Neuro Linguistic Programing; A Review of it’s Origins and Pre-Suppositions

Neuro Linguistic Programing; A Review of it’s Origins and Pre-Suppositions

 Subjective not Objective

For those of you that don’t know what NLP is it stands for Neural Linguistic Programming. The study of the Structure of Subjective Experience and what can be calculated from it. For simplicity look at Subjective as biased theories, and Objective as unbiased theories. Founded by Richard Bandler and John Grinder in 1976.

What is NLP

NLP is a communication model, it is about the internal representation of experience and how people communicate with themselves as well as with others. It focuses on subjective experience and constructed reality. Neural refers to translating sensory experiences into thought processes, both conscious and unconscious. Linguistics is how we capture, conceptualize, then communicate the experience. Programing is how we mentally represent the experience, using regular and systematic patterns of response.

It’s Roots

Alfred Korzybski, most famous for creating the theory of General Semantics in the 1930s. General Semantics deals with human evaluative orientation. Where it’s always possible to give a description of empirical facts, but such descriptions remain just that, descriptions, which necessarily leave out many aspects of the objective.In short language provides a structural “map” of empirical facts, but there can be no “identity”.

Considered Ground Breaking in the 1930s

Humans create their unique cognitive maps of the external world. Today everybody is aware that people differ in their perceptions, even when they are confronted with identical situations. Our past experiences, beliefs, and expectations dramatically shape the ways we see, smell, hear, taste, and feel.

Human Potential Movement

Through Abraham Maslow’s, modeling study of psychological healthy self-actualizers, the Human Potential Movement was launched, and from this came the premises of NLP. Based on Rogers Psychometric research and Glasser’s Reality Therapy the emphasis moved to a solution focused approach to solving psychological, physiological, neurological and emotional problems, and away from the Freudian approach of looking to the past for the solution.

Cognitive Theory

Using the Cognitive Theory, which focused on thoughts being the primary driver of human experience, and that thoughts are revealed primarily as words, self-talk statements, and beliefs. How we think affects how we feel which in turn affects how we behave.


NLP has been influenced by many fields and disciplines and continues to be a fluid approach to communication, personal development and psychotherapy. It claims there is a connection  between neurological processes, language, and behavioral patterns learned through experience, and that these can be changed to achieve specific goals in life.

 Challenged by Science

Although the the original core techniques were therapeutic in orientation, since the 1980s scientific interest in NLP has faded. The consensus scientific opinion is that  NLP is a pseudoscience, due to the fact that the evidence in favor of it, is limited to anecdotes and personal testimony, and lacks empirical support through controlled trails.

No Empirical Evidence

A systematic review of experimental studies by Sturt et al in 2012 concluded that “there is little evidence that NLP interventions improve health related outcomes. In a review Stephen Briers writes “NLP is not really a cohesive therapy but a ragbag of different techniques without a particularly clear theoretical basis and its evidence base is virtually non-existent.”

Why It’s Still Popular

It’s generic nature enables it to still be applied to other fields such as persuasion, sales, negotiations, management training, sports psychology, team building and public speaking. It has shifted it’s emphasis to the study of self improvement, and communication, both with yourself and others. By utilizing its vast array of best practices, concepts and techniques, they now claim to be able to help people get in control of their minds, emotional states and improve the general quality of their lives.

Is it a Placebo

In  this and in subsequent blogs I will attempt to do an in depth review of NLP, in which we will take a look at this ragbag of techniques in order to see what’s behind all the noise and why it’s still being aggressively marketed on the internet both as a self improvement course and a life coach certification course. I don’t  write off any pseudo science. My research in placebos has shown me that there is a lot science doesn’t understand, and the bigger the problem the better a placebo works.

NLP believes People Are Inherently Good

To understand the basics you first should look at NLP pre-suppositions. When I first started reading these, it immediately brought to mind, the theory X and Y Management Styles that I learned back in the eighties. Simply put a Theory X manager basically thinks people are bad and inherently lazy, thus they must be managed with a strong hand. Theory Y on the other hand believes people are inherently good and want to do a good job, they can be managed with a more enlightened attitude. While theory X is productive in the short term it doesn’t age well and causes problems down the road. Theory Y is preferable but can go to the other extreme with people taking advantage.

Now lets look at the pre-suppositions

  • Each behavior was the best choice an individual had at that particular time.
  • Behind every behavior lies a positive intention
  • There is no such thing as failure only feedback exists
  • If what you do doesn’t work try something different
  • The map is not the territory, perception is projection
  • The individual with the most flexibility wins
  • You cannot not communicate/manipulate
  • Everyone already has the needed resources available to achieve desired results
  • There are no incapable people only incapable states.
  • The body is the mind
  • The past is not equal to the future
  • People aren’t broken
  • Everything is achievable
  • Empowerment comes via responsibility
  • People respond to perception not reality

Should Be Taught In High School, College,and Businesses

I think anyone reading these, would have to agree, that these are very humanistic assumptions, and I wonder why courses in Semantics and Ethics are not requirements in Colleges and Universities today. and more consistently utilized in management training within organizations.

Challenge What People Believe

It’s about challenging dis-empowering beliefs, NLP feels that all beliefs are limited by nature, and that we don’t know what we don’t know. When we respond to opinion, feelings and thoughts it’s because of limiting beliefs. Society today could  reflect on some of these principles

How We Experience Life

Life manifests itself from the inside out. It starts with our thoughts then to our attitudes, through our beliefs, and finally our feelings. Just a little to get you interested, stay tuned for my next post, where I’ll cover the five ways we experience life and a lot more.

No matter what your age or avocation, I’m convinced that everyone has a best seller in them. Don’t die with your story inside you. There is a Website that will train you, filled with a community of like minded people, to help and encourage you,  in achieving your goals. Check out my custom sign up page. It’s free to try it out, what have you got to lose.

As always, thanks for visiting. Dave

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