Our maps are so different, it's a miracle when we truly communicate.

How far can you go with books and seminars? What can you do on your own?

John Grinder once observed that NLP practitioners are great at helping others, but too few of them actively use NLP for themselves. If some of the NLP master practitioners I've spoken with are a representative sample, he's got a point. I've often wondered why. Why would someone spend many thousands of dollars and a great deal of time taking formal NLP training, only to use it for others and not for oneself?

I have a few speculations on the subject, and perhaps a suggestion or two.


People take NLP training for a variety of reasons. Some want to improve their effectiveness in their workplace. Others view trainings and seminars as a sort of substitute for therapy. A few intend to use it professionally in the helping professions. Still others think of it as a sort of self-improvement sprint. NLP really is a fascinating subject, so some people take it out of sheer interest or curiosity. There are probably many other reasons, as well.

None of these reasons, however, translate into anything like an intention to do self-work on an ongoing basis. In short, it is my speculation that most trained NLP practitioners don't use NLP on their own for themselves simply because that was never their intention.

It is my philosophy that other people's intentions belong to them. And at least insofar as it concerns themselves (or a part of themselves), the NLP presupposition that every behavior has a positive intention applies. Each of us codes our maps of the world and ourselves so variously, it's easy to regard each other at times with a certain perplexed amazement. Our maps are so different, in fact, that it's a miracle when we truly communicate. So if someone else has a different intention behind their behaviors from me, I'm less surprised than curious.

Another Case

Another case is the person who takes NLP training, or even simply reads NLP books or buys related tape sets, with the intention of using NLP on their own, unguided by a practitioner. How easy or hard is that to do?

I'm a fair newcomer to NLP by comparison with some old hands. I first began studying it in 1997 with the books "NLP: The New Technology of Achievement" and "Frogs Into Princes". My intention wasn't so much one of self-improvement as one of satisfying an intense curiosity. A friend of mine had introduced me to some NLP materials he was exploring and I remember thinking, right away, "This is something!" But my initial experiments with NLP on my own had mixed success.

Early Self Experiments

My first self experiment with NLP was in my workplace, where there was a particularly difficult woman who was notably ambitious, aggressive, over-confident, and uncaring about her fellow workers. She would dominate meetings with her snappy fast talk and passing attention to what others had to say. Frankly, I was intimidated by her even though we were equals in the company. So it occurred to me that perhaps I could use some of the new NLP techniques I had read about to change my response to her.

I can still remember vividly the first meeting in which I tried it. As she was blathering on in her staccato style, I began wondering what sort of creature she reminded me of. I cleared my mind, in my own way at the time, to allow my visual perception of her to reveal a new image to me. In a moment, an image did come to my mind -- like an outtake from Jurassic Park. She was The Raptor! Now, that may sound a little scary, but seeing her sit there snapping out her words as a sort of human Raptor was one of the funniest sights I've seen. I nearly burst out a laugh, but managed to contain it.

Still funnier was the idea that no one in the room, who was paying serious attention to this self-important executive, had any idea that one among them -- me -- was looking at her with the realization that she looked just like a Jurassic Park Raptor. Of course, for all I knew, if I could read minds, every person in the room was thinking the same thing, or perhaps had their own funny image of her to allow them to tolerate her rapacious presence. Maybe they saw her with funny hats on her head, or pink bunnies on her shoulder, or maybe in their minds they saw her nose grow like Pinocchio, or her chin extend like the Wicked Witch of the West. Who knows? But if that was the case, they were doing a great job of pretending to take her seriously - just like I was.

That little change in my perception of her stuck with me, and it made a big difference for me, greatly increasing my ability to enjoy my position at that company. I was no longer intimidated, but handled "The Raptor" like a reptile expert would handle a croc -- deftly, with respect for those snapping jaws, but also with humor and plenty of skill to stay out of reach at the right time, as well as knowing how to manage her, using her natural blind spots. Suddenly, I could work with this woman.

"This NLP stuff works Great!" I thought.

My second experiment was not nearly as effective. I had read the "Circle of Excellence" NLP process description in a book, and decided to try it out for use going into one-on-one meetings with my boss, who I generally liked but who could be extremely moody. I never knew ahead of time which boss I'd encounter - the Jekyll boss or the Hyde boss. I wanted to be as resourceful, internally, as possible on my way into her office so I could stay on my toes and respond to the situation I was about to encounter. I prepared a circle of excellence right outside her door at an appropriate time when no one was around.

But I found the effects of it weak, in practice. I could get myself into a resourceful state when doing the NLP process, but entering the circle later, when I needed it, did not produce the desired effect. I was a bit disappointed in the results, though the theory still intrigued me. I didn't realize it at the time, but I was attempting to do something a little more advanced than a book can easily teach. Setting an anchor, particularly a spatial anchor such as that used in the "Circle of Excellence", requires not only strong state elicitation, but also calibration skills (whether of self or other) and an understanding of the analog nature of anchor timing.

The book had simply given some steps to follow as a procedure, like a cookbook. But it couldn't teach me skills which require interactive instruction. And wisely it didn't attempt to.

Procedures vs. Interaction

Particularly when learning experiential processes like NLP - or a skill like riding a bicycle, for example, it's much easier if you can arrange to be interactively guided than it is to follow a written series of procedural steps. Some people do very well at self-teaching. But the benefit of having an experienced, knowledgeable teacher or guide right there working with you can make a huge difference both in the content and quality of your learning. It also helps to actually see something demonstrated before you try it on your own.

The combination of explanation, demonstration, question & answer, guiding and actual experience of doing something is powerful, and explains one of the reasons why people who are interested in learning NLP often go to seminars or trainings.

A written procedure can tell you how to break an egg, for another example, but the procedure can't see what you are doing and give you feedback or corrections if you encounter difficulties. You might be attempting to hold the egg with your toes, and the written procedure wouldn't know it.

So often, NLP procedures look fairly simple in description, but when you use them with yourself or other people you encounter all kinds of unpredictable behaviors, obstacles, ecology issues and resources which no procedure could hope to account for without becoming hopelessly complex.

A procedure is just a simple map, a static example of an ordered series of steps, even if choice points are included. Real territories are rich, complex and dynamic.

Masters of any skill rarely rely solely on procedures. They may know that certain things need to happen in a certain order, but around that understanding is a rich variety of options and the unconscious competence to vary things according to circumstances and inspiration. This is one of the reasons the best NLP master practitioner training institutions teach students skills rather than techniques.

Self-Guiding vs. Being Guided

Most of the NLP master practitioners I know who actively use NLP for their own personal continuing evolution hire other master practitioners to guide them on a regular basis - monthly or more frequently. They do so not because they wouldn't know how to guide themselves, but because thinking about the process and doing it are two different perceptual positions.

Sometimes it's useful to remain fully associated throughout an experience, rather than punctuating it with repeated break-states or meta states. Systemic re-imprinting might be a good example of a process which even a master practitioner might like to be guided through, rather than self-guide. If strong emotions are involved, self state management is more challenging. One might prefer just to experience it fully and trust the process thinking to a qualified guide.

Another advantage of using a guide is that guides bring their own resources which are sometimes quite valuable. A guide who has wisdom might direct a person's attention to something the person has forgotten, which is not easily available, or which is entirely new in the person's experience.

The simple fact that a guide is an 'other' who can calibrate fully from a second or third position while the explorer remains in first position, or moves from position to position, holds unpredictable value. For beginning explorers, a guide can be instrumental in helping the explorer keep their perceptual positions cleanly sorted.

Self-guiding, on the other hand, can be just as effective, or even more effective than being guided in certain circumstances and with certain types of processes. For example, a guide might be helpful in first recognizing that a certain pattern you are running is a double-bind. Double binds can be tricky to spot from the inside. But once you know it's a double bind, escaping it through meta-stating can easily be done without guidance precisely because meta stating is a process of progressive disassociation rather than a process of continuing association. If leaving the field is a better solution to your double bind, that is an action only you can undertake - with or without someone else's assistance.

This is not to say that a guide could not be a good resource for this kind of work, only that the actual process actions don't require a guide and can easily be done on one's own.

When enough skill has been acquired in state management, a person can do many NLP processes on their own, setting up spatial and other anchors and using them spontaneously in general frameworks like the SOAR model, the Disney model, timelines and even potentially heavier emotional processes like resolving grief and interjection.

Finally, some self-other individuation processes are actually facilitated by a person doing them unguided. If a person does a lot of self-other confusion patterns, the presence of an 'other' eventually gets in the way of doing something fully self-only oriented. Again, this is not to say that a guide cannot be helpful, only to say that a guide, if present, must be circumspect about the implications of guiding.

At some point, every person is autonomous and acts without reference to 'other'. When a person with a lot of other referencing is ready to gain greater variety, doing it on their own can be an important feature of at least part of that work. Examples might include the shame process (which can be guided or unguided), active self sponsorship, solo meditation and private observances of sacred ritual or prayer.


For NLP master practitioners who reflect a little wistfully that they are not actively utilizing their NLP skills or knowledge in their own lives, perhaps they would be open to a suggestion that they consider arrangements to be an explorer, guided by a practicing NLP professional. I'm not talking about setting up an NLP appointment once in a while to address an acute problem, but regular monthly, bi-weekly or weekly sessions. Why regular? Because irregular sessions become one-offs; they don't produce a continuity that can grow like a gathering wave of progress.

Many practicing professionals schedule regular appointments with other professionals as a matter of personal or professional policy, much as many practicing psychotherapists regularly see a psychotherapist. Issues come up over time for which a trained guide can be helpful. And when there are no immediate issues to address, discussing NLP theory and learning new skills can be enjoyable and valuable in an extended one-to-one setting, particularly with someone more knowledgeable or experienced.

I suggest these regular personal NLP sessions in addition to continuing education courses. NLP practitioners at every stage of training have a rich variance in particular skill levels, and no one can claim they know it all and have nothing left to learn. The greatest masters of NLP I've had the privilege to observe are invariably also the most humble about their learning, genuinely aware of how much more there is to know, create and learn.

If money is an issue, and an NLP master practitioner has done little personal work with a practicing professional, the better choice between individual sessions and the next training seminar might very well be the former. It depends, of course, on one's goals.

For first level NLP practitioners, arranging individual sessions can be a powerful educational and self development tool. The more personal experience one has as an explorer, the richer the context for expanding NLP knowledge and benefits.

Finally, for those who have read a number of NLP books, but haven't taken formal training and perhaps do not intend to, individual NLP sessions on a regular basis can transform into skills and experience that part of book knowledge which is difficult to pick up from just reading.

The Lazy Man's Guide to NLP

There is one other category of experience I want to mention before ending. That is the condition of laziness, lethargy and inertia. For some of us, well, we're just too lazy to get going at times. [Raising my hand.] I don't consider this a bad thing. Laziness is often a cycle state of dormancy - indispensable and invisibly active at a deep level. A person might not be aware of it at the time, but there's no such thing as an inactive state.

I give people a lot of credit for knowing when to be lazy and when to get up and get going. So long as laziness lives where it belongs, on the 'behavior' neurological level and not on the 'identity' level, I say go ahead and enjoy it! Stare into space, watch the clouds, go to sleep, slouch around, do nothing - and just watch the Universe produce something surprising and compelling in its own way and time. You'll know it when it does.

If you've got some incongruity about laziness, what an interesting place to start. ...Interesting how easily and lazily you could pick up a phone, or not, ...sigh to yourself, maybe say, "I don't know," and how much a guide can do for you to enjoy being even lazier or perhaps getting you moving, as you may someday prefer. 

Myself, I've got an R. Lee Ermy (Sgt. Gunny) talking doll for when I'm feeling lazy. I press a button on his back and he barks motivational insults at me, which I invariably ignore. Nothing feels quite so good as ignoring a drill sergeant.

Happy exploring!

Copyright © 2017 John David Hoag. All rights reserved.
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NLP On Your Own
Suddenly, I could work with this woman. "This NLP stuff works Great!" I thought.
A procedure is just a simple map, a static example of an ordered series of steps, even if choice points are included. Real territories are rich, complex and dynamic.
Thinking about the process and doing it are two different perceptual positions.
When enough skill has been acquired in state management, a person can do many NLP processes on their own.
The greatest masters of NLP I've had the privilege to observe are invariably also the most humble.
I press a button on his back and he barks motivational insults at me.