~ Article written by L. Michael Hall PhD ~

Here are several ironies in the history of NLP.

The first irony of NLP is that it did not start as an attempt to model excellence. No, not at all.
It started off as an inquiry about what Fritz Perls was doing with his language and patterning that enabled people to experience personal transformations. Another irony is that John Grinder was not involved in the inquiry. Frank Pucelik had been studying Gestalt Therapy in San Diego and Richard Bandler had been transcribing some of Fritz’s audio and visual tapes for a book, and as Richard had begun mimicking Perls, they discovered something surprising, namely, they were getting the same kind of incredible transformations that Perls got. That raised the question, How was that possible?


That was 1972, four years before “Neuro-Linguistic Programming” came about.
So what they called themselves and it at that time was “Meta.” There was no “pure NLP” at that time. There was an interest in how could language patterns of untrained people be so powerful as to replicate what Perls had been able to do (by 1972, Perls had been dead for two years). So another irony- there was no direct modeling of Perls, no interviewing, no questioning, no “unconscious uptake of his patterns,” only modeling his writings and tapes.

The Meta-Model Of Language In Therapy

Yet in spite of those limitations, they did create a model of his language and behavioral patterns and together with Virginia Satir’s languaging and behavioral patterns, they created the first NLP model– “the Meta-Model of Language in Therapy.” That’s what they called it in The Structure of Magic (1975). Latter they dropped the “in Therapy” focus as they began to realize that the Communication Model that they had put together could be applied to anything human- since all human applications involve language and behavior.
That’s when they began to think in terms of modeling.

Transformational Grammar

Once Grinder entered the picture, he introduced or brought in the leaders of the Cognitive Psychology Movement and their products. Having completed his doctorate in Transformational Grammar, that’s what he first brought in, namely, Noam Chomsky’s Transformational Grammar. And having worked in George Miller’s Lab for a year, he brought that group of researchers and their TOTE Model, the Magic Number 7 plus-or-minus 2, etc. The irony, given that today two of the founders disparage the “conscious” mind, is that Chomsky and Miller’s influence made NLP a derivative of Cognitive Psychology and the focus became to enable people to “run their own brains.” That is, become conscious and mindful and take charge of their own lives. This was also the basis of the NLP Strategy Model for linear modeling and modeling short-term immediate subjective experiences like spelling, getting out of bed, motivation, decision, etc.

Meta-levels, The Beginning Of Systems Thinking

Ironically, even though the Strategy Model had a little “m” in it, it was extremely minor and undeveloped for many years. Much later several began exploring the role of that “m” (the meta-level) phenomena, especially “beliefs” in modeling. Robert Dilts introduced five levels in his Neuro-Logical Levels. Then David Gordon with Graham Daws introduced the Experiential Array. Both models began to take meta-levels into consideration and with meta-levels, the beginning of systems thinking.

Yet it wasn’t until 1994 when I introduced the Meta-States Model to model the special kind of human consciousness self-reflexive consciousness, that a completely fluid systems approach was added to modeling. Unlike the earlier models, Meta-States was not linear, it is non-linear and therefore systemic as it introduced emergent properties from the layering of states.

Systemic Approach

This now enables us to truly model systemic processes and long-term subjective experiences- experiences that emerge over many months even years.
A linear approach is reductionistic. It essentially seeks to reduce a rich systemic experience to a series of individual strategies and to treat them as sequential activities. That would be one way to approach things, but it would probably not yield the quality of understanding needed to replicate a desired excellence.

What else is there to model?

A whole range of things- in fact, every subjective human experience that is essentially systemic or long-term. For example, consider all of the health states or conditions and their opposites, especially the 90 auto-immune system diseases. The only one I’ve looked at in any depth has been lupus. And it is just one of scores and scores. So one modeling that would involve finding multiple people who have recovered from lupus, especially the fatal kind, kidney lupus and cerebral lupus, and finding both the damaging and the healing frames. That’s what some of us attempted to do a decade ago.

Long Term Experience Modeling

Finally, in the last two decades most modeling projects have focused on long-term experiences- leadership, wealth creation, productivity, persuasion, etc. Other modeling projects have combined long-term with systemic experiences- collaborative leadership, coaching mastery, etc. The fact is, the truly richest and deepest of subjective states have not been modeled and we do not yet have processes (called patterns) by which we can enable people to replicate the best that’s available, the best peak experiences, the best states of flow, the best loving states, the best healing states, etc.

Modeling Human Excellence

This, in my opinion, is one of the open areas for exploration in the field of NLP. There is so much more to discover! Today we have so many of the required tools to engage in modeling human excellence and to go where no one has gone before.

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