The Problem with Polarity Thinking – Part 2

In the first part of this piece, I described how thinking in polarities can limit your thinking. It’s actually a hypnotic structure in language based on the word or. Choices are artificially limited: “should we do X or Y?” limits you to just two choices instead of the entire field of possibility.

Polarity combines with this structure to force a choice between absolutes: “should we do it: yes or no?” There are many more of these binary choices presented to us every day, forcing black and white decisions in a world with many more colourful choices.





For us/Against us


and on it goes.

To de-hypnotise yourself from these polarities, you first need to be aware of them as they occur. Then move beyond those limited choices. After all, if it’s not right and it’s not wrong – then what is it?

If you don’t see any other choices, then that’s a good indicator you have a mental ‘blind spot’ or a gap in information on your mental map.

A good way to fill in such gaps and remove blind spots of this sort is to collide the polarities using an NLP technique called the visual squash. Here’s how it works:

Exercise: Closing gaps with the visual squash.

  1. Identify the two ideas or polarities you want to integrate.
  2. Hold your arms out in front of you, hands apart, palms facing up.
  3. Imagine one of the ideas in your left hand. Does it have a colour, shape, sound, texture, temperature or weight? Make it as real as possible.
  4. Imagine the other idea in your right hand. Does it have a colour, shape, sound, texture, temperature or weight?
  5. Understanding that at a higher level everything is one, allow your hands to move closer to each other only as quickly as your unconscious can bring those concepts together.
  6. Imagine a line of communication between the two, connecting them as they continue to move closer.
  7. When the two concepts meet/combine, you might have a flash of inspiration, opening up new possibilities, or the two ideas might just seem to work better together. Or you may not be conscious of the specifics of the change and the connection will become apparent later.

After doing this exercise, often you will find a spectrum of options instead of just two poles, opening up a world of greater choice.

Sometimes the process will ‘collapse’ the duality – especially if the two elements are true opposites. This is also a beneficial result because it allows you to see choices elsewhere, rather than just between the two extremes you started with. The only way to know what this can add to your choices is to do the process and find out for yourself.

Is polarity thinking good or bad? Now you know a better question to ask yourself.

Moving Beyond NLP Techniques

In my observation of students of NLP over the years, certain patterns stand out in their development. One of the characteristics of moving beyond Practitioner level in NLP seems to be a transition from relying mainly on techniques to a focus on more tailored solutions.

For some people, this happens quickly as they grow beyond the rules-of-thumb that accompany the fundamentals and begin to form their own distinctions. Others reach this stage more slowly and require coaching or further training to open their awareness beyond the plateau of “process-oriented NLP”.

Part of the key is the development of greater flexibility through practice. You can use almost any facet of everyday life to fine-tune your skills. The trap here is to forget that NLP is just a way of looking at human process and interaction. The “everything is NLP” philosophy is a bit like looking at the world through a telescope and being so delighted with the vision it provides that you insist on looking at everything that way.

I remember an argument on one of the many NLP newsgroups where one person was insisting that the Enneagram, emotional intelligence and de Bono’s ‘six thinking hats’ were all NLP!

Another part of the transition beyond Practitioner is the realization that the ‘rules’ of NLP are just ‘rules of thumb’ after all. Experience and experimentation reveals where those rules can be selectively stretched or broken.

A further step is to usefully combine the existing processes to solve a specific problem or achieve an aim. I remember helping a friend to fix his car. At one point, he asked me to hand him a hammer. I looked through the tools several times, but there was no hammer among them. Testily, he reached out, grabbed a pipe wrench and said “Look. That’s a hammer”.

Part of flexibility is to know when a tool can be used for another purpose than the intended one. With all of that in mind, here’s a process I developed for a friend. I call it ‘constructive goal-getting’.

Constructive Goal-Getting

  1. Think of a current obstacle in your life.
  2. Imagine it vividly or describe it in detail.
  3. Go forward on your timeline until you reach a time in the future where you have a solution. This may not be a conscious, detailed thing – you might experience it as a symbol or feeling.
  4. Hold out your hands in front of you, apart and with your palms facing upwards.
  5. Imagine the problem in one hand. Give it colour, weight, temperature, shape etc.
  6. Imagine the ‘solution’ you found and put it in the other hand. Give it colour, weight, temperature, shape etc.
  7. Slowly bring your hands together with the understanding that you do so only as quickly as your unconscious mind forms all of the necessary connecting steps between the problem and its solution.
  8. Once your hands have come together, you have created those steps. Unroll them onto your timeline so the plan takes shape at a deep level.
  9. What is the first step you have to take?
  10. Do it now!

To those familiar with NLP, you will recognise a combination between timeline processes and the ‘visual squash’ technique. Those who have used this process will understand its power and simplicity.

My point in offering this is not just to give you another technique or process. It is to demonstrate how you can use your creativity to kick-start your flexibility. Some people don’t get this. Those are the ones who jam up discussion groups with endless requests for “a process to fix XYZ” instead of using their experience, awareness and flexibility to find a creative solution specific to that client.

Once you have moved beyond NLP Practitioner level, it’s time to give your deep consideration to achieving NLP mastery.

Enjoy the next step in your adventure!