What's in a name?
If the name in question is neuro-linguistic programming, the name has held equal amounts of mystification and misunderstanding. Brains cannot be programmed in the way that computers can, and neurology and linguistics are two very different models. Whatever the original intent, the terminology often becomes an obstacle between an interested mind and a model of thinking that is otherwise very effective.
What if I said, instead, that NLP means "natural learning patterns" and it is a set of practices designed to allow you to exchange ideas and behaviours more effectively with other people? Would you begin to understand that it's possible to get better at working with the natural structure of your thinking so that you notice more, understand better and communicate more precisely? NLP is the practice of natural learning patterns.
When you visit the NLP Encyclopedia at Robert Dilt's website, you discover that NLP is "a behavioural model, and a set of explicit techniques, founded by Richard Bandler and John Grinder in early 1976. Defined as the study of the structure of subjective experience, NLP studies the patterns or programming created by the intersection between the brain ("neuro"), language ("linguistic") and the body.
Are you confused yet?
For a long time, western culture has separated mind and body. Science and philosophy mostly constructed realities where thinking could be separated from physiology. To paraphrase Ken Robinson, most people believed that bodies were just the vehicles that moved our brains from place to place. The only way to maintain this belief is to deliberately not observe the way people actually think, behave and change.
When we observe people who are learning naturally, we see that the body and the brain have always formed a wonderfully complex system of deep, wide connectedness. Minds and bodies communicate, sometimes through language (which puts ideas into a form that is physically present). Scientists now are beginning to understand that saying something does make it so (at least to some of the neurons in our brain) and that grasping something with our hands can help us grasp it with our minds, too (read I is an Other).
NLP was founded by two men who were brilliant at paying attention to all of what they could observe about how other people created, discovered, supported and changed their learning patterns. People who learn NLP now have the opportunity to combine those observations with the best of the arts and the sciences. Together, they can make us endlessly curious about what it is that happens within us and around us.
At the heart of NLP, at the heart of all natural, learning patterns, there is a restless, joyful curiosity about how much we can notice.