16 August 2010

Visualizing the Golden Age of Neurolinguistic Programming

On a group weblog where I participate, several people have expressed an interest in Neurolinguistic Programming. This is a subject in which I have done enough work that I feel I can provide a useful introduction and reference list for the beginner or novice. I am not certified as a Master Practitioner, but I have read all the basic texts and taken several seminars; I have taken a number of seminars from people who have personally studied under Richard Bandler and John Grinder, including two seminars led by Steve Andreas, who edited the books where I would recommend anybody begin. These are transcripts of Bandler Grinder seminars:

Frogs into Princes
Using your Brain for a Change.

A more systematic and comprehensive treatment, suitable for beginners is the following:

NLP The new technology of achievement, edited by Steve Andreas and Charles Faulkner.

If you want to get technical and theoretical, the books to read are:

Patterns of the hypnotic techniques of Milton H. Erickson, M.D.
; Vol I by Bandler and Grinder; Vol II by Grinder, Delozier, and Bandler.
The structure of magic; Vol I by Bandler and Grinder; Vol II by Grinder and Bandler.

The oldest of these books were published in 1975; the newest of the Bandler Grinder books was published in 1985. As near as I can determine, the field has been stale since 1985 and the innovators have stopped innovating. It is a mystery to me how and why this came about; I have some idea about it, but shall leave that for another post.

In addition to the above listed books, in the past week I have spent around three hours reading the Wikipedia artiles on Neurolinguistic Programming topics. The Wikipedia is uneven; if you want plot synopses for Star Trek episodes, the Wikipedia is superb. If you want information about the BP Transocean Deepwater Horizon oil well disaster, the Wikipedia is useless. For Neurolinguistic Programming, the Wikipedia is quite good. It is better than the average book on the subject you can find today in your local bookstore. Some of those books are lousy. The worst shortcoming I saw (I did not read every single entry) in the Wikipedia collection is the article on Rapport; the rapport techniques are some of the most important results of the original Neurolingustic Programming work.

The hottest Neurolinguistic Programming specialists in the United States in 2010 are the speed-seduction (pickup artist) people. They seem mostly a misapplication of NLP; that is going by what I have seen which is not much of a large group. Surely somebody in that crowd knows what they are doing but I have no idea who it would be. If that seems a little harsh, take a look at that Amazon page linked above and see what else the people who buy that NLP Technology of Achievement book link to.

A difficulty with Neurolinguistic Programming as presented in the Bandler and Grinder seminar transcripts is concentration on visualization. The phobia cure, the reframing technique, the swish pattern, and the rapport tools all work well for visually oriented people. Almost all of the examples in their seminars are dependent on visualization. This is a skill with a large variance and I am not good at it. Or perhaps I am not good at it in the context of communicating with people. Visualizing a geological structure from reflection seismic images or visualizing art work or architectural drawings are visual tasks which seem natural for me, but observing the visual details of humans I am talking to and trying to get along with is not a skill which I have used successfully more than one time in about a hundred hours of practicing.

The one time I did use it successfully was in a T group on hypnosis and the seminar leader and the person I was working with and several of the other participants all applauded my great expertise. It may have been mostly luck, because every subsequent attempt I have made since then was a failure.

The largest benefit I have gotten from my NLP studies is using the Milton model and the Meta model to frame my objective experiences in a subjective fashion to benefit my peace of mind. The Milton model goes from specific and local to general and global. The Meta model goes from general and global to specific and local. The Meta model can be used in an extremely similar manner to the Albert Ellis Rational Emotional Therapy technique where you identify and challenge irrational beliefs. An example of an irrational belief would be something you tell yourself like: "I always get screwed when they calculate the salary raises."

We all have unpleasant experiences that are part of our lives. Lovers reject us. We break bones. People dent our cars when they are not watchful of how they are moving. I could make a long list here. What Albert Ellis invented, and what Bandler and Grinder productively use their Meta model for, is that your own description in your mind of these events can influence wide areas of your life experience. (Ellis invented this as an approach to psychotherapy. The idea goes back to the ancients. It is one of the foundational concepts in Stoicism and Buddhism. It is in the very first verse of the Dhammapada.)

To illustrate this with a personal example, I got laid off on 31 March 2010. This does not mean that I am a loser, unless of course it might, if I repeat to myself in the ensuing four months a few hundred times that I am a loser. Applying the Meta model to this calamitous event means that I describe it to myself with a set of exact specific details. It was near the equinox. The camellias had bloomed but the azaleas had not yet bloomed. There was one man who decided I had not done enough for him lately. There was a small group of people who communicated true friendship and camaraderie to me during their farewells. I got a nice severance package. Suddenly all my time is free time and I get to learn the definition of personal responsibility. And so forth. My layoff is this set of extremely specific facts tied to one point in the four dimensional time and space continuum that we are all traveling through. The Stoics and the Buddhists and Albert Ellis and the Neurolinguistic Programming Meta modelers prescribe to glue it on that one specific point and do not allow it to diffuse to any other elements of my life experience and this enables me to have more peace of mind.

The Milton model is the inverse process, specific to general. Another personal example: yesterday I had a terrific workout. I did 2000 jump ropes, 800 squats, 550 abs, and 250 arms in 102 minutes. At the end of the workout I was completely spent. This delightful happenstance also had specific time and space bounds of narrow limit. Milton Erickson would say spread it around. When I cook my dinner, write this blog post, perform the research for the business I am creating--really any waking moment of the day--I can do any task with energy and determination and tenacity because it is purely subjective and pleasurable to view myself as an energetic and determined and tenacious man. I have one objective data point here to support this view; it is a trivial matter to extrapolate it to hell and back as some are fond of saying in the earth science businesses. This is a formula for bliss consciousness technique. You can use it to go about in the world and radiate loving kindness to every human you encounter. Win friends and influence people!

These are not things you need to study Neurolinguistic Programming specifically in order to learn, but you can find them well presented in those books and seminars. The material they have, which is unique, is the rapport material. This involves careful observation of others: their respiration, skin condition, level of arousal, postures, where their eyes focus, blinking rate, pupil dilation, and many other characteristics of their organism. The seminar transcripts are filled with data such as these and the use to be made of them. In seminar rooms I have seen others use these type observations powerfully for rapid psychotherapy and change work. I myself have had little success using these tools, and sometimes I feel intrusive or creepy or stalky when experimenting with them. I think it would be fascinating to perform a Rupert Sheldrake sense-of-being-stared-at experiment where the staring experimental subject is an expert NLP creep.

Sheldrake's research is controversial. There are more mainstream fields of Psychology research which could also benefit greatly by incorporating the NLP rapport tools. One example is the Paul Ekman micro-expression work which has received much positive attention of late. As far as I know, Ekman and his co-workers look almost solely at facial expressions. The Neurolinguistic Programmers in their rapport examples look at a wide variety of similar phenomena.

I conclude with a quotation from James J. Gibson, late emeritus Psychology researcher:

"I seem to be, to my surprise, a member of a large profession. There are some 20.000 psychologists in this country alone, nearly all of whom have become so in my adult lifetime. They are all prosperous. Most of them seem to be busily applying psychology to problems of life and personality. They seem to feel, many of them, that all we need to do is to consolidate our scientific gains. Their self-confidence astonishes me. For these gains seem to me puny, and scientific psychology seems to me ill-founded. At any time the whole psychological applecart might be upset. Let them beware!"

This post was written in collaboration with my friend Zhanar Suleimenova, who learned her NLP in Novosibirsk with books which have not yet been translated into English.

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About Craig

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Houston, Texas, United States
I have been living in the lovely neighborhood of Spring Branch in the great city of Houston since late in 2005. I started out with the idea of making this blog about my life in this neighborhood. That did not last long. Right now I am posting every five days on the alternating topics of literature, philosophy, psychology, and metaphysics. This project has been ongoing since July 27, 2010 and I believe it will continue for at least a few more months.