When it comes to the heart of Neuro-Semantics and NLP— studying subjective human experiences and modeling those experiences, a first question that often arises is why. Why model an experience? And the answer is really simple. It is to understand how it works. That’s because when you are understanding the how of now you are often handed powerful leverage points of change or replication. That is, knowing how an experience works—if that experience is not helpful, useful, beneficial, ecological, etc.—you can change it. And mostly you can change it by noting how it works, when, where, with whom, etc. and sometimes the tiniest alteration of a key variable will facilitate a systemic change.
In NLP, we often describe this using a dangerous word to describe this kind of change, “magical.” That’s because the change that happens seems incredible, fantastic, and seemingly “magical.” A good example is facilitating a change in a person’s “internal critic.” Simple ask a group of people:
“Who here has an internal critic?” “Who here has an internal voice that criticizes you, attacks you, insults, you, says ugly things to you and that makes you feel bad?”
What I find incredible is not that there are people like that, and who will raise their hands, “Yes, I have an internal critic like that!” What I find mind-blowing is that anyone ever treats themselves that way! My thought is, “Why would you talk that way to yourself?” But the fact is, a large percentage of people everywhere in the world identifies with this experience and feel helpless to change it. Of course, the helplessness rises from using a very ineffective method of trying to change it. What do most people do? They tell themselves to stop!
Ah yes, the “command negation.” And by issuing a command to themselves, “Now I’m going to stop telling myself that I’m an idiot!” “Don’t ever say again that ‘I’ll never get it! I must be stupid!’” Of course, this does not work. Of course it makes things worse. Whatever you command yourself to not do, you have to represent and think about.
Using the NLP Communication Model, instead of using an ineffective change method like that, we first seek to understand the how of now. We ask exploration questions about the experience so that we can model the experience itself. So we ask the modeling question: “How do you do that?” And at first, most people don’t even know how to answer that question. “What do you mean, ‘how’ do I do that? I just tell myself that I’m going to make a fool of myself because I’m not prepared. That’s all.”
Now what modeling enables you to do is to listen for structure or process. In that statement, I hear the person tell me the content words, “I’m going to make a fool of myself because I’m not prepared.” Okay, so that’s what you say to yourself. How do you say it? What tone of voice? Repeat the words using the tone that you use in your mind so I can hear the tone. Okay, now where is that voice— in your head? Behind you? In front of you? To one side or another? Panoramic? What is the volume? After getting the answers to such process questions, then I begin to play around with the experience and alter the quality of the various variables and invite the person to notice the effect. Common ways of doing this in NLP are:
- Lower the voice and notice how low you make the volume before it doesn’t feel bad.
- Change the tone so it sounds like Elvis Presley singing, “You’re a hound dog.”
- Make the tone very sexy and try very hard to feel bad.
- Put the voice into your little finger and hear it coming from there.
Typically such alterations create systemic change. The experience of being berated by your internal critic completely changes. Changing one of the qualities of how you do something, changes the whole experience. It becomes different and sometimes so different that it becomes something else. It might become humor, ridiculousness, playfulness, non-sense, etc. That changes things in a much more elegant and easy way.
What about replication? What if you have an experience that’s a great experience and you want to experience it for yourself? This is the case with modeling experts— modeling someone who can do something that’s extraordinary, wonderful, and empowering. In this case, we do the same thing. We embrace the experience, frame it so as to punctuate it and set it aside in our minds and the mind of the expert and then begin to discover how do you do that?
Now most of the time the expert cannot answer the question. And there’s a good reason, he or she does not know how. The skill is so habitual and so ingrained into personality and behavior that it is no longer in conscious awareness. This, in fact, is a description of a competent skill. The skill occurs in the right context without the person needing to “work himself up for it” or for “her to orient herself to the context.” It just happens. It happens outside-of-conscious-awareness.
That’s where a modeler comes in. The modeler asks how questions and gives menu lists of possibilities and evokes the expert to do the skill or imagine doing the skill and calibrates to what the person does that re-establishes the expertise. It is in this way that we can detail the steps of the strategy that have become streamlined. And when you know that, you can replicate it. You can use the step-by-step process to try it on and see how it works within you or use it with others.
Why model? To change strategies that you’re not an expert at (or someone else is) and also to replicate new strategies that someone is an expert at. If you want to know what NLP is about, it is this. Yes, NLP is also a Communication Model — that’s what the originators created by modeling three communicators (Perls, Satir, Erickson) and that Communication Model is also a tool for modeling.