~ Article written by Shawn Dwyer and L. Michael Hall PhD ~

Just as a person can get out of control, so can thinking.  Thinking can get out of control.  Nor is that all that uncommon.  It may happen to you, or someone you love, at almost any time.  What triggers it?  All that’s needed is a state of fear.  Get into a state of panic and your thinking will get out of control.  So also with any intense experience of fear, anger, excitement, lust, etc.  Almost any very strong and intense emotional state will do it.  Then, instead of calmly and rationally thinking something through- we jump to conclusions, over-generalize, awfulize, catastrophize, personalize, etc.  Suddenly our thinking regresses to the cognitive distortions.

Emotional Response

When we are threatened, or in a state of fear, we commonly fall back to the thinking patterns of childhood (the cognitive distortions).  That’s because the emotional side of our thinking is prevailing rather than the rational side of our thinking.  Threat, danger, overload – these are the things that trigger the lower functions of our brain to be activated.  That’s when we go into the flight-flight-freeze response of the “general arousal syndrome.”

Then blood is withdrawn from brain and stomach and sent to the larger muscle groups preparing us for a more fundamental survival response.

No wonder we can’t effectively think and especially calmly think through an issue.  We’re definitely in the wrong state for doing that.  If you want to do your best thinking- you’ll need to reduce the sense of threat and/or danger.  You have got to step out of reacting so that you can consciously respond.

Now when it comes to your thinking getting out of control, you can easily recognize that state or experience.  You or another person becomes defensive and argumentative.  You begin speaking in over-generalized ways saying that things always happen, no one cares, everybody is against you, etc.   When thinking gets out of control, people stop being reasonable.  They are not only emotional, they are overly emotional.  If they were merely emotional, that would be fine and it would be healthy.  It is when we get overly emotional that we then have a problem doing our best thinking.

At that point you cannot reason with them.  They are too agitated, upset, and irritable to think anything through.  Accordingly, you cannot have a healthy disagreement.  They are quick to demonize and moralize.  The other side is not just wrong, they are bad.  Evil.  The issue is not just a different point of view, it is immoral.  Now they are thinking and talking in stereotypical ways so that they no longer treat people as individuals, but as categories.  That allows them to more easily dismiss what they say because “those people” would say that!

Now does any of this sounds like the way politicians, news commentators, and others on television and radio commonly talk?  Dahhh!  It is the way that most of them constantly talk!  So, yes, of course.  Now while I suppose it keeps the audience engaged in a similar way to how a sporting event keeps people engaged, it sets up things as a battle.  “Who’s ahead?  Who’s going to win?”  It doesn’t really help people to think better, understand a problem, or solve an actual problem.

The good news is that you can also tell when thinking is under control.

Then, when someone makes a good point, the opposing side will acknowledge it and say, “That’s a good point.”  “Fair enough, I’ll give you that.  That makes sense.”  But when was the last time you heard that from a politician?

It certainly doesn’t seem to happen very often by my count.

Anyone whose thinking gets out-of-control from time to time probably needs a cognitive make-over.  The issue is not only a matter of defusing yourself or someone else, the problem is deeper.  It goes to the meta-cognitive capacity to recognize, monitor, and regulate one’s thinking itself.  How about yourself?  Would you like a cognitive make-over?

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Thinking Human Beings

~ Article written by Shawn Dwyer and L. Michael Hall PhD ~

Most people do not “think.”  Most of the time you are not thinking!  Does that strike you as shocking?  Or does it not shock you because you simply do not believe them?  Of course, it all depends on what I mean by the word “think,” doesn’t it?  So, here we go.


If you are entertaining thoughts in your mind that you have thought of before, is that “thinking?”  Or is that just rehearsing what you already know?  If you think something for the tenth time or the hundredth, are you thinking or just recalling?  If thinking is the mental effort involved in coming to understand and know something, then regurgitating former thoughts would not actually be thinking.  So merely have a thought in your mind does not necessarily mean that you are thinking.  Thinking involves more and different.

If we start with this definition of thinking, then thinking is not what you think it is.  It is not merely having a “thought” in your head.  Consider the experience of reading.  Typically when I read, most of the “thoughts” that I entertain in my mind are not my thoughts, but someone else’s.  In fact, that’s generally why I’m reading, I’m wanting to know or understand what someone else has thought and written about something.  So I’m not actually thinking, I am receiving.  I am typically in a passive state of mind, one of receiving thoughts and letting ideas run through my brain.

There’s very little mental effort.

Now true enough, from time to time the words that I’m reading stimulate me to actually think- that is, to think of things I had never thought of before.  In that moment I am thinking- I’m entertaining new ideas, ideas I have not thought of before.  Now my brain is working as it is representing, comprehending, organizing, considering, and “working over” those ideas.  In the end, I may or may not accept and agree with the ideas- yet regardless of that I have engaged in mental effort.  I have thought.

Using this definition to define real thinking- then the mental effort of thinking is considering, understanding, presenting and working on something that I don’t know.   If I already know something, then I’m just barely “thinking.”  I’m remembering, recalling, going over something already known.

This means that real thinking begins at the border of what you don’t know.

Ah, so “thinking” starts when you do not know something.  Now you have to think. This actually identifies seven categories of using your mind or brain that are aspects of mindlessness- of unthinking.  While the following are all forms of “thinking” in the most general terms, they are also forms of pseudo-thinking.  A “thought” is being processed, but the person is not using his or her full potential of thinking.

Reactionary – Toxic- Automatic – Aristotelian – Superficial – Agenda – Certainty

Several of these forms of thinking operate unconsciously- in

(1) reactionary thinking, you usually react without your mind being in gear!  So also in many forms of

(2) toxic thinking (limited beliefs, superstitions, childish thinking patterns, cognitive distortions).  And obviously with

(3) automatic thinking, whatever you previously thought and learned has dropped out of conscious awareness and is now operating outside-of-awareness. 

(4) Aristotelian thinking speaks to how we polarize things, create false dichotomizes and then live in an either-or world. 

(5) Superficial thinking is lazy thinking that is shallow, naive, and escapist.  It is usually borrowed thinking in that the actual ideas that you are thinking come from other people- they are the political or religious bullet points that you’ve heard and that you now repeat in pretty much a mindless way. 

(6) Agenda thinking seems like real thinking, but it is not.  Instead of entertaining an idea you might disagree with, you filter it out due to your ego-investment in a particular ideology, belief, understanding, political party, etc.  Your thinking is highly motivated to see things in a certain way and confirmation bias enables you to keep supporting it. 

(7) Categorical thinking shows up as certainty wherein you “know” something “for sure.”   And that’s the way it is.  Period.  No question.  Case closed. This seems like thinking, yet it is really the opposite of thinking- in the state of certainty the mind is closed.  The defenses are up.

Real thinking begin when you start considering something that is new to you, unknown to you, something that you are confused about, or what you do not know.  Now isn’t that interesting?  Thinking begins when you work an idea over in your mind- and this usually means an idea that you have not thought of before.  Thinking begins when you do not understand something.  Once you understand- you stop thinking.  (Well, most pepole do, I hope you are an exception to this generalization.)  And what are you experiencing when you do not understand something?  You are confused, perplexed, doubting, questioning, etc.

Now you know why I wrote, thinking is not what you think it is. And why most of us do not do a lot of actual thinking. And that brings up another fascinating factor about human beings- most people are highly motivated to bring an end of thinking as soon as possible. Why? We do not like feeling confused, perplexed, in doubt, struggling with questions in our minds!

Who does?  The answer is thinkers.  Scientists, explorers, researchers, and children. Ah children! Is that why they are also such passionate learners?

Is that why they never seem to be an end to their questions?  That is until we send them to school and the school knocks it out of them as they learn to “shut up, be still, don’t move, and don’t ask so many questions!”

Then they grow up un-curious, bored and depressed, unable to ask probing questions, poor learners, turned off to reading, un-creative, stuck, fearful of making mistakes, hate being confused, run away from perplexity and complexity, etc.  No wonder they need a Neuro-Semantic cognitive make-over.

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The Basics Give You Depth


~ Article written by Shawn Dwyer and L. Michael Hall PhD ~

During October when when completing metacoach training – I was impressed all over again about the crucial role of the coaching basics. Over and over I found myself emphasizing- listening and supporting, questioning and meta-questioning, state induction and framing and so on. Nor are these the only basics in Meta-Coaching. I found myself reminding people-

“… think representational system, which system is the client offering his information in?”

“What predicates did you just hear from your client?”

“Did you calibrate to the shift of state that your client just experienced? Did you notice the change of breathing, and flushing of the face…?”

The Basics

The basics that are taught in Modules I and II of the Meta-Coaching System are not to be learned about and then forgotten. They are there to learn and then to over-learn so that they become part and parcel of the way you think, the way you perceive, and the way you respond. They are to be deepened by continual use of them. In fact, when you regularly and consistently refresh your knowledge of these basics and over-learn them, you begin to commission them to drop out of conscious awareness so that you have them as unconsciously present all the time.

If that is not the case with you, then you probably have not sufficiently over-learned them. If you have to recall them or if someone recalls them to your awareness, you probably need to go back to the basics and refresh them.


Years ago I found myself in a “beginning level NLP” workshop at a conference. I didn’t know it was for beginners. I entered because of the trainer, I wanted to hear her. She was well known and I had never heard her present. Upon finding out it was for beginners, I immediately felt disappointed and considered leaving. But I didn’t. And I’m really, really glad that I did not. Within the first minutes when she was presenting the most basic information and definitions- I heard something about representational systems that I had never heard or thought of before.

The speaker presented it as if it was obvious and common knowledge.

Meanwhile I was writing furious trying to get it all down! For me it was wonderful- fantastic – worth the whole price of the Conference! And that changed my way of thinking about “beginning level NLP.” It blew out any assumption that “I know it all about the basics.” I realized that not only do I not know it all- but there are depths that I have not even started to
plummet. And, I can learn new things from anyone!

The basics give you depth.

So, go back to them. Read another basic book on NLP every year. Just when you think, “I know all about that” you will find- if you have an open mind and heart that there are many, many things yet to be discovered and that what you may think of as simple has layers of depths.

When you first study NLP, you study the different models.

So what happens when you deepen your knowledge of the basics- you begin to find connections between them. That’s how I happened to discover the redundancy between the Meta-Model, the Sub-Modalities (Meta-Modalities), Meta-Programs, and Meta-States. And that lead to the Four Meta-Domains of NLP.

Therefore next time you are tempted to say or to dismiss something as “It’s just the basic,” do a second take. Remind yourself that it is not “just the basics.” It’s not that simple. It is the foundation upon which the whole edifice of your work is built. And within those basics are depths that can give you insights which are not obvious, yet hidden with those basics are often leverage points of change.

Giving feedback

Recently we concluded a triad of coach, client, and meta-person. I was the person giving feedback and benchmarking. I asked the coach, did you see him look up to his right and then to the left? “Yes, but I did not know what to do with that.” “Okay,” I suggested, “watch this.” “Joe, what were you looking at when you looked up right and then left.”

“I was comparing the two choices.”

“Were you seeing something when you look here (point to his right) and then here (pointing to his left)?”

“Yes, the choices.”

“And what did those choices look like?”

“Lists. There were two lists.”

“Was there writing on them?”


“Were both black-and-white print or any words in color?”

“Oh, the right once was written in color, the left in black-and-white. That’s interesting.”

“Interesting … because …”

“Because when I see something in color, that’s my choice.”

“Is that the case here?”

“Yes … I guess so. I didn’t realize that…”

Ah, so much in the basics. By just exploring a bit about a visual access cue, much deeper insights were probed.

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lucky decisions
~ Article written by Shawn Dwyer and L. Michael Hall PhD ~

In One Way, And One Way Only, Can We All Be Considered Equal

We are equal in terms of human value. Now that statement is an assertion of a belief or a premise. Legally in the United States we use that premise as an assertion for treating each other as equals in the eyes of the law. “All men (which includes women) are created equal…” Religiously or spiritually, this is a belief premise in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam given that the Bible says, “we are made in the image and likeness of God.” Therefore we can say that in the eyes of the law and in the eyes of faith, we are all equal.

Then Equality Ends.

In every other way, we are not equal. Rather than being equal, we are all different in multiple ways. Biologically, we are different in our genetic wiring and capacities and that leads to being different in innate abilities and talents which then leads to differences in the skills and competencies we have developed. We are also different due to growing up in different homes, with different parents, different environments, etc. So while we are all the “same” in that we are human and share a very similar neurology, we all differ mentally, emotionally, verbally, and behaviorally. Thereafter, we are all equal and unequal; same and different.

Now while what I’ve written here about equality and differences is obvious, surprisingly it is an area of tremendous confusion. There are some who equate equality with being “equal in all aspects” and therefore find the above paragraph about differences offensive. They want to think that we are all equal in our understandings, competencies, abilities, etc. Yet even a superficial observation of the facts reveals that we are not and when we to try to treat all children as equal, we only set them for tremendous disappointment later.

The fact of differences leads to another important sociological fact

When people get together to cooperate in doing something, in achieving something together, hierarchies of competence emerge. The reason for this is that not everyone is equally good at everything. Some are better at some things and worse at others. Consequently, when people collaborate on a project, as those best at any given task compete against each other they generate a hierarchy of competence. Those who thrive in math compete, those who thrive in language compete, those who thrive in athletics compete, and so on.

Trying to equalize everyone out in any given area of competence and pretend that all are equally informed, skilled, and/or competent denies the differences reality. In the political realm, Jordan Peterson has been speaking out about the critical role hierarchies of competence play in any society. He says this term from biology is used by biologists to refer to
any social animal group which competes. They inevitably create hierarchies of competence and not “dominance hierarchies.” He aruges that human organizations are sufficiently complex so that dominance by itself is insufficient to create a sustainable hierarchy. Among chimps, for a hierarchy to last over time, the top chimp had to be quite social so he can have companions who help maintain order. Stable chimp groups have friendships among the top ones. That’s because pure or raw power is an unstable basis for a stable hierarchy. In using the idea of a hierarchy of competence, Peterson contrasts it with the idea of equality-ideas which show up as capitalism against socialism and Marxism.

Within Any Area Of Competence In Society

It is smart to identify those who are competent and especially the most competent, and to reward them. After all, isn’t that what you want when you are looking for someone to do something? If you need a plumber, you want someone who is competent in plumbing. If you need a mechanic for your car, you want someone who knows what they are doing and has the competence to do it.

An effective society (or community) encourages hierarchies of competence and reward them.

This creates capitalism. If you’re going to be a plumber, be a good one! Find a genuine hierarchy of competent and climb the ladder to its top. Learn everything you can, practice the required skills, and make something of yourself. If you want to be an architect, be the best architect you can be. If a coach, be the best coach. If a trainer, be the best you can be. To all of this Peterson adds two of the predictors of success in Western Societies-intelligence and conscientiousness. Study what you need to study and put in the hard work needed to become fully competent.

Collaboration In Community

Now given all of this, a community of people who collaborate together are both equal and unequal. They are equal in having equal value as human beings. They should all be treated with honor and dignity as persons. They should also be treated as unequal in knowledge and skill. Some are more competent in managing the finances and others are terrible at that. Some are highly competent in running trainings, managing events, and others suck at that. Some are skilled in delivering a training or seminar and others are not sufficiently competent to do that. Therefore everyone’s voice is not of equal value or weight in every decision that arises. Because I do not have knowledge, experience, or skill in architecture, medicine, IT, and thousands of other areas, my voice in those areas cannot and should not carry equal weight to those who do.

These facts naturally lead us to recognize and give more prestige to those who have developed expertise in a given skill. We recognize that they have developed superior understanding and skill so we defer to them when a debate arises. After all, shouldn’t the most informed about a subject provide information as well as an example for us? It is precisely because we are not equal, not the same, that collaboration works as it does to enable all of us to win- to win more than if we worked by ourselves.

Learn more about collaboration and equality from The Coaching Centre contact us today

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~ Article written by Shawn Dwyer and L. Michael Hall PhD ~
self leadership
“In my opinion … As far as the laws of mathematics refer to reality, they are not certain; and as far as they are certain, they do not refer to reality.”

Albert Einstein

Life is uncertain.

Now while for many of us, that’s obvious, amazing as it may seem, there are many, many people who disagree. They think about things in such a way and sort for things in such a way, that they actually believe that things are certain and that they can be certain. And they want certainty. They want assurances, securities, and guarantees. Some of those who think this way are the people who we say are risk-averse, late adoptors of new things, and/or oriented toward the past. But not all of them. Many are the “average” people who you meet everyday.

Yet the truth be known, just about everything in life is uncertain. Your health is uncertain- you could suffer from an accident or disease at nearly any time. Your finances are uncertain- the economy could take a hit, your job could be made redundant, slander could arise to jeapordize your career, the currency could plummet. Just about everything is uncertain. You and I fool ourselves whenever we start thinking about things as if we know what’s going to happen. I think it was Mark Twain who said that only death and taxes are certain.

Why are things uncertain?

Well that one is easy- change. Everything is constantly changing. We live in a process universe that at the most fundamental level is comprised of “a dance of electrons.” So the things that seem most stable and certain and unchanging, the mountains and continents are themselves in a constant state of change.

There’s also something else- knowledge.

What we know is constantly changing. This is the primary source of uncertainty for us humans- there is very little that we can know with certainty. After all, all of our mental models of the world are but simulations, maps, and ideas and they are plagued with fallible and limited human thinking. What you think you know inevitably and inescapably suffers from the limitations of knowledge itself.
It is forever influenced by your cognitive distortions, biases, and fallacies. And given that you do not even know all of your cognitive limitations and biases, what you think you are certain of is more than likely contaminated in numerous ways.

This leads to one of the inevitable challenges of being human- facing your everyday life and your decisions about your future which is honeycombed with multiple uncertainties. Whether you realize it or not, everyday you face an unknown future. Everyday you face multiple decisions involving all sorts of unknown factors regarding which you have no guarantees and no certainties about how it will pan out. All of this raises certain questions:

How do you face such uncertainties?

How do you handle the limitations of your knowledge in the face of uncertainty?

How do you solve thorny problems or make good sound judgments without full knowledge or understanding of something?

There are degrees of uncertainty

While uncertainty is a challenge and is here to stay, not all uncertainty is the same. In NLP we start from the premise that “the map is not the territory”-but there is a territory “out there,” and much of it can be discovered and mapped so that we can navigate the territory successfully. That’s the value of any map- to guide our thinking, feeling, and actions. And the better the mapping, the better we can adapt, adjust, face, and deal with a given reality. Nor does a map have to be “true” in any absolute sense, we only ask that it be useful. That it works. That we can use it to guide our responses so that we can achieve what’s important.

Mentally Mapping

Now the process of mentally mapping things is the essence of thinking. We “map” things with ideas that we construct in our minds as representations of the world. Yet doing this involves a lot of uncertainty. How accurately are you representing things? How useful are your ideas? Do they lead you to be able to function effectively in a given territory?

And the essence of thinking shows up in how we language things. That’s because we mostly think in language as we use words and statements to encode our thinking. So to the degree that you are thinking effectively and being able to articulate in an effective language your ideas and understandings- to that extent you will be able to construct effective mental models. This is where we are all fundamentally challenged. NLP defines this challenge as that of the inherent challenge of map-making or modeling. Namely, when you create a map, you leave elements out (deletions), you generalize and over-generalize things (generalizations) and you change, alter, and transform things (distortions).

It’s not easy to create accurate and useful mental maps about the territory.

How you think and language and reason determines the quality of the blueprints that you construct. And these cognitive processes involve not only the modeling limitations (deletions, generalizations, and distortions), but other cognitive distortions (the childish thinking patterns that we learn as we learned to think), the cognitive fallacies that we inherit from our families and cultures, and the cognitive biases (that offer us shortcuts in thinking).

Yes, life is uncertain- that much is certain

And there are tools by which you can handle all of the uncertainty in a healthy and effective way. Once you accept this inevitability- then set out to learn how to do high quality executive thinking.

Learn more from The Coaching Centre and contact us today

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