Practical NLP – Fundamental principles

What is Neuro Linguistic Programming?

NLP could be described as ‘the owner’s manual for the brain”: it can help you understand yourself better and as you learn to manage yourself more effectively new horizons will open up for you and you’ll achieve your full potential more easily.

What results you get depend on how much you use what you learn. The more you take action and use the tools of NLP the more you will get out of it.

The more you put into it, the more you’ll get out of it. No one can do it for you, but if you truly want to use these powerful tools the results may well surprise you.

Who is driving the bus ?

If one event is consistently followed by another we believe the first causes the second. This is the law of cause and effect. While this law is very effective in describing the behaviour of inanimate objects, it is not so good when it comes down to humans. If I kick a ball at a certain velocity I can predict where it will land but if I were to kick you what would happen ? It depends on what you want. This is because you have free will and a ball doesn’t.

If you put yourself at the cause end of the cause-effect equation you place the locus of control within you: you believe that you can make a difference in the world around you and that you are responsible for how you think and feel. When you are at cause  not only you have the response-ability to make thing happen but also to respond rather than react to things outside of yourself.

If on the other hand if you put yourself at the effect end of the equation you carry the belief that other people (and not you) are responsible for how you feel and act. This idea is built in the English language in expressions such as “he made me angry, she made me feel… this car is winding me up”.

This idea leads to believing that emotions are things that happen to you and it will make you act as if you have no responsibilityfor what you feel and for how you react. On the other hand people that put themselves at effect also tend to believe that even though other people are responsible for what they do, they themselves are responsible for other people’s emotions.

This way of thinking leads to giving your power away and to feeling of guilt whenever others wittingly or unwittingly manipulate us by telling us “you upset me”.

So the answer to “who is driving the bus” is you ! unless of course you want to suffer the consequences of believing otherwise.


Do you drive in automatic or manual mode ?

Let’s stretch the driving metaphor a little more: when you drive in automatic you allow no space between what triggers you and your emotional response. Let’s say that someone says something that you interpret in the light of your existing belief system as being offensive or upsetting. You tell yourself or label the incoming information as inappropriate insensitive etc. and then you respond accordingly by becoming upset / angry etc.

The process is unconscious and it happens very fast; so fast that it can look like the trigger is the cause and your emotional response is the effect. The truth is that there is a space in between the trigger and the response, and in that space lies the power of choice to choose your response: this power is what gives you freedom and makes growth possible ; this is what makes you drive in manual.


How do you deal with life’s blows ?

When you are at effect and something doesn’t go your way you are likely to ask questions such as “why ?” “why does this always happen to me?”  This question tends to lay blame on yourself or others and focuses your attention on the past. By doing this it does not help you solve the situation or feel good about it.

When you are at cause the question tends to be more something like “What’s going on here”? “How’s this come about?” “What can I do to change things?” “What do I want instead of this?” These questions focus on the now, and on solutions, rather than the details of problems. If you approach problems this way you are more likely to deal more effectively with difficulties and things won’t bring you down as much.


The map is NOT the territory – The world you perceive is NOT reality

To make sense of the world around us we need to filter the information we receive from our senses at all times. If we didn’t we would be overwhelmed and would not be able to function because we would be lost in an overload of sensory information.Drugs such as LSD temporarily suspend our filtering system and that is why someone on the drug can be lost in mystical contemplation of a leaf for hours on end.

Our filters make it easier for us to function effectively in the world but sometimes they can also lead us astray. What are these filters?


  • deletion

we don’t notice what we’re not interested in

  • generalization

we see patterns even where there aren’t any. what we expect to happen is influenced by our perception of previous events. e.g. if we win twice on roulette we believe we’re on a winning streak

  • distortion is divided in four types:


  1. Confirmation bias (we pay more attention to what confirms our beliefs and downplay or ignore what contradicts them)
  2. Bandwagon effect (we’re more likely to do or believe in something when we see many others do or believe in it)
  3. The illusion of control (we believe we can control or influence the outcome of something even when we can’t)
  4. The Halo effect (if we like one quality or trait of a person we tend to view their other qualities or traits more favorably)


How do you deceive yourself?


While we use these cognitive shortcuts to help us with our daily tasks so that we don’t have to think all the time about everything we do the negative effects of these shortcuts can be that

  • we jump to conclusions (generalization)
  • we miss relevant information (deletion)
  • we view people through the lens of prejudice (distortion)

and therefore we end up with an internal representation of reality that is misleading and not useful.


Seeing that we are constantly filtering the world through the lens of our perception the world we perceive is NOT reality but only a filtered representation of reality : a distorted, deleted, reduced and generalized reality.

The map (our filtered representation of reality) is not the territory (reality). Some people would then argue: if that is the case then how can we know reality ? The simple answer is that we can’t but that doesn’t matter.


What matters is not that the map is true but that it is useful.

The implications of these principle are varied:

  • what you experience is NOT reality
  • A good map is one that is useful
  • yours is not the only ‘truth”


How to make NLP work for you:


1) See other peoples’ point of view: put yourself in their shoes and see the world and yourself from their point of view

2) Remember that your intuitions are just guesses: to avoid the cognitive error of mind reading (that is, acting as if you knew exactly what the other person is feeling and thinking)  always check your intuitions against what others say they feel.

3) Start from what makes sense to others:when influencing others  build bridges to where you want them to be, rather trying to convince them that you are right.

4) Explore the boundaries of your map: Ask yourself “where are my limits?”

5) Actively look for examples where your limiting beliefs aren’t true. Limiting beliefs are beliefs that are holding you back or not serving you.

6) Ask yourself : what would happen if you did the very thing you think you can’t do but would like to do ?

7) Actively look for counter examples to your generalizations.


Perception is often projection.

Expectations are how you expect yourself, other people and situations to be. Our  expectations shape our reality: we project them onto our perception of the world by

  • downgrading information that contradicts our expectations and
  • playing up information that confirms our expectations


How you feel and act is a response to how you perceive the world to be, not the world itself, and other peoples response to you is based on their perception of their own behavior.  For example: if you are worried about calling someone because you expect to be rejected chances are you will act in a way that will get you rejected. This is what a self-fulfilling prophecy is.


What it takes to be successful

If you want to be successful you need to change your expectations.

Ask  yourself :

  • What are you projecting out into the world that’s getting in the way of your success (or of achieving your goals)?
  • What do you want to project instead?


If you believe nothing you can do can make a difference you will feel a sense of helplessness in everything you do and you will inevitably fail at everything you attempt. If you have had this limiting belief for a long time you will have collected supporting evidence to corroborate your belief and you will have filtered out the opposite. Typically you will have downplayed or discounted your inner resources. To get you thinking on a different level ask yourself:

What could you do to make things worse?If you can make things worse you can also make things better, so explore what you could do to improve things, even if just a little bit.

People who are successful believe that what they do can make a difference. They have a sense of agency.

So ask yourself what you want ( If you don’t know, set yourself the goal to find out ) and expect to achieve it!


Set goals for yourself !

If you set a goal for yourself you start paying attention to the environment around you differently. You notice bits of information and opportunities that help you move closer to your goal and you get a better sense of who you are and of whether you are moving in the right direction.

Whether you want better relationships, a raise at work or you’d like to shed a few extra pounds NLP can help you achieve your goals by showing you how to use your mind positively and effectively.

I integrate NLP principles with Hypnotherapy and Coaching to support you throughout the process of change necessary to be successful in your chosen goal.

If you want to learn more about NLP I would suggest you listen to Andy Smith’s Practical NLP podcasts, otherwise why not call me for a no-obligation consultation today and find out how we can work together to get you closer to what your heart desires?

Email me or call me now on 075 – 4424 7800

Most of the  information presented in this article is taken from Andy Smith’s podcasts.  You can  find and download them for free here:  PRACTICAL NLP PODCAST.


How to be Happy

Everybody wants to be happy

It seems that is the true quest of every human being on earth. Sometimes success is defined in terms of happiness.  The American declaration of Independence even states that happiness is man’s inalienable right.

But why is it so important to be ‘happy’?

Well first of all, it goes without saying that life is already complicated enough without the added burden of moodiness and sadness. Also, it is scientifically proven that elation triggers hormones that are essential when it comes down to proper metabolic function and well being. Also, when someone is happy their positive side is brought to the fore and problems become easier to solve.

On the other hand issues such as poverty, oppression and stress do exist. There are still a lot of places where abuse is a commonplace occurrence and where people still die victims of hunger and violence. Are we advocating we just close our eyes to these and pretend they do not exist ? Certainly not. On the other hand, dwelling on problems and becoming depressed by them has never helped anyone.

The American Psychological Association states that teenagers as young as fourteen begin experiencing depression at least once a year until they are thirty. Human beings have a tendency towards negativity because often negative events and feelings carry more weight than contentedness and joy. As a consequence, a lot of us experience sadness that continues to influence us long after the triggering episode has gone. This in turn increases our risk of developing illnesses such as chronic heart failure, cerebrovascular accidents, apnea and migraine.

So perhaps we can all agree that it would be better to be happy than not.  But then, a question springs to mind:

What does it mean to be happy?

Happiness is sometimes defined as a state of mental well being characterized by positive emotions which can vary between contentment and joy. Another way to understand happiness is in terms of a way of life, rather than an emotion. It is hard to pin the concept down because happiness means different things to different people. Sometimes we are happy because we are confronted with unexpected positive events. Other times we are happy because we feel accepted and loved by others. 

Some psychologists have attempted to explain happiness: Seligman for example thought humans are most happy when they experience Pleasure (such as good food, warm baths etc) , Engagement (also called ‘flow’ which is feeling absorbed in an enjoyable yet challenging activity) ,Relationships,   Meaning  ( a sense of belonging to or a quest for  something bigger than themselves)   and Accomplishments (having realized tangible goals)

Maslow, the founder of humanistic psychology, understood happiness in terms of a hierarchy of needs shaped in the form of a pyramid.


At the bottom of the pyramid we have our basic needs that must be fulfilled at all costs. When we fulfill them we attain a basic level of happiness.

After that we ascend to ‘higher’ needs and a higher, more fulfilling sense of happiness is found. We proceed this way until we reach the last level where ‘peak experiences’ of profound love and understanding are felt.

When we reach the self actualization level we feel   more whole, more alive, self sufficient and yet part of the bigger world around us. This is the highest state of ‘happiness’ that we can experience.


Can we be happy all the time ?

According to this model we can’t be happy all of the time and we shouldn’t expect to be. Happiness depends on needs being fulfilled, therefore until they are fulfilled we can expect some kind of unhappiness. Surely, this model is useful to understand ourselves better and to aspire  to having our needs met at different levels as we proceed in life. 

However there is something to be said about how a positive attitude of mind can help us fulfill our needs quicker because if we feel good about where we’re at in the present , we cope more effectively with the circumstances we find ourselves in, while aspiring to better them.

If we see happiness as an attitude of mind we might find that our needs get fulfilled quicker and that we can feel reasonably happy  despite  all the negativity that surrounds us and despite  not having attained just yet  the highest levels of self actualization.

How do we foster a happy attitude ?

A good attitude is half talent half habit. Like some people are born with a talent for music so some people struggle with it. However anyone can become a reasonably good musician if they put enough effort and practice into it. In the same way, a good attitude is the product of a positive habitual way of thinking, which might be partly inherited from good parents and partly learnt and acquired.

So if your parents were negative and you were brought up, like most of us, in a society that thrives on fostering insecurity for economic reasons there is still hope for you. Luckily for all of us, our mind is extremely pliable and versatile and can learn new habits throughout our lives. It is never too late to change, unless of course you tell yourself it is.

I have found that the first step towards change is gratitude. We could spend all of our time focusing on what is missing but if we do that we will only attract more of the same. This is not because of magic. It simply is a psychological reality: whatever we tell ourselves we create in our minds.  And whatever we think produces an effect in feelings and actions. These in turn are reflected back to us by others and create more of the same. The tricky thing is to think about what we want, not about what we don’t want, because our ‘irrational’ mind does not understand negatives.  To illustrate:  if I said to you “don’t think of pink elephants!” what are you thinking about?

When we focus on what we have rather than what we don’t have and we are grateful for it (we feel positively about it) we are more likely to attract more of it. This is because not only we subtly inform our subconscious of what we want more of, but also we project a positive attitude to others and the world is more likely to respond positively to people who are positive rather than to people who complain.  This doesn’t mean that we should just accept our lot and be content with it.  But if we accept where we are, trying to see the opportunity rather than the flaw, we are more likely to have the energy to progress beyond it.

Therapy, Coaching or Self Help ?

So what if you want to get some support to learn how to change the way you think so your mind can be your best friend rather than your worst enemy?

The first step towards wholeness is the hardest and if you have read this far you are already well on the way to overcoming the tallest hurdle on your way. At the end of the day, the best help we can get is the one we give to ourselves. Even when we ask others to help us, we need to want to help ourselves first. 

So with this attitude in mind, taking responsibility for our own well being, we can read a whole array of books on the subject but If this proves not to be enough or we want some extra support we have a few options.

Holistic hypnotherapy, combined with NLP and Coaching could be the way for you to go. Or you could go on a self development course or a self hypnosis class. Alternatively you may want to find a humanist psychotherapist or perhaps a CBT counsellor. Or perhaps you could combine these to suit your needs. What is important is to listen to yourself, and to go with what feels right.

So begin your journey now by expressing gratitude to yourself for being the sort of person to even read this article! Give yourself a pat on the shoulders: well done for caring enough about yourself to be interested in self development! You are already closer to finding your way to live a happier more fulfilling life!

More on this: The Key to Happiness video.