Neurological Levels

Submitted by Craig on Sun, 04/23/2017 - 23:48

Remember at all times that the map is not the territory. Still, there are many models in NLP that can help us share our maps of the world. We owe a debt to Robert Dilts for helping to develop one such model for understanding behaviors, motivations, and relationships called Neurological Levels. The levels are:

  • Environment
  • Behavior
  • Capability
  • Beliefs and Values
  • Identity
  • Spirituality

As important as the levels are for understanding ourselves and our drivers, it is equally beneficial to study the boundaries and interactions between the levels.


The environment is everything surrounding us, beginning with the air and objects in direct contact with us, and extends to the farthest reaches of the universe. It is where we work, sleep, eat, play, and interact with others. We impact the environment at all times, and the environment also shapes us.

There are no neutralities in this interaction. Every word we hear, every sight we see is perceived by some level, though not everything makes it into our conscious awareness.

On the level of environment, we can have some degree of superficial rapport through familiar surroundings.

Linguistically, we might understand the impact of the environment on a person by listening to the predicates such as "I can't do that here".


At the boundary of behavior and environment is the physiological impact of one on the other. If our environment is stressful, our physiology responds with fight or flight mechanisms. If we demonstrate pleasing behavior, the environment and others welcome our presence.

Behavior is the only part of another person that we can directly observe. It is the surface structure under which there is hidden or deeper structures that we use modeling to reveal.

Linguistically, we describe behavior by using predicates such as "I sometimes do that", or "she moved in here chair".

A leader who focuses on changing behavior is a coach.


Capability can be indirectly observed through behavior, but when someone is able to repeatably demonstrate control over their behavior and achieve a consistent outcome, we say they have capability or skill.

Linguistically, a person may show they operate from the level of capability by using predicates such as "I can't do that", or "That's easy".

A leader who focuses on increasing capability is a teacher.


Beliefs are filters we substitute for lack of direct knowledge of something. Beliefs may be deep-rooted and immovable (like the sun will rise tomorrow), or shallow and replaceable in the face of new evidence (like the mismatching socks that seemed to be the same color in the dim morning light are obviously not the same color in the light of the office).

Beliefs shape which capabilities we develop, by placing a measure of importance on those skills we perceive as necessary to survive or get ahead in life.

Linguistically, a persons may reveal his or her motivations or decisions by using predicates such as "I shouldn't do that", or "if this then that.

A leader who changes hearts is a mentor.


Identity is "me and my story". Identity is an amalgamation of defining experiences and a measure self-adulation (or at times self-flagellation).

Identity and beliefs interact constantly, and one shapes the other. Sometimes one is Yin and the other Yang, and sometimes vice versa.

Linguistically, a person who operates from the level of identity would stress predicates such as "I can't do that", or "that's just who I am". You might also hear it as "I am the customer", which is situational, but implies a lot about which roles everyone is expected to play in that situation.

A leader who supports the soul is a sponsor.


There is a saying in Quantum Linguistics that says "no matter what you think you are, you're always more than that". This is predicated on the notion that the boundary between what is "you", and what is "not you" is an artificial construct defined only by the notion held in mind at any time. The boundary is constantly shifting as our thoughts about ourselves shift. When we stop thinking in terms of boundaries, then there are no boundaries.

This is where intention and purpose enter in. Intention and purpose permeate all the roles we play because intention has no boundaries, though the denser forms of identity, beliefs, capabilities and behaviors often mask the presence or appearance of intention.

A leader in the realm of spirit is an awakener.