Working with Belief Clusters – Part 3: How Values Form Chains

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Working with Belief Clusters – Part 3: How Values Form Chains

Previously, I demonstrated how beliefs and values are related and how beliefs form chains. In this third part of the series, I show you how values also form chains – but only if you elicit them correctly…

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Working with Belief Clusters – Part 3: How Values Form Chains

There is a completely different way we can track the formation of chains – this time through the connections between values.

However, it’s really important to elicit the person’s values without imposing any sort of order on them.

In this instance, we’re just modelling the value structure and relationships that currently exist.

There are, broadly speaking, two formal values elicitation questions and both have different functions.

1 – “What’s important about X?”

This question identifies the values in a particular area of life, X.

For example:

“What’s important about relationships?” will tend to elicit a value in the context of relationships.

So far, so good. One way to progress from there is to keep eliciting values connected to relationships. The formal way to do this is to ask:

“What else is important about relationships?”. This will tend to elicit another value in the context of relationships. Then keep repeating this question until you get a list of values.

However, if this is the only type of question you ask, you will get a long list of values relevant to the context of relationships, but you will not have any information about how those values are connected to each other.

So the classic thing which is done in this situation (especially by life-coaches) is to impose a hierarchy. This is done by asking:

“Which one of those values is the most important?”
“If you had to do without one of these values, which one would it be?”
“List your values in order of importance.”

(It’s quite common to advise people to do this – just Google ‘NLP values hierarchy’ to see some examples.)

However, if you do this, you’ve just lost something really important and re-structured how the person perceives their values. This is bad.

I know – some of you may be thinking:

“But I’m sure values form a hierarchy. What about the ‘hierarchy of values’? and what about Maslow’s hierarchy?”

Firstly, the hierarchy of values. We made it up and it has lasted because it appeals to our need for simple order. That’s all. Elicit values cleanly and you won’t find a linear hierarchy. Just test it out and see for yourself.

This is not to be confused with a ‘hierarchy of criteria’, which imposes order on criteria (which includes, but is not limited to, values) in order to leverage aspects of that order.

Secondly, Maslow’s work has nothing to do with values whatsoever. Read up on that if you’re still not sure about it.

So you have a list of values and imposing a hierarchy is not going to show you how the values are naturally linked together. What do you do?

You ask a second type of values-elicitation question:

2 – “When you have [value] what does that give you?”

Or simply

“What’s important about [value]?”

This allows you to identify direct relationships between values and therefore you travel down the values chain, rather than across the surface.

For example:

“What’s important to you about work?”
– a sense of accomplishment

“ok, so a sense of accomplishment. When you have that sense of accomplishment, what does that give you?”
– it gives me satisfaction

“Ok. So when you get that satisfaction from your work, what does that give you?”
– a feeling of well-being

So far, we have identified the linear chain [accomplishment -> satisfaction -> well-being] Is it a hierarchy? It looks a lot like one until we keep going.

“What does that well-being give you?”
– a sense of accomplishment

What we really have here is a simple loop. This is not uncommon, by the way and there are other structures to be found too, if you elicit the values chains cleanly.

[By ‘cleanly’, I don’t mean use the ‘clean language’ approach, necessarily. Just stop assuming how the system is ordered and find out what is really there.]

Access the next part of this series to find out:

  • What other structures do values chains form?
  • What strengths and weaknesses does each structure have?

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Working With Belief Clusters 2 – How Beliefs Form Chains

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Working with Belief Clusters – Part 2: How Beliefs Form Chains

To create lasting change, we often need to look at the bigger picture, especially when working with limiting beliefs, which are connected into larger structures. In this second video in the series, I show four ways in which beliefs chain together.

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Working with Belief Clusters – Part 2: How Beliefs Form Chains

In order to identify clusters – complex structures with many linkages – we need to look first at simple connections. I call these ‘chains’. Let’s get started.

Working with the ‘If – Then – Means’ belief structure from the previous part, there are several ways that chains can form:

1. Cause -> Effect -> Further consequences

When we start with the cause and effect part of the belief, often the effect has consequences too.

if X then Y (means Z)
if Y then A (means B)

X -> Y -> A

For example:
If I try then I’ll fail (means I’m a failure)
If I fail then I’ll never try it again (means I’m a quitter)

These causes, effects and further consequences work like a row of dominoes.

2. Cause + Condition -> Effect

The chains can also branch, especially if multiple factors work together to create different effects.

For example:
If I try then I’ll fail (means I’m a failure)

If I fail and I’m stressed then I’ll never try it again (means I’m a quitter)
If I fail and I’m not stressed then I’ll try it again (means I’m learning)

This way, we get a complete and more complex structure.

X -> Y
Y + stress -> A
Y (no stress) -> X

Notice how ‘trying it again’ loops back round to the start (X)

3. Cause -> Effect 1 + Effect 2

There can also be multiple consequences to a cause-effect.

For example:

If I try then I’ll fail (means I’m a failure)
If I fail then I’ll never try it again (means I’m a quitter)
and I’ll get depressed

In this case, getting depressed is a second effect of failing, rather than a consequence of never trying it again.

4. Cause 1 or Cause 2 -> Effect

The or structure demonstrates that some effects can stem from a variety of causes.

For example:

If I try then I’ll fail (means I’m a failure)
If I don’t try then I’ll fail (means I’m a failure)

If a condition or its opposite create the same effect, as in the example, this is a bind, which is a special condition of this structure. In general, limitation is what happens when the flow from cause to effect narrows rather than branching.

From all this, it’s clear that cause and effect chains can form complex structures. However, those structures can be extremely unwieldy and when creating change, it’s sometimes difficult to know where to focus your efforts.

So we need to have a way of targeting the crucial areas. Values can help with this.

Access the next part of this series to find out:

  • How to identify and elicit values chains
  • how to elicit values without damaging the chains

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Working with Belief Clusters – Part 1

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Working with Belief Clusters – Part 1: Beliefs and Values

Beliefs aren’t isolated things, so they shouldn’t be worked with in isolation. This is the first in a series about working with beliefs as clusters. Part 1 describes how beliefs and values are connected.

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Working with Belief Clusters – Part 1: Beliefs and Values

Many people talk about beliefs and how they form into ‘clusters’, yet they only work with single beliefs when they want to create change.

They don’t describe:

  • how beliefs cluster,
  • why that is important,
  • how to identify the beliefs in a cluster,
  • or how they are interconnected.

I’m going to answer some of those questions in this series of videos, so when I’m finished, you’ll have some simple theory and some actionable knowledge too.

Values are an interesting place to begin, because

  • they’re easy to identify
  • they’re interlinked
  • they relate directly to beliefs
  • they focus you on the areas which are most important

Again, many people elicit values in a particular way that imposes order on them and will prevent you from seeing how values interlink.

So before we get into values, let’s look at how they’re related to beliefs.

Values and Beliefs – Relationship

First, some basic information about how a belief is structured:

It can be useful to look at a belief as a meaningful system of cause and effect.

Robert Dilts* uses this useful structure to map beliefs onto:

if X then Y means Z

where X is the cause
where Y is the effect
and Z is a value judgement

How is this useful?

Firstly, you can also use the ‘If – Then – Means’ structure to make sure you have identified all the elements relevant to the belief you’re examining.

For example: (If I try then I’ll fail, which means I’m a failure)

‘trying’ is the cause.
‘failing’ is the effect.
‘failure’ is the value.

So we can use this structure to identify values from looking directly at beliefs.

If we’re already working with beliefs, why bother with values?

Well, we can backtrack from a value to identify a belief, or set of related beliefs.


In this case, we ask about the rules surrounding a value.

Suppose, for example, we elicited the value ‘failure’.

You can ask:
“How do you know when you have failure?”
“How do you know when you haven’t failure?”

You might get the answers: “I know I have failure when I try something and fail (don’t succeed)” and “I know when I don’t have failure when I try something and I succeed (don’t fail)”.

Again, it helps to use the ‘If – Then – Means’ structure to make sure you have the structure of the whole belief.

So that is how values and beliefs are connected.

To summarise:

Working between beliefs and values is useful.

From beliefs to values:

  • What does it mean when X causes Y?
  • If X leads to Y, what does that mean?
  • If you Y because X, what does that mean?

From values to beliefs:

  • How do you know when you have Z?
  • How do you know when you don’t have Z?
  • What makes you Z?

Access the next part of this series to find out:

  • How to identify and elicit belief chains
  • how belief chains can branch and loop

*Dilts, R., Sleight of Mouth, (1999)

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How to Use the Placebo Effect

Credible people can do incredible things.

Credibility is the major factor because it’s necessary to look/sound/behave in a plausible and expected way when you wish to leverage the placebo effect.

What is a placebo exactly?

“any therapy prescribed … for its therapeutic effect on a symptom or disease, but which is actually ineffective or not specifically effective for the symptom or disorder being treated” (Shapiro, 1997)

A more accessible description is given on this video:

In other words, a placebo is not just a pill – it’s a behaviour which should have no positive effect – and yet it does (under certain conditions for certain people). The study of placebos in healthcare is vital because it would be immensely useful to:

  1. tell which treatments are effective in and of themselves
  2. harness the therapeutic effects of the placebo

This second aim is very important because if we can find ways to use harmless substances and behaviours to create change. Given that placebos tend only to work sometimes for some people, what characterises those people and those instances?

The first significant factor is the method’s believability to the person being ‘treated’. If the placebo itself is credible (for example, an injection is more credible than a pill) then the person who receives it will expect a positive effect. Expectancy is a colossal psychological lever and it can be boosted by using (for example) ‘active’ placebos – those substances where an effect can be felt (that is actually irrelevant to the treatment) which is taken to mean that the substance is ‘working’.

Second is the method’s believability to the person administering the placebo. If the person who is administering the placebo believes in its effectiveness their language, behaviour and attitude will give the recipient confidence that it works and creates additional expectancy of success.

Third, the credibility/trustworthiness of the person administering the placebo is important. Can you believe them when they say that if you follow their instructions, the desired change will take place? Congruency, a history of trust, plausibility of rationale and authority cues can contribute to credibility. Also, honesty cues (such as acting against one’s apparent self-interest) can be useful here too.

Finally, the presence of psychological short-cuts, such as Cialdini factors (like Authority and Consensus) or specially tailored convincers is also going to boost the effect. For more about this aspect, see my 3-part video series on Convincers and Influence. Convincers also boost expectancy considerably.

When you add up all these factors, the placebo effect will work on more people more of the time.

That is how credible people can do incredible things.

Comments are welcome below…

NLP Influence 3 – Placebos, Persuasion and Urban Myths

In the previous parts of this series, (part 1 part 2) I’ve looked at the psychology of our natural decision-making processes (convincers) and some ways to bypass those processes.

In this final part, find out how both convincers and bypass techniques can be used to create significant practical effects.

Topics covered include urban myths, creating more effective placebos and managing reality.

Questions and comments are welcome below:

NLP Influence 2 – How to Bypass Convincers

In my previous post on this topic, I explored the psychology behind our natural decision-making processes – and how you can make use of that knowledge to be more persuasive.

This time, I’m going to show you several of the ways you can bypass those natural processes by making use of some common mental short-cuts.

Come back soon to see part 3 of this series, which describes how these methods can be used to create urban myths, manage reality and increase the effectiveness of placebos.

You can ask questions and make comments below:

The Truth About Motivation

When reading about NLP and personal development, we see a lot of different statements about motivation.

For a start, what is motivation exactly and where does it come from? More importantly, what is motivating and what is not?

In NLP, there are several mental filters (called metaprograms) that describe the motivating tendencies in our psychology, the most common of which is ‘motivation direction’. In short, are we more motivated by rewards or consequences?

It doesn’t take very long to realise that motivation direction varies from person to person and also depends on the activity or context involved.

A further issue, which is explored in the following video, is this: when it comes to motivating others with rewards, is more necessarily better?

Questions, comments? Have your say below.

NLP Influence and Metaprograms

One of the major realisations that comes from learning NLP is that we all experience the world in different ways.

In NLP, one of the ways in which we describe this distinction is through ‘metaprograms’.

In practical terms, metaprograms are a series of filters through which we experience the world. They dictate what we focus on, how we best absorb information and what our expectations are.

Metaprograms do their filtering ‘out of awareness’, so only the informed mind can catch them at work.

Two of these filters in particular can influence other people’s decisions. Watch my video below to learn more about them:

The most powerful way to incorporate metaprograms into your communication is to listen and be aware of which ones a particular person uses most. Then tailor your communication to fit that.

That’s all for now. See Part 2 here.

If you have any questions or comments, you can add them below.

The Psychology of Time

Have you ever wondered how some people make such good use of their time while others work at a frantic pace and accomplish much less?

The obvious answer is that while seconds, minutes, hours and days are standardised, we all experience time differently. In NLP, ‘timelines’ are used to describe how our internal sense of time is structured.

When I teach timelines at NLP practitioner level, most people find that the way they personally structure time has a marked effect on every area of their lives.

In the following video, psychologist Philip Zimbardo (most famous for the Stanford Prison Experiment) talks about the many effects of our subjective experience of time.

Interesting? Feel free to comment below.