What is NLP, and where did it come from?
“Neuro-linguistic programming” is a marketing term for a “science” that two Californians—Richard Bandler and John Grinder—came up with in the 1970s. Bandler was a stoner student at UC Santa Cruz (just like I later was in the 00s), then a mecca for psychedelics, hippies and radical thinking (now a mecca for Silicon Valley hopefuls). Grinder was at the time an associate professor in linguistics at the university (he had previously served as a Captain in the US Special Forces and in the intelligence community, ahem not that this, you know, is important… aheh…). Together, they worked at modeling the techniques of Fritz Perls (founder of Gestalt therapy), family therapist Virginia Satir and, most importantly, the preternaturally gifted hypnotherapist Milton Erickson. Bandler and Grinder sought to reject much of what they saw as the ineffectiveness of talk therapy and cut straight to the heart of what techniques actually worked to produce behavioral change. Inspired by the computer revolution—Bandler was a computer science major—they also sought to develop a psychological programming language for human beings.
What they came up with was a kind of evolution of hypnotherapy—while classical hypnosis depends on techniques for putting patients into suggestive trances (even to the point of losing consciousness on command), NLP is much less heavy-handed: it’s a technique of layering subtle meaning into spoken or written language so that you can implant suggestions into a person’s unconscious mind without them knowing what you’re doing.
Though mainstream therapists rejected NLP as pseudoscientific nonsense (it has been officially peer reviewed and discredited as an intervention technique), it nonetheless caught on. It was still the 1970s, and the Human Potential Movement was in full swing—and NLP was the new darling. Immediately building a publishing, speaking and training empire, by 1980 Bandler had made over $800,000 from his creation—he was even being called on to train corporate leaders, the army and the CIA. Self-help gurus like Tony Robbins used NLP techniques to become millionaires in the 1980s (Robbins now has an estimated net worth of $480 million). By the middle of the decade, NLP was such big business that lawsuits and wars had erupted over who had the rights to teach it, or even to use the term “NLP.”
There are many different NLP techniques that can be used for many different purposes. Each NLP technique can be used by itself or in combination with other NLP techniques to create fresh and effective methods of "getting inside the mind". To read more about each specific technique, just click on one of the icons below, or use the left navigation menu.
Anchoring - Implants a sensation into the mind to act as a trigger.
Pattern Interruption - Used to leave unconscious messages in the mind.
Swish - Replaces or changes the feelings associated with a condition.
Loop Break - Controls feelings, behaviours or reactions to certain conditions.
Framing - Increases or decreases emotional response to memories.
NLP Meta Model - Helps clarify communication.
Presuppositions - Makes an unconscious suggestion
Mirroring - Builds rapport and trust
How exactly does this thing work?
NLP is taught in a pyramid structure, with the more advanced techniques reserved for multi-thousand-dollar seminars. To oversimplify an overcomplicated subject, it more or less works like this: first, the user (or “NLPer,” as NLP people often refer to themselves—and I should note here that the large majority of NLP people, especially those who are primarily therapists, are likely well-meaning) of NLP pays very, very close attention to the person they’re working with. By watching subtle cues like eye movement, skin flush, pupil dilation and nervous tics, a skilled NLP person can quickly determine:
a) What side of the brain a person is predominantly using;
b) What sense (sight, smell, etc.) is most predominant in their brain;
c) How their brain stores and utilizes information (ALL of this can be gleaned from eye movements);
d) When they’re lying or making information up.
After this initial round of information gathering, the “NLPer” begins to slowly and subtly mimic the client, taking on not only their body language but also their speech mannerisms, and will begin speaking with language patterns designed to target the client’s primary sense.
An NLP person essentially carefully fakes the social cues that cause a person to drop their guard and enter a state of openness and suggestibility.
For instance, a person predominantly focused on sight will be spoken to in language using visual metaphors—”Do you see what I’m saying?” “Look at it this way”—while a person for which hearing is the dominant sense will be spoken to in auditory language—”Hear me out,” “I’m listening to you closely.”
By mirroring body language and linguistic patterns, the NLPer is attempting to achieve one very specific response: rapport. Rapport is the mental and physiological state that a human enters when they let their social guard down, and it is generally achieved when a person comes to the conclusion that the person they’re talking to is just like them. See how that works, broadly? An NLP person essentially carefully fakes the social cues that cause a person to drop their guard and enter a state of openness and suggestibility.
How can I make sure nobody pulls this horseshit on me?
I’ve had all kinds of people attempt to “NLP” me into submission, including multiple people I’ve worked for over extended periods of time, and even people I’ve been in relationships with. Consequently, I’ve developed a pretty keen immune response to it. I’ve also studied its mechanics very closely, largely to resist the nonsense of said people. Here’s a few key methods I’ve picked up.