NLP Demystified

Neuroscience gives us an incredible insight into the nature of our experience: what appears to us as "external reality" is actually the result of millions of brain processes that filter, sort, de-compose, and re-compose the raw data that we collect with our senses. We don't experience all those computations, we just experience "the world" as a unified, continuous whole. What neuroscience shows us is that the brain takes lots of creative liberties in how it creates that whole. Luckily for us, it's pretty accurate in representing what's out there. 

 I've just been feeling so constrained lately...

I've just been feeling so constrained lately...

But here’s where it gets interesting. Just as instantly and automatically as the brain decides what it all is, it also decides what it all means. And what it means determines how it feels, which is really what’s most important to us humans. Here's an overly simplified example. I was once driving with a friend and had to make some quick moves to dodge a car that was swerving right next to us. I may have shouted some things, so my friend gently touched my elbow and said, "Crystallin, what if there's a bee in the car?" Her brain was generating a reality where people are mostly reasonable beings, so their behaviors probably have reasonable explanations. My brain? Let's just say it was not quite so generous. Even if there was no such insect, witness the remarkable difference in our experiences: my friend was calm, amused, open, patient, even kind. I was a hot, steaming mess. Which would you choose?

The implication here is that each of us live inside a bubble of meaning that's being generated from within our own brains. But I'm not talking bumper sticker wisdom here; this isn't as simple as "Don't believe everything you think." The brain processes I'm talking about happen instantaneously, completely outside of our conscious awareness, and are going a million miles a minute all the time. For the most part, all of this works out to our benefit. If our brains could not automate these meaning-making processes, we couldn't do things like create languages or recognize the faces of our loved ones. But there are some ways that this capacity of the brain starts to work against us, especially in the first two years of our lives when the brain is writing the programs that it will use to make meaning for the rest of its life. Think about it: there you are, one-and-a-half years old, and something really, really scary happens. You can hardly stand up straight, let alone make good sense out of your scary experiences. You're probably going to decide something about yourself, about other people, or about the world that is totally and completely untrue (example: "I caused this bad thing to happen because I'm bad"). Our brains cannot not make meaning, so I'm sorry, but you're stuck with that faulty bit of programming (until you change it, that is).

 Bye Bye Bucket!

Bye Bye Bucket!

Think of it this way: when you were really, really young, your experience was like liquid jell-o: fluid and formless. But inevitably, as you had more and more experiences interacting with the world, your little brain had no choice but to make sense out of your experience and thereby form beliefs about it all. Eventually, those beliefs clustered together and formed a container, like a jell-o mold. Once that container is in place, no matter what kind of liquid experience you pour into it, it will always take about the same shape. Have you noticed that certain things in life tend to turn out the same, over and over? They tend to go wrong or fall flat or refuse to get started at all... and after a while you realize that the only common denominator in all those experiences is... you?

Yes, this is where it starts to get a little out there. But check it out: that friend of mine, the voice of wisdom and compassion in the war zone of Denver traffic, she assumes that the world is a nicer place than I do (or used to). Is it any wonder, then, that the world is just nicer to her in return? What I see over and over again, both with myself and with my clients, is that our experience has this eerie but consistent way of reflecting our most deeply held beliefs about ourselves, about others, and about our world. And I don't mean our conscious beliefs, like, "Trump is a joke." I mean the deep patterns and programs that got written down before we could form full sentences. Our brains write programs to make sense out of our experience, but at some point, they start generating our experience

One of my favorite professors, the late Pat Patton, once said, "The only thing that ever benefited from a beating was a rug." So there's pretty much no reason at all to be hard on yourself about this. The good news is that all those patterns and programs spinning away inside your brain are totally revisable, if only we know how to speak their language. NLP is that language, and if we can change the shape of those deep programs, we change the shape of the experiences they generate. At that point, change happens by itself. You don't have to try to be different, because you just are.