Ten Years of NLP:

Eight “Keys” to Personal Change

Bobby G. Bodenhamer, D.Min.

For the past thirteen years I have poured my life into learning Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) and applying it in the therapeutic, teaching and writing world.  For the past seven years, I have worked with L. Michael Hall, Ph.D. in developing the model Neuro-Semaintics which is an advancement of the NLP model.

Over these years I have had the honor of working with approximately 750 therapy clients involving approximately 3000 hours of therapy. I have also had the unique privilege of teaching NLP at Gaston College for the past eleven years. In addition I have taught numerous Practitioner Certification Courses and Master Practitioner Courses. The numbers of one-session seminars I have led are too numerous to count.

Needless to say, the past thirteen years have been quite eventful. What a joy and privilege life has afforded me with all the above experiences.  Well, so what?  That is a question I have been asking myself. So what?  If I were to take all the above and summarize it down to its essence (according to Bob of course), how would I summarize what I have learned into one article?

Now, since the major thrust of the work I do involves assisting therapy clients and class participants toward positive change, I will direct the following remarks to what I believe is the essence of personal change from the structural viewpoint of NLP and Meta-States as developed my L. Michael Hall, Ph.D. We call the merged fields of NLP and Meta States, Neuro-Semantics. What were the key elements in the lives of those countless hundreds whom it has been my privilege to work with that brought about positive changes in their lives?

Eight Key Structural Elements Involved in Personal Change:

In this article I will provide the groundwork by defining some basic beliefs we have in Neuro-Semantics about just “how” your brain works.  Note the word “how.”  That word is important. In Neuro-Semantics we place prime importance on the mental processes that determine behavior.  What do you do inside your head in order to have a problem and what do you have to do inside your head in order to “fix” your problem?  What kind of pictures, feelings, sounds and word meanings do you need inside your head in order to do the problem?  What kind of pictures, feelings, sounds and word meanings do you need to activate in your head in order to not to have the problem?  By the way, we believe that brains aren’t broken; they just run sick thought patterns really well. Indeed, the brain doesn’t care whether or not you think yourself sick or whether you think yourself well. Your brain just does what you tell it to do. This is what this article is about. Those who change their thinking understand and accept these beliefs:

1. The brain primarily processes information from the outside world through the five senses. You experience your world through what you see, hear, feel, smell and taste. Now, importantly to Neuro-Semantics, we believe that when you re-present your world on the screen of your consciousness, you utilize the same programs involved in the event of recall. When you recall something you have seen before, you will recall it with a picture (Visual). When you recall something you have heard before, you will recall it with remembered sounds (Auditory). The same is true for feelings (Kinesthetic), smells (Olfactory) and tastes (Gustatory). We call these the Representational Systems or VAK for short and they are the first component of the movies of our mind.

Figure 1

Your brain not only does this with remembered experiences, it does the same with constructed experiences. I can ask you to imagine seeing yourself where you want to be one year from now.  Your brain knows how to construct a picture of the desired you one year from now.

Now, these experiences we re-present on the screen of our minds (images) often contain more than just one system.  We can recall a picture and also have sounds with it as well as feelings.  Furthermore, these images have finer qualities.  Usually images that we hold as very important to us will be very close to our eyes visually.  They will often be very bright and colorful to let us know this image is important.

Exercise: Step back and take notice of the movie that you have created inside your head that depicts your problem state. Note the picture of your problem. Is it a still picture or a movie picture?  Is it in color or is it black and white?  Is the picture up and close or is it far off?  What about any sounds associated with your problem?  Are they loud or soft?  What directions do the sounds come to you from?  What about feelings? What kind of feelings do you have in your body about the problem?  Where these feelings are located in your body? Are the feelings heavy or light? Experiment with your movie by moving the picture further away. Change the tone and location of the sounds. Move the feelings from inside your body to outside your body.  Etc.

2. The brain gives meaning to these images with words. So, I have pictures, feelings, sounds, smells and tastes in my mind, so what?  Your brain doesn’t stop there, as a thinking class of life; the human brain has the marvelous ability of giving meaning to these images with words. These words are “about” the images composed of pictures, sounds, feelings, smells and/or taste.

Figure 2

3. The brain doesn’t stop at just the first level of word meaning you gave to the image. Your brain keeps having thoughts (primarily with words) about thoughts (See Figure 1:2). The brain does not stop at one thought, it continues having thoughts about thoughts and there is where the “magic” lies. In Neuro-Semantics we realize that as important as Representation is, there is yet something more powerful and more magical¾  reference.  That’s how the brain works. It starts with a referent experience, the event.  Something happens.  Then we re-present it on the screen of our mind with the Representational System (VAKOG). But by reflexive awareness, we develop a thought and a feeling ABOUT it, now we have our first frame of reference.

4. Repeating thoughts will create unconscious frames-of-mind that will direct our consciousness to the five to nine items we can focus on. These frames of mind operate inside our head totally outside of consciousness. Our brains do not stop at just one thought. It will keep on thinking thoughts about thoughts. These thoughts about thoughts when habituated (drop into the unconscious) become our Frames of Mind – our perceptual filters through which we view our world. These frames become like eyeglasses through which we view and experience our world.  And that doesn’t end it.  We develop frames-within-frames, each frame embedded in another frame.

These higher frames determine our neuro-semantic states that governs the way we think, feel, our health, skills, everything. All the while we are having thoughts about thoughts, these thoughts are interaction with our physiology through our central nervous system and out of that interaction comes what we call “states” of being.  And, out of our “states” of being comes our behavior. Thus, “as a man thinketh, so is he” (Proverbs 23:7).

These “repeated” unconscious frames of mind become our blessing or our curse. In problem framing, we can have frames of mind that say, “I am worthless.” “I can’t ever do anything right.”  “In order for me to have personal worth, I have to do for other people; I am not an OK person in myself.”  Etc.  Such frames inevitably come from our earlier years and for that reason become quite unconscious and difficult to change on our own. However, they are changeable and they do change for they are just thoughts no matter how much they operate outside of consciousness.  In “fixing” ourselves, metaphorically we delete those old frames of mind and install new frames of mind that serve us.  This is what Neuro-Semantics is all about.

The individuals who make personal changes accept that they have constructed these frames themselves with their internal representations and with the numerous layering of meanings. This layering of meaning is done mostly with words.  In therapy, I constantly discover old memories of the person hearing dad or mom tell them that they are worthless or that dad or mom was absent in their lives and from that they developed a word meaning frame that “I must be worthless because dad and/or mom was not here for me.” Etc.  Important to personal change is to accept the reality that these frames are constructed and therefore can be de-constructed.

Exercise: What meanings have you given the image inside your head that made that experience a problem for you?  What does the problem mean to you?  What kind of beliefs have you developed about it?  How is it now a problem for you? How would you like to change these meanings? What kind of meanings could you give that situation that would now serve you?  What have you learned from it that will assist you in letting that problem state go?

5. People that change believe and are aware that “The Map Is Not The Territory” or “The Menu Is Not The Meal” and they believe it is their map and their map alone that they operate out of. This is another way of saying that our perception is not reality. It is only our perception of it. However, because it is our perception (our Internal Representation and conceptual meanings) it is what we operate from.

Figure 3

It doesn’t matter how accurately it maps (perceive) our present reality. We will operate from our perceptions as governed by our higher-level frames of mind. This means:

a. Those that change recognize the value of creating a map (perception) that accurately, as far as symbolically possible, maps the present moment. We are a “symbolic class of life.” We do that with the VAKOG and Word meanings acting as “symbols” from our experience of our world through our five senses. But, these are just symbols about our world. They are not the world. We get into trouble when we confuse the two and label our “symbols” as being “real” in the sense that they accurately map out our world. When we consciously or unconsciously operate from frames of mind that we learned in childhood, we certainly are not operating from a map that even comes close to accurately mapping out the adult world we now live in. This is the root of most problems if not all of them.

b. Those that change their thinking by recognizing that their map is not the territory will eliminate the problem of cause-effect in their lives. What do I mean?  I mean that the individual who understands and accepts that our internal map/ perception is not and cannot be the territory (the external world) will stop the foolishness of believing other people control his or her mind without his or her permission.  No one can make you believe or feel anything you choose not to believe or feel.

Just because we may have grown up in a dysfunctional family does not mean that we are or have to remain a dysfunctional person even if we learned some poor ways to think and behave. We can “own” our own brain, take control of it and learn new ways of thinking. Brains are very flexible.  As an example, think of something unpleasant. Now think of something pleasant. Note how rapidly you can change your thinking.  Old unwanted patterns of thinking are just habituated thought patterns that “seem real” because they have become unconscious and “feel” real. But, guess what?  They can change.

Now, many have an “invested” interest in getting you to believe that these thought patterns are “real” and that you can do nothing about them. Don’t buy that limiting frame. You can change these thought patterns. You can “renew your mind.” You can think on things that are pure, just, right, lovely, etc. Indeed, you can think on anything you choose to think on. Just give yourself permission.

c. They recognize that the words and images inside our heads are not “real” in the sense that they are set in concrete – they are changeable. They are just “symbols” of the external world.  We have instruments that will detect the nerve cells and the neuro-transmitters that allow one nerve cell to communicate with another nerve cell. However, can neuro-scientist go inside the brain and find/ measure a picture, a sound, a feeling or a word?  No, they are “abstractions” of the mind hence our conceptual states that are generated at the moment of thought and then they disappear until we think the thought again.  Because the images and word meanings inside our head are not “real” in the sense that they are set in concrete, they only have the reality we give them.

Consider this; think of a mildly unpleasant memory and note what pops into your mind and how you feel. Now, think of a pleasant memory and notice what pops into your mind and how you feel.  Which type thinking best serves you? Why would you want to “create” an image and a thought inside your head that makes you feel bad?  Have you ever thought about just not doing that anymore?  After all, these thoughts aren’t real unless you generate them.

How can we use this knowledge?  Simple. Since the thoughts including the decisions inside our heads are just thoughts, we can change them as we will. In other words, if you don’t like a decision you have made, say “no” to it. Apply “no” to the unwanted decision. When you do this you are meta-stating (applying one thought to another. (See #7 below.) the unwanted decision with a higher level “no.”  What happens when you say “no” to that unwanted decision?  Now, create a decision that will serve you and say “yes” to it. Again, you are meta-stating your desired decision with a “yes.”

Have you ever thought of this¾  the only difference between a thought and a belief is that a belief is a thought to which you have said, “yes.” A belief is a thought that you have affirmed by saying, “I believe this. This thought is for me.” Now, utilize the same processes of the mind in changing original thoughts by thinking other thoughts about them by saying “no” to the decision/thought you don’t want and “yes” to the decision or thought you do want.

How many times do I need to do this? Good question. The brain learns through repetition. Remember how you learned to ride a bicycle or to drive a car?  You rehearsed until the knowledge dropped into your unconscious and it became habitual. Do the same thing with saying “no” to what you don’t want and “yes” to what you do want. Every time the decision/thought pops up you don’t want, say “no” to it and then immediately say, “yes” to the one you do want.  By doing this you are “breaking” the old unwanted habitual pattern and installing a new direction for your mind to go towards¾ a direction that will best serve you. After all, they are just thoughts so think thoughts that serve you.

6. The awesome power of knowing the difference between associating and dissociating. Before I explain this difference, consider this simple exercise.  Imagine yourself walking up to your refrigerator. You open the refrigerator door. Once inside the refrigerator you open the vegetable drawer. Inside the vegetable drawer you see a lemon. You take out the lemon, close the vegetable drawer and then the refrigerator door. Lemon in hand, you walk over to your kitchen cabinet; take out a cutting board and a knife. You proceed to slice the lemon in half then you take one of the halves and slice the half in half and you have two-quarter slices of lemon. You then pick up one of the quarter slices of lemon and put it in your mouth and squeeze the lemon as you feel the lemon juice pouring into your mouth. Is your mouth watering “as if” you actually had a slice of lemon in your mouth?  Most people’s mouth will water.  This little exercise illustrates that the brain doesn’t know the difference between what you imagine and what you are actually experiencing in the present.

Similarly, suppose we consciously or unconsciously imagine ourselves as a little boy or little girl back in our dysfunctional family. Suppose we recall hearing and seeing a parent screaming at us. We hear them telling us how stupid they believe we are. How do you think you would feel even though you are now a grown adult and not a child?  You would feel bad, wouldn’t you? That is what I mean by associating.  Almost universally, I discover clients are having problems in adulthood due to their imagining themselves still children. They continue using their childhood experiences as their present frame of reference.

We call this “associating.” You know if you are associating into a memory if when you recall it you do not see yourself in the picture.  Let’s experiment.  Recall a mildly painful memory.  Get a picture of it.  Now, in the picture note whether or not you see yourself or you just see the other people and environment in that picture.  If you do not see yourself, mentally, you have associated back into that memory and you will tend to experience the same negative feelings you had when you experienced it.

Now, because the brain does not know the difference between what you represent by imagination or by current input (unless you inform it), when you mentally place yourself back into some painful memory, you will have negative feelings very similar to what you experienced during that event.  If you see yourself in that picture as the younger you, we call that dissociating. When people say something like, “That doesn’t bother me anymore; I have distanced myself from it.” They have in fact dissociated from the memory by seeing themselves in the picture and by pushing the picture away from their eyes so it is at a distance. This diminishes the feelings whereas associating into a memory tends to increase the feelings (for most people).

When we consciously or unconsciously associate back into our past hurtful memories and operate from the mental frames (conceptual meanings) that we gave them, we are confusing the map with the territory. When we do this we are living our adult lives inside the painful experiences of childhood.  The thinking we developed then served us then but it doesn’t serve us in adulthood. If you find yourself:

  • (Jumping to Conclusions) generalization
  • (Being Narrow Minded) centration
  • (Playing the “blame game”) transductive reasoning
  • (Personalizing) egocentrism
  • (Making mountains out of molehills.) inductive logic or castraphizing
  • (Black and white thinking) thinking in absolutes and
  • (Blocking out past positive examples.) irreversability

…then you are operating from childhood frames. John Burton, Ed.D. has an article on the Neuro-Semantics’ web site that defines the thinking styles of children. The title of the article is “Hypnotic Language: Solutions in a Word.”

If I were to list one common element of the problems that I have confronted during these thirteen years as a therapist, I would list associating into past painful memories.  The problem of unconsciously associating into childhood problem states and bringing that forward into the adult world lies at the root of many problems that I see therapeutically.

Note:  You may have tried through years of reading and/ or attending trainings to “fix” your thinking without it working.  Experience has taught me that often times a person will need assistance in activating these associated frames in order to bring them to conscious level. From there it becomes fairly easy to meta-state (apply a resource state to the problem state) and reframe them. But know this, you can change your thinking no matter how unconscious the problem state.  If you do not know whether or not you are associating into some past memory, you can bet you are doing just that unconsciously if you are having problems with unwanted behaviors and thoughts.

Exercise: For many people to dissociate (pop out of that memory and see themselves in the event) can make a profound change. So, recall the event that triggered your problem state. Recall the event by getting a picture of it. Now, as you look at the picture, do you see yourself in the picture or do you just see the other person(s) and the surrounding people if others were there take note of the physical place where you were at that time.

If you do not see yourself that means that you are recalling the painful memory associated. This means that your brain is telling your body that you are still there experiencing that painful experience now in the present. So, pop out of that painful memory and see yourself in the memory.

you pop out and see yourself there, note that you are viewing it from another perspective. You are viewing it from the “now” which means that you can bring the resources of your present life with all the subsequent learnings to bear on that event. And, by bringing the resources of the present to bear on that event you can place new and more useful meanings to it. And, as you have now popped out of that experience you can just notice how that picture just moves further and further away as you distance yourself from it. And, as you do that you can preserve and keep all the learnings both good and bad from that experience. And, once you have preserved those learnings you no longer need to hold on to that old pain, do you?

If by chance you were not associated into that old memory, you can still bring the learnings and resources you now have onto that old memory. All the while distancing yourself from it.

7. People who change know how to apply higher meta-level states to lower level problems. As we have learned, our brains do not stop at just one thought. It will keep on thinking thoughts about thoughts.

When we have a “thought about a thought” the second thought will change the first thought and that is where the magic lies. In thinking and behaving the ability of the brain to have thoughts about thoughts is crucial.  Here is the secret. When you have one thought (thoughts are composed of images and conceptual meanings) and then entertain another thought “about” the original thought the original thought will change (See Figure 4).

Figure 4

What in the world does that mean?  It is simple.  If you have an experience that scares you and from that experience you become afraid of your fear, what will happen? In this case the fear will intensify. Indeed, applying fear to fear leads to paranoia.   What if instead of becoming fearful of your fear, you welcomed your fear?  You applied the thought that this fear has value to me and I will welcome it?  What will happen to the fear? It will modulate the fear where you can step outside of it and learn from it. Then, once you learn what you need to learn from the fear, you apply the thought of faith/ courage to your fear, what would happen?  What happens to fear when faith and courage are applied to it?  Fear disappears in the face of strong faith and courage (See Figure 5).

Figure 5

Play with your brain. Get a thought of anger. Now, apply to your anger the thought of forgiveness.  Take the same anger and apply the thought of love.  What about taking your anger and applying the thought of calmness to it, what happens?  Would you have ever guessed how easy you could change your states of mind by applying one thought to another thought?

Every time we take a thought and apply another thought to it, the original thought will modulate or change in some way.  We call this Meta-Stating¾ applying one thought to another thought. And, herein lies the magic.  Herein lies your ability to re-format and re-program your thinking.  Those whom I have seen who have changed their thinking, inevitably have meta-stated their problem state with higher-level resource states.  Instead of meta-stating themselves sick, they learned to meta-state themselves well. They left re-building a new set of higher-level mental frames that served them.

Exercise: So, how does one bring to bear or apply a resource state to a problem state?  Follow these three simple steps:

1.  Get the problem thought in your mind that you would like to change. Note the movie of the problem and the meanings (thought-feelings) that you have given this problem.

2.  Now, access a resource state – a thought-feeling that once you apply to the problem state will change and maybe even eliminate it. In our example above we applied faith and courage to fear. What thought-feeling state of mind can you access now that once it is applied to the problem state, will positively change and maybe even eliminate the problem thought-state?

3.  Step into the resource state (#2). Be totally in it experiencing it. Then, apply the resource state to the problem state.

How to do it –

What happens when you bring the resource state to bear or apply it to the problem state?  Having trouble?  If so, think of your problem state. Hold it in mind. Now, put that thought aside. Access a resource state and step into it and experiencing it by having the movie of it and the word meanings activated. Once you do that, apply the resource state to the problem state.

Some people apply one thought to another with just the words. They just apply the resource thought to the problem thought with their “sense” of both as they process primarily with just language. Some take a visual image of both and do it visually by moving the resource image of resource state to the image of the problem state. Others do it with feelings as they move the resource state from where it is located in their body to the location of the problem state wherever it is in their body. All these work great and will be dependent upon how the person primarily operates: with pictures, with sounds, with feelings or with the language of words.

When I apply “faith” to “fear” I have a picture of the word “fear,” and from there I access “faith” by getting a picture of the word “faith” and above the word “faith” I have a picture of Jesus. I am a Christian and that picture of Him represents a powerful state for me. So, Jesus empowers the word “faith” and as I visually move the word “faith” on top of the word “fear” the word “fear” shatters into many pieces and disappears. Fear cannot operate in the presence of an empowered faith for me because my belief system will not let it. So, Jesus empowers faith and when I apply that to “fear,” fear disappears.

Note: In NLP we do not judge people’s resources, we use them. You access your own resources for we believe that they are adequate for your own healing.

Others do it kinesthetically as they will move the feeling of resource state into the location of the problem state. For example, when courage and fear are applied to fear you will end up with “courageous” fear or “faithful” fear.  How does that change the fear?  (See Figure 5).

8.  People Who Change Know How to Take On Different Perspectives to the Problem. By being able to take on different perspective, they have much more flexibility in dealing with the painful experience. The more flexible is the person, the more resourceful is that person. The realization that we humans operate from five basic ways of looking at experience offers tremendous potential in state control and in the enhancing of our communication. NLP first offered three positions. We have expanded them to five positions. We refer to these ways as being the first, second, third, fourth and fifth perceptual positions and explain them in The User’s Manual for the Brain.

First Position

When you associate into your own body, you live in first position. This permits you to look at the world from your own viewpoint. In the first position, you do not take into account anyone else’s position. You simply think, “How does this conversation or communication affect me?”

First position is the normal and healthy position of seeing, hearing, and feeling from out of self. It is the position needed in order to speak with authenticity, to present yourself, your thoughts, feelings, and responses congruently, to disclose, listen, inquire, and be present with another. When you visually recall a memory and do not see yourself in the picture, you are associated into that memory – you are “inside” that memory looking through your eyes, hearing the sounds and feeling the feelings as if there.

Second Position

When you are in second position, you are “walking in the other person’s shoes.” You take into consideration how a communication or event would look, feel and sound from another person’s point of view. In the second position, you imagine yourself entering the other person’s body. In this position you imagine looking at yourself through their eyes. Second position is to understand, feel with, experience empathy for and see things from another’s point of view. Here you’ll feel in accord with the other and have a strong sense of his or her perceptive.

What do you look like, sound like and what feelings do you get from the other person’s viewpoint of you? In the second position you develop the ability in experiencing empathy. This position gives much flexibility when involved in conflict with someone. From the second position you can appreciate how they feel about your conversation and behavior. Build rapport before going second position. And, by going second position, notice how the rapport deepens. Second position offers an extremely valuable model in deepening rapport.

Third Position

When you distance yourself from an event, you more than likely do it by going to the third position. Third position offers a way of dissociating from the entire event or conversation. In the third position you become an independent observer. Third position allows us to operate from the position of objectivity. Ask yourself, “How would this conversation or event look to someone totally uninvolved?” Imagine yourself being out of your body and off to the side of the conversation between you and the other person. You can see both yourself and the other person. The third position allows you to step back, to gain a sense of distance, to observe, to witness, to feel neutral and to appreciate both positions fully. You know you are in third position when you recall a memory and see yourself in the memory. If you see yourself in the memory, you are “outside” yourself and this allows you to give yourself distance from that memory if you so choose. Whereas first position intensifies the feelings (for most people), third positions diminishes the feelings as you can distance yourself from the memory.

Fourth Position

Robert Dilts (1990) specified the Fourth Perceptual Position in his book Changing Belief Systems with NLP. He defined the Fourth Position as “We” – from the perspective of the system. Many refer to it as the “Systems” Position. In this position, we have “associated in the perspective of the whole system.” To take fourth position, step aside and adopt the perspective of the whole system so that you can there consider what would contribute to the best interest of the system. In the fourth position, everyone in the system is taken account of. A question to ask is, “What are my place, responsibility and position in this system? A linguistic format for this position goes: “If we consider our common goals…” The fourth position (Systems Position) allows us to understand the contexts (cultural, linguistic, business, family, etc.) that influence all of the larger systems and contexts of our world.

In using this for myself, I have modified it somewhat.  Dilt’s model calls for associating into the system. I first associate into the system and then go to the third position to view objectively my position in relation to others in the team.  Then I go second position to each person in the team and then back to the associated systems position. I rotate back and forth through these positions as I deem necessary. I have found this most useful as have other clients that I have coached.

Fifth Position

Marilyn Atkinson (1997) in an unpublished manuscript entitled “Five Central Ideas” suggests another perceptual position – “a universal perceptual position.” This results from applying the generalizations like all, always, everyone, etc to our perspective. Doing so “springboards us to the valuable idea of a universal perceptual position..” This provides the widest and largest level perspective of all.

Figure 6:  Perceptual Positions

By taking this meta-position to everything, we can then learn to take on multiple perceptual positions and even change rapidly between them. Doing so increases our flexibility of consciousness so that we don’t get stuck in any one position.

I love the fifth position for therapeutic purposes.  For people who hold spiritual beliefs, their fifth position is ultimately in their spiritual place. As a Christian, when I go to fifth position, I view myself as being with Jesus. I am way “up there” with Him looking down on myself way down here.  If you hold spiritual beliefs, imagine yourself leaving your body and going up and being with God. Once you get up there and see yourself down here, how does that affect your speech?  Going “up there” is most relaxing and calming to many people.

None of these positions offer a superior position to the other. Each position has equal importance. The wise communicator knows how to move at will from one position to the other.

Getting “Stuck” in one Perceptual Position

Just think what would happen if you got stuck in either position – it does matter where you live. A person stuck in first position would find himself or herself an egotist. Do you know anyone who lives in first position? A person stuck in second position would live constantly over-influenced by other people’s views. In my NLP classes, after I explain the second position, and how those who live in second position tend to let the state of others determine their state, I say, “Second position functions as the position of co-dependency.” Just about every time I do this, sighs come from students as they realize what and how they have caused themselves to allow others to control their states.

A person stuck in third position would become detached and unfeeling. Others perceive these people as “cold hearted.” Indeed, I have found that those who live in third position find themselves as the loners of the world. Many, but not all, also will have the characteristics of the person who lives in a world of words. These people provide society its thinkers and philosophers. Living life detached permits a person to analyze objectively.

Everyone moves from one position to the other. For most, moving from one position to another flows with everyday life. The ability to move from one to the other, either consciously or unconsciously, permits one to act with wisdom and respond appropriately. By moving among the three perceptual positions, you will add richness and choice to your conversations.

Exercise: Exercise: Perceptual Positions

1) Recall the problem state and be in it for just a moment. We will soon “leave” there.

2)  First Position – Associate into your body (first position) by seeing what you saw, hearing what you heard, and feeling what you felt. Do you still feel the same negative emotions you felt then?  You probably will. Be there in that painful memory (associated) if you have memory of it.

3)  Second Position – Now, imagine yourself floating out of your body and floating into the person associated with that painful memory. You may need to do this with more than one person if there were more than one involved in the painful experience. Look through their eyes at yourself. Notice how you looked during that event. How do you appear to the other person?

How do you feel as you look at yourself from their perspective?  Would that person want you to hold on to those negative emotions? What would that person say to you now about the event? You are now walking in the other person’s shoes.

4)  Third Position – Now, imagine yourself dissociated from the total event. Move yourself off to the side where you can see both yourself and the person(s) in that painful experience. How do you view the situation from this dissociated position? As you look at both yourself and the other person, did you really have a justifiable reason to be in such a problem state?  Was your tension justifiable?  Was the person really a threat to you? Or, did you just imagine that the person was a threat?

5)  Fourth Position – If the content of problem involved other people, view the experience from the perspective of your position within the context of the total team, family, etc.  What do you learn from the systems position (Systems Position)? How would other team members, family members, etc. want you to view that experience now?  What would each of them say to you?  What can you learn from each of them?  How can you best serve the team, family, etc. now from what you have learned from this experience?

6)  Fifth Position – Now move to the fifth position way out in the universe, all the way out with God if you have that belief. Go way out in the universe (with God) viewing the experience of your problem from this position, how does the situation change from that position? How do you feel? Do you feel more relaxed and calm being way out there?

If you believe in God or some Universal Being, how do you feel being in the presence of God?  What happens to the tension, fear, anxiety, etc associated with the problem state being in the presence of deity?

Note: Many who have overcome their problems have found the 5thth Position most people are very relaxed and calm which provides the proper state for resolving their problems. Since learning that state of mind, I have found it most useful not only in solving my personal problems but in decision making as well. To my knowledge, I have never made a bad decision when I leave my body with its problem state (dissociate – 2nd Position) and go out and be with Jesus and from there look back and see myself from His perspective (5th Position).  This position will serve you well. Why?   When you are inside (associated) into your higher values, beliefs, etc. represented by your 5th position, you make great choices and  you will find it easy to let go of hurt, anger, guilt, bitterness, etc.Position extremely helpful. They learn how to go there at will through consistent practice. In the 5

I encourage the reader to “process” the materials found in this article. Access some personal problem and take that problem through all eight of the steps explained in this article.  You may experience utter amazement at how that “problem” becomes a lesser problem.


Atkinson, Marilyn. (1997). “The grammar of God.” Vancouver, BC: Unpublished Manuscript.

Bateson, Gregory. Steps to An Ecology of Mind. (1972). New York: Ballantine.

Bodenhamer, Bobby G., and Hall, L. Michael. (1999). The User’s Manual for the Brain: The Complete Manual for Neuro-Linguistic Programming Practitioner Certification. Wales, UK: Crown House Publishing.

Burton, John, Ed.D. and Bodenhamer, Bobby G., D. Min. (2000) Hypnotic Language: Its Structure and Use. Wales, UK: Crown House Publishing.

Dilts, Robert. (1990). Changing Belief Systems with NLP. Cupertino, CA: Meta-Publications.

Hall, L. Michael. Secrets of Personal Mastery: Advanced Techniques for Accessing Your Higher Levels of Consciousness. (2000). Wales, UK: Crown House Publishing.

Korzybski, Alfred. Science and Sanity: An Introduction to Non-Aristotelian Systems and General Semantics (1933/1994).  (5th. Ed.), Lakeville, CN: International Non-Aristotelian Library Publishing Co.

Note: Permission to Reprint – Permission is granted to reprint and distribute this article as long as it is distributed in total including the information about the author.


Bobby G. Bodenhamer, D.Min.
The Institute of Neuro-Semantics
1516 Cecelia Dr
Gastonia, NC  28054
Phone 704-864-3585
Fax 704-864-1545


Dr. Bodenhamer first trained for the ministry, earned a doctorate in Ministry, and served five churches as pastor. He is presently serving as pastor of a small church in Gastonia, NC. He began NLP training in 1989, studying with Dr. Gene Rooney of L.E.A.D’s. Consultants for his Practitioner training and Dr. Tad James for His Master Practitioner Certification and with Tad and Dr. Wyatt Woodsmall for his Trainer’s Certification. Since then, he has taught and certified NLP trainings at Gaston College, Dallas, NC.  He has also taught internationally.

Beginning in 1996, Dr. Bodenhamer began studying the Meta-States model and then teamed up with Michael to begin co-authoring several books. Since that he, he has turned out many works as he and Michael have applied the NLP and Meta-States Models to various facets of human experience.

In 1996 also, Dr. Bodenhamer with Michael co-founded the Society of Neuro-Semantics. This has taken his work to a new level, taken him into International Trainings, and set in motion many Institutes of Neuro-Semantics around the world.