When Blind Elephants Meta-State:

A Review of Steve Anrea’s Continuing Misunderstanding 2

L. Michael Hall, Ph.D.

Steve Andreas says is it all about scope and category.  He says that it is about how we create categories in our mind to understand things as well as how we bite off various sizes of information to deal with— how big or small the scope of our focus.  Yet the two volumes of Six Blind Elephants involve Meta-States and the meta-stating process as much as it involves anything else.

And why should it not?  A meta-state after all is a higher logical level phenomenon created by how we step back from whatever we are experiencing at the primary state level of sensory-based experience and rise up, transcend the immediate and then include the immediate inside of a higher frame, context, or category.  So when Andreas deals with “categories” of the mind, he is referring to the same subjective experience as when I speak about meta-states even if he has yet to acknowledge such.  I wonder what category of his mind creates that?

Meta-Stating Problems
Steve writes,
“When solving a problem it makes a huge difference whether we think of wrestling with it or dancing with it, attacking it or thinking of it as challenging.  Categorizing [read, meta-stating] it one way can make any process difficult, unpleasant, and arduous, while another description can make it an exciting adventure.” (Volume II, p. 84)

Here “categorizing,” is putting the primary state of “solving a problem” into a category of one of these four frames.  This is the very same process when we meta-state the problem-solving state with one of these four mental-emotional states.  Andreas speaks as if this is some new thing in NLP when actually it’s been a part of the NLP Meta-States model since 1994.  The good news is that he has finally seen the process which I’ve been addressing in Meta-States all these years.

Meta-Stating using Cognitive Qualifiers
Andreas speaks of John McWhirter as having provided —
“. . . a fascinating and subtle example of how our minds can be pre-set to respond in a particular way, that sadly, others have not previously noticed.  A ‘cognitive qualifier’ is a ‘commentary’ adverb appearing at the beginning of a sentence or phrase that refers to an emotional or cognitive state, such as the words ‘happily’ or ‘sadly’ in the previous sentence.” (Vol. II, p. 84)

Did Andreas just say that a cognitive qualifier “refers to an emotional … state?”  That’s amazing!  Isn’t it?  Whatever it is, it is at a higher level and “refers to an emotional state.”  Though Andreas has sadly not noticed it before (years and years of Anchor Point and NLP World articles that I have written about Meta-States) this is precisely part of the description of a meta-state.

“Cognitive qualifiers direct your mind to think of an experience in a way that is specified by the kind of qualifier used.” (85)
That sounds like what I wrote years ago in an article on Texturing States describing how we qualify a state via the meta-stating process.  Noting that the words sadly, luckily, and happily refer to “emotional states, and most emotions are evaluative” he then writes.
“An attitude of interest or fascination is an excellent positive resource state for learning and change, because it redirects attention from the evaluation of the problem to interest and curiosity about how the problem works, a shift to a more specific logical level of categorization. (86)

If Andreas had done his homework in studying the Meta-States Model, he would have known that we define a meta-state as an “attitude” and that, as such, it sets an evaluative frame at a higher level so that we redirect our focus.  He would know that I have often described a meta-state as a shift to a more specific logical level, a higher concept or category.

In his fourth chapter Modes of Operating (Volume II), he uses Venn diagrams to illustrate how one of the motivation or option modal operator states relate to another, sometimes embedding one inside of the other.  He has Impossibility as the largest level, then Possibility and inside of Possibility there is Necessity, Choice, and Desire states.  When we do this in Meta-States, we talk about one state embedded inside of another.  We even do this intentionally as a meta-stating process.  We begin with a highly resourceful state and then embed within it less resourceful states.  In that way the higher state, the meta-state, becomes the category for the lower.

Andreas even begins playing with state upon state, having to choose, choosing to need, etc.
“When you are totally congruent, it is possible to, you want to, you choose to, and paradoxically, you also have to, because you really couldn’t do anything else!” (108)

His fifth chapter, Self-Reference deals with circularity.
“Self-reference inevitably occurs whenever we think about ourselves and how our minds work.” (111)

Ah, a meta-state again!  When we say something about ourselves, the thoughts we generated are “both made by the self and describe the self, so they refer to themselves, in a circular process.”
“Whenever the criteria for a higher logical level are the same as the criteria for the members of the included logical levels, it will be self-referential.” (114)
“In order for a statement to be self-referential, it has to either:
a. refer to itself directly, or
b. refer to itself indirectly, by including itself as a member of a more general category that it describes, and
c. the description must apply to all members of the category.
To discover self-reference, the key question to ask is, ‘Is this communication an example of what the communication describes?’” (116)

In Meta-States we also make these distinctions.  We do so recognizing that our thoughts and feelings (i.e., states) can be expressions of our state and can also just as equally be the frame of our state.  “Is that thought or emotion your expression or frame?  Are you using it to move up to the frame (category) or to expression yourself (member of the class)?

Andreas speaks about the Meta-State structure of worrying about worrying which then creates hyper-anxiety.
“In worrying, the process may continue to occupy your mind for some time, as you recursively think of one possible scenario after another.  However, if you find yourself in an unsatisfactory loop, and the results of the future event are very important to you, you may find that the loop escalates at every step, creating what has often been called a ‘vicious circle’ of increasing anxiety.” (125)

Reading this makes me wonder if Andreas has been reading my articles about the circular loops of the mind.  I have two or three of them on the website, so her could have.  Sure seems similar.  In speaking about a paradoxical intention, Andreas notes that to try to deliberately do what you typically experience as a spontaneous symptom gives you a counter-intuitive way to interrupt the escalating loop and reduce the symptoms.  He says that the reason is that it reverses the direction of the escalating loop (127).
“By deliberately creating fear, you can find out exactly how you do it—what kind of images you make, what you say to yourself, etc. — and this can transform what you previously experienced as involuntary into something voluntary.” (128)

This is precisely why we use Meta-Questions to explore a person’s matrix of frames and why we dance with dragons in order to find the structure and begin to play around with it as a means of transformation (see Dragon Slaying, Meta-Coaching, Volume I).

Andreas then quotes Virginia Satir’s question for the depressed person was, “How do you feel about feeling depressed?”  In Meta-States (1995) I also quoted this as a meta-stating process.  Andreas quotes it and comments:
“Since they are already attending to their feelings, this is a good match for their experience, it asks them to categorize [meta-state] their feeling response at a more general logical level, instead of cycling back to their depressing thoughts, changing the loop.” (130)

“Although occasionally a client might reply, ‘I feel depressed about being depressed,’ usually they will respond with a different feeling.  ‘Well, I feel sad about feeling depressed.” [sad about depressed meta-state] . . . These new feelings will take them out of the old loop, and they can be utilized as a starting point for making future changes.  If you get stuck, you can always ask the recursive feeling question again at any time.  ‘How do you feel about feeling depressed about feeling depressed?” (130, italics added)

When I use this process in Meta-States, I acknowledge that it is the dynamic of multi-ordinality that Alfred Korzybski invented.  That is, “depressed about depressed” is taking one nominalization, applying it to itself in a self-reflexive way.  This makes “depression” a multi-ordinal term (see Communication Magic, 2001).  Here is another meta-state structure:
“Often people don’t enjoy learning to do something new, because the early stages of learning are often confusing and awkward, and they naturally would like to avoid this unpleasantness, and the unpleasant evaluative feelings about their confusion and awkwardness.  It is one thing to realize that the beginning stages of learning are often inevitably difficult and uncomfortable.  It is quite another to use that discomfort as a reason not to learn anything new.” (131)

What is the structure here?  It is the higher state of unpleasant feelings about the primary state of confusion and awkwardness.  That’s a meta-state structure.  Unpleasantness has been brought and applied to confusion.

“Self-contradiction exists at the logical level of categorization, and at that level there truly is no solution.  In order to escape from a contradiction, you have to shift logical levels.  You can either go to a more general level, or to a more specific level.” (150)

As far as I’m concerned the logical level of categorization is just fancy terminology for a meta-state.  Steve isn’t introducing anything more than what I presented in the Meta-States model in 1994.
“‘Feel free to restrict yourself to the information that is relevant to the problem’ nests restriction inside freedom.   ‘Take as much time as you need to quickly review those past events in order to come to a new conclusion about their relevance to your present life situation,’ gracefully nesting speed inside slowness.” (157)

Later he writes about negation and says,
“Negation is either at a lower or higher logical level than existence, depending on how we think about it.” (173)

I described that very thing in an entire chapter in 1999 in Structure of Excellence which is now in a second edition under the title, Sub-Modalities Going Meta.

Well, I could go on and on in identifying numerous meta-state structures that Andreas quotes and uses in Blind Elephants to illustrate the category distinction that actually comes from Cognitive Linguistics, which by the way Charles Faulkner, has distinguished himself for years in presenting in workshops.  The whole idea of our mental categories is what we describe in Meta-States as our frames of mind.

I find it interesting that Andreas uses “category” to describe concepts, generalization, criteria, rule, name, association, etc.  In Meta-States, my work on the so-called “logical levels” revealed that all the terms we use for mental phenomena are just different facets of the same thing.  To model that, I began talking about experience and consciousness using the metaphor of a diamond and all of our meta-levels as facets, each giving us a different perspective.  From this we then created a list of Meta-Questions, now up to 70 and counting.

Where Andreas goes wrong with it all is how he seeks to impose his linear thinking about what is dynamic and non-linear and tries to sort things out that occurs simultaneously in different domains and at different levels.  What he needs is a systemic model like Meta-States and then he would not be so constrained by the way he creates his two linear directions of scope and category.

L. Michael Hall, Ph.D. is a modeler of positive psychology who has developed the seven models of Neuro-Semantics including the first model, Meta-States.