedback—about what can be done differently, the journey is long and very bumpy.
Learning by trial and error is elegantly summarised in Portia Nelson’s Autobiography in Five Short Chapters, which I first heard in one of the NLP classes and again more recently that the Wayne Dyer talk on Mastering the Art of Manifestation.
I took the recent re-acquaintance to Portia’s story as a sign to buy her book Me in You and You in Me: How Love Works and was instantly drawn to something she said. “Knowing one’s own feelings and being able to trust them is the difference between existing and living.”
When I was first drawn to NLP I knew I had been existing for far too long. The studies, spread across five months, gave me time to re-connect with my self and regain a sense of self.
Within the rich syllabus that is at the heart of all the NLP training courses are some basic concepts that I just love. The first concept is the idea that very little that holds us back as human beings is genetic.
Most of it is simply historic learned behaviour, also called coping or protective strategies that are often redundant and a hindrance in later life. Just as it was learned, it can be unlearned or modified, if one knows how to.
The second concept that I resonate with is the power of the mind and the ease with which it can adapt, given the right conditions. The technical term for the mind’s adaptability is neuroplasticity, but NLP takes this concept and looks to create a framework for change to be effective.
The third is the power of language. I had come across the idea of using words impeccably to others and oneself in the Four Agreements, but NLP help me take it to the next level. Language and by extension behaviour is a mirror to what is going on internally.
The very basic premise is that a change in the language leads to a change in the behaviour. Positive thoughts lead to a positive outlook that in turn leads healing.
Suzi Smith, one of the teachers of the NLP Master Practitioner Certification Programme, is big on the idea of cellular Happiness. She sees words as conveying a positive or negative energy that vibrates in the body.
The fourth concept is the idea that we can copy excellence. So if for example a person has no experience in healthy parenting, healthy eating, or a healthy intimate relationship, they learn by copying healthy role model friends or enve through books, courses. NLP is all about modelling excellence, say Ian. “To learn something, find the best, learn from them, you can do it, he adds.
Robert Dilts, founder of the NLP University in California, has taken modelling to the next level. In Strategies of Genius I and II he looks at the excellence of people like Aristotle, Mozart and even fictitious characters like Sherlock Holmes to break down their excellence into small chunks that can be copied.
NLP is all about finding or building a framework for change. Using Albert Einstein’s idea that you cannot solve a problem with the same thinking that created it, NLP practitioners are taught to look at so called problems from different points of view.
One of the pre-suppositions underlying NLP is that behaviour has a purpose and that there a positive Intention for behaviour, even anger and violence.
Changing habits and behaviour is easier when the positive by products of the behaviour are kept. “When we make change we often throw the baby out with the bathwater,” says Ian, using smoking as the example.
The class was asked to list what they thought were good things about smoking, and words such as relaxation, time-out, peace, a break were all listed. Ian argued that by giving up smoking a person was giving out all of these lovely “side-effects.” Lasting change is about finding alternative ways to get time out, peace and relaxation, he said.
I had no plans to continue after the NLP Practitioner, but after A Scandal in Romania, I realised that while I was healing faster and had a stronger sense of self, there was still more work to do.
NLP Master Practitioner turned out to be transformational. Ian wanted us to have a chance to learn from a number of great teachers, so that we did not all become dependent to one style of teaching and become dependent on one “Guru.”
Ian shared the teaching with Tim Hallbom, Suzie and Robert. This time as I peeled what seemed like the endless onion of my life, I discovered the true glitch that had been causing me so much heart ache.
I had spent NLP Practitioner working on the assumption that my behaviours stemmed from something called Adult Child Syndrome, but I will never forget that warm Saturday in March 2007, on Suzie’s watch.
I was working on an exercise on loss and grief with a mum of three, who patiently let me get to a place that I had never been to before: the three year old me that had been sent to live with her wonderful aunt in a beautiful home in Italy.
For the first time in its life, the three-year old had a voice. It was crying. It had been abandoned. On further exploration I realise that this has resulted in an adult life full of drama related to an inability to let go.
The exercise to heal memory imbalance was simple, but it was the patience of that mum of three that really allowed the healing to happen. She seem to know just how much patience it takes to coax a three year old out from a place of fear.
At the end of that day, Suzi, whose teaching style is about movement and singing and who believes that every cell in the body needs to be happy and loved, played How Could Anyone by Shaina Noll, from Songs for the Inner Child and I wept. I wept tears that had been welling up since I was three.
Next on the agenda was Robert Dilts. Under Robert’s guidance we were taught to really listen and to re-engage with our curiosity. Coaching is not about giving clients answers it is about showing them the way to become curious about their own lives.
Every time one of us asked questions he would quote Milton Erikson, a great influence on the development of NLP, and say “I don’t know, but I am curious to find out.” Robert was all about getting us to ask ourselves more questions.
Part of why NLP and the coaching processes used through out the course resonated so strongly with me is that as a journalist I spend my life asking questions. Coaching and NLP is about learning how to ask powerful questions.
“Every question is an intervention sending a person on an internal search,” says Ian. “Before asking that question, listen to the language people use. It tells you what you need to know,” he adds.
For this reason, and freshly inspired by JK Rowling’s Harvard address, I started the five month European Coaching Certification Programme in October 2007. Ian taught some modules, but it was Jan Elfline‘s energy, enthusiasm and story telling that made me realise what the essence of a good coach looked and felt like.
These days I use NLP tools and a coaching-based approach to writing and my life, dipping in and out of Ian and Wendy Jago’s Your Inner Coach if I get a little lost.
Making choices is easier these days as I apply the Well Formed Outcome framework to make sure that I am making the choices for the right reason. I continue to watch the language people use to try to get a measure of where they are before engaging with them.
At least once a year, I pop back to ITS to do a workshop. Last year, Robert ran Coaching, Self-Leadership and the Inner Game of Business and this year he is running a motivational one called Lets Do It.
Now NLP is in my blood I look in other places for other teachers to see what other branches of this study are developing. Through Alternatives, I have spent time with Richard Bandler, seen as one of the co-founding fathers of NLP, along with John Grinder.
The auditorium at Friends’ House in Euston was full to the brim of fans and students of Richard’s, but as I watched him in action I realised I would not have loved NLP had he been my teacher. I don’t swear very often, except when I drive, and I was horrified at his prolific use of expletives on stage.
Perhaps it was only for effect, but it did not work for me. Picking a teacher is a very personal decision, and while I personally worked well with Ian, I also loved the fact we had other teachers.
Given the fascination I have with energy these days after all the courses I have taken at The College of Psychic Studies, I also had a chance to see Art Geiser in action, mixing energy work and NLP in his workshop on Energetic NLP.
In the end, NLP is really about establishing rapport with oneself. “How you are used to being is not necessarily who you are,” says Ian.