The Essence of Modeling

“We Learn . . .
10% of what we read
20% of what we hear
30% of what we see
50% of what we see and hear
70% of what we discuss
80% of what we experience
95% of what we teach others.”

– William Glasser

Bandler’s gift for modeling was perhaps the most powerful initial impetus for the birth of NLP.  He did most of the initial modeling. This included modeling of highly effective and well-known therapists and led to the development of many NLP patterns. 

Nowadays, NLP patterns are easy to come by. They are all over the Internet, and this Big Book of NLP has my hand-picked favorites (over 300 of them). But this article is about going beyond patterns, to deeper understanding. While patterns can help you unlock the secrets of NLP, they are just a starting point.  

Models are the gateway to NLP mastery. You can model anyone, including yourself, which does something in an excellent way. You may sometimes find it helpful to model someone doing a dysfunctional thing, or just a normal behavior. 

Key Things About Models

First, I must point out that NLP uses the word “model” in different ways. Scientists and engineers use “model” to mean that they understand how something works. This understanding is their model. An image of a molecule is part of the model. A mathematical description of the forces that hold it together and cause it to interact with other things is part of the model. In NLP, the systematic understanding of how someone creates excellence is a model. 

At the same time, the excellent person is a model, in a sense very similar to the term “role model.” So you could say that we model the model. We create a model of a person who serves as a model of excellence. Then we attempt to produce excellence by applying our understanding (our model of the person). This article will focus on the use of the word “model” as a detailed understanding of how someone produces excellent results. 

A wonderful thing about such a model is that it helps us teach others how to achieve excellence. It is much easier to teach someone a systematic understanding than to just say, “Here, do what I’m doing.” Since models can be complicated, NLP trainers usually teach them in pieces. Then, as each piece is mastered, it comes together as unconscious mastery. This is a good way to teach most complicated skills. The more pieces you master, the more intuitive you become–the better you can improvise and come up with solutions. 

Models are not the same as reality. They bring out aspects of reality that are important for the purpose at hand. Each person will have different ways of perceiving. This means that they will generate somewhat different models for the same person. Putting several people’s models of an excellent person together can be very valuable. For example, there is more than one book on Milton Erickson’s techniques, and they emphasize different aspects of his work. This includes the writings of Dr. Erickson, himself. If you want to excel at Ericksonian communication or hypnosis, why not read them all?

Robert Dilts on Modeling

Here is a quote (in British English) from his book, Modelling with NLP.

“Behaviour modelling involves observing and mapping the successful processes which underlie an exceptional performance of some type. It is the process of taking a complex event or series of events and breaking it into small enough chunks so that it can be recapitulated in some way.  The purpose of behaviour modelling is to create a pragmatic map or ‘model’ of that behaviour which can be used to reproduce or simulate some aspect of that performance by anyone who is motivated to do so.  The goal of the behaviour modelling process is to identify the essential elements of thought and action required to produce the desired response or outcome.” 

Meta-Programs and Modeling

We also use the word model when we talk about a person’s “model of the world.” This is similar to the scientist’s model of how something works, but it is more informal and may be largely unconscious. It is generalizations about the nature of things. People draw upon such generalizations in making decisions and interpreting what is going on. NLP tells us that people’s meta-programs regulate how these generalizations are formed and acted upon. Meta-programs are the master programs that coordinate our mental processes. They help us generate our thoughts from our underlying sensory representations. Meta-programs are the rules that tell our minds what parts of our experiences are used to form our thoughts and decisions. You can see the influence of cybernetics, which was a big factor in the development of NLP. A thermostat has rules that control its “decisions” to turn the heat or air conditioning on and off. You could say that these are its meta-programs. Of course, people are much more complicated. 

In NLP, we describe the strategies that people use or create so that they can achieve something. These are not just behavioral rules. They are the rules that result in our decisions. An example of a meta-program is the “toward versus away from” preference. Some people tend to think in terms of moving toward what they want. They may experience the motivation to do their taxes as a desire for a sense of mastery or completion. They may be driven by the desire to maximize deductions while being audit-proof. They may be driven to experience the relief they feel when they drop the envelope in the mail. The “away from” person has very different drives for completing their taxes. These people focus on avoiding trouble with the government, and getting the whole thing over with so they don’t have to suffer through it any longer than necessary. The are “getting away from” what they fear or dislike, instead of “going toward” what they desire. They focus more on avoiding negative consequences than on getting positive ones. If you want to motivate someone, you need to know if they use a toward or away from meta-program. The more meta-programs you learn to observe, the more ways you have to motivate, negotiate, and help someone succeed. This means that when you model someone, you have a richer model when you know as much as possible about their meta-programs. If you’d like to thoroughly learn the NLP Meta-Programs, you might want to check out the syllabus at the NLP College.