Matrixing is a way to strategically plan your work. It uses NLP to generate your responses to the client on the fly. This means we can use NLP know how, such as analyzing the client’s meta-programs and repairing their meta-model violations. If you aren’t 100% on top of things like meta-model violations, the processes to follow will still make sense. 

A meta-programs are the cognitive patterns that an individual tends to emphasize in managing their mental processes. This establishes an important link between our thoughts and the sensory representations that NLP uses in so much of its work. You could say that meta-programs are the rules that govern our thought and decision-making patterns, especially in terms of how we select from our memories and environment in triggering and constructing those patterns. Put more concisely, meta-programs constitute the rules by which we select strategies (mental, behavioral, etc.) that we use to achieve our outcomes. 

One way to get a feel for someone’s meta-programs is to notice what they pay attention to. An example meta-program is “toward versus away from.” A “toward” meta-program derives motivation and perspective from moving toward something. A person on a diet would experience himself or herself moving toward their desired weight and appropriate foods. An “away from” strategy would emphasize eliminating fat and avoiding fattening foods or excessive eating. 

The meta-model asserts that we must exclude a great deal of information in order to function. When this exclusion takes place in a dysfunctional way, it can lead to problems such as overgeneralizing, as in bigotry. Such errors are called meta-model violations. One method of repairing such violations is to ask questions that require a more specific answer or that bring forth a contradiction. For example:

“If atheists are immoral, how do you explain this long list of atheists who have made great contributions to humanity?” 


“You say she hates you? What exactly do you mean by hate? I know she did you a favor yesterday.”

Matrixing for Complicated Problems

Matrixing means being relevant to complicated problems requiring a strategic response, rather than a formulaic one. This is in contrast to a common approach of NLP practitioners, which is to focus on a very specific problem, and apply a specific technique to the problem. This is not to say that such an approach is wrong. There can be a great benefit to the artful winnowing down of a vague problem into a specific, operational definition, and many NLP practitioners excel at this. Many of them also excel at selecting a technique from their NLP quiver to rapidly resolve the problem. However, not every person will receive adequate help if their problem must be the equivalent of a sliver in their finger, and there’s no reason to limit NLP’s contribution to that of a pair of tweezers. Many of the problems clinicians and coaches find are quite complicated. 

Some coaching clients may seem to have buried themselves in un-resourceful narratives and stories that they have become very attached to. Many clients will work with a coach on success or other life issues, but have mild mental health issues that are either left over after getting psychotherapy, or not yet bad enough to get the client to seek a therapist. The book, Shadow Syndromes talks about the way that “subclinical” issues can disrupt peoples’ lives without necessarily being readily diagnosable. We often call these clients “twilight” clients, because they may benefit from psychotherapy or medication, but are not necessarily motivated to explore that route. When they are, their residual problems don’t contraindicate coaching, but they can make them more challenging to the coach. Because such problems affect nearly everyone in some way, coaches should get to know enough psychopathology to help them understand their more stuck or confusing clients. This knowledge can be useful in many ways. It can help the coach respond in a more strategic way and help them have a more realistic sense of what will be needed. 

My Favorite Matrix

I’m tempted to call this a starter matrix, but it is so fundamental to thinking about problems. This matrix may look simple, but it is very flexible and can be used to formulate very complicated problems, especially if you use it in a mind map format. You can use it for an overview of all the life needs of a client, or use it to zero in on a specific problem. It supports holistic and strategic planning. It helps to bring your intent and next best actions into focus. Let’s start with the categories, and then an example.

1. Meaning: 

Examples include stigma, self concept, vision as a source of goals and meta-model violations.

2. Context: 

People, things, and situations in the person’s environment that affect them. 

3. Behavior: 

The actual behavior of the person, and any plans that have a strong emphases directly on behavior, such as behavior modification. Can include desired behavioral goals and habits. Can focus on ways that developmental issues have created behavior limitations or patterns. 

4. Physiology: 

A focus on what is affecting the client from a biological perspective. Can include lifestyle factors such as exercise and diet. The more you think in terms of evolutionary psychology and the “internal pressures” that this creates, the more you may find yourself thinking in terms of physiology. As you know, NLP has plenty to say about observing and influencing your client’s physiology, while thinking in terms of state management. Both coaches and therapists find that they can think more about physiology as they incorporate reprocessing techniques such as EMDR and EFT into their work. 

Now try this: 

Think of a client, or even yourself. On a fresh, blank sheet of paper (or some kind of mind mapping software) put the four categories near the center. From there, you can branch out and add the most important related issues. Continue to branch out until you have actionable items. Here’s an example… The name and some of the details have been changed to protect her privacy: 

Marcy is 30, hates her job, loves her husband, hates they way they get into arguments, feels kind of untrusting and judgmental of people, is very bright, is a really good sales person, is underemployed because her employer isn’t making very good use of her, and really wants to take her life to another level. She has trouble when a lot of little tasks and details come her way because of ADD. She has had counseling for ADD and has been reticent to take medication because it seems kind of creepy to her. 


Mary is generally irked. The underemployment, overwhelm with details, and feeling intolerant of people that act petty, boring, or stupid, all make life less satisfying. She loves her husband, but he thinks and speaks in a very step-wise fashion. This is very difficult to tolerate for a person who thinks in hypertext. She realizes, though, that he is bright and successful, and his heart is in the right place. Coaching or counseling will need to help her find a more life-affirming and dynamic way to be a very smart person in a world that can seem pretty dumb. 


Her need to improve her career is important here, because her context is a major source of her complaints. The results will show up here, but this is not necessarily the category where the real action will be. Changes in her attitude (Meaning), and strategies (Behavior) may be the keys that unlock her career potential, or help her convince her employer to make better use of her sales skills, which are excellent. 


Her issues with the rest of humanity show up here in the sense that she does not have very satisfying relationships in her personal life, and she is not sure how to get into harmony with her husband. In addition to working in the Meaning category, behavioral strategies may be important. 


Marcy has a lot of youthful energy, but the issues are taking their toll. Nonetheless, she brings a lot of energy to her job, her relationship, and her home projects. ADD has a physiological side, of course, and she will need to learn to cope with it, even if she takes medication. ADD coping methods will go in the behavior category. The prospect of medication, supplements, and other things that address ADD from a physiological angle go here. 

How a Treatment Plan Would Look

Here is an example of a plan for someone like Marcy. She has come in for coaching. She has had psychotherapy, and it has been helpful, but she wants to focus on success and lifestyle. Nonetheless, it if very obvious that there are emotional issues and ADD symptoms that loom large. 


Goals: To get from irked to fun and strategic. Getting into harmony with people and her husband. By being fed up from her distracting judgmentality and impatience, she will probably come up with better strategies for making her relationships more satisfying. By being less distracted by feeling oppressed and under-appreciated at work, she will probably be able to come up with better strategies for her career as well. 

Methods: Metaphoric, reframing and other counseling techniques will be helpful. Reprocessing will be more helpful if we can connect with earlier experience that helped to establish her pattern of relating. Timeline work might be very helpful here. 


Goals: To get from overwhelmed and under-appreciated to meaningful challenges that draw upon her gifts and inspire her to develop even higher skills. 

Methods: Sometimes it is necessary to get context changes in order to progress in coaching or counseling. In this case, it looks like the context change is a goal rather than a short-term objective. 

That means that the focus on methods will be in the other categories. Not that keeping an eye on the classifieds isn’t a good idea. 


Goals: Round out her success with targeted strategies. The first two sessions created a strong impression that the short-term action is in the meaning and physiology areas. 

Methods: Coming in a close third is the area of ADD coping strategies. These strategies will probably do a lot for her attitude and feelings of resourcefulness as well. This should create an upward, self-reinforcing spiral. It is also important to add to her intimacy skills with her husband. But her thought patterns that bind her into less resourceful ways of handling her husband come first. 


Goals: Reduce ADD symptoms and respond to old emotional triggers from a state of fresh mastery.

Methods: Consider medication (via a referral to a psychiatrist), supplements, exercise, and anything else that will help her with ADD from a physiological perspective. Direct her to sources of information for this. 

Do reprocessing to help her generate a more resourceful state instead of being stuck in the irked state. NLP techniques will rely a great deal on state management during whatever processes are used.

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