Neuro-Linguistic Programming, or NLP, is an approach to psychotherapy and personal development that centers on understanding and changing human behavior. NLP tries to codify the techniques, habits, and thinking of people who have successfully achieved the results that others want to reach. To that end, NLP is a very results-oriented approach to psychotherapy. While many other types of therapy are based on theory, NLP focuses very specifically on actionable change. Most people will find the most success while working with a well-trained NLP practitioner, but some NLP exercises can be implemented or tried on one’s own. What follows is a brief summary of NLP exercises and types.
Because NLP is such a broad subject, it can be difficult to pick a starting point. Some people approach NLP for help with changing a specific behavior. Others use it to learn to work with other people more effectively and still others just want to improve themselves. Regardless of the reason for learning about NLP, becoming aware of internal processes and understanding your own subconscious beliefs is key for any lasting change.
NLP submodalities refer to the way we represent different ideas and thoughts with our five basic senses. We can describe things as near or far, bright or dim, loud or quiet, hot or cold, etc. NLP works with assigning submodalities to different states of mind and thoughts. Often, people assign very intense submodalities to negative thoughts, memories and habits. NLP aims to change those intense submodalities to more dissociated versions. Making positive thoughts and memories into intense submodalities lies at the core of many NLP techniques.
For example, how would you feel if every negative emotion or thought you had was bright, loud, and “in your face?” You’d probably become very depressed. NLP aims to change your mental processes so that unpleasant thoughts are dim, far away, and indistinct. They then aim to replace those unpleasant pictures with intense, vivid, and bright positive experiences.
One NLP technique or exercise is to envision an event or thought that has very negative emotions tied to it. Like the knobs on an old-fashioned television, you turn down the brightness, zoom out, and turn down the volume on this negative emotion or thought. A trained NLP practitioner can help you through the process, but that’s the basic idea behind submodalities.
Another NLP exercise or technique is known as “anchoring.” Anchoring is when a positive emotional state is tied to some stimulus. Perceiving the stimulus, even if it seems unrelated to the emotional state, triggers the anchored emotion. The anchored emotion can be either positive or negative, but obviously NLP practitioners focus on helping people anchor positive emotions. Possible anchors include specific verbal phrases, physical touches or sensations, and certain sights and sounds. The theory behind the technique is that when the mind and body are strongly involved together and a specific stimulus is consistently and simultaneously presented at the peak of the state, the stimulus and the emotional state become linked. Then, any time the stimulus is presented the original emotional state is evoked.
You can try creating your own simple anchor by focusing intensely on a positive emotion. Think of a positive time in your life and try to make it as vivid as possible in your mind. Once you are feeling the emotion was over you, push your thumb and forefinger on one hand together for several seconds. Do this over and over. If you are successful in anchoring those positive emotions to the action of touching your fingers together, you should feel those emotions whenever you evoke that specific stimulus (touching your finger and thumb together).