Neuro-linguistic Programing (NLP) Part 1: Introduction

NLP, or Neuro-linguistic Programing, is a communication approach focusing on how language affects the nervous system. It challenges us to become more aware of how we think about the world around us. Using symbols, such as pictures and language, NLP can help us push through resistance and trample barriers as we move toward success. The tools developed by NLP have been used to improve communication and personal development. Notably, it has been used to help people work towards goals, phobias, mentor and coach, change habits, and emulate patterns of success. It is a practice you can continue to work at throughout your entire life.

First, let’s look at the definition of each of the words that make up NLP to understand what processes and their function.

Neuro: Relating to the nerves or nervous system.

Linguistic(s): the science of language, including phonetics, phonology, morphology, syntax, semantics, pragmatics, and historical linguistics.

Programming: cause (a person or animal) to behave in a predetermined way.

So, what does this mean?

We are aware that we think, but we often don’t know how we think. Take a deep breath and think about that for a moment. If you need a prompt, think about a memory you had at the beach.

What did you come up with?

You probably thought of an image, taste, touch, sound, and/or smell. Perhaps the sound of the waves, or the color blue, the warm sun, the sand on your feet, or the taste of the ice cream cone you bought on the boardwalk.

We think by using the sensory impressions we get from the world. In addition to this, we also think in symbols such as language and memes, usually as a way of naming and defining our impressions. In this way, symbols shape our reality. What we think and how we think is the neuro-linguistic part or “NL” of NLP. Here is a simple exercise of how this relationship works:

Imagine a fresh lemon in front of you. It is cut into large pieces. You take a piece of lemon in your hand and bring it up towards your face. Can you smell it? Can you feel the yellow skin in your hand? You bring the lemon piece closer, open your mouth, bite down, and begin to chew. What did your face do? What happened in your mouth? Your face probably scrunched up and your mouth probably starting producing saliva.

This interplay between mind and body occurs millions of times throughout the day- most of the time you are unaware of it because we can only focus our conscious mind on one thing at a time, even when we are on autopilot. Someone who is self-aware can manipulate their thoughts and environment to affect a desired outcome. And someone who is aware of their surroundings can use language and symbols to subtly influence others. We all do this every day. And people who do it well are very successful.

Modeling is the “P” or programming part of NLP. NLP looks at what has been successful in the past and breaks the successful behavior down into steps that can be put into a model and replicated. Often, this starts with a well-defined goal and then breaking the goal down into manageable small obtainable goals.

I will go into further detail on all of these topics in the future NLP posts.


A Word of Caution…

NLP is a large field of study covering a variety of subjects. I want to point out the one major criticism because it will come up with any web search you do for NLP. It is, in short, what uncle Ben told Peter Parker in Marvel Universe’s Spider-man: “With great power comes great responsibility.”

Sometimes NLP is associated with the magical and the unethical. This is somewhat true on both accounts. These techniques work well if executed correctly.  When used to capitalize on vulnerability, it is self-destructive and not what the techniques were created for. The techniques of NLP are somewhat magical when you consider that magic is an illusion created by intentionally redirecting an audience’s attention.

Consider this:

Imagine if someone could crack the code of how we think.

  • Imagine if it was a marketing team? They could influence people to buy their product.
  • Imagine if it was a politician? She could say and do all the right things to win over her constituency and get elected.
  • Imagine if it was the media? They could sway the public to believe their agenda.
  • What if it was your manager? They could use these skills to motivate employees to optimum performance for the benefit of the individual, the manager, and the company.

This word of caution is not intended to invoke fear, because fear is another form of control.  However, it is important to be aware how NLP is employed as a means of manipulation by people in the know. This blog series will empower you to shield yourself against and utilize the potential influence of NLP in your daily interactions.

The techniques I will cover in the following weeks will help you become mindful of your reactions and aware of how others react. You will be able to break down challenges and grow your skills to overcome obstacles so you can be the best self you can be.


I am looking forward to sharing my NLP knowledge over the next few weeks.

NLP Part Two (blog topic continued) 


Andrew J. Wilt 
SEI Junior Consultant 
Apprenticeship Program