Have you ever watched someone perform a task perfectly, and wonder, “how do they do that?” Perhaps you’re familiar with the task itself, and the principles of making it happen, which makes you even more acutely aware of how much invisible effort has gone into preparation and execution. You’ve probably heard the phrase “practice makes perfect”, but this concept doesn’t seem to work the same way for everyone.
The Beginnings of NLP
In the 1970s, John Grinder (left), an associate Professor at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and Richard Bandler (right), an undergraduate student, created a method for determining how genius works.
The process, known as Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP) became the key method for mapping how human excellence occurs. Today, NLP is being explored as the basis for training the brain to perform to the same standards as those who excel.
But how does the process work, and what does it all mean?
The Basics of Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP)
Most of our day to day actions occur without us spending a lot of time thinking about them. While you may pause to organize your day, or think up a game plan to carry you from one activity to another, there are plenty of things that you just do.
Typically, we think of this as some type of inherent talent. Some people are born to be rocket scientists, while others are destined to be Michelin-star chefs.
At the same time, our brains all contain the same material, and the potential to learn and grow is very clearly present in nearly all of us.
We’re not born knowing which fork to use during the salad course, but we learn. We don’t come out of the womb understanding basic arithmetic, but we are born with the capability to learn.
By studying how geniuses process and disseminate information, Grinder and Bandler hoped to understand more about how the genius brain works.
They hypothesized that, if we can map how a genius brain works, then we can replicate the results, and teach others to think and behave like geniuses.
The Words Behind the Acronym
Neuro refers to how our brains process information. Everyone experiences the world in their own way. The input from the world around us – sights, sounds, scents, tastes, and tactile sensations – are all absorbed and filtered in a way particular to the individual.
This goes beyond basic concepts such as “do two people feel temperature the same way”, and more into which data is processed in which order for different individuals.
For example, let’s say there are two people walking down the street. One might notice the shiny red sports car waiting at the stop sign, while the other might be distracted by the adorable puppy in a shop window. All of this data exists simultaneously, but each individual notices and processes the different pieces in different ways.
Linguistic then pertains to the meaning that the mind assigns to this data. The person who notices the red car first will immediately have a variety of reaction thoughts to that car without consciously calling up any reaction. Like a knee-jerk reaction to a reflex test, their mind will be filled with ideas, like “shiny, new, expensive, want, rich, hot, money”, and so on.
The Programming is the resulting behavior, and the process that takes each individual to that point of action.
A person who is excited by a shiny red sports car will process these linguistic responses to stimuli according to their understanding of this data, and react upon it accordingly.
That might mean blurting out, “Oh wow! Look at that smokin’ hot Porsche!”
It might also mean they ride that idea and the resulting adrenaline to look up Porsches for sale, consider a budget, and work towards a goal of purchasing that exact same Porsche, all because they walked past one.
The Practical Application of NLP
As presented in the examples early, all humans experience and react to the world differently. There is no baseline.
We are all influenced by many external forces, including our environment, our society, our culture, our upbringing, and every individual experience we have along the way. If anything, Neuro Linguistic Programming has helped prove that our reality is very much created internally.
However, by understanding how people successfully organize their thoughts, feelings, and responses through behavior and language, we can also mimic that organization. NLP training is a type of brain training that helps enhance and encourage the brain to perform at a higher level.
As suspicious as its sounds, you’ve likely already participated in something very much like NLP. Have you ever avoided doing something for fear of failure? But then after some research, such as discussing the event with people who have done it, watching videos of people doing the activity, and learning more about what the experience is like, you feel less fearful of failure, and more interested in the process.
This is an example of NLP in action. You train your brain to consider an activity from the point of view of someone who is experienced, rather than running away in fear. You are using their patterns of reaction and response to train your brain to understand the stimulus in exactly the same way.
This process is not without practice, however. NLP has been used significantly in educational tools in the past few years, helping adults learn new languages, build stronger social skills, and innovate their thinking process.
In many cases, it is equal parts “untraining” our brain from the reality we know, and then re-training it to consider the same scenarios using the patterns established by those who excel at those tasks.
A skateboarder might think “what would Tony Hawk do?” An online business person might consider “How would Jeff Bezos handle this?” While a songwriter might consider “where would Paul McCartney go with this?” It’s less a method of copying the greats, than understanding how to encourage your brain to process a situation in a similar manner.
Neuro Linguistic Programming is not a perfect art, but for those experiencing significant roadblocks in taking a certain skill or activity, the culprit might not be lack of skill or effort, but the manner in which the brain processes the task at hand.
By learning how those who excel at these tasks think and process, we can better guide our brains towards reactions that benefit us, making us more proficient at these tasks in the future.
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