Neuro-Linguistic Programming

NLP was developed in the early 1970′s by Richard Bandler, Ph.D., an information scientist, and John Grinder, Ph.D., a linguist. Bandler and Grinder were interested in how people influence one another, and in the possibility of being able to duplicate the behavior, and therefore the effectiveness of highly influential people. Their early research was conducted at the University of California at Santa Cruz. What made their search special was their use of technology from linguistics and information science, combined with insights from behavioral psychology and general systems theory, to unlock the secrets of highly effective communication.The actual technology, or methodology, that Bandler and Grinder used is known as human modeling; actually the building of models of how people perform or accomplish something (anything – the usefulness in benchmarking best practices should be immediately obvious). This modeling process actually means finding and describing the important elements and processes that people go through, beginning with finding and studying a human model. This is a person, who does something in a particular, usually highly skillful, way. For example, if you want to know how to teach some particular skill or concept, you’d first find someone who does it extremely well. Then ask him or her lots of questions about what they do, why they do it, what works and doesn’t work, and so on. At the same time, observing this person in action will often lead to new and better questions to ask in the process. Most of us do this already, though perhaps not systematically.

The addition of specific NLP technology makes it possible to discover much of what this human model does that he or she is not aware of. To do this well means to actually study the structure of people’s thought processes and internal experience, as well as their observable behavior.

During their early studies Bandler and Grinder developed a unique system of asking questions and gathering information that was based on the fields of transformational grammar and general semantics. Later they and their colleagues discovered certain minimal cues people give that indicate very specific kinds of thought processes. These include eye movements, certain gestures, breathing patterns, voice tone changes and even very subtle cues such as pupil dilation and skin color changes (training of Practitioners of NLP includes the skills and knowledge to use these information gathering techniques and to notice and interpret the subtle cues).

NLP is this gathering of information to make models, based on the internal experience and information processing of the people being studied and modeled, including the part that is outside of their conscious awareness. The word neuro refers to an understanding of the brain and its functioning. Linguistic relates to the communication aspects (both verbal and non-verbal) of our information processing. Programming is the behavioral and thinking patterns we all go through. There is a relationship between perceptions, thinking and behavior that is neuro-linguistic in nature. The relationship is operating all the time, no matter what we are doing, and it can be studied by exploring our internal or subjective experience. The formal definition of Neuro-Linguistic Programming is: The study of the structure of subjective experience.

So, now to the question of our basic theory in NLP. We don’t really have one. NLP is not based on theory. It is based on the process of making models. There is a big difference. A model doesn’t have to be “true” or “correct” or even perfectly formed. It only has to be useful when applied to what it’s designed for. If it isn’t, it can be discarded in any situation where it fails. NLP is really an epistemology (the study of the origin and structure of knowledge itself). Everything in NLP is based on specific evidence procedures for effectiveness and is thoroughly tested. “Doing NLP” means working diligently to be sure we know what we know, and use it appropriately.

Adapted from: “Neuro-Linguistic Programming.” INFO-LINE, American Society For Training & Development, April, 1994. By Sid Jacobson.

We liked Dr. Sid Jacobson’s History of NLP so much that we asked his permission to include it on our web site. Sid’s email address is:

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