Modeling Excellence Series #6

The enrichment of modeling with Meta-States began in 1994 during my very first modeling project— Resilience. I started the project in 1991when I became really fascinated by the quality of staying with something when set-backs occur.  It did not begin with big set-backs, but actually with little ones.  And with the smallest of set-backs.  Until then I had not even really noticed the phenomenon.

Prior to that if someone quit or gave up on something, I dismissed it with a wave of the hand as, “Well they must not really be interested.”  Or, “It just must not be their thing.”  Or, “They’ve got something else that’s more interesting.”  Then one day during an NLP class I was interviewed someone about some very small thing that the person had started, then there was a set-back, and then the person gave up on.  Using the Meta-Model questions, I probed and probed to understand the mental map of the person.  When we had chased the person’s thinking-and-feeling about that one, he remembered another thing he had started, and a set-back, and a giving that up for something else.  That led to a third memory and, of course, “Do we have a pattern here?”

His pattern was to think of something that he wanted or wanted to achieve, make a visual image of it (Vconstruct), then amplify it so that it was really compelling (K+), and in amplifying it, he would compress the time frame for achieving it so the picture came closer and closer and then he would say things like, “It’s almost here; I’m going to have it” (Alanguage), and then if anything got in the way of it (a set-back) like a disappointing result from an action or the realization it would take longer, he would then create another picture of it but this one would either be far, far away or a degraded version of it (Vconstruct) and the more he thought of it, the more it would move over and replace the original picture.  At that point he would say, “Agghh.  I don’t really want it anyway; it’s not worth the effort.”  That would create a momentary sense of dislike and then he would be off to something else.

That got me hooked.  Suddenly, I realized that there could be, for some people, a pattern of non-resilience.  Set-backs of the smallest nature would put them off.  So I started doing the interviews with just about anyone who would let me.  As that continued, I discovered bigger and bigger set-backs— real knock-downs (divorces, bankruptcy, being fired, being mugged, rape, war, accidents, and all sorts of traumas).

Now what really amazed me in the interviews was that it was not the size, magnitude, power, number, or intensity of the set-back that determined the person’s response.  For some people, the smallest set-back would knock them off-course and for others, the largest, most devastating set-back would not.  They would get up, dust themselves off, and go for it again.  Even if multiple set-backs occur at the same time— they would do the same thing.  Get up, shake off the disorientation, examine what was left, figure out something to do, and bounce back!  I was impressed.  And, I wanted that!  I wanted it for myself and I wanted it for every client that I worked with and I wanted it for those who attended every NLP course that I conducted.

“Okay, so what is the strategy of resilience, of bouncing back after a set-back?  How do people think and map out the experience so that they take it as a matter of course, ‘I will be back.’?”  That was my question and it was 1991.  Many years prior to that I had read the book from Elizabeth Kobler-Ross on grief recovery and the stages that she proposed: shock, denial, bargaining, anger, and acceptance.  I had also already read Viktor Frank’s Logo-Therapy and is story of resilience in Man’s Search for Meaning. So I began a search of the literature to see what else had been written.  In 1991 there was not the category of Resilience as there is today so there was not much.  But there was the study of the Children of Survival from the War in Lebanon.

While I was search out those things and now interview people who “had been to hell and back” I was reading through Korzbyski’s Science and Sanity and Bateson’s Steps to an Ecology of Mind. I was writing and publishing about the language patterns in Korzybski that were not included in the Meta-Model and writing NLP articles about Bateson’s contributions to NLP.

Then in 1994 a call for papers for the NLP Conference in Denver came and I decided to propose a workshop on “Resilience: Going for it — Again!”  I worked out the stages: The set-back (or knock-down), the emotional roller-coaster stage of dealing with the emotional shock of a world falling apart, the accessing of stabilization states and skills to stop the fall, the coping stage of putting one’s world back together, and the mastering stage of recovering a new vision and intention so that one would finally “be back.”  The strategy was straight-forward and linear.  So I gathered my materials and headed to Denver with some friends.

Then it happened.  While interview a man at the training, I asked, “How did you know to go from stage 2 to stage 3?  And he said something like, “Well, I had this larger vision, this higher state about where I was and I knew that it was just a matter of time and that I would get through this.”  Then either I reflected back to him or he said, “It’s like being in a state about my state, in a meta-state …”  Regardless of who actually said the words, the phrase “meta-state” was an Eureka moment for me as it brought together the meta-levels, logical levels, and levels of abstracting that I had been immersed in for three years.  “Of course, at the same time that you are coping on the primary level you are also accessing your higher level thoughts-and-feelings and it is those meta-states of vision, intention, and determination that you will get through that’s infusing you with this complex state of resilience!”

The fact that we do not just operate at one level, but multiple levels simultaneously brings into focus that we cannot model most subjective experiences without tracking our self-reflexive consciousness as it creates multiple meta-states.  We are multi-layered beings.  We do not just think or feel— we are always and inevitably thinking-and-feeling (a state) about our thoughts-and-feelings and we are also experiencing states about those states.  This comprises the matrix of frames that we have about things: our beliefs, values, identities, memories, imaginations, decisions, models, intentions, and dozens and dozens of other meta-level understandings.  So to model in a full and complete way requires using the Meta-States Model for modeling out the self-reflexivity of the mind-body system.