If you’re interested in communication tools and personal development, you may want to learn more about NLP.
What if someone told you there’s a way you can achieve your personal and professional goals by commanding your use of language?
Some believe that neurolinguistic programming (NLP) techniques do exactly that.
Neurolinguistic programming is an approach that focuses on how you communicate with yourself and others, and how this affects your behaviors and behavior outcomes.
Richard Bandler and John Grinder developed NLP in the 1970s after observing that one of the main differences between what they called “successful people” and others was the way they used language to encourage themselves and everyone else.
“NLP is a model that helps you influence thoughts, feelings, and behaviors in yourself and others,” says Elena Mosaner, a Master NLP practitioner, ICF coach, and CEO and founder of AlphaMind in La Jolla, California. “It’s both a mental art and practice.”
This empowering use of language is supposed to help you change unwanted habits and limiting beliefs, improve relationships, and meet goals easily.
NLP is also based on the belief that you can model other people’s behaviors and, therefore, their outcomes.
In other words, you can observe someone you admire and then imitate and internalize their behaviors to repeat their success.
Bandler and Grinder eventually published a series of NLP communication manuals called “The Structure of Magic,”which gained massive popularity.
Science or pseudoscience?
Some people regard NLP as pseudoscience because there’s limited to no empirical evidence demonstrating it works as it’s promoted to.
In other words, NLP isn’t fully scientifically proven, and research on its effectiveness is limited. However, there’s plenty of anecdotal information from practitioners and coaches pointing to its benefits for many people.
Neurolinguistic programming techniques are said to improve your confidence, self-awareness, communication skills, and how you perceive the world.
According to Mosaner, NLP can be used to:
- program the mind for better habits
- help shift perceptions
- change behaviors
- heal wounds or traumas
- improve communication and influence
- become aware of and better manage internal processes (e.g. voices, stories, visuals)
- decrease distress instead of reacting from a fear based fight-or-flight response
“It can certainly address anxiety, specific fears, allergies, emotional blocks, being stuck in life, relationship, and communication problems,” says Mosaner, who adds she has personally helped her clients work on these challenges through NLP techniques.
Rapport building techniques can help you connect with people more naturally. They’re mainly based on the importance of synchronizing your communication style with the other person’s in order to develop trust.
A 2006 study suggested that using rapport building NLP techniques created more trust in conversations than not using them.
“You can use NLP rapport building to help negotiate conflicting views to find a middle ground and mitigate conflict,” says Mosaner.
The key elements of this NPL technique include:
- pacing and adapting to someone’s expressions
- leading and persuading
- bottom lining or making clear where you stand
- actively listening
- staying nonjudgmental
The meta model in NLP refers to asking questions about your common beliefs and how you see reality.
The NPL technique is based on the assumption that almost everyone uses cognitive distortions, that is, “thought filters” that make you see other people, yourself, and events in a more negative way than they really are.
In general, you react to these thoughts more often than to reality. And you reinforce them with your language.
The meta model would consist of questions you ask yourself or others to contrast what’s being said or thought with evidence.
For example, if you become irritated during a conversation with your partner because you feel they always interrupt you, ask yourself how many times they have really done so during this exchange. Then, you can react to the evidence instead of to your assumption.
According to Mosaner, modeling is a process of recreating someone’s way of being to enrich your own model of the world.
“You can model someone else’s excellence, behavior, mindset, and belief system. It’s kind of like imitating someone. You get to magically channel their characteristics and understand how they think and behave,” she explains.
This communication method emphasizes the importance of both verbal and nonverbal cues.
Mirroring or matching someone’s energy (or sometimes, posture) can help you appear more likable or trustworthy at the unconscious level.
“This exercise helps you speak of your actions, beliefs, and behavior in third person and become less emotional and less attached to your position about something specific,” says Mosaner.
By consciously and safely dissociating using the meta (or “beyond self”) position, she notes that you can gain more insight and a better approach toward a situation.
“Six-step reframing is a powerful process that helps you see, recognize, give voice [to], and ultimately negotiate between your inner conflicting parts,” says Mosaner.
Reframing refers to reassessing your beliefs and thoughts, so you can look at them from different angles.
She says reframing is a great tool to establish a better connection within yourself and a more rational approach to something happening in your life.
“NLP is a great way to learn better communication and, in my opinion, it can teach you to think in multiple perspectives,” says Mosaner.
She notes that developing these skills allows you to see and understand other people’s perspectives more easily. “This especially helps when there’s a clash in views and a rising conflict between persons or groups of people.”
A 2015 research review showed that using some of the tools of NLP within a combined therapeutic approach can be useful in some instances.
For example, a 2010 research review indicated that NLP techniques could help in the treatment of phobias in a short period of time.
NLP is also used in other aspects, both personal and professional, including:
Practitioners believe NLP helps you put yourself in control of your experiences, rather than perceiving them as things that happen to you. In this way, you could create your own reality.
Neuroplasticity vs. NLP
Neuroplasticity refers to the brain’s ability to change and adapt. In this sense, neural pathways can still develop and disconnect throughout our lives. Your actions and experiences influence these brain changes, especially the learning of something new.
The practice of neurolinguistic programming can potentially lead to new neural connections as you learn and implement new habits and skills. However, this is theoretically true for any new thing you learn in life, not a quality of NLP per se.
Despite its popularity since the 1970s, there’s little scientific evidence to back up the practice of NLP.
There’s also limited research to support NLP as an effective therapy for mental health conditions. Anecdotal evidence from practitioners, though, suggests that the techniques can be helpful for some people.
It’s also important to note that NLP is not a type of therapy. Some of its techniques could be used in therapy alongside a trained practitioner, though.
There’s also criticism that the techniques are few in number, which limits its range of use.
You can practice NLP with a certified practitioner. They’ll be able to guide you according to the goals you’d like to accomplish.
You could also use some of the NLP techniques in your everyday life for personal and professional purposes.
Affirmations, mantras, or incantations may serve as positive goal statements that, in time, can improve your perception of reality.
Some examples include:
- “My body is strong and capable of healing.”
- “I have all of the skills I need to meet my goals.”
- “I am safe.”
- “I love and accept myself unconditionally.”
Regularly repeating phrases like these can help to train your mind to believe them at conscious and unconscious levels.
You can write them down on sticky notes and place them throughout your home where you’ll see them. You can also repeat them out loud when you look in the mirror.
They won’t work immediately. So, consider being patient and persistent with affirmation practices.
The next time you have a conversation with someone, try subtly emulating their behaviors, posture, tone of voice, or using the same words they say.
For example, if the person you’re talking with appears calm, you’d assume a calm demeanor as well. If their body language is relaxed (e.g. arms aren’t crossed and they’re directly facing you), you’d do the same.
This can help you build rapport and may decrease the chance of friction during the conversation.
“Let’s say someone wants to understand the magic of being Oprah, Barack Obama, or someone else they know, admire, or look up to,” says Mosaner. “Your task is to imagine you are them, fully embody their presence, then ask yourself a set of questions.”
“For example, as I embody Kamala Harris, I ask myself ‘what are my skills and capabilities?’ I will go in depth in describing them and so on.”
As you speak about their core beliefs, values, and capabilities in your own voice, Mosaner says you might begin to “install” a new set of beliefs and values.
Other ways to practice NLP include:
- visualization or imagery training
- NLP swish or assuming a new self-image to replace those habits we want to leave behind
- anchoring or pairing a physical sensation with a feeling, so next time you can recreate that feeling by repeating the physical sensation
Neurolinguistic Programming, or NLP, is a set of specific processes and techniques said to help you improve the way you communicate with yourself and others, and how this impacts your personal development.
Some anecdotal benefits of NLP include positively shifting your perceptions, improving communication skills, becoming more aware of your internal processes, and establishing new habits.
Common techniques of NLP include rapport building, modeling, mirroring, and reframing.
If you’d like to learn more about NLP training or work with a trained coach, consider visiting these resources: