Friday, August 04, 2006

anchors, submodalities and formulas

Do you like to know what you should wear each day or do you hate having limits put on your choice of clothes? Have you ever complimented someone on a strength only to get a reaction that suggests you have said something vaguely insulting? Did you ever wonder why people often defy conventional wisdom about the right thing to do?

All of these situations are examples of two, related functions of the human mind. The first is called anchoring in NLP: it's the fact that the brain "wires" together all the stimuli it experiences at a given moment, and in some circumstances, any one of those stimuli can come to represent the whole experience. In combination with the way language creates generalizations, it means that we can associate one particular stimulus with something that has no logical connection to it. A word like "analytical" for instance, might mean "intelligent and effective" when applied to one person. To another, it might mean "blunt and unlikely to have a date for the prom" or "My parents made me feel like a specimen on a microscope slide." The difference is in the experiences that person associates with that quality.

The second function is related to anchoring: everything we perceive is stored as patterns, and we can begin to notice similarities across the patterns. We might notice bright colours when we are anxious and more pastel colours when we are calm, or we might notice the reverse: bright colours tell us to be relaxed and happy and pastel colours remind us to keep our feelings under wraps. We might "see red" when we are angry or we might see red as a symbol of good fortune. Some of this is cultural; more of it is individual, a function of how our particular sensory equipment has interacted with our experience.

The world is full of advice about how we should recognize our strengths or failings and make choices consistent with that recognition. The world is full of advice because so few people get lasting value from it. Sometimes formulas work for them, and sometimes the newest rules immediately make people feel worse about themselves instead of better. When the advice matches their experience, people are enthusiastic but not really changed. When the advice is different than their experience, people either disregard it immediately or (for a variety of reasons) pretend to follow it and go back to "normal" as quickly as is practical.

There are ways to allow people to recognize what makes them strong: those ways all have their roots in recognizing individual experience and working with it.

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