From: L. Michael Hall
2023 Neurons #43
October 9, 2023
NLP A Thinking Model #1


NLP, as a Communication model, is not a therapy model. It is not a version of psychotherapy. Nor is it a modeling model, a hypnosis model, or even a model for personal development (self-actualization). So what is NLP? Amazing enough, that is one of the perennial questions that has plagued the field of NLP. This is the question to ask if you want to torture an NLP trainer!

Yes, NLP speaks to, addresses, and provides lots of guidance in each of these disciplines. These are actually the most essential applications of NLP. There are many more—parenting, leadership, managements, coaching, consulting, education, health, fitness, etc. These are so much the essential applications that they are commonly, even to this day, confused with what NLP really is. That’s why some say NLP is Modeling, some say it is Psychotherapy, some say it is Hypnosis, and others say it is Self-Actualization. NLP certain is each of these in terms of applications. But what is it at its core? Can we determine that?

NLP is actually much deeper than any of these. Thinking about it as a communication model, then at its heart, it is about how we communicate to ourselves and others to create our experiences (states, skills, knowledge). As NLP identified how these communications work and the basic communication processes (mechanism), we found that it gave us the inner hidden structure of experience itself. And when you know the structure of an experience, you can model and replicate that experience.

Yet unbeknown to most NLP trainers, writers, researchers, and teachers, NLP is actually deeper than just a Communication Model. Nor is this something new that I’m adding to NLP, it has been deeper since the beginning, but hardly anyone noticed. I did not. And I researched it for decades and delved into the NLP models going back to the original sources. Perhaps that’s because it is easier and makes more sense to simply say that it is a Communication Model. People understand that. What else would you call it?

When Bob and I packaged NLP for the two volumes of User’s Manual of the Brain, we said that it is most essentially a Communication Model. Evidence of that goes to the fact that the first NLP model is “the Meta-Model of Language in Therapy” and the second model was the Representational Model that comprises our communications (including Sub-Modalities or the cinematic features of our inner movies). The third model, the Strategies Model about how the communications generates and “programs” an experience. Fourth, the Milton Model of hypnotic communication patterns and how trance states work. Fifth, the Meta-Programs model about how people think in their communications. That’s a lot of evidence that NLP is a Communication Model. Yet could it be something deeper? If so, what would we call it?

Could we call it a thinking model? What if, deeper than all of the uses and applications of NLP is thinking? Yet there’s a problem with that. Namely, what is a thinking model? How do you model thinking? Thinking itself seems so primary and irreducible, what would be its components? Perhaps that’s why none of us saw that NLP could be defined as a thinking model. But let’s go with it for a moment. Suppose we called NLP a thinking model? After all, take each of the communication models and let’s ask, What lies within and underneath each model? The answer is Thinking.

Meta-Model of Language Linguistic distinctions encoding how we think.
Representational Model Sensory representations encoding sensory VAK thinking.
Sub-Modality Model Cinematic features framing how one is thinking.
Strategy Model Representational steps in how a thinking format is structured.
Milton Model Hypnotic linguistic distinctions that invite a person to construct thinking about possibilities and in terms of metaphors (metaphorical thinking).
Meta-Programs Model Thinking patterns that govern ways of perceiving.
Perceptual Positions Model Thinking patterns from different perceptual positions.
Reframing Model Thinking patterns for framing different ways of interpreting a word, experience, or person, thinking about meaning in different way.
Meta-States Model Reflexive thinking patterns that layer thought upon thought to generate more complex states.

One thing this perceptive highlights is that all ‘thinking’ is not the same. There are many different kinds and dimensions of thinking. It also puts a spotlight on the driving force inside of communication—the quality of your thinking determines the quality of your communicating. As thinking can go wrong, make mistakes, be fallacious—so can everything that thinking generates. No wonder change, and transformation of persons and organizations, require new thinking in new and different ways.

What am I saying here? I’m saying that what NLP is most essentially a Thinking Model. When you really understand NLP, you know that it is a way of thinking, a way of rethinking, and a way to do both critical and creative thinking. With this in mind, then at the core of every change is re-thinking. It is fresh thinking and it is meta-thinking, that is, the ability to think about your thinking so that you can make sure it is accurate, specific, precise, creative, and ecological.

Thinking has been at the core of NLP from the beginning, but we missed it. Perhaps we dismissed “thinking” as too small, too obvious, or not distinctive enough. Perhaps we wanted something more sell-able, something more commercially appealing, something that sounded more sexy— communication, change, reframing, modeling, etc.

Now as a Thinking Model, NLP (including Meta-States) offers us nearly everything we need to build and articulate a model of thinking. And unbeknown to most of the field of NLP, that’s what I’ve been doing in our Brain Camp trainings and in the series of books on thinking. It has been a discovery long time in coming, but it is now coming in a training near you. 🙂

From: L. Michael Hall
2023 Neurons #44
October 16, 2023
NLP A Thinking Model #2


I have proposed that deeper than a Communication Model, or a model about modeling, psychology, personal development, etc., NLP is most essentially at its core a Thinking Model (#43). Viewing NLP from this perspective changes several things about NLP. It changes numerous things that we can claim for NLP, how to sell NLP trainings, and perhaps even the future of NLP. Let’s start from the premise of the title, If NLP is a thinking model, then what? What inevitably follows if that is the case?

1st) NLP enables you to think better. Even the very idea of “thinking” suddenly becomes much more specific and actionable. I discovered that when I first studied NLP. Learning about the sensory representational systems, namely, that we think in images (visual), sounds (auditory), sensations (feelings, kinesthetics) along with smells and tastes, I discovered that I had almost completely ignored the auditory channel. Why? That was due to a misbelief I picked up in college, namely, that I was tone-deaf. Having lived with that mis-understanding for 30 years, I simply paid no attention to that system. Now suddenly I discovered a whole new realm for information coding. I was not tone-deaf!

When you know about the VAK sensory systems for representing information, you have many more specific channels for thinking. You have multiple ways of enhancing your internal snapshots and movies about things. There’s scores of cinematic features (sub-modalities) that you can now use to enrich what and how you think. It’s actually quite amazing. It makes actionable the multiple intelligence model of Howard Gardner (see Frames of Mind, 1983).

2nd) NLP enables you to be an effective critical thinker. If the VAK model enriches your internal coding of information so that you can “think” with much more richness, then the Meta-Model of Language empowers you to learn the essence of critical thinking. The discipline of “critical thinking” is about thinking more clearly, precisely, accurately, and rationally. To do that, the Meta-Model specifies 21 linguistic distinctions to pay attention to so that your thinking will be “well-formed” and not suffer from the ill-formedness caused by deletions, generalizations, and distortions.

If that sounds complicated, it really is not. Nearly all of the deletion distinctions are already intuitive in you as a native speaker. When you hear, “He rejected me” you intuitively know that the verb “reject” is not specific. So you naturally ask, “How did he reject you?” The generalizations and distortions are partly intuitive, yet most of them you have to learn to recognize them. When you do recognize the linguistic distinction, then ask a question. That’s what the Meta-Model is—a set of distinctions and questions to get a speaker to be more specific and precise. How important is that for any communicator? For any leader, parent, therapist, coach, teacher, etc.?

When I began doing research in the field of Critical Thinking (yes, there is a whole field!), I discovered that not a single book in that field referenced NLP’s Meta-Model. Not one! So I wrote the first one, Executive Thinking: Activating Your Highest Executive Potentials (2018). Why? Because the Meta-Model is the most direct and simple way to learn how to be an excellent critical thinker.

3rd) NLP enables you to be an effective creative thinker. As a model, the Meta-Model not only allows you to think and communicate more precisely, it enables you to see the very structure (thinking structure) that formulates an experience. Every experience has a structure and that structure entails how a person thinks. Discovering that structure, which is what the NLP Strategy model does, as well as the Meta-Programs, now we can create and/or model expertise that already exists.

In the history of NLP this happened as an accident. It was not planned. All that the founders intended to do was to find out how Fritz Perls and Virginia Satir, two brilliant therapists, were able to achieve tremendous results in psychotherapy. So as they listened to how they talked, they inferred what they must be thinking, then from that they created a whole list of “patterns” for replicating their expertise. Those patterns became the content of NLP training. They reveal how a therapist would lead a client to a new way of thinking and experiencing.

4th) NLP enables you to solve problems at the thinking structural level. From that “accident,” the founders realized that the solutions and cures were not based on the “content” of what a person thought so much as on the process of how the person shifted in thinking. That’s why, they explained, many different approaches and therapies all work. But therapists of those schools are wrong in thinking that it is because of the belief system in the therapy, it’s the shift of thinking underneath or within the content.

It was in that way that NLP was recognized as a meta-discipline from the beginning. The “magic” was not in Gestalt, not in Family Systems, not in Hypnosis, or any other model, it was in the internal structure. Unknown to the founders, this corresponded to what Korzybski said, “Structure and structure alone is the essence of knowledge.” Then, out of this discovery, arose the focus on modeling. When we re-code NLP as a Thinking Model, are many benefits result. I’ll speak of more of them in the next Neurons posts.