Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Myths of false precision in NLP manuals

I have been reading an NLP book. I won't say which one, only that it includes many instructions that include what I would call a false precision. Let me give you an example.

Anchoring is a technique that associates a particular physical stimulus with a state, memory or behaviour. In NLP, anchoring is widely used to stabilize, modify or create states that are suitable for particular situations or tasks. Many instructions will tell you to set an anchor just before an experience peaks.

This is nonsense. You only know the peak by the descent from it. You cannot set an anchor just before an experience peaks because you do not have access to that level of detail about the future, nor can you read someone else's state so accurately that you notice the difference between at the peak and just past the peak. You can pretend to accuracy, but not achieve it.

I know that the people who write this stuff believe they have developed a meaningful level of precision. There is just a lot of evidence (scientific and anecdotal) to suggest that is not possible, and almost no evidence (except their feelings) to say that it is.

Fortunately, you do not need to achieve this level of precision to do good work. The really precise work is handled by unconscious processes that move too quickly for you to recognize or manipulate them consciously. This is not mysterious: think of it like a blink. You cannot change the pace of your blink and you can only rarely (and with concentration) control whether or not you blink. The same is true with giving someone a light touch on the shoulder (a common anchor). The more you try to consciously control your pace and pressure, the less precise your touch will be.

It takes a lot of time and effort to condition someone to over-ride natural processes. It is faster and more effective to teach people to work with natural processes. Once they have a conscious understanding of the process and how it relates to an outcome, they need only allow it to happen as they have already allowed it to happen at other times. Training is a matter of giving the conscious mind a structure for change and the unconscious mind permission to carry it out.

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