The term “Neuro-Linguistic Programming” (NLP) refers to the models and principles that relate to the interaction of mind and neurology (neuro), language (linguistic) and perception. These interact to create an individual’s subjective reality and behaviour.


In the 1970s, Richard Bandler, a psychology student, and John Grinder, an associate professor of linguistics, studied the language and behavioural patterns of successful and effective therapists. The results of this research sparked the emergence of a new field – the field of neuro-linguistic programming (NLP). 

Current Status

Today, NLP is used internationally by millions of people within an array of occupational groups, from counsellors, coaches and motivational speakers to sales managers and marketers. Many neuro-linguistic programming techniques have arisen that provide step-by-step procedures for ‘running your own mind’ in an attempt to produce excellence in performance. With such an assortment of techniques on offer, any attempt to condense the entire scope of NLP into one resource would serve only to dilute its essence.

You will be introduced to the fundamental techniques of NLP using representational systems to develop rapport, reframing to alter the meaning of an experience and the swish pattern to alter ineffective behaviour patterns. Each of these techniques can be expanded or modified depending on its intended aim or purpose.

Over the course of NLP’s development, various ‘schools’ or ‘branches’ of NLP have emerged. If you conduct your own research in this area, you may notice that different ‘brands’ of NLP exist, each with their own set of standards and procedures.

Essentially, NLP is a very specific way of modelling. If, for example, you know somebody who is an excellent tennis player and you would like to play just like him/her, what would you do? You could study what makes this person a good player and then model exactly what is done. In essence, it is this modelling that NLP practitioners are focused on. The aforementioned tennis player may envisage, for example, the tennis ball hitting the racket, just before it happens.


The map is not the territory: Our mental representations (or maps) of the world are not the world. We respond to our mental maps, rather than the world. Mental maps, especially feelings and interpretations, can be modified, updated or altered more easily than the world around us can be changed.

Experience has structure: Our thoughts and memories have a pattern or structure to them. When we change that pattern or structure, our experience will change. We can neutralise unpleasant memories and enhance those memories that serve us well.

If one person can do something, anyone can learn to do it: We can learn the mental map of someone who has achieved what we seek to achieve and in that way, make it our own.

The mind and body are parts of the same system: Our thoughts continuously affect our physical being – muscle tension, breathing, emotional reactions, and more. These in turn affect our thoughts. When we learn to change one, we have simultaneously learned to change the other.

We cannot NOT communicate: We are always communicating.  If we are not speaking, we are at least communicating non-verbally. Words are often the least important part of any communication transaction. A sigh, a smile and a look are all communications. Even our thoughts are an inner form of communication that are conveyed or revealed to others through such indicators as our eyes, voice tones and other non-verbal cues.

The meaning of communication is the response we get: Others receive and filter what we say and do through their own mental maps. When someone interprets our words or actions differently to how we intended, it’s a chance for us to take note and seek to modify our communication so that next time it is clearer.

Underlying every behaviour is a positive intention: Behind every hurtful or thoughtless behaviour there exists a positive purpose. When somebody yells, for example, they may be seeking acknowledgement. Someone may hit out in an attempt to protect themselves from perceived danger or hide in order to feel safe. Rather than condemning or judging these actions, we can identify the positive intent and encourage more positive choices that meet the same intent.

People are always making the best choice(s) available to them: Everyone has a unique personal history. Within it, we have learned how to respond to life events and experiences. The choices each of us make are the ones we believe to be best for us at that particular point in time.


To understand the process of NLP, the first stage is to understand where the process begins. The process begins with an event external to the individual that is experienced through the sensory input channels:

  • Visual: including what we see or the way someone looks at us.
  • Auditory: which includes sounds, the words we hear and the way that people say those words to us.
  • Kinaesthetic: or external feelings, which include the touch of someone or something, the pressure and the texture.
  • Olfactory: which is smell.
  • Gustatory: which is taste.

Extracted from James, T., & Woodsmall, W. (1988). Time Line Therapy and the Basis of Personality. Capitola: Meta Publications.

Before we make an internal representation of an event we filter it through a variety of internal processing filters. These filters can delete, distort or generalise information, leading to an inaccurate or modified version of the experience.

Deletion involves the process of selectively paying attention to specific aspects of an experience (James & Woodsmall, 1988). Through deletion we fail to notice particular sensory information. For example, Ben’s sister is picking him up from a concert. He is looking out intently for her car which he knows is a bright red hatchback. Because he is so focused on seeing a small red car, he fails to hear his sister calling him from a blue sedan (which she had borrowed from a friend). As you can see from the example, Ben is so focused on the visual aspect of his experience (see a red car) that he fails to notice (or deletes) the auditory aspect of his experience (his sister calling him).

Distortion occurs when we misrepresent the sensory data received (James & Woodsmall, 1988). For example, Juanita thought she heard rain falling. She ran out to take her washing off the line only to discover that it wasn’t rain at all – it was the sound of the neighbour’s air conditioning starting up. This is an example of auditory distortion where Juanita thought she heard one thing when in fact it was something completely different.

Generalisation is the process of making a judgement based on a limited number of experiences and attributing that judgement to a broad array of experiences (James & Woodsmall, 1988). For example, Tyson and Nicky are looking to rent a new home. They visit their local real estate agent.

Tyson feels as though this particular agent is only interested in working with people who are seeking to purchase a home, rather than rent one. Nicky later overhears Tyson say to a friend, “Real estate agents are all the same. They only want your business if you’re buying!” As you can see from this example, Tyson has had one experience with one real estate agent and generalises this to all real estate agents.