Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP)

See also: Memory Skills

What is Neuro-Linguistic Programming?

Neuro-Linguistic Programming, or NLP, provides practical ways in which you can change the way that you think, view past events, and approach your life.

Neuro-Linguistic Programming shows you how to take control of your mind, and therefore your life. Unlike psychoanalysis, which focuses on the ‘why’, NLP is very practical and focuses on the ‘how’.

How NLP Began

NLP was co-created by Richard Bandler, who noticed that conventional psychotherapy techniques didn’t always work and was interested in trying different ways. He worked closely with a very successful therapist called Virginia Satir, and NLP was born from the techniques that really worked with patients and others.

Richard Bandler has written many books about NLP. One of the most helpful as a basic introduction is probably: How to Take Charge of Your Life: The User’s Guide to NLP, by Richard Bandler, Alessio Roberti and Owen Fitzpatrick.

Taking Control of Your Mind: The Principle Behind NLP

NLP works from the starting point that you may not control much in your life, but that you can always take control of what goes on in your head.

Your thoughts, feelings and emotions are not things that are, or that you have, but things that you do. Their causes can often be very complicated, involving, for instance, comments or beliefs from your parents or teachers, or events that you have experienced.

NLP shows you how you can take control of these beliefs and influences. Using mind techniques such as visualisation, you can change the way that you think and feel about past events, fears and even phobias.

You can’t always control what happens, but you can always control how you deal with it

Richard Bandler, Alessio Roberti and Owen Fitzpatrick, How to Take Charge of Your Life: The User’s Guide to NLP

The Power of Belief

What you believe can be extremely powerful.

If you believe you’re ill and that you’re going to die, you probably will: witch doctors have been using this technique for centuries.

Likewise, if you believe that you have been given something that will make you better, you often do get better. This ‘placebo effect’ is well-documented in clinical trials.

What this boils down to is that if you believe you can do something, you probably can. But you can also challenge limiting beliefs, and change whether you believe you can do something by asking yourself questions like:

  • How do I know I can’t do that?
  • Who said that to me? Might they have been wrong?

Goal Setting

We’re all familiar with the principles of goal-setting, but NLP suggests some interesting new insights, focusing on satisfaction, not dissatisfaction.

For example, it’s helpful to make your goals positive; focus on what you want to have, not what you’d like to lose or not have. You should also think about what it is that you really want. For example, you don’t actually want to buy your dream house, you want to live in it. It’s much easier to get motivated about a goal that really satisfies you.

The Power of Questions

Bandler suggests that our minds actively look for answers to questions.

So if you ask yourself ‘Why do I feel so bad?’, your mind will find lots of answers and you will feel worse. With NLP the key is to ask the right questions, for example:

  • Why do I want to change?
  • What will life be like when I have changed?
  • What do I need to do more/less of in order to change?

Questions like these naturally lead to a more positive outlook.

Some Tools and Techniques from NLP

There are many tools and techniques used in NLP and this section gives a brief introduction to a few.

To find out more, you could go on a reputable NLP course, or read one of Richard Bandler’s books.

Moving images

  • Imagine an image of someone who annoys you. Concentrate on how the picture appears in your mind.

  • Make the image smaller, put it in black and white, and imagine it moving away from you. Notice how this makes you feel.

  • Imagine a picture of something that makes you feel good. Make it bigger and brighter, and move it closer to you. Notice how this makes you feel.

The idea behind this thought process is that it helps you see how people or events affect you and understand the way you feel about them.

By manipulating images in this way, you are teaching your brain to magnify good feelings and make bad feelings weaker.

Undermining the Critical Voice

Many of us will admit to having a critical voice in our heads that pops up at inopportune moments and says things like ‘You couldn’t possibly do that’, or ‘That sounds way too difficult for someone like you’.

  • Next time you hear the critical voice, imagine it sounding silly, maybe like Donald Duck or Tweetie Pie.

  • Notice how this changes the way that you regard the voice’s ‘wisdom’.

If the voice no longer sounds like someone real, it’s much easier to silence it.

Running the Movie Backwards

If you’ve had a bad experience that you’re struggling to get over, it can help to imagine it backwards.

  • Start from a point in time where you realised the experience was over. Then imagine the whole incident happening backwards, until you’ve gone back to a time before it happened.

  • Do this a few times until you’re familiar with the way that the ‘film’ plays backwards.

  • Now make it really small in your mind – say little enough to view on a mobile phone screen - and play it again backwards.

  • Finally, think of a different end to the experience, one that makes you smile. Notice how the way that you feel about it has changed.

The key to this technique is that you are showing your brain a different way of looking at a memory, which will change the way that you feel about it too.

‘Brilliance Squared’

  • Take an emotion that you would like to feel, for example confidence. Imagine a coloured square in front of you filled with the colour that you associate with that emotion.

  • Imagine yourself standing in the square, filled with that emotion. Notice how you would stand, the look on your face, everything about you.

  • Step into the square, and take on the mantle of the imaginary ‘you’. Feel the feeling spreading through you. Repeat this a few times, until you can do it easily.

  • Now, imagine the coloured square on its own in front of you and step in. See how it feels.

The ‘trick’ here is that you have trained your mind to associate an image with a feeling. By conjuring up the image, you can now conjure up the feeling too.


NLP is a very powerful technique based on the power of your own mind. Some might call it ‘mind tricks’ but, by using these techniques and others developed by NLP practitioners, you can learn to take control of your mind and how you respond to the world.

You may not be able to control the world, but you can control how you react to it.