The Art of Changing the External Referent Meta-Program
L. Michael Hall, Ph.D.
In psychology there is a concept called “locus of control.” It deals with our sense of “control” and where we locate it, do we locate it inside of ourselves or outside of ourselves in others, rules, structures, groups, etc.? We use this concept in the Meta-Programs as the authority meta-program of internal reference / external reference. The questions used to elicit this perception are these:
- At work, how do you know you’ve done a good job?
- How do you know that you’ve responded appropriately to someone?
- What lets you know that you on the right path for your life?
These elicitation questions generally call forth one of two patterns of responses. Our answers will typically fall within either the category of internal or external. “I just know.” “I feel it here.” “I tell myself that I did a good job.” “I measure it by my standards and criteria.” “I look to see how things are going.” “My boss tell me that I’ve done a good job.” “My promotion tells me.”
When the circle of control is within we are coming from our own internalized standards, rules, understandings, beliefs, etc. When we are not in the circle of control, but it is out there in structures or others, then we are referencing off of the ideas, beliefs, standards, rules, etc. of others. Developmentally, we all begin there. At birth we have no internal locus of control. Our sense of control develops through learning and development. And unlike the majority of meta-programs, this is a meta-program where there is definitely a best style. The best style is to have an internal reference with an external check. That is, we use our own values, beliefs, visions, outcomes, etc. as our stabilizing gyroscope and regularly look outside of ourselves to see how it fits with the world of others and the state of knowledge.
Yet, how do we do that? How do we change our meta-program from external to internal? People who grow up in strong authority environments like a dogma driven (creed driven) religious context such as the Catholic Church or any fundamentalist church, the Moslem faith, or a strong dominating patriarchical family structure, or a strong non-democratic political environment such as a Communistic government structure will often find that they have effectively been condition to look outside of themselves for authority.
Those who buy the full program and are highly compliant, who seek to please, follow the rules, and do what they are supposed to do, when these qualities of a great follower are over-done we can come to feel imprisoned to only do such and forbidden to do otherwise. That’s when problems arise. Then we will have no flexibility to go inside and make up our own mind, clarify our own values, standards, beliefs, understandings, and choices. The person who knows how to follow, defer to others, go along, be a good team member— when they overdo this and build frames that prevent them from doing anything else, then become liable to lose themselves and their human freedom to that authority structure.
The other extreme can be just as detrimental to success and happiness. As we develop our own powers of response we simply take ownership for thinking, feeling, speaking, and acting from our locus of control. This centers and grounds us in our own reality and enables us to assume responsibility (response-ability) for ourselves. But if over-done, we do so to such a degree that we don’t or won’t even consider the ideas, beliefs, perceptions, criteria, etc. of others. We can do this until we become demanding, commanding, dictatorial, tyrannical, and closed-minded to any influence outside of ourselves. Then we dismiss others out-of-hand.
The balance, of course, is to have an internal reference with an external check. We then feel centered in ourselves, in our values, standards, beliefs, understandings, visions, goals, etc. and then fully open and responsive to information and perceptions outside of ourselves.
The Challenge of Change
- Suppose we wanted to change our meta-program from external to internal?
- Suppose we come to realize that the best structure is internal with external check, how would we then shift this perceptual filter and locus of control state so that we bring the authority within?
As we step back to think about these questions, it’s immediately obvious that we are dealing with several concept and conceptual states. We are dealing with the ideas of control, authority, right and wrong, permission and prohibition, ego-strength, sense of being centered in self, and so on. Therefore in changing this meta-program, we will be altering and/or even transforming multiple levels of beliefs and understandings.
Recently I worked with a young woman in her early thirties who operated completely from an external referencing style. She had almost no skill, permission, or experience with internal referencing. Noticing that and reflecting it back to her, I asked, “Would you like to change that external referencing so that you move through the world internally referencing with an external check?” She did.
Now, while I know of six explicit methods for changing Meta-Programs1, in that conversation I decided to not use any of them as a process or pattern but to do something else, something very different. We had a very deep rapport and so I decided to just let the conversation flow. At the time I had no plan and didn’t know where it would go, but an intuition to not run any of the patterns. “How do you represent the idea of authority?” I asked.
This threw her momentarily, “represent authority?” The concept was so vague and indefinite. I followed up by helping her ground the experience. “When did someone recently tell you something or give you information that you deferred to, yet at some level knew that going along was not in your best interest and that it actually violated your values or beliefs?” As she located an instance, she quickly glanced to her far right. “And when you notice this information coming in from out there, notice how you represent authority, or control, or however you think about an external authority.”
Upon this glance to her right, my first automatically thought was, “visual and/or auditory construct, what does that movie look and sound like?” Then, almost as instantly I thought, “What difference does that make? It’s out there. Let’s bring it in and see what happens.”
She began to sense that the external referent of the particular person as a strong voice out to her far right, up and forceful in tone. “Great. As you notice this, what’s happening inside you?”
“I feel empty and weak. I don’t feel like I’m able to stand up to him.”
“Good. We now have a representation. What happens when you reach your hand out and take the external authority out there and bring it inside yourself?”
With that she reached out and grabbed at the air where the external reference had been and pulled it into herself. As she did, her open hand became a fist and with the fist she moved it at the top of her chest just below her chin, at her voice box or larynx. With that movement of the arm, she then quietly began to integrate the feeling of bringing authority into herself.
“With the authority inside yourself,” I said holding my fist at my larynx also, “how do you now experience the external authority of that person given that you now have your own sense of authority within you, your own sense of authoring your own life, writing your own script of your values and visions?”
“This is incredible! I like this, but it’s weird. Is this okay? I feel selfish doing this. Ego-centric. Are you sure?”
“Do you really want to change this meta-program so that you operate from your own values and visions? [Yes’] Are you clear that operating from your internal reference with an external check most fully respects you and others? [Yes.] Then do you need to listen to the old feelings and judgments? [No.] Is this your decision to bring in your own authoring of your life and having an internal reference? [Yes.] Great, then how will life be for you as from this day forward you operate from ‘internal with external reference’?”
These questions invited her to bring “authority” within herself and to set higher level belief and decision frames about this new way to move through the world. Several times in that conversation she looked to me and asked me if this or that was right for her—once again defaulting to an external authority. Upon each occasion I gestured with an open hand that went out to her right (my left), made a fast and then brought it into myself and asked her, “What do you think?” This continually re-anchored the internal referencing state and kept connecting it to a real life event that she needed more choice with.
If you have an external reference, or even an external with internal check reference, and want to change this meta-program, here’s a pattern for making that change.
1) Identify a referent experience.
When has someone spoken to you that seemed “authoritative” and determining, so that it seemed to take choice away from you?
When have you thought about something and deferred to a person, situation, set of rules outside of yourself that in hind site was not ecological or good for you?
When has someone come on to you very strongly so that you betrayed your own values, understandings, beliefs, and you deferred to that person even when you knew that it was not good for you?
2) Discover how you represent “authority”or “control.”
As you think about this event, where do you locate it? Where is it in space?
Where is it? If you were to point to it, where is it?
What is the volume and quality of the voice?
As you think about it, any other qualities, visual, auditory, or kinesthetic?
How do you inwardly respond to this outside authority?
What emotions does it trigger in you?
Is this ecological? Useful? Enhancing?
3) Alter the source of the authority.
As you reach out and take in the authority out there, where do you want to put it in yourself?
Would you like to put it in your mind, heart, chest, around your head, or where?
As you bring it in, how does the sound qualities of the voice change?
What is the best auditory quality for your own voice?
What voice enables you to author your own life?
How would you like to make that even better and more compelling?
4) Focus in on the differences.
As you now hold the authority within yourself, how do you experience external authority?
What changes are occurring as you hold your own authority within yourself?
Where is the authority settling inside of you?
How is your own voice of authority changing or transforming to be the most powerful voice that references from you and checks with others?
Are there any other changes occurring visually, kinesthetically, or in any other system?
5)Confirm the change and apply to the rest of your life.
Do you like this? Does it serve you well and enhance your
Does this empower you as a person so that you are creating your own locus of control?
What other qualities do you need to add to this and set as meta-frames so that it is appropriate, responsive, and ecological to you?
As you now imagine this [fire anchors] with that person we talked about when we started, how does it transform things? Is that good and ecological?
As you now imagine taking this into this week, next week, the months and years to come, are you fully aligned with this? Any objections?
6) Final refinements and commissioning.
What other refinements would you like to make?
With these refinements, how does that settle?
Are you ready to fully commission this as your way of being in the world?
Great, as you do that now, will your executive mind take full responsibility to look at the world from the point of view that you are the author of you and have the right and responsibility to direct your actions and speech?
As you thank that part, how would you like to celebrate this enhancement of your own self-actualization?
- The only author of your life is you. To let anyone or anything else be the author of your life is to default on your own life! Welcoming in the power, right, and responsibility to be you, to have your life, your values, understandings, beliefs, etc. and to live out your life finding your way is the beginning of taking your development to the next level.
- By authoring your own life, you begin the process of developing an internal frame of reference and taking responsibility for where, why, and how you move through life. It is this self-authoring of your life that you build up your own sense of being centered and grounded in your values with an external check to make sure it corresponds with the people and contexts of your life.
- Internal and external references are two key perceptual filters and can be shifted, changed, and completely transformed once we step back from it. This pattern provides a way to make transformative change using both representation (NLP) and framing references (Neuro-Semantics).
1. See Figuring Out People (2005) for the second edition that has 6 change models for altering meta-programs. Also, see Coaching Change: Meta-Coaching Volume I (2004) for a model about generative self-actualizing change (rather than therapeutic or remedial change).
L. Michael Hall, Ph.D. is a modeler, developer of numerous transformational models including Meta-States, Matrix, Frame Games and co-developer of Axes of Change, Neuro-Semantics. Michael lives in both Colorado and Australia and is an international trainer and consultant. You can reach him at Neuro-Semantics, P.O. Box 8, Clifton, CO. 81520 USA, or at meta @ acsol.net www.neurosemantics.com