Neuro-Linguistic Programming: Learning Brain Language

Ever heard of “although you can’t control everything, you can control how you react to everything?” Although it sounds like something technical and used with the newest IOS or Microsoft update, neuro-linguistic programming is actually an incredible therapy technique that helps people reshape their behavior and thought patterns to triggering events. What is neuro-linguistic programming? How does it work? What are the methods and different techniques used? What are some examples of neuro-linguistic programming exercises? Is it a discredited science?

Neuro-Linguistic Programming
Neuro-Linguistic Programming

What is neuro-linguistic programming

Although it sounds like something technical and used with the newest IOS or Microsoft update, neuro-linguistic programming, also called NLP, is essentially learning the language of your brain and the study of human performance. Broken down, neuro is used to refer to our neurology, linguistic is used to refer to language, and programming is used to refer to how our neural language works and functions. The creators of neuro-linguistic programming also can that the methodology can help to model the skills of exceptional people and allows anyone to acquire said skills. The creators also claim that, in a single session, NLP can help to treat issues such as tic disorders, depression, psychosomatic illnesses, phobias, allergy, nearsightedness, learning disorders, and the common cold.

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The history of NLP started in the early 1970’s in California with Richard Bandler, a 20-year-old psychology student, and his friend Dr. John Grinder, a man in his late 20’s and an associate linguistics professor at U.C. Santa Cruz. Bandler also studied mathematics and computer science which made him become more interested in behavioral sciences. Bandler took the methods used by Virginia Satir, and American family therapist and social worker, as well as methods from Fritz Perls, who developed gestalt therapy. He then used these methods to create workshops and study groups. When Bandler and Grinder teamed up, they wanted to initially define the skills and techniques used by successful therapists. They studied the writings, works, and recordings of Satir and Perls to find out what made them exceptional therapists. This is how neuro-linguistic programming was developed. The two published several books, such as The Structure of Magic, Vol I & II, which identified language patterns that effective therapists use. In their later works, they also looked at the work from Noam Chomsky (linguist), Gregory Bateson, Alfred Korzybski, and Milton Erickson (hypnotist). They were particularly fascinated by Milton Erickson and tried to use his way of conversational hypnosis into their neuro-linguistic programming techniques.

As the theory and knowledge of NLP grew, so did the number of people studying it. Nowadays, people such as David Gordon, Leslie Cameron Bandler, Judith DeLozier, and Robert Dilts have expanded and helped grow the research we have on neuro-linguistic programming.

How does neuro-linguistic programming work?

Neuro-linguistic programming seems kind of like hypnosis, magic, or manipulation. Of which, it’s sort of like hypnosis. While the therapy is going on, the patient divess into their unconscious mind and goes through layer by layer of perceptions and beliefs, sifting through everything they know, in order to become more aware of something in order to fix something. For example, to become aware of a childhood experience that shaped a certain behavioral pattern as an adult.

NLP has roots from the field of behavioral science and uses the unconscious mind as well as physiology to change thought processes and behavior. Neuro-linguistic programming can be content-free which means that the therapist can work effectively without knowing the specific problem in detail. This is great because the therapist can work well while keeping the patient’s life private.

NLP works on the principle that everybody has all of the resources “at the ready” necessary to make a positive change in their lives. All they need is some help accessing those resources. The techniques used in NLP are used as a tool to help enable these changes. It involves a non-invasive, medicine-free therapy technique that helps one discover better ways of dealing with emotional problems such as destructive relationship patterns, lack of confidence, low self-esteem, and anxiety.

Methods of neuro-linguistic programming

In NLP, the term “modeling” refers to the process of adopting languages, behaviors, beliefs, and strategies of another person in order to model what they do.


The meta-method involves a set of specifying questions and language patterns that are designed to expand and challenge one’s limits. When someone speaks about a problem or situation, the words they use, also known in NLP as indicators, will change, distort, delete portions, and generalize their experiences. By listening to and responding to these different language patterns, the person who is helping the patient can help uncover the problems that lie under the words. The idea is that a therapist who listens to a patient and helps them based on the therapist’s belief system will miss important aspects of the conversation and be less able to help the patient well. The Meta-model is based on verbal patterning from Virginia Satir and Fritz Perls and is intended to easily detect the indicators of restrictive thinking and limiting beliefs. The questions that are used in the Meta-Model are designed to help bring some clarity to the patient’s language as well as give light to their underlying beliefs and thinking patterns.

For a business, the meta-model can be used to help a client elaborate and give more details of their objectives, proposals, and problems by asking about the important information that was left out. For instance, if a person says something such as, “we need to make a decision,” the response could be to ask who will be doing the deciding and how the process of deciding will take place. Why? The word “we” doesn’t specify who is doing the action and the word “decision” refers to a process that was turned into an abstract noun and isn’t specified.

Milton method

The Milton method is a form of hypnotherapy that is based on language patterns for hypnotic communication from hypnotherapist Milton Erickson. The Milton method has three aspects to it. First, to distract and overload the conscious mind to that unconscious communication can happen. Second, to assist in building and maintaining a bond with the client/patient. Third, to allow for interpretation from the words given to the patient/client.

Neuro-Linguistic Programming
Neuro-Linguistic Programming helps teach you how to remain calm as your first instinct when all you want to do is scream

Techniques of neuro-linguistic programming


Neuro-linguistic programming shows that we are constantly making “anchors”, between what we feel, hear, see, and our emotional states. This is a process also known as classical conditioning. If in an emotional state and someone is exposed to a unique stimulus (such as a touch, sight, or sound), they typically make a connection, known as an anchor, is made between the stimulus and the emotion. If the same stimulus happens again, the same emotional state is triggered. Neuro-linguistic programming teaches that the anchors we make can be purposely and deliberately created and triggered in order to help people access their target states. The anchoring technique has been scientifically tied to helping relieve anxiety. Anchoring was incorporated into NLP from family therapy as a part of the model that Virginia Satir gave.

Future Pacing

Future Pacing is a technique that asks a person to imagine doing something in the future and monitoring their reactions. This is a process known as feedforward, behavioral, and cognitive science. It’s often used to see if a change process was successful. For instance, if one’s anxiety or personal phobias have been healed or lessened with therapy and treatment. It’s done so by observing the body language of someone when they imagine being in a hard and difficult situation before and after the intervention/therapy. If the body language is the same after the intervention as before, then the therapy wasn’t successful.

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Future pacing is used to help embed, root, and fix a change into the contents of the future. It enables a person to have the experience of dealing positively with a situation that before having NLP, they wouldn’t have dealt with well. It’s a process based on visualization where the brain and mind are assumed to be unable to tell the difference between a fictitious scenario and a real one.

The theory goes that having visualized a situation and reaction positively, when the person experiences that situation, in reality, the visualized experience will serve as a model for how to behave even though the scenario before was only imagined in the mind. However, it’s theorized that the brain cannot tell the difference between a visualization and reality, similar to what happens with our dreams and reality, and the brain then “accepts” these visualizations as reality and then makes the mental note and change (known as constructivism). That is to say, the brain begins to believe that the visualization of the situation is reality and reacts to future situations based on that “experience” or idea.

Neuro-Linguistic Programming
Neuro-Linguistic Programming- the goal of NLP is to help someone reach the top of their emotional and behavioral “ladder” safely. 


The Swish NLP Pattern is a process whose purpose is to disrupt a pattern of thought that leads to unwanted behavior and instead lead it to the desired behavior. This means that the patient needs to visualize a “cue” which used to lead them to an unwanted behavior. For instance, a smoker’s hand moving toward the face with a cigarette in it. Instead, the mind needs to be reprogrammed and switch to a visualization that leads to the desired behavior, such as quitting smoking. For instance, visualizing a healthy person who is energetic and fit might stop smoking behavior. Auditory effects are also used to help enhance the swish experience. It’s one of the neuro-linguistic programming techniques that involve manipulating the submodalities.


Reframing wasn’t original to neuro-linguistic programming. It works by changing the way one perceives an event and, thus, changing the meaning of the event. This is important because when the meaning changes, behaviors, and responses subsequently also change. By reframing and expression language differently, it allows one to see the world a different way which can change the meaning. There are examples of reframing in many jokes, fairy tales, and games. For example, in the story of the Ugly Duckling, when the beautiful animals that welcome and accept the duckling, he gazes at his reflection and sees that he, also, is a swan.

Well-formed outcome

In terms of NLP, a well-formed outcome is one of numerous “frames” where the desired state is considered by its achievability and effect if achieved. A positive outcome and result is defined by the patient for their own use and benefit. The hope is that the patient can retain the positive results/products of the unwanted behaviors which then result in an overall outcome that is appropriate in the situation.


Ecology is a frame in which the desired outcome is checked against the consequences and results in the patient’s relationships and life from all angles.

Parts integration

Parts integration is a form of NLP that is based on the idea that different aspects of our lives and of ourselves are in conflict due to different beliefs and perceptions. This is also known in psychology as cognitive dissonance. Parts integration is defined as the process of integrating the different aspects of one’s self by identifying and negotiating with separate parts in order to achieve a resolution of the internal conflict. This type of NLP is exemplified in ego-state therapy and family therapy.

Neuro-Linguistic Programming
Neuro-Linguistic Programming helps one change their way of thinking and their behavior towards negative situations


VK/D stands for Visual/Kinesthetic Dissociation and is a technique that is designed to get rid of any bad feelings and resentment that is associated with any past events by re-running (over and over) a memory associated with the past in a dissociated state. It uses parts from Fritz Perls and Eriksonian.


Metaphor, a part of VK/D, is a technique that is largely derived from techniques of Erikson and idea of Bateson. In terms of neuro-linguistic programming, metaphor ranges from allegories to stories to simple figures of speech. It tends to be used together with skills from the Milton Model in order to create a story which can operate on many different levels with the intention to communicate with the unconscious mind and then find and later challenge the minds basic assumptions.

State management

State management, a part of VK/D, is a technique in neuro-linguistic programming that involves trying to actively control the mental states and emotional states of one person. Also known as state control, the method is used as both a hypnotic technique in hypnotherapy as well as a self-help method.

Covert hypnosis

Covert hypnosis, also known as sleight of mouth, is mainly a method that uses language patterns to persuade or even other people. Its nickname of sleight of mouth by Robert Dilts comes from the magician saying “sleight of hand” which refers to a magician’s ability to make things change and disappear that seem impossible to do… covert hypnosis the same idea, but with words, not actions.

Examples of neuro-linguistic programming exercises

Some common examples of NLP in everyday life are:

  • Implementing neuro-linguistic programming due to office politics, work overload, procrastination, and poor time management can be done and a good solution to fix these problems. An NLP therapist would take the reactions to these distress triggers and try to help the patient recast and reshape one’s interpretation of an event and their thought patterns about it. Although the patient may not be able to control the events around them at the office, they are able to control how they react to those events. The therapist will try to help the patient implement a positive reaction to common stressors which can help modify one’s internal thought process.
  • There are many people who go through sexual assault or traumatizing abusing childhoods. When they grow older, the behaviors that some people use as a coping mechanism or protection from getting hurt again can actually hurt them more. NLP helps someone who has a bad trigger to react well and think positively about the situation.
  • How we communicate is essential to how successful and productive we are. Using a neuro-linguistic programming approach to communication can help one present and request things in a manner that the recipient will understand. NLP can help you think about how to request something from your manager while naturally thinking about what his motivation to grant the request is.

Is neuro-linguistic programming discredited?

There is no scientific concrete evidence saying that neuro-linguistic programming works 100% and is accredited. That said, there are many advocates for the therapy. The overall field suffers from a lack of direct evidence that supports the psychology of it. However, there are claims that the underlying principles have enough evidence behind them to support NLP.

Taking a quote from an article from Research Digest, “It’s true that a minority of psychologists are trained in neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) and advocate its use, but it is a serious error to think that NLP is grounded in scientific findings in either psychology or neuroscience. In fact, the system – which is usually marketed a way of achieving greater personal success – was developed by two self-help gurus in the 1970s who simply made up their own psychological principles after watching psychotherapists working with their clients. NLP is full of false claims that sound scientific-ish, such as that we each have a preferred “representational system” for thinking about the world, and that the best way to influence someone is to mirror their preferred system. A forensic trawl through all the claims made in NLP programmes found that the overwhelming majority are piffle. In many contexts, this may be harmless, but in 2013 a charity was called to book for offering NLP based therapy to traumatized war veterans.”

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