NLP – The Magic of Structure Part 1

(1) Do people have structured internal experience?

One of the presuppositions of NLP is that experience has a structure. This is a very useful thing to presuppose as it opens up clear channels of access to a person’s experience and enables us to have a means to re-encode it. This is the basis of many useful techniques in NLP, whereby we can reassign someone’s beliefs, their preferences and their hopes and fears in order to enrich their experience and improve the way they interact with the world.

However, if taken as an absolute law, this presupposition can be quite limiting. How so? The difficulty arises when one questions how much of that structure was there before you started and how much was ‘installed’ as part of an intervention by the NLPer. I see no problem in itself with installing temporary useful structure if there is none evident. The real problem is that when one believes the construct to be real, the structure can become limiting.

How do these frameworks become installed? When one pre-frames a technique and asks for structure as part of an elicitation, one tends to get what the language has set up as an expectation and continues to presuppose throughout the process. So what is really there?

What structure is commonplace?

So how can we tell what structure is present without elicitation? The structure we can observe analogs for from the outside initially seems like a safe bet. This would include sensory modalities, submodalities and metaprograms as well as a great many other things. If one can observe those in someone who has not undergone NLP training, then they must be inherent. And the place where you personally keep pictures of people you like must always be the same, right?

Now, how does this vary between individuals?

What structure is individual?

While many people exhibit similar eye accessing patterns and other structure, it is evident that many other patterns vary between individuals. As a simple example, both myself and the reader have a ‘location where I keep pictures of people I like’, but mine may be in a different place than yours. This is meaningful in that it suggests that this part of the structure may be flexible. Some constructs, such as that elicited in the submodality belief change, may be even more flexible – and it is important to realise that such structure may not be absolute.

In fact, one could usefully describe three different categories for structure :

  • Rigid structure (e.g. eye accessing cues)
  • Flexible structure (e.g. submodalities)
  • Arbitrary structure (e.g. concept/belief submodalities)

So, what use are these distinctions anyway?

Who needs the structure – the client or the NLPer?

It is reasonable to say that an awareness of such patterns is of great use to an NLPer and of lesser importance to the client. The structure is essentially used as a system of classification for the client’s current world-view, so the NLPer may reorganise items into more useful places – basically to reorganise their perceptual filters and associations more harmoniously.

Is it more useful to suppose that we, in fact, install a structure in order to sort their experience?

In the purest sense, it doesn’t matter whether we install the structure or not as long as we get the flexibility to rearrange any ‘inherent’ structure that is not geared toward supporting the change the client requires in its current form.

It is useful in that we get to choose and modify the structure at will. With this recognition that we can install useful constructs and sorting systems, one can pre-frame some very useful things and elicit exactly what one needs to in order to make a considerable change. It is possible to be free to generate more useful structures for change, creating a potential short-cut to a lasting solution rather than supporting the belief that ‘this is how that person is’.

Are many techniques just reorganising experience once it has been pigeonholed into the installed structure?

In the case of the submodality belief change and many other NLP patterns and techniques, this seems like a promising description of what actually occurs. The real potential is in understanding how one may reorganise the structure for greatest ease of operation and benefit to the client. Which distinct pigeonholes would you need to re-sort an experience beneficially? Why not just presuppose they exist and, within a good rapport, the may come into being! For how one rearranges current structure, see the next part of this series.

Questions and comments are welcome below.

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