Drawing from Great Minds

“Most of the fundamental ideas of science are essentially simple, and may, as a rule,
be expressed in a language comprehensible to everyone.”

– Albert Einstein 


NLP drew a great deal from linguistics. Because NLP got its start with a very psychological perspective, an important aspect of linguistics in NLP has to do with how language affects consciousness and patterns of behavior. They drew from the work of linguists such as Noam Chomsky. One of their more interesting observations was that therapists would take liberties with grammar in order to influence their clients. This included strange wordings that would promote a hypnotic state, and manipulations of grammar to make problems feel more susceptible to being resolved. For example, by describing the problem in the past tense, the therapist creates the feeling that the problem is receding away. Some of the language patterns are quite sophisticated. Studying them is very rewarding. 

Systems Theory and “Ecology”

The NLP founders drew from systems theory, the study of how systems interact and maintain themselves. This included looking at how families function as systems. NLP even looked at how “parts” of individuals function like mini-systems that must work together. This led to the conclusion that a therapist or coach must carry out an “ecology check” in order to make sure that no parts of the person object to any solutions that are under consideration. This is intended to prevent unconscious self-sabotage. 

Cognitive and Behavioral Psychology

Cognitive psychology was developing as a major force in psychotherapy, and NLP took its ideas in very creative and effective directions. NLP, like cognitive therapy, looks at how thought patterns are involved in dysfunctional behaviors as well as successful behaviors. Since thoughts that manage our behaviors occur in repeating patterns, it is possible to identify these patterns and help people change them, either consciously or unconsciously. In cognitive psychology, the emphasis is more on conscious change of thought patterns. NLP leaped ahead by including a strong emphasis on how the unconscious and body-mind experiences called “states” (similar to state of mind, but including the body) can be used for change. To understand how a “state” is used, consider this basic example: 

Let’s say you have a client who does not interview well, because of anxiety and self esteem problems. Help your client develop an intense state of confidence, and then have them imagine themselves performing beautifully in their next job interview while they are in that state. This tends to reduce the anxiety and get the subconscious to come up with creative solutions that include new, more effective, behaviors.