L. Michael Hall, Ph.D.

When it comes to defining NLP—for decades the most universal and common definition, and the definition given everywhere in the world, is this: NLP is a Communication Model. And it is a Communication Mode for good reason, namely—
∙ It began with the Meta-Model of Language in Therapy
∙ It expanded to the Representation systems including how we code them with cinematic features called sub-modalities.
∙ It expanded to the Hypnotic communication patterns of Erickson.
∙ It expanded to the Strategy Model for how an experience is structured.
∙ It expanded to the thinking/ perceiving patterns which we call Meta-Programs.
∙ And what is any “pattern” but a step by step way of thinking about how to experience something.

It therefore makes good sense to see NLP as a Communication Model. Yet we now know in Neuro-Semantics that there’s something deeper than communication patterns and linguistic patterns—there is thinking. Yes NLP began as the founders became enthralled by how Perls, Satir, and Erickson communicated and how their communications effected tremendous transformations. Yet later another question emerged: How did these experts in therapeutic communications think? What thinking processes enabled them to communicate as they did? It is these questions which take us deeper into something even more profound than communication.

Thinking is a deeper, and far more expansive, phenomena than communication. After all, to become an expert, it is required that you think like an expert. Bandler noted this in Using Your Brain for a Change:
“When I first started modeling, it seemed logical to find out what psychology had already learned about how people think.” (1985, p. 14).

Similarly, Robert Dilts, another NLP founder and developer, wrote in Strategies of Genius:
“The belief system of NLP is that it is the thinking process behind the accomplishment that is the most important element of creating something like genius. … The field of NLP has developed out of the modeling of human thinking skills.” (Volume I, pp. xxiv, xxv)

What is deep NLP? We can define Deep NLP as a study and presentation of thinking and the art of how to think. Let’s run with that idea. What if NLP is more essentially a Thinking Model than a Communication Model? After all, when you learn NLP, if you learn it properly, you learn to think.
∙ You learn to think clearly, accurately, precisely—the Meta-Model.
∙ You learn to thinking in sensory specifics details—the VAK model.
∙ You learn to think hypnotically to induce resourceful states—the Milton Model.
∙ You learn to think strategically about the form/ process of experience for replication—the Strategy Model.
∙ You learn to think reflexively about your thinking—the Meta-States Model.

Now while “thinking” may not be felt as needed or as sexy as communication, the fact remains that you can communication no better than you can think. It’s ill-formed thinking that leads to ill-formed language and therefore to ill-formed communicating, emotions, and behaviors. That’s because as thinking is the central core of everything in communication, it is also the central core of everything human. And because thinking dominates everything about NLP, what if this re-defines NLP. It now strikes me that—
NLP is actually and essentially a Thinking Model, and if it is a thinking model, then what we most fundamentally do is help people to do quality thinking, or at least we should.

Now, have we not said from the beginning that it is not only the content of what you think, but how you think which determines your experience? Yes of course. So, given that, what if we made it our objective to help people do higher quality thinking? What if NLP (and Neuro-Semantics) developed a reputation for teaching critical and creative thinking skills? I’ve made this my focus for the past several years and have written a series of books on thinking as deeper than communication. I began with Executive Thinking (2018), wrote books on specific thinking skills, and then concluded with Thinking for Humans (2024).

The Many Ways You Think
In NLP we have had a problem. To identify the problem, let’s start with the fact that in learning NLP, you actually learn many different ways to think. While this probably was not pointed out to you when you took NLP training, in the end you learned to think in multiple ways as never before. And in each of these different ways to think, your thinking skills were actually expanded and enriched thereby enabling you to generate all sorts of new ideas, responses, and processes. You learn to think critically and creatively.

Consider all of the different kinds of thinking inherent in NLP: There’s sensory thinking (the VAK), linguistic thinking that leads to descriptive thinking, somatic thinking of the body, semantic thinking for our concepts, beliefs, and evaluations. There is perceptual thinking (our meta-programs) and also the perceptual positions by which we can think using various perspectives. There is imaginative thinking (what if thinking and hypnotic thinking), and there is metaphorical thinking. In terms of time, there is future thinking (predictive, anticipatory thinking), past thinking (remembering, reminiscing), and present time (sensory-based thinking). There is creative thinking and strategic thinking for modeling. There is the thinking that goes into framing and reframing. There is holistic and systemic thinking. There is inductive and deductive thinking (as you chunk up and down the scale of specificity and abstraction).

Wow! That’s a lot of thinking. Further, thinking leads to all of the various constructs of the mind—beliefs, decisions, understandings, intentions, memories, imagination, anticipations, expectations, creativity and innovations. Thinking also leads to all of the things we do relationally— promise, contract, relate, coach, lead, manage, parent, and on and on.

Now because thinking is the process regarding how the brain processes information, it is both a conscious and unconscious process. In fact, it mostly occurs outside-of-conscious awareness rather than in it. Now if thinking is a process—then it is a skill. And if a skill —then a capacity, a power, and a potential! And that brings us to the critical question:

Who Teaches Thinking?
Who teaches clear, precise, and accurate thinking? Who teaches creative and innovative thinking? All too often we assume that thinking is natural, inevitable, and good. Then we encounter poor thinking, crazy thinking, dysfunctional thinking, and irrational thinking and realize that thinking—as a skill—can be good or bad, rational or irrational, functional or dysfunctional, childish or adult.

I mentioned earlier that, ideally, when you learn NLP, you learn to think. That’s the ideal. But are NLP trained people better thinkers than most people? Sadly they are not. Reading books, articles, and websites by NLP people, you can see all sorts of Meta-Model violations that encourage sloppy thinking, vague thinking, and poor thinking.

What’s the problem? How is it that someone could learn NLP and not become a better thinker? Perhaps we are assuming that learning the NLP Models will automatically— and without effort or direction— lead people to think effectively. There certainly are people who experience that. But not everyone. Many people who learn NLP fail to use the appropriate thinking for the appropriate model. As a result, they do not learn how to effectively use the models. Accordingly, if you use the wrong thinking when you learn a specific model or application— your learning will be severely inhibited.

Given all of this, I am more convinced than ever that we ought to be teaching people how to think using NLP. This has led me to research thinking and to model some of the best thinkers which I have then put into a whole series of books on thinking.

The Return of Thinking
It seems to me that a big confusion occurred soon after the founding of NLP. The confusion was about thinking. People began confusing “thinking” with conscious thinking, not realizing that most of our thinking occurs outside-of-conscious awareness. Consequently, a false dichotomy arose between the so-called “conscious mind” and the “unconscious mind.” Yet if we think holistically, there is but one mind, one intelligence, some of which is conscious and most of which is outside-of-conscious awareness.

This dichotomy is still alive and well today in the field of NLP and causing lots of problems. Like the dichotomy of “mind” versus “emotions,” or “mind” versus “body,” this dichotomy creates a false tension and conflict. Some draw the false conclusion that the “mind” is totally inadequate for coping with life, for facilitating change, for enriching the quality of life. They default on their own thinking and become quite willing to let someone else “run their brain.” “Just do some NLP on me and fix this problem.”

To this problem of over-emphasizing the so-called “unconscious mind,” it seems to me that there began in the 1980s a return to thinking. Here’s some evidence of that.
∙ Leslie Cameron LaBeau, 1980s, discovered the role of thinking when she recognized that some ways of thinking prevent certain classical NLP patterns from being effective. Out of that discovery, she identified the first Meta-Programs.
∙ Joseph Yeager, 1985, wrote Thinking about Thinking with NLP. “NLP is the science of thinking about thinking” (viii). NLP practitioners “Know exactly how to change your thinking habits, not just talk about them” (4). “Unless one is able to make a breakthrough from absolute thinking to relative thinking, NLP is just so much bafflegab” (9). “In NLP feeling (Kinesthetic) is defined as a cognitive event. That is, feelings are thoughts, too. As expressed colloquially, the experience of intuition is a kinesthetic mode of thinking.” (182)
∙ Wyatt Woodsmall, 1990s: Modeling II went beyond what an expert did (Modeling I) to his or her person. This brought thinking back to NLP as it shifted the focus from modeling behavior to how the expert thought (Dilts’ Strategies of Genius series).
∙ Reframing models (Dilts’ Sleight of Mouth, Hall’s Mind-Lines: Lines for Changing Minds) introduced how to think about the construct of meaning. In reframing you change the way you think about something as you frame it in a new or different way.
∙ Steven Leads and Rachel Hott: “It’s our tendency as human beings to get into fixed habits so that we do not have to think about everything we do. .. People are mostly unconscious. Without awareness, there is no opportunity for change.” NLP: A Changing Perspective.
∙ Robert Dilts: “The strategy for how one thinks about information is as important as the content of the information.” 1994 Strategies of Genius, p. 185. “In this book I will attempt to model the thinking processes of a number of historical individuals, who have been identified as geniuses …” (xxvi) “NLP provides a set of tools and distinctions that allow us to map out cognitive processes underlying the works of creative and exceptional people. … NLP looks for the deeper structures that produced these results.” (xxix).

In these, and many more, ways there’s been a slow recognition of the importance of thinking, and the quality of thinking, in NLP.

A Visual Picture of Deep NLP — The Meta Place
If you could see deep NLP, what would you see? What does that depth look like? To answer that question, I posed another question to myself a few years ago.
“If we could see mind, what does mind look like? What visual image could help us picture mind or consciousness?”

It’s easy to answer that question about “the brain.” Neurologists and neuro-scientists have been able to map out the anatomy of the brain for many decades and with each decade, their mapping has been getting more and more accurate. Pictures and diagrams of the brain are now everywhere and they can help us understand the functioning of the brain. But while the brain somehow produces the mind, the brain is not the mind. The mind is not an empirical see-hear-or-feel entity like the brain. To therefore learn to see the mind, I asked another question:
“What does the mind do? How does the mind function? When the mind is actively operational, what is produced?”

While the answer is simple, it is also profound: The mind thinks. And yet when it thinks, it thinks in a great many ways, in a great many dimensions, and at multiple levels. That’s because not all thinking is the same. Accordingly I began making a list of words indicating “thinking” and after I had more than 100 words, I began inquiring about the major dimensions and/or stages of thinking. I created a thinking continuum so as to get a picture of the range of thinking over all of the dimensions. That led to the next question:
“What are the central or key dimensions of thinking? If we considered these the primary landmarks of the mind—what would they be?”

I then found that by treating these categories of thinking as the landmarks of the mind, I could create a rough diagram of consciousness comprised of those landmarks. I titled this mental space or place The Meta Place. Given that all thinking (all thought) is inside our minds and therefore above and about whatever we are thinking about— it is meta to the references, hence, a place meta to the world. It is a map about the territory and not the territory.

Then taking these categories of thinking, I summarized them into three primary dimensions or categories of thinking—essential thinking skills (for grounding), eureka thinking skills (for creating), and executive thinking skills (for governing). Then within them, I identified five of the most significant thinking skills in each of these dimensions. The purpose was not to be rigorously accurate, only to create a beginning diagram, one would enable us to see consciousness or mind in action. And that’s what The Meta Place (2023) provides today—a beginning image for how to conceptualize and picture the mind.

Now with that, a person can make a deep dive into the mind (the Meta Place). It is as simple as recognizing the landmarks of the mind which you then embrace and explore to see what a person has mapped. For more, see the books on the thinking series and especially Executive Thinking and Thinking for Humans. Once you have that, you will be ready for The Deep Dive.