Defining Neuro Linguistic Programming
Neurolinquistic Programming, or NLP, has as many definitions as there are people who struggle to define it. For some, NLP is a competitive business within a larger competitive self-help industry with sages on stages competing for proselytes. Some of those gurus have used the NLP term, and others have re-branded NLP as their own formula for success. For others, NLP is a therapeutic toolset, used to help them in their coaching or psychotherapeutic work with others. For yet others, NLP is an attitude and a philosophy for running our own brains. Critics of NLP have called it a joke or a farse, highly manipulative.
But let's explore some of the traditional definitions of Neurolinguistic Programming:
- NLP is the study of the structure of subjective experience - Richard Bandler
- NLP is an accelerated learning strategy for the detection and utilization of patterns in the world - John Grinder
- NLP is the epistemology of returning to what we have lost – a state of grace - John Grinder
- NLP is whatever works - Robert Dilts
- NLP is an attitude and a methodology, which leave behind a trail of techniques - Richard Bandler
- NLP is a model of interpersonal communication chiefly concerned with the relationship between successful patterns of behaviour and the subjective experiences (esp. patterns of thought) underlying them - Oxford English Dictionary
- NLP is a system of alternative therapy based on this which seeks to educate people in self-awareness and effective communication, and to change their patterns of mental and emotional behaviour - Oxford English Dictionary
- NLP is a model developed in the 1970s that studies the strucure of experience via tha language of the mind (sights, sounds, sensations, smells) that gets into one's body (neurology) - Michael Hall
I know one NLP Practitioner friend who defines NLP like this:
- Think (well)
- Believe (well)
- Say (well)
- Communicate (well)
- Do (well)
- Behave (well)
So anyone involved in great thinking, communicating and doing is doing NLP, consciously or not.
My own favorite (and trademark pending) definition of NLP is: Now, Let's Play!
As a field, Neurolinguistic Programming has been around for about 4 decades, since its beginnings under Richard Bandler, John Grinder, and later Robert Dilts and a quorum of others. Bandler in particular, was a hard-charging, hard-drinking, cocaine-snorting rebel, studying human systems in Santa Cruz, where he met John Grinder, a professor of linguistics. The pair worked against a backdrop of the psychotherapies of the day, which they deemed to be too slow and ineffective in producing change in their patients.
Their guiding question was not "why do people work the way they do?" but "how do people produce excellent results?" They sought out people who overcame their own phobias, and people that were excellent in their fields of endeavor. They learned that language was a window into how people produced excellent results, and then learned the means to model that excellence and teach it to others.
In order for NLP to become a "field", it's findings needed to be canonized with its own jargon and, later "certifications". Canonization is a two-edged sword... while it organizes thought around a set of core principles or body of knowledge to make it teachable (and profitable), it simultaneously sets boundaries which must be defended at the expense of innovation.
It did not take very many years for the founders of NLP to disagree on who should receive credit for the honor of "NLP founder", so the courts had to decide on that matter. By then, great sums of money were at stake.
The Current State of the NLP "Industry"
Since the falling out of the founders, NLP has continued to grow uncontrollably. Hundreds of books have been written, and hundreds of schools in dozens of countries have sprung up, some certified by one founder, and some aligned with another. Still other schools have arisen which call themselves NLP, but are hardly recognizable. And yet there are still reputable schools to be found, where innovation still goes on, and teaching the latest refinements and distinctions continues.
So with entry barriers to learning NLP so low, and the cost of "qualified NLP training" remaining high, the field is ripe for a lot of people who use NLP poorly and some dangerously. The name of the NLP game is influence, which can be used for good and evil alike. I maintain that like any tool, NLP is neutral, and its use depends on its wielder. Students of NLP range from serious therapists, clergymen, businessmen, performance coaches, government agencies and marketers, to 2-bit manipulators in the seduction business.
What is Your Definition of NLP?
I invite you to take some time to define NLP for yourself in a way that is powerful and motivating. If you do, the knowledge you gain while studying NLP will be transformative, empowering, purposeful and fun! Share those thoughts below.