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An Introduction To NLP

An Introduction To NLP

Let me make one thing very clear from the get-go.

This post is very much an introduction to Neurolinguistic Programming (NLP from here on in) . My main objective is to let you take a peak behind the shroud and show you enough to entice you to delve a little deeper into the aspect, or aspects, of NLP that you believe can most be of benefit.

NLP is very much a hands on experience. Reading about it is great to give you a taster, but you cannot truly learn it or get a deep understanding without practicing it and using it on a regular basis, in the same way that you can’t learn to drive a car from reading a book, even a really cool pop-up book with sound effects.

I’m going to cover a lot of ground, but I’m very much going to concentrate on the parts of NLP that can be grasped realtively easily and used to good effect by most people. So please don’t write to me saying I didn’t cover this technique or I didn’t cover that process.

It won’t be because I forgot, but because it’s either something I see little value in sharing, I don’t have a deep enough understanding of it, or it would require a book in its own right.

I have one NLP book on my shelf that runs to 699 pages and still doesn’t cover everything NLP has to offer. I have another book that only looks at the tiny field of submodalities and yet another that devotes a huge chunk to a process (that I wont be going into) called the compulsion blowout.

One technique called the Core Transformation Process developed by Tamara and Connierae Andreas has its own training certification as does Time Line Therapy which was developed by Tad James from an idea by Richard Bandler. And both have books written about them.

I have done courses on both of the latter, but still don’t feel qualified enough to explain the Core Transformation Process with any authority. The reason being I don’t use it with clients (and that isn’t because I don’t think it works, but because it’s more of a therapeutic intervention than a Life Coaching tool) and as such I haven’t had enough hands on experience to do it justice.

So you can see NLP is a huge field and that’s why when people dismiss it out of hand as pseudoscience they purely demonstrate their own ignorance.

The reality is, there is no ‘thing’ you can call NLP, so by definition you cannot dismiss it.

NLP is still in its infancy and as such it’s evolving, changing and finding its feet and there are certainly areas where I doubt its efficacy. It’s also very much ‘open-source’ with thousands of practitioners all tweaking and improving on it on a daily basis, which can be a blessing and a curse.

I think the growth of NLP has been somewhat stunted for 3 main reasons.

NLP Is An Umbrella Term

Firstly, as I’ve explained, it’s a huge umbrella term that consists of a great many different techniques and processes. Some, like the fast phobia cure and anchoring (more later on both) can seem weird to people that don’t understand how they work.

Imagine you’ve been in therapy for years with issues centered around intense phobias and I bound into the room and declare:

“Worry not kind sir/lady, I can have you hugging snakes and kissing spiders within the hour. Once that is, I’ve remembered where I put my magic wand, black cloak and top hat”

You’re likely to be suspicious at best, and at worst, downright terrified of the loon stood grinning in front of you. And quite honestly, I wouldn’t blame you.

However, if I can get past the initial stage of disbelief and actually explain what I do and more importantly how and why it works, you’re likely to be a lot more amenable and open to discussion.

Fortunately though, fMRI imaging, Pet Scans and research on brain plasticity has come on leaps and bounds over the last decade. So we now know not only that some of these processes work, but just as importantly for the more skeptical amongst us, why they work and what is happening in the brain.

NLP Is Not The Cure To All Ills

Secondly, I don’t think the attitude and skill level of some NLP Practitioners or NLPers (pronounced nelpers) as they are often known, helps matters.

There’s a tendency by a vocal few to suggest NLP is the cure to all ills and that anybody who thinks to the contrary is a heretic and stake burning is too good for ‘em.

This kind of evangelical thinking can, quite rightly, be a real turn off to a lot of people whether it be NLP, religion or politics. It’s takes an arrogant “I am right and you are wrong’ approach that rubs people up the wrong way.

But, whereas religion and politics are largely subjective, some of the claims by Nlpers are not even that, they’re just flat out scientifically and ethically wrong, and often idiotic to boot.

I recently had somebody follow me on Twitter that was talking about using NLP to cure cancer.

In my opinion that’s delusional and damages not only the credibility of the person saying it, but that of professional practitioners that use NLP responsibly.

It’s not just some of the outrageous claims that damage NLP either.  For example, if you have a relative with a serious psychiatric disorder and asked me for advice, I would not encourage you to take them to an NLP Practitioner. Unless that is, the practitioner also had a background in mental health.

I know there are a few brilliant NLP/hypnotherapy people that possibly could help in such circumstances  (and I do emphasize possibly, because it is a long way from being certain), but they are statistical outliers, and I could probably count them on both hands.

These days, most NLP Practitioners do 8 days of training or less and that’s it!

There are still a few companies that offer longer courses, but the number is declining, primarily because most people want to get ‘qualified’ as quickly and cheaply as possible.

My original NLP training was 15 days and then a further 2 tacked on for Time Line Therapy.  I then did 18 days at Master Practitioner level, 10 days of hypnotherapy training and a bunch of workshops.

Even that doesn’t leave me feeling like I have come even close to mastering NLP, and I would never take a client on that needed serious therapeutic intervention.

I’m a Life Coach that borrows a few therapeutic techniques to occasionally speed up the process, not vice versa.

The Hi-Jacking of NLP

The third reason that NLP suffers is because, along with hypnotherapy, it’s been hi-jacked by some nefarious types who spotted the chance to make a fast buck.

They realized after reading The Game by Neil Strauss (a brilliant and highly recommended book that takes a look behind the scenes of the LA pick up scene and how a group of people used NLP to be more successful with women,) that language patterns can be used to persuade people to part with their cash.

As such, there has been a proliferation of websites with ninja-type backgrounds springing up claiming to be able to sell you the secrets of NLP that will result in instant world domination and have babes/dudes (delete where applicable) dripping off your arm by the end of the week.

The real secret behind being good at the language side of NLP is hidden in plain site. It’s called practice.

Anybody can become great at language patterns if they read books like Sleight of Mouth by Robert Dilts or watch DVD’s by fantastic trainers like Jamie Smart and then spend the time practicing what they learn.

Handing over $97 for an ebook will not help you get a date, unless you’re trying to pull the sad 15 year old geek who now has your money.

NLP Is More Established Than You Think

Fortunately though NLP has managed to keep its head above water. No doubt helped by the fact that some of the planets most successful companies including Mercedes Benz and American Express have embraced it for everything from sales to customer support and executive training.

My own first exposure to NLP was when my then employer, ADP (Automatic Data Processing), the worlds largest payroll outsourcing company, brought in trainers to teach NLP to the sales team.

Companies like the ones I mentioned are not built on throwing their money and weight behind woo-woo processes that may or may not work, they succeed because they know what will and will not give them the edge.

Political speech writers (Spin Doctors) know all too well the power of NLP and are trained in advanced language patterns and artfully vague language (more later). And experts in fields as diverse as teaching, athletics and the arts employ NLP to give them an edge. As do trial attorneys that employ NLP techniques to help sway jurors.

Oh, and one other area uses NLP and hypnotherapy to massive effect that I almost forgot about.


Some of the more well known TV celebrity Preachers and Ministers are ‘helping‘ their flock give generously by using some very cunning and manipulative techniques.

But maybe that’s another post for another day.

38 comments to An Introduction To NLP

  • Well, I for one welcome our new NLP overlords.

    As a life coach, I have the feeling you must be using NLP in a very different way than, say, a copywriter would.

    • Not necessarily because I use more of the language side of things than a pure NLP therapist might. So I go for all the embedded commands, pre-suppositions etc. I also use the Meta Model of Language a LOT, but more on that in the book.

      OTOH, there are some techniques I use that would be useless to copywriters.

  • Love it. Love the beginning of this ebook.

    As a NLP student myself (encouraged by Tim), I have found that the best way to see what works is to do them. So far I have spent hours practicing, studying and then practicing some more each of the techniques I learned, even adding my own spin to it (open source) or messing up at times.

    Is it THE answer? Nope. Is it an answer? Perhaps. And I am grateful to be a part of the newer crowd coming into the NLP world and to contribute to it in my own way.

    • I think we all know you’re going to be a master at it Roy. I’d also go as far as to say it’s more than perhaps an answer. It most definitely is an answer for a lot of stuff, not just everything as some would suggest.

  • Great intro. I’m a curious learner of NLP in bits. Haven’t dove into it head first, but have read about it here and there. I agree with and have witnessed it’s power. Especially as you become aware of it’s presence in so much of one’s daily life.

    A name for the book? How about, “NLP Intro or Why You Wanted This Book Before Realizing You Did.”

  • Hi Tim,

    My introduction to NLP came 6 years ago. I had just been laid off from my job and was feeling pretty down about myself. Desperate to make some changes, I read Tony Robbins’ book, “Unlimited Power: The New Science of Personal Achievement.” Robbins gives a few nods to NLP, but the practices helped me in so many ways I couldn’t help but dive into the work of Richard Bandler. It was one of the most defining moments of my life. Looking forward to the ebook.

    • I like Robbins, but I do think he muddied the water somewhat and had some people thinking he invented certain stuff and that NLP was NEC.

      To be fair to him, my guess is that when he was writing his early stuff the legal battles around who ‘owned’ the NLP trademark were probably still raging and he was fearful of being sued.

  • I’m looking forward to reading the book! I don’t know very much about it except for the concepts you’ve touched on here, so I don’t feel that I can give an opinion one way or the other. My gut instinct is there is something to it, because I’ve seen in my own life how I can be affected by things like anchoring.

    Not sure if this is related, but one thing I’ve noticed in reading comments on articles I’ve written is that some people are highly resistant and even offended at the idea that their perceptions are open to outside influence. After all, that’s only something that stupid, foolish people would do and they are not stupid and foolish.

    • I know exactly what you mean. There is scientific proof that EVERYBODY (even people that were doing the research couldn’t avoid it) are effected by price anchoring. That why stores always leave the higher price on during a sale and say “Take an extra 30% off.

      But when I posted on it a couple of years ago, one guy still insisted he wasn’t effected. Bullshit, we all are.

    • The ones who cry the loudest based on some notion of “intelligence” are the ones not thinking. MRIs don’t lie.

      • Again, I have no idea if this is something covered in NLP or not, but it often seems like they get hung up on the details of one specific example instead of being able to extrapolate the greater concept.

        I forget which book it was, but it is one that Tim read, where it talks about how some of these things like anchoring do have very useful parts, too. It’s not just all trickery and sleaze. Life would be exhausting if we didn’t have the ability to make these mental shortcuts, even if sometimes they work against us.

  • I’m an NLP newbie. It definitely sounds like a useful tool to understand. I am excited to learn more from your new book.

  • I like the introduction you posted above and look forward to your book.

    I’ve read about NLP and use some of it in my coaching, am interested in learning more.

  • One of my favorite definitions of NLP that I read awhile back was “NLP is whatever works.”

  • Great, that was a really good introduction. I’m hooked.

    It’s a clever move to post this article, Tim; I wouldn’t have bothered looking at the ebook before, but now I want to check it out :-)

  • Hi Tim, I’ve been curious about NLP for a long time but haven’t got around to researching it properly yet. I think it’s a fascinating subject but I can see what you mean about all the woo woos jumping on the bandwagon too. As I’m hoping to start training as a life coach soon I’m very much looking forward to your book. Your style of writing is pitch perfect for me…down to earth with plenty of sound information. Maybe you could call your book ‘Science not Magic’ An Introduction to Neuro Linguistic Programming.

    • Glad you like my writing style Rosemary.

      BTW, my Life Coach training was very useful, but it pales next to my NLP training. NLP is a difference make imo.

      And that is my favorite title to date – thanks!

  • Hi again Tim, viz a viz life coach training…if you were to do it all again would you skip the life coaching course in favour of NLP only, or would you still do both? I’m interested to know because the Life Coaching course I’m looking at is really expensive. Thanks, Rosemary

    • Hmm, good question and a tricky one to answer. I think the LC training was useful for the basics, but there’s not much of it I lean on now.

      I think it also comes down to the type of client you want and whether you ever want to do corporate work. For the latter, you’ll need the qualifications to get past HR.

      I like working for shorter periods with clients, but packing a lot in. Some coaches prefer to do the (what I call) maintenance like coaching with goal setting/accountability etc.

      How expensive is expensive?

  • Rob Collins

    I agree, great title from Rosemary. May I suggest, “Science not magic – NLP techniques that work”. I’ve come across 1 or 2 that have since been shown to be on very shaky ground.

  • NLP interests me so thank you for sharing this. It’s late this evening and I’m a bit tired so I intend to take a full look at it later.
    Thank you.

  • Hi Tim,

    NLP is certainly interesting and has it’s place in Life(Coaching). I’ve only had brief exposure to it & would like to explore it in greater depth. NLP is not the cure of all ills I would suggest however many “Life Coaches/Nlp Practitioners” trumpet it wide & loudly. From a Coaching perspective, any methodology used should be in the best interests of the client, not a pre determined one.
    Best Regards

  • I have never heard of this but after reading your post I am intrigued and looking forward to more. Thanks Tim

  • Great stuff! Looking forward to reading your take on it.

    I think Michael Watson may have told you that I met him when I was doing my NLP Practitioner course – he taught the Ericksonian Hypnosis module.

    • He did indeed Jack.

      I’d love to have him on board with this because he has a wealth of knowledge on NLP and Hypnotherapy, but I’m not sure writing ebooks is his game ;-)

  • Annabel

    This is all very exciting! Will look forward to the ebook.

  • I’m in. I found the exchange regarding anchoring in the comments of your last post fascinating, and was just about to search your archives for more info. I’ve been put off by those 699 page texts and have yet to delve into NLP. Looking forward to your ebook!

  • NLP

    NLP at its core is a combination of Behavioral Therapy and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and those are the most scientifically proven effective techniques. No technique works 100% of the time and that is why NLP tells us that if something isn’t working then do something different! There are a lot of people who comment on NLP and hypnosis who have never really even studied the information in detail. I think it is import to do an actual hypnosis training and NLP training to get a good background in what is involved. The biggest issue I see with people is that they complain things don’t work when they have hardly any experience and have never practiced the techniques since the introduction they received briefly in training.

  • Affirmations work in certain circumstances. The real problem with affirmations, law of attraction AND goals, is that most people are setting false goals! They set goals about things that will please the spouse, or get approval or status, or any number of “shoulds.” To me, the words “should” and “shouldn’t” are two of the dirtiest words in the English language. They always mean “what someone else wants FOR me.” If you set goals, visualize and do affirmations to manifest things you basically don’t give a shit about, of course they aren’t going to show up! I honestly believe this is the major contaminant in a process that works quite well.

    There is a way cool guy named Rick Jarow, who has published something called “The Ultimate Anti-Career Guide.” It’s available as an audio book as well. In it, he suggests that, rather than setting a specific goal, you pick a “trajectory” instead. All this means is that you are following your “gut” for as long as you feel like it, and listening to the inner voice that tells you if it is a true choice for you, or a false choice. A group of my friends and I did a study group with the audio book. We did some meditations and visualization exercises that are included, but most of all, we gave ourselves permission to not have any goals — just trajectories. Of that group of 7 people, every single one was immersed in some form of education, self-employment, business or creative venture that was both profitable and extremely satisfying because we all went out and walked right into what we had wanted to do in our heart of hearts, all along.