The Inner Game of Frame

Frame Games As—


L. Michael Hall, Ph.D.

  • What is frame games all about?
  • What is the inner games of genius?
  • Why are meta-states more critical and important than primary states?
  • How does Neuro-Semantics differ from NLP?
  • What are the inner games that you highly recommend?

Let’s start with the first question: What is Frame Games all about?

Frame games explores the pervasive influence of frames and the framework of nested frames within frames in our experiences.  That’s why we say, Where there’s a Game, there’s a Frame overhead.

In the Beginning is Representation

Representation is certainly important.  Representation, in fact, is where the genius of NLP truly shines.  For nearly a hundred years, psychologists and philosophers of the mind knew about and worked with, sensory representations.  Wilheim Wundt, the father of modern psychology, had even tried to create a periodic table from the sensory systems similar to what chemists created in their field.  He did not succeed.   In the field of psychology, no one had been able to make the human “senses” or the sensory representation systems the basis for “thinking.”  This is what Bandler and Grinder achieved and what Bateson acknowledged and celebrated them for in his Preface to their first book.

Representation is what we seem to experience on what seems like the theater of our mind.  I use the word “seem” purposefully here because that’s the trick.  None of it is literal or real.  It is phenomenonological.  That’s a big word about the seemingness of our internal images, sounds, sensations, smells, etc.  While the neuro-sciences have eliminated any possibility that we have any literal pictures or sounds in our heads, at the experiential level of life, we all feel as if we do.  It seems as if we do.  We experience recalling pictures of our home or of a holiday or of a special celebration.  We seem to have pictures, images, movies, sensations, smells, sounds, music, etc. in our head.  We have a Movie Mind.

NLP began by recognizing the sensory systems as a way to represent or map things and added that it is just a map.  Yet, it is the way we “make sense” of the world.  We re-present to ourselves what we have inputted through our senses.  That makes our mind a Movie Mind.  It means that many of our thoughts are snapshots or old videos playing in the Cinema of our mind.  NLP is all about the MovieMind that we experience.  It is about how to run that movie mind so that we see, hear, feel, smell and taste things and play great Movies that inspire and inform, that teach and encourage, and that give guidance and strategy as we navigate through life, relationships, work, career, hobbies, love, etc.   NLP calls this Movie Mind that we all experience by such terms as “modalities,” the “VAK,” and “sub-modalities.”

Above and Beyond Representations

Yet representation of sensory-based information is not the only facet of “thinking” or “knowing.”  As we use the meta-representation system of language, we are introduced into the largest anchoring system used by man (and woman for that matter!) — words are within the Movies of our mind as the sound-track and script.  They are also there as words above the movie as descriptors, cinematic directions, and classifications about the Movie.

In this, words are less representable than sights, sounds, sensations, and smells.  It’s easier to make a Movie with the video-camera of our senses than it is to create a Movie with abstract symbols (words).  That’s why it is easier to read and write a novel than non-fiction.  A novel tells a word picture of a see-hear-feel story that we can easily video-record on the theater of our mind.   Doing so with more abstract ideas and concepts, the subject of non-fiction writing demands that we shift to diagrams and cartoons and flow charts if we want to see such as a cinema.

But when we put both levels of words together, we have a very dynamic and wonderful way to “think,” to “make sense” of things, and to map out ideas, concepts, generalizations, beliefs, values, knowledge, and all of the forms of higher level awareness.

This is where Meta-States comes in.  Any thought or feeling or physiology set in a meta-relationship to another moves us up “the levels of mind” so that we set frames above and beyond the Movie— frames which govern the Movie.  This is the power of frames.  And the higher level “meaning” that we hold in mind above and beyond the Movie.  The Movie obviously links and connects and associates things.  The Movie sets up sequences and strategies of actions with feelings with responses.  So it creates the first level of “meaning” —associative meaning.

Yet higher to that level of meaning is the “meaning” that we create about it.  We can set higher frames that totally re-frame the Movie so that we see it in different terms.  This is true for any Movie that you watch.  Watch a horror movie in terms of how they created that effect, and you will be watching a different movie.  Watch a comedy in terms of the knowledge of the personal biography of the writer’s or director’s personal traumas, and you will see a different movie.

The meta-state structure in these lines is coded in the words, “in terms of.”  In terms of your own personal resourcefulness in running your own brain and taking charge of your own life, what have you learned so far in this article?  Ahhh, yes, that question invites you to review this article and to do with accessing a particular state of mind-and-emotion.  Do that and you may very well be reading and experiencing a different article.  In terms of how Neuro-Semantics differs from NLP, what am I saying?  That question invites you into yet another meta-state frame of mind and seeks to recruit you to view the article from yet another point of view.

Taking a meta-position is easy for us humans.  We do it all the time.  In fact, we cannot not do it.  We have a very special kind of consciousness that makes this inevitable.  We call it self-reflexive consciousness.  This means that our mind is forever reflecting onto itself.  You do it every time you think about your thinking.  You do it every time you have a feeling about a feeling.  This meta-cognitive ability allows us to rise up in our minds to make our own mind, and the products of our mind (our thoughts, feelings, physiology) the object of the next level of our thinking.

Such reflexivity then invites another dynamic into being, it invites emergent properties so that we have states-about-states, and gestalt states that are “more than the sum of the parts.”  One emergent property is the psycho-logics or “logical levels” or thought and emotion that enables us to frame or classify (categorize).  In moving to a meta-level to any state, we set the frame by labeling, classifying, categorizing, generalizing, summarizing, believing, etc.  This creates a higher level of “thought” —a thought that operates like an attractor in a self-organizing system.

So above and beyond the Movies in our minds are our frames.  This includes our belief frames, value frames, understanding frames, expectation frames, history frames, imagination frames, intention frames, etc.  There are dozens and dozens of such frames.  You could call each a “logical level,” a Matrix of frames, the inner environment of our mind-scape, our model of the world, the paradigms that we operate from, etc.  Yet whatever you call it, these frames are the inner game that we play.  They create and govern the outer games of our lives.

If our MovieMind throws up on the screen of our awareness various videos and movies, some full length features and some momentary snapshots and if that’s important in terms of the mind-body (or neuro-linguistic connection), then how much more important are the higher level structures of our frames?  The Movie provides us the content of thought.  The Cinema playing tells us what we are thinking about.  The Frames provide us the structure of that thought.  Now we move to the editor’s frame or point of view to see how the Movie is formatted and coded.  Or we can move even higher to the Director’s frame of mind about the Movie and the effects and intentions he or she seeks to create.

This shows how the cinematic features of the Movie are not “sub-modalities” but “meta-modalities.”  And it indicates how and why they work symbolically and semantically.  If the editor or director of a Movie casts it at some distance, or in black-and-white, or in color, or with fast shots from scene to scene — what does it mean?  Ultimately those cinematic features (“sub-modalities”) mean nothing in and of themselves.  It depends upon the meaning system given to it by each viewer.  And to explore any given viewer’s meaning system, we have to move to that person’s frames about such.  We have to explore that person’s matrix.

What are your Inner Games?

A group of children can grow up together and yet develop lifestyles and ways of thinking that radically differ.  As adults, they may have similar Movies playing in their mind, but it will be their frames that make the difference.

Do they frame their Movies as fatalistically determining their destiny?

Or do they frame their Movies as just experiences that they have been through?

Do they frame them to keep replaying them over and over just the way it was the first time?

Or do they frame them to keep learning more and more from them?

Do they frame them as absolutely defining them for all time?

Or do they frame them as the beginning database from which to draw conclusions?

As you can see in these questions, it’s our thinking patterns and style of meaning attribution (what we call Meta-Programs in NLP) that play a more determinative role in our mind-body experience than just the Movies.  Our inner game of our frames certainly begins with our Movies but it does not end there.

This now invites us to ask some personal questions about our thinking style and pattern regarding how we frame things.

  • How were you framed in your early home and environment?
  • What framing styles did you learn and adapt?
  • Who framed you?
  • How do you frame things today?
  • How well does your framing work for you in terms of being resourceful, running your own brain, balancing the demands of life, succeeding, etc.?
  • What frames would you prefer?

The frames we set about our experiences are much, much, much more important and critical than our experiences.  In this, “there is no good or bad but thinking makes it so” as Shakespeare noted.  In this, “men are not disturbed by things, they are disturbed by their interpretation of things.”  In this, “as we think in our heart, so we are.”  In this we have the cognitive-behavioral foundation for human functioning.

The Inner Games We Play with our Potential Self

In Neuro-Semantics we recognize that our Frames govern our Games and that we cannot really play a better outer game until we have some better inner frames.  In this, it’s the inner game of our frames that count most.  And the inner game is played at all levels.  It’s played at the level of the Movies that we entertain in our minds and it is played by our meta-states about those Movies.

A meta-state is the state of mind-body-emotion that we experience about our first experience.  It’s our reactions to our reactions.  It’s our second thoughts about what we first think, and our third thoughts about the second thoughts, etc.  That’s why what you think about your thinking is much more important than your first thoughts.

In fact, our first thoughts and emotions make up our primary state natural self.  This is our potential selfprimary state natural self that’s loaded with all of our potentials is what some might call our “Natural Child.”  It is natural, creative, loving, emotional, passionate, dynamic, fluid, flexible.  It has all of the childlike qualities that characterize us at our best when we were free to unfold and develop.

In developmental psychology today, we recognize that we are born with tremendous potential — potential that will unfold and develop over the life stages if we negotiate those stages successfully.  Of course, that’s the problem — failing to successfully negotiate the mental, emotional, social, relational stages.  These have been identified by numerous researchers including Piaget, Eric Erickson, Fowler, etc.

What Meta-States adds to all of this comes in at precisely this point.  As our second thoughts and reactions to our first ones — our meta-states determine how we treat our inner natural self that has so much potent.  How we meta-state our innate ever-developing Self determines almost everything about our life, emotions, skills, relationships, potential for success, etc.  It is that important.

How or why?   It happens because how we meta-state this potential self makes all the difference in the world in terms of the quality of our life and our basic life direction or orientation.  In this we have two basic choices.  We can meta-state our primary state natural self with frames that support or those that hinder.

  • The hindering frames are full of prohibitions and taboos and create limitations and problems so that we get stuck in the development, we become afraid, ashamed, or guilt-ridden about our self.  This puts one on the Dragon pathway.
  • The supporting frames are full of permissions, acceptance, appreciate, and understanding and create safety to risk, excitement to learn, playfulness to explore, and invite us onto the pathway of growth and development.  This puts us on the Genius or Mastery pathway.

Now you know why, in Meta-States Training for Accessing Personal Genius, we check ourselves regarding the prohibitions and taboos that create the dragons within.  The basic principle is that if we take any negative thought-or-feeling (i.e., state) and bring it against ourselves —against our thoughts, feelings, or physiological responses, we put ourselves at odds with ourselves.  We attack ourselves.  This calls forth the Dragons within.  Self-judgment, self-contempt, self-hatred, and self-depreciation … these are the chief offenders.

The inner game of our frames begins with the Inner Games of Acceptance, Appreciation, and Awe.  It begins with the Inner Games of Power, Ownership, Affirming (“Yes”) and Dis-confirming (“No”).  It begins with the Inner Games of learning, curiosity, playfulness, trust, love, fun, humor, pleasure, and intentionality.  The inner game begins when we access our personal genius … our natural passionate self that is designed to unfold and to become.

The inner game of our frames continues with the Inner Games of resilience, optimism, executive management of our frames, and all of the other Games that we play in the advanced Meta-States Training called, Living Genius.


Let me summarize with a set of questions.

  • Do you like the Games that you’re playing in life?
  • Are your Games at work, business, career, finances, etc. making life a party for you?
  • What about your Games with loved ones, friends, associates?
  • What about your inner games that go on in the privacy of your internal Matrix of frames?  Do they enhance your life and empower you as a person?

We cannot not play both inner and outer games.  It’s the way our mind-body-emotion system works.  About that we don’t have a choice.  What we do have a choice about is the content of our Games— the Games that we Play and the quality of the Games.  Wanta’ Play?


L. Michael Hall, Ph.D. translated NLP and Meta-States into Frame Games (2000) and has since been creating numerous applications— Games Slim and Fit People Play, Games Business Experts Play, Games for Becoming Financially Independent, Games for Mastering Fear, Games Great Lovers Play, Games for Accelerated Learning, etc.  Michael along with Dr. Bob Bodenhamer developed the field of Neuro-Semantics.