There are lots of people who do not like the programming term in
Neuro-Linguistic Programming. What is their problem? They have a semantic
reaction to programming as if it means, and can only mean or carry
connotations of, being “controlled, fated, mechanical, brainwashed, etc.”
Of course, the term programming arose in the early days of computer programming and was a metaphor for how we can become programmed linguistically in our neurology. So as we install programs in a computer, so also in human consciousness.

Do you have programs?

Has your family, education, religion, culture, etc. programmed you? The word “program” (from the Latin programma is made up of pro, “before” and graphein “to write”). It speaks about “an outline to pursue,” “a plan or procedure.” Computer programmers write codes which give a computer a way of functioning- processing information, pictures, sounds, mathematical symbols, etc.

Similarly, the way you were taught to think, feel, speak, and act has given
you your programs. As such you have programs for how to read and study,
programs for getting along with others, for resolving differences, for
riding a bike, typing on a keyboard, etc. Actually you have thousands of
programs which are now installed within you- in your very neurology. That’s
why once you have learned something very thoroughly (over-learned it), you
don’t even need to be conscious of it to run the program. Now it can
operate unconsciously as a way of being in the world. program.

You have a program for shaking hands.

You were not born with it, it came as people repeatedly held out their hand and then shook yours. That happened so long ago you probably have no memory of it. The repetition drove it in and now- lo and behold, someone holds out her hands as a greeting and out goes your hand to meet it. Ah, an unconscious automatic program!

Your program for reading is even more deeply ingrained in you. When you
know a language, you cannot look at words without reading them. While you
could stop yourself from shaking hands on occasion for various reasons, you
cannot stop yourself from reading. It is that deeply automatic and now …
outside of your control.

If you don’t like the word “program,” think habits.

Or think of them as automatic response patterns. You could think of them as the “instincts” that you have learned. That’s because, as everything habituates, what you learn (whether consciously or unconsciously) becomes installed in your
neurology. Some things, like repeated behavioral actions, are installed in
your muscle memories. Now your muscles “know” how to do certain things.
Other things, like episodic memories, are installed in your long term memory
in your hypothalamus.

Programming Ourselves

Linguistically and neurologically you and I have the ability to program
ourselves with all sorts of response patterns. You can think of parenting
as the place where all of the original programming occurred. In this,
parents are programmers (which again should wake us up to the need for
anyone who parents to be required to get a certificate of competency!).
Teachers are programmers. And yes, the adolescence peer group are a set of
programmers (especially be aware of them!). But even worse, television,
movies, and the internet are programmers and provide 24/7 programming for
those who expose themselves to them. Ah yes, the media is a programmer of
ideas, thinking patterns, choices, values, lifestyle, etc.

I think the idea of programming in NLP is great. It speaks about how a
learning can become so ingrained, so installed, that it becomes an automatic
program. In other words, the learning and the changes that you make- you
can keep for the rest of your life. Just program it in. But how? How does
that work?

Unlearning and DeProgramming

Sometimes what you have to do is first do some de-programming. In other
words, unlearning. If you have a program that is just wrong, if it doesn’t
work, if it has become redundant and no longer relevant- sometimes you have
to undo the previous learning, uninstall the old meanings, in other words,
change some beliefs. Then installing a new program and programming it in is
a matter of learning.  Here repetition offers you one of the most dependent
methods for programming in the new learning or meaning.  Here trance work is also another valuable method.

In NLP, a primary way we do programming is via explicit patterns.

A pattern is a program- a code for how to think, feel, speak, and act. It is a way to run your own mind-body system to achieve specific outcomes such as motivation, decision, empathy, resilience, and a thousand other states. A NLP pattern is a process that has been modeled and/or developed that you can use to establish an inner code for a specific subjective experience. How’s your programming? Do you like it? Would you like to update any particular aspect of it?

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