The Presuppositions of NLP

In the 1970s, Richard Bandler, student of computer programming, and John Grinder, a professor of linguistics, set out to study “therapeutic wizards,” individuals who had become famous for their impressive results. They studied Virginia Satir, one of the developers of family therapy (and a person inspiration of mine.) They studied Fritz Perls, one of the co-developers of Gestalt therapy. And they studied the great hypnotherapist Milton Erickson.

Their initial aim was to uncover the structure of their “magic” and understood what they did with their language that led to the changes in their clients. Yet once they had created explicit models of effective communication in therapy, their questioning led them in a different direction. Was there more to the magic than the words?

Bandler and Grinder began to study the mind’s of these therapists. They wondered if how these people thought and what they believed was playing a role in the results they were getting. The ideas that they uncovered came to form the basis of NLP.

The presuppositions of NLP are ideas that are not necessarily true, but when we take them on, we achieve greater results in life. It is these ideas that form the basis of my approach with clients and often, when I am stuck, I turn to these ideas and find there is one I am not applying.

Below are some of the presuppositions of NLP. As you read through this list, consider what it would be like for you to apply these ideas in your life.

The map is not the territory.

The way we think things are is not necessarily the way they are. Our thoughts, feelings and beliefs are not reality, but merely the sense we have made of reality.

When we apply this principle, we find that to make changes in our lives, we don’t have to change things or ourselves, we merely have to change our model of the world (our view of things).

Person and behavior are different logical levels. A person is more than his or her behavior.

Often we mistake transient aspects of our experience for who we are as people. If we have a pattern, behaviour or problem and conclude, “This is who I am,” we’ll be stuck. In reality, no pattern or behaviour can represent the totality of who we are. We much more than our responses, behaviours and problems.

Every behavior is useful in some context. Behavior is to be evaluated in terms of its context and ecology.

Behaviours and responses are all useful in some context. Often, we learned a behaviour in one context (time period) and we are using it in another context where it is ineffective. Instead of then having to get rid of behaviours or responses we learn where we can use them and where we need some new options.

Behind every behavior is a positive intention.

In the human system, nothing happens for no reason. Problems are adaptations from earlier times and behaviours and emotions that we may judge negatively are there to serve a purpose. When we know what that purpose is, we can find more effective ways of achieving that purpose.

There is no failure, only feedback.

Failure is only a question of perspective. Whenever we attempt anything, we’ll always get a result. If we don’t get the result we want, we can take it as feedback informing us of what we need to do differently. This empowers us to learn from our mistakes and keep working to refine our approach until we are able to achieve what we want.

People have all the resources they need to be able to succeed.

If we believe we have all the resources within us to achieve what we want, we will find out what we have and find solutions where we need something more. If we do not believe this, we sabotage ourselves into powerlessness.

People make the best choices that are open to them.

People are doing what they have learned. Often, we are stuck doing something that is not enhancing our life simply because we have not learned other choices. By recognizing that we are making the only choice available to us we give ourselves a break and open ourselves to learning something new.

David Kynan

David Kynan will get you there with practical cutting-edge methods for change and performance. President of Personis Coaching and Training ( and Former Vice President of the Canadian Association of NLP, David coaches, teaches and consults on how to make change happen when change is hard. He also lends his skills to individuals, professionals and businesses on topics related to strategic intervention, problem solving, marketing and sales. His expertise has landed him training and consulting contracts with companies such as Sun Life Financial, Medisca Pharmaceuticals Inc. and Pure Water Technologies. He has been featured in the Montreal Mirror, interviewed on CTV and presented on his work at the Canadian Human Rights Commission in Ottawa.

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