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What is Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP) and how does it work?

What is Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP) and how does it work?

What is Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP)? How does it work? This article serves as a ‘wiki’ to give an explanation about NLP and its meaning. NLP is a joyful, positive and loving way to improve your own life and the lives of the people around you. Read along…

What is NLP? Let’s start with a short answer

Let’s give a short meaning of NLP.

NLP = Doing what works.
NLP = All kinds of methods that work well, packed together.

We were born with a brain, but no user manual was given to us for how to use of our brain. That’s what NLP gives you!

Before we answer ‘What is NLP’… Let’s talk a little bit about the origins of NLP

NLP officially started in California in the 1970s and was developed by Richard Bandler and John Grinder.

Bandler was interested in why some therapists were more effective than others. To do this, he persuaded Grinder to focus together on three of the best therapists who were active at the time to find clues about why they were so successful. They were Fritz Perls, Virginia Satir and Milton Erickson. He wrote down the conversations between these therapists and their clients. Grinder helped him analyse these conversations, using his expertise in linguistics.

Together they discovered specific, recurring patterns. In doing so, they did not look at what the experts were doing, but at the way they were doing it. The result of this was made available for everyone to learn as well. That is the birth of NLP as we know it today.

Fritz Perls, Virginia Satir and Milton Erickson performed their magic from a perspective of unconscious competence. The geniuses did not deliberately offer Bandler and Grinder a model with a conscious description of their behaviour. The modellers (Bandler and Grinder) unconsciously absorbed the patterns that were inherent in the geniuses.

What can you do with NLP?

NLP was thus created as the activity of coding how people organise their thoughts, feelings, language and behaviour in order to achieve the results they are achieving. There’s a lot you can do with this: the first thing you can do with it is to ‘model’ excellent expert’s performances so that you can then code it into practical, conscious steps so that others can learn it as well. The second thing you can do with this, is understand how people experience the world, and then change it so that people can have new options in their lives: coaching. NLP also has applications in, among other things:

  • Education
  • Training
  • Sales
  • Leadership
  • Marketing
  • Therapy

What is NLP? Explained in a video

The institute that can explain the origins of NLP, and what it is, very nicely, is ‘NLPCA’:

5 different definitions of NLP

If you were to summarise NLP in a single sentence, then there are five alternative descriptions that are the best:

  1. The study of the structure of subjective experience.
  2. A set of communication techniques, or in other words: a collection of powerful influencing strategies.
  3. The study of excellence: NLP is a research method to compare the performance of geniuses and mediocre performers, and to make these differences explicit in a transferable and learnable way: to map latent knowledge through an explicit model.
  4. How we organize our perceptions through the language of our mind, in order to create our reality. In other words: a model for how we code, communicate and adjust our behaviour. (This definition is explained in another soon to be published article using the NLP communication model, which also teaches you what the words ‘neuro’, ‘linguistically’ and ‘programming’ stand for).
  5. NLP is an attitude. To be precise: an attitude of curiosity and a willingness to experiment. In order to get a complete picture of this attitude, you can look at the NLP presuppositions (principles).

NLP is: how to use the language of our nervous system to consistently achieve our specific and desired goals (definition 4).

The power of Neuro Linguistic Programming: how does it work?

Many people spend several years and thousands of euros in therapy to find out what is wrong with them and why they have problems. They will have a four inch thick file, but they will still not be able to deal with the world. Very interesting, but what do you want?

As an NLP Practitioner, you want to give the client choices. Adding new options in our lives. This means that we are not going to change anything. There are only new options to respond or experience certain things. Someone who is shy can use a resource + anchor to get the option to be assertive on all days they go to work. He/she is no longer limited in what he/she does and how she does it.

One choice is for robots and two choices are a dilemma. So we go for at least three, because then you have a choice. Installing those options takes little time. Half an hour. Problem gone. All you have to do is process an obstacle properly and then, for example, store it sufficiently, for example in a box, lock on top and far away. You can still get there, you have that option, but it will be too difficult.

The strength of NLP also lies in the fact that the words you use on a daily basis have a great effect on your health and happiness. An example of this is the reframing of problems. ‘It’s an opportunity!’ Change your life by changing your attitude and language!

Metaphor: Seeing people as computers

Earlier in this article, you have already read the word “save” and “install”. Neuro Linguistic Programming assumes that we can treat all the information in our brains in the same way as files on a computer.

Computer Human
Putting files on the hard disk Gather knowledge and gather information through our senses.
Files that you no longer want to have can be deleted or overwritten with an update. Delete or replace negative habits and memories. This is a positive form of memory loss.
Give commands, for example in the command prompt or by starting a program. People can also give themselves and each other commands. They do this by setting goals, motivating each other, or by giving direct commands with hypnotic language.
Installing programs. You can also use NLP to install new ‘software’ in yourself. In this way you can learn yourself new habits and skills.
Synchronization between different devices, allowing information to be transferred. Synchronisation between different people. with NLP you can learn this in very ingenious ways, among other things through your body language, use of words and vocal tuning.
Internal Processes. People also have internal processes, and with NLP you learn to recognise the internal processes of other people. This is done, for example, by paying attention to their eye movements. They explain what kind of internal strategy they have in place.

What are the results of NLP?

With NLP, you develop tools for excellence. You can use these tools to reprogram yourself and your clients. When applying NLP, you achieve the following for yourself and other people:

  • More understanding for yourself and others
  • Growing in awareness
  • Controlling your emotions
  • Becoming more focused, setting targets and achieving results
  • All the qualities you want, for example self-confidence, control, assertiveness, etc.
  • Fears can be dealt with and numerous other symptoms can be solved.
  • Being able to motivate yourself and others
  • Being able to bring up desired moods at desired times
  • Ability to resolve (internal) conflicts
  • Changing habits
  • Making better choices
  • Learning to relax

How can Neuro Linguistic Programming be even more useful?

what is neuro linguistic programming and what does it mean

NLP’s applications are extensive, but there are still a number of practical examples:

  • For solving fears and negative feelings.
  • For overcoming phobias.
  • Improving your skills in public speaking to a large audience.
  • Resolving conflicts.
  • Changing habits that are harmful to your health.
  • Developing management and leadership skills.
  • Quickly getting rid of stress.
  • Effective listening and empathy.
  • Starting teams and motivating teams.
  • Creating healthy relationships.
  • Setting goals and achieving them.
  • Identifying other people’s natural learning styles.

What techniques does NLP use?

Among the many techniques used in NLP, are for example:

  • Anchor: connect a sensory perceivable trigger to a state of how you feel.
  • Respiratory exercises: develop inner peace through breathing.
  • Eye patterns: notice which direction a person is looking at and from this deduce what that person is thinking.
  • Metamodel: a tool to detect and challenge limiting thoughts. You will use questions to create more awareness.
  • Pacing and leading: a part of leading is patience. First, you follow the other person in one way or another. This can be done, for example, by mirroring. As soon as trust is created in this way, you can start with leading, so that the other person can follow you.

This is how every NLP intervention technique works (standard 4-step template).

It’s amazing how you can solve a problem situation in a surprising way with a resource from another context. This is the basis of every NLP technique. Every NLP intervention technique follows these four steps:

  1. Associate with the problem.
  2. Dissociate from the problem. E.g. by a pattern interruption or by asking the meta-question: ‘What does he/she (the client) need?’
  3. Associate in the resource (‘What would it be like to have {state})?
  4. Link the resource with the problem: ‘And if you think about the problem with this state, what happens now?,’ ‘How do you feel about problem x while you are experiencing {resource}?’

Exercise: Explain NLP to someone

Explain to a number of people what you think NLP is, and ask them what they think of it and what their idea is. At the very least, ask this question to someone in your profession as well. Are you currently following an NLP programme? Do this exercise both at the beginning as well as at the end of your training.

Exercise: do research on NLP and compare it with other methods

what is neuro linguistic programming and what does it mean

Investigate what NLP means. Then compare it to at least three other communication theories, models, coaching methodologies or sales techniques. What is your definition of NLP (summary)? What is your definition of the other theory? Compare each theory with NLP: what are the similarities and differences? Finally, give a conclusion that is focused on your personal goal: what do you want to achieve and how will NLP (and other methods) help you achieve your goal?

Variation: do this assignment also by comparing NLP with three other philosophies / views of life / methods / religions.

What is NLP? Now I have a clear idea… Okay! What happens next? Practice!

Practice with the NLP models! That is the way you make your ‘flight hours’ and go from being consciously incompetent to being unconsciously competent. Have yourself watched for feedback (or observe yourself from the third perceptual position) and set a goal to improve yourself for the next time. The invitation is to practice all models at least twice during your NLP Practitioner Training (this is the basic training). During the second time, you let your observers focus solely on your goal of what you want to improve: their feedback is specifically aimed at that goal the second time.

In addition, it is recommended to write down (or have it written down by someone else) how you reacted (what you said or did) in a certain exercise, and to write down afterwards what else you could have done to do the exercise even better.

Are you practising in the wild with NLP? In coaching situations, you always start by telling them that you are going to do a coaching exercise with the other person. With that frame, you maintain the relationship.

Independent investigation brings you the true meaning of NLP!

It is important that you do not accept the models blindly, but that you check for yourself whether they are useful or not. You will then make your own adjustments to the models so that you can use them in the context in which you want to use them.

Now the question ‘What is NLP’ has been answered. I encourage you to keep on researching and discovering! Have an open mind for NLP as much as possible and absorb the mountains of information about it that I will publish in this blog. You can also take an NLP course at a renowned training institute.

About The Author


Hello! Thanks for reading my articles. Happiness is my big subject. My intention is to make happiness as simple and clear as posssible. By the way, excuse my English. I am not a native English speaker since I live in Amsterdam. Much appreciated if you use the comments to make suggestions on my grammar. See ya in another blogpost!


  1. nlp

    great article. i like nlp techniques.

  2. bageshree

    Thank you for your informative blog about nlp and its defination i am being reading about it and thinking of taking services its very nice blog i am learning from you and ttgls for more visit

  3. Anil Thomas NLP

    I read your blog. It’s very informative, it gives a brief description about NLP. I recommend this blog and Anil Thomas NLP, if you want to know more about NLP.

  4. Anirudh

    Awesome, your article is wonderful, I got a lot of information, and wrote this article very well. Thank you for sharing such information. Chech this


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Who is Happy Rubin?

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Dear reader, thank you so much for dropping by on this curious happiness blog. I want to inspire you to get the best out of your life. Being happy and following your heart are my subjects.

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