How do we define NLP

Dec 30, 2013 by

Definitions —

Neuro-linguistic Programming (NLP) is a field that explores how people effectively attain what they want (that is, succeed in reaching their objectives), the resources they need, and how to keep enhancing their ability to achieve their desired goals.

NLP is the domain of study that explores the structure of subjective experience using the distinctions of communication (Meta-Model, Representation Systems, etc.) for the purpose of transfer expertise for personal development and actualizing what is potential.

NLP is a domain that began, and continues to develop, by modeling experts.  NLP models by using such meta-models as: Meta-Model of Language, Strategy Model, Meta-Programs, Meta-States, Sub-Modalities, etc.

NLP is an attitude and a methodology which leave behind a trail of techniques that flow from the epistemology implied in the word “attitude: and the modeling structure.  The “theory” of NLP is encoded in the NLP Presuppositions.

We define NLP in these ways and distinguish NLP as such from the applications of NLP.  While everyone is free to apply NLP in whatever way they think appropriate, those applications of NLP do not define NLP.  For example, one may apply NLP to a religious faith like Christianity, but we do not recognize “Christian NLP.”  One may apply NLP to the field of “energy,” but there is no such thing as “Energetic NLP.”  We distinguish and separate applications of NLP from what NLP is and do not re-define NLP by an application.



The attitude of NLP is an attitude of learning, curiosity, experimentation, discovery, and willingness to re-examine our premises.   NLP is often presented in an over-simplified way for marketing purposes that runs the danger of being misinterpreted.   The basic NLP attitude points toward the NLP Epistemology found in the NLP presuppositions and the structural elements (representations, sub-modalities, meta-programs, meta-states, and systems organization).  The epistemology becomes attitude as it operationalizes the humanistic perspective (self-actualization psychology) of Rogers and Maslow.


We often develop patterns of excellence through modelling excellent exemplars.  Many modeling books in the field presents our key methodology.  This highlights that our key methodology in NLP is modeling and this is an important aspect of NLP training curricula. Modelling is the unique epistemology of NLP, sensory-based calibration, the use of the Meta-Model of language, and other NLP tools.  These allow us to create teachable and repeatable patterns for both positive and negative behaviors, so that we can replicate the one and modify the other.

Trail of techniques

In NLP training, participants learn many of the patterns that come from the NLP models.  These are often highly subjective and are delivered in the context of a  dynamic, systemic loop between the NLP practitioner and client.  As the context unfolds, the technique is managed and adapted to meet the ongoing needs of the interaction.  For this to become even more credible, we have been corresponding the patterns with modern psychology and science.   Every pattern arises by specific individuals in a particular context and so every pattern will have limited amount of applicability.   Patterns fall into several categories:

  • Those that apply almost independently of the individuals involved (V/KD, Spelling, etc.); these may be subjected to standardized quantitative research methods.
  • Those that require considerably more flexibility on the clinician’s part and which may need much more extensive manualization before they are subject to evaluation.
  • Those that are best published as case studies and field reports

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