Paul & Dee's Column




Two of the most important NLP Presuppositions are “If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got”, and “If what you’re doing isn’t working, do something different”. There are battered wives in hostels, safe houses, who for years put up with violence from their husbands because they were scared, or lacked the self-esteem, to change the pattern.

When they finally did, their lives changed too. They had to make the change in themselves before their partners would change…..another Presupposition – “It is easier to change ourselves than others; but if you change, others must change towards you.”

These Presuppositions apply to every aspect of life: now scientists have even discovered that people can lose weight not by dieting but by adopting a more flexible attitude – choosing a different lunch; travelling to work in different ways; doing something out of the ordinary at weekends. They’ve found that, I quote, “Most dieters fail because they’re stuck in a rut”: and they’re even calling this new approach the ‘Do Something Different’ Method!

Which brings us to that word “fail”: what is failure? Surely it’s an attitude, a state of mind? We recently had someone on one of our trainings who told us he’d always felt as though he was pushing a huge boulder up a steep hill, in everything he attempted. By the end of the training he decided to do something different; he reframed the way he looked at things, and instead of pushing that burden, he went ahead and then pulled it up after him!

So suppose we do that with a so-called ‘failure’? If we change the way we think about it, look at it from another perspective – what NLP calls ‘reframing’ – then it becomes a learning experience. Babies taking their first steps will overbalance, fall many times; so they do something different the next time, balance more, hold on to a chair…….if, after their first attempt, they thought “I’ve failed, I won’t try that again!”, none of us would walk! So the Presupposition, “There is no failure, only feedback”, is about reframing how we used to look at things, taking the learning from the experience and being flexible, moving on, doing something different.

“What are you keeping that for?” “Throw that rusty old rubbish away”. But Tommy wouldn’t, and didn’t. In fact he collected even more ‘rubbish’, as his mother had called it. Eventually his dad said he could have his own shed – and let Tommy help him knock one together from some old fencing he’d found in a skip………and Tommy discovered that he really enjoyed building something new and useful out of that old ‘rubbish’.

Into the shed went all the rusty pipes, bits of wood, metal gratings he squirreled over the years: and into bigger sheds, as time went by, and he grew up and had his own building company in East London. And he always loved recycling, re-inventing, making something old and apparently useless serve a new purpose.

So when he became part of a garden make-over TV series, on one of the shows Tommy and his colleagues created a wonderful wildlife space in the West Country……..and the water feature was old pipes, the bridge over the pond had old metal gratings underfoot, and the decking was made of timbers, all of which Tommy had brought from Hackney!

Tommy instinctively lives the Presuppositions, “Every experience can be utilised”, and “Use everything”. He is also a wonderful example of three others:- “Modelling excellence leads to excellence”;”If one person can do something it is possible to model it and teach it to others”; and “Possible in the world and possible for me is only a matter of how”.

Tommy had watched and copied his dad, learned from him how to build well, and now is a model of excellence himself to millions of viewers. Oh, and one more Presupposition, probably one of the most important of them all, of which he is a great example – “People already have all the resources they need”. And that wasn’t just the pipes, gratings, and wood, in Tommy’s case! It was his memories of how to do things, build, adapt; his belief in his own abilities; his value system that made him not want to waste things, but to re-use them.

In another context, the great Russian actor and drama teacher Stanislavsky, who is considered to have been the father of ‘modern’ or ‘method’ acting, famously said, “An actor uses every experience, good or bad, to stretch himself”. There it is again, ‘Every experience can be utilised’.

NLP says that if at first you find it difficult to take all the Presuppositions on board, act ‘as if’ they’re true and the magic will happen.

So is acting ‘as if’ the same as acting? Is acting behaving like another person, becoming like them, or being them? And what is behaviour? Well, yet another Presupposition is “You are not your behaviour”. Behaviour is how we outwardly express thoughts and feelings, ( yet another Presupposition here – “The body cannot keep a secret”, or “We cannot NOT communicate”!); behaviour is NOT our identity.

How many times does a child do something silly – putting the cat in the bath for instance – and is told “You’re a stupid boy!”. No, the boy wasn’t stupid, the behaviour was. Low self-esteem frequently develops as a result of this kind of thing. (by the way, NLP can reverse it brilliantly !). And let’s look at what the child did, putting the cat in a bath of water………

BEHIND that behaviour was perhaps the positive intention of making the cat clean – after all, that’s what the parent does to the child, so the child is modelling, which is naturally how we learn! So okay, in doing it he flooded the bathroom floor, the wet cat ran out, yowling, and jumped onto the bed to lick itself dry,soaking the duvet in the process, and so on and so on!

On a more serious note, teachers often ask us questions like, “When a child smashes a window, or hits me, where’s the positive intention in that?” Well there is – not for the teacher, but for the child himself. He was doing the best he could with the choices he believed were available to him. Find out what he wanted, give him other, more socially acceptable choices of behaviour to achieve the same purpose, and watch the child’s behaviour change.

It’s as though, to get from A to B, his ‘map’ showed him only that one way… him the possibility of other roads to his goal stretched his map - which is what happens whenever we learn something new.

And that brings us to what is probably the most-quoted, most fundamental of all the NLP Presuppositions – “The map is not the territory”. I remember my mother and I were sitting reminiscing, recalling old, shared experiences. I made some comment about what had happened on a particular occasion, and Mum said, “It wasn’t like that at all!”

She told me “how it really happened”, in other words, how SHE had ‘recorded’ it….but in fact BOTH versions were true! I remembered the noise, how people said things she hadn’t even heard; she had remembered how things made her feel, who hadn’t kissed her, who had, what it meant…… see, Mum was all about emotions! I am all about words, sounds, rhythms:- same territory, different maps.

Because we all filter incoming information through our values and beliefs, our metaprograms – personality profiles and traits – and through our senses, and because we each have a preferred sense, obviously we are all perceiving the world outside our heads – the territory - very differently from each other.

And as we store all this input AS WE FILTERED IT, that is our perception of the territory – our unique map – and can never be like anyone else’s map, or like the territory itself.

NLP is the art of changing these maps, stretching them, not about changing the territory. Rapport is meeting someone at their model, their map, of the world. This is also what learning is all about – stretching the map. So that teacher who wanted to know how to deal with a destructive behaviour as we suggested – by finding out what the positive intention was behind it, and then offering alternative, acceptable behaviours to achieve that, did so by first pacing the child, which NLP shows you how to do, honouring the child’s map.

Then that child’s unconscious said, “Right, you’ve honoured my map so now I’ll have a look at yours”. When this shift happened, the signs of which you will also discover how to read, the teacher had rapport with the child and could lead him to better choices. And choice is better than no choice……and yes, that’s another Presupposition!


The Map is Not the Territory


All behaviour has a positive intention behind it


Possible in the world and possible for me is only a matter of how


There is no failure, there is only feedback


We already have all the resources we need


More choice is better than limited choice


We cannot not communicate


The meaning of your communication is the response you get


If you always do what you've always done, you'll always get what you've always got

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