Applying NLP: What, How and When

Making a change is as easy as 1, 2, 3…10…

The first and most important lesson I learned in the the NLP Master Trainer’s Training is this: “Accept and use whatever happens and make it work for your outcome.” Here’s an example of what this means. Let’s say that you’re with a client, and someone interrupts your session. Treat it as though it was all planned. When you’re a therapist, coach, consultant, motivational speaker, or any other agent of change, your outcome is to get your client the outcome they’re paying you to help them achieve. Therefore, anything that happens during the process is OK! I have learned this lesson in the context of hypnotherapy, but it applies for NLP change-work as well. 

It is not YOU who is making new understandings for your client; it is your client’s brain that is making them. You are not changing your client’s behavior. Your job is to direct your client’s mind through a process and let “it” do the work. To make NLP work for your client, you must assume that your client’s mind is already changing that discouraging thought pattern or disabling set of behaviors. Once you assume that, all you have to do is: 

1) choose the right pattern, 

2) work with your client through that pattern,

 3) accept and use whatever happens, making it work for your outcome (sound familiar?) 

4) compare the feedback to the given outcome, and 

5) proceed accordingly. 

If the feedback and the outcome are aligned, which means your client has achieved what they asked for, then your job is done. If not, you reevaluate the session, choose a more appropriate pattern, perhaps also induce hypnosis in your client (to reduce subconscious secondary gain-based objections), and aim for the same outcome again. 

But remember to maintain high sensory acuity. Be “out there”; observe, absorb, and constantly evaluate direct and indirect messages from your client, working with whatever happens so as to facilitate the change your client is paying you for. 

Another lesson I learned early in my training is that you should never make your client a friend. Yes, of course, you can have social relationships with your clients, but AFTER you’ve done the change work. It is much better not to accept relatives, close family members, or friends as clients, for many reasons. The main reason is that no matter how good your intentions, your relationship with them stands in the way of their progress. 

On the other hand, it is also not for your client’s benefit if you become friendly with them early on in the sessions. Stay formal. Be the authority they may need in order to change themselves. Avoid humor in the first session at least, and never tell jokes or lose control over the session. You are paid to help the person produce new results, not to be a comedian or just another friend. If your client suspects, even subconsciously, that your lack of skill is covered by humor and needy behavior, your prospects of success with them will be dim. 

Stay focused on one outcome at a time. Don’t spread yourself too thin or work on 10 different issues in one session. Give their mind some time for processing, for re-organizing, for venting, for recovering, for grieving (a common need of ex-addicts), and so on. Give them the time to see one or two outcomes first, so that when they return to you their motivation and confidence in your skills will be strong. 


Some pieces in our mental puzzles don’t fit perfectly with the rest, causing internal inconsistency and lead to dysfunctional thoughts, emotions and behaviors. Some pieces are too big or too small, distorted or missing. 

  • You decided to lose weight and you have written your goal down. This time you will stick to the plan. But your body craves that ice cream on a hot summer day., and you just can’t close your mouth while your hands push into it an entire box of cookies after 3 days of using your will power to reject carbs. You feel angry and disillusioned, but you cannot put it into words and be assertive with the person who hurt you. 
  • You have big dreams but no ambition or plan or will power to make progress towards fulfilling them. 
  • You fall in love with a girl, she comes into your bed and voila! No lift off. Your feelings and your body’s autonomous behavior are in conflict. A temporary erectile dysfunction turns into an ongoing mental battle with depression and feeling of inadequacy. 
  • You pull out your cigarettes and continue smoking even after your health deteriorates and even though you already hate the smell and the smoke.

The word ‘dysfunctional’ is used here to describe anything that does not support your well being, higher values or desired outcomes. 

What examples of dysfunctional thoughts, emotions and behaviors can you recognize in yourself?

What NLP does to alleviate the pain that results from the inconsistencies between thoughts, emotions and behaviors, is to reshape the puzzle pieces so that they will be congruent with each other. What do you think happens, when you reshape a thought pattern or an “instinct”?

Thoughts, Emotions, Behaviours

Let’s begin our exploration of NLP with the Neuro part. Our experience of life made of 3 major parts: thoughts, emotions and behaviors. Individually, each part is important and can be studied indefinitely. In a cause and event relationship, the series of thoughts, emotions and behaviors are causing an event, an ‘outcome’. You may experience a conflict between how you think and how you behave. You ‘think’ you should go out for a long walk like you planned, but you ‘act’ by sitting on the couch and watching TV. 

What could be an example to this, from your own life?

You may experience a conflict between how you feel and how you behave. When you do something that makes you feel guilty and ashamed, for example, and you keep doing it still. What could be an example to this, from your own life?

There could be a conflict between what you think and how you feel. For example, when you feel intense attraction to someone or something that you know is harmful or simply bad news. What could be an example to this, from your own life?


To begin to understand NLP, we should break down the name itself. 

Neuro” refers to our nervous system, which processes information and encodes it physically into our bodies, possibly to be retrieved at a later date. How do you think ‘information’ gets into your body?

Linguistic” refers to how that code is intrinsically linked to language systems.  In fact, NLP distinguishes between two primary language systems.  The first is a representational system, which allows for the mind to process information in terms of our senses.  The second is the secondary-language system, which allows for the mind to process information in terms of symbols, words, metaphors and the like. Think about one strong metaphor, that is dominant in your life. What is it and how did it influence your decision making so far?

Finally, “programming” refers to our natural ability, and soon-to-be learned skills, to organize all this information within our organism (our brain) to achieve our desired outcomes. What kind of associations the word “programming” inspires in you? Can you make the difference between computer programming and working systematically with organic psychological concepts?

NLP ultimately stands as a tool to study excellence. How do outstanding individuals and organizations obtain their success?  

The approach NLP takes to find the answer is to break down the structure of subjective experience, and using all the aforementioned elements of Neuro Linguistic Programming is how people believe that we could begin to examine that elusive structure. A desired outcome like that is certainly abstract.  However, breaking down the structure of subjective experience would also mean finding out how to break people out of small, limited, inaccurate, and painful perspectives that keep them locked into dysfunctional habits.  Just as the man broke down the walls of the brothers’ minds, would not NLP’s discovery break down the walls of humanity’s collective consciousness? In essence, NLP enables us, as human beings, to do what we do better. What would you like to ‘do better’?

How to Think About NLP

There is a popular fable, told in NLP training programs worldwide, for the last couple of decades. A man rode into a village hidden in the desert one evening, and requested a drink of water from a villager, who complied and quenched his thirst. Feeling indebted, the man asked whether there was anything he could do to help pay back the villager for such kindness. 

“Actually, yes,” said the villager, walking up to the camel.  “We have a bit of a problem and would like a second opinion.  You see, I am the youngest of three sons, and our father recently passed away.  All that he had left was seventeen camels.  In his will, he decreed that one half of the herd should go to my eldest brother, one third to my middle brother, and one ninth to me.  But how can we divide a herd of seventeen?  I pray we do not have to resort to chopping up these camels.” 

The man pondered for a moment before announcing, “Please take me to your house.” 

The man entered the house and witnessed the two older brothers arguing furiously near a fire. The youngest brother explained the situation, and the now mediator said, “Gentlemen, I have a solution.  Please take my camel as a gift.  Now, you have eighteen camels in total.  Nine will go to the eldest brother.  Six will go to the middle brother.  Finally, two will go to my friend here.” 

“Mister, mister!  There are only seventeen camels allocated.” 

“Yes, and if you would possibly gift this camel back to me, I shall be on my way.” 

The three brothers gratefully returned the camel to the man. 

What do you think is the moral of this story? What can we learn from it?

At its core, Neuro Linguistic Programming (“NLP”) aims to do what that man does.  In many chemical reactions, there are catalysts that speed up the reactions.  In other words, the catalysts make the reactions work – usually – and the catalysts are not consumed by those reactions.  

Similarly, the man introduced a change in that human system that consisted of the three brothers and ended up optimizing the system. In the end, he gets his camel, his catalyst, back and rides off into the sunset, without leaving a trace. 

What do you think you’ll be able to do, using NLP, once you’ve mastered the skills and techniques? What do you want, precisely, to get out of our training program? What’s most important to you, as you begin this journey? 

How to Use The NLP Knowledge Base

“Two basic rules of life are these:
(1) change is inevitable.
(2) everybody resists change.
The only person who likes change is a wet baby.”

– Roy Blitzer

Experienced NLP practitioners will have no trouble making immediate use of this website. They will recognize many of the patterns, and find excellent new ones to learn. We recommend that these practitioners at least look through all the patterns; they will see some improvements to many of the patterns, and will get a clearer understanding of some patterns because of how clearly the steps are presented.

The beginner will appreciate the structure of this website. The first section has the more fundamental NLP patterns. These will round out their repertoire and build confidence. The patterns come in three main flavors. Those that you can easily try out on yourself, those that you can try on clients or other appropriate people, and those that require some structured participation of two or more people. Each pattern states what is needed early on.

All readers will appreciate how the patterns are provided. Whenever possible, credit is given for the development of the pattern. Each pattern has an introduction that explains its purpose. The patterns are each divided into steps. The first sentence of each step is a reminder statement so that, once you know the pattern, you can just look at the reminder statement to proceed. This will also help you memorize your favorite patterns. 

As you build mastery with these patterns, we encourage you to build intuitive flexibility and creativity. The patterns and additional material will help you to see how the presuppositions and knowledge of NLP are put into action. This insight is a very good source of this creativity. This takes you beyond the cookbook approach of steps and into a level of mastery that allows you to improvise solutions to new challenges. Just as a jazz musician practices scales and time signatures to build improvisational skill, NLP practitioners practice the principles and techniques of NLP to gain subconscious mastery. 

As you get started with this website, have a pen handy and write down the patterns that you want to learn or review. Highlight any words in the steps that will help you gain mastery. Be sure to stay connected with life, and have a good time. Joy and humor are great facilitators of learning and creativity.

And one last, very important, piece of advice: Learn with others. NLP has been around for more than three decades now, and there are surely people around you who are as excited about learning NLP as you are. Find new colleagues and practice with them, share resources and knowledge, challenge and inspire each other. You can find more information at the NLP College.