top of page
  • Writer's pictureTom Robinson

Training in NLP: an introduction to neuro-linguistic programming -main concepts & theories explained

Updated: Jan 28, 2022

On Monday, I started my training in NLP (neuro-linguistic programming) and I’m pleased to report that I think I’m really going to like it!

There are a mix of people from all over the world doing the course with me, which is held on zoom once a week with our practitioner and coach Dr Tracey Cole.

It was only by chance that I signed up to do this training after my friend Stef saw one of Tracey’s posts on LinkedIn advertising the two remaining places on the course.

Weirdly, I have always had an interest in NLP since, over the years, several people have mentioned it to me, so when Stef suggested signing up, I agreed pretty much straight away!

I’m so grateful to Stef for suggesting it now because I really think that this will help me to understand myself and others in a really positive way – well that’s the aim anyway!

It will also mean that I can take and help clients on a one-to-one basis and FINALLY start sharing some of this vast lived experience and knowledge that I have accumulated, in a way that will benefit others too!

What is NLP?

Defining NLP or ‘neuro-linguistic programming’ isn’t easy, and there are a multitude of different explanations of it out there – most of them only adding confusion rather than clarity and leaving you more confused than you were before you asked!

In brief, it is a psychological model that aims to help people to become more effective in their communications (both between themselves and with other people) and help them to achieve their desired goals.

There are many other definitions of NLP but the most comprehensible (as well as succinct one) I can find is that:

“NLP is how to use the language of the mind to achieve our specific and desired outcomes”

  • Neuro – To do with the nervous system

  • Linguistic – Verbal and non-verbal communication

  • Programming – Installing helpful change through patterns and achieving excellence

Progress is made via a collaborative effort between the client and practitioner where the practitioner guides the client to implement changes in their thinking and helps them to identify that they have options to empowerment.

This is achieved through the following processes:

  • Strategies

  • Sensory Acuity (our ability to sense someone else’s experience of the world)

  • Language and communication

  • Rapport

  • Outcomes (NLP works on achieving identified goals or specific outcomes)

  • Submodalities (changing the internal state)

  • Anchoring

Immediate take-out points

Before I started the NLP course, I wanted to get a bit of a head start – not just because I’m a swat, but because I really want to get the most out of this so that I can help as many other people as possible.

So, last week I read Tom Hoobyar’s ‘The Essential Guide to NLP’ and I wanted to include a couple of take-out points from his book before I go into some of the concepts that we learnt on Monday.

First, Second and Third Position

First Position

First position is where you’re in your own body. You see everything through your eyes, and you know exactly how you feel. You know what you want, and that’s a position of great authenticity.

However, it can also be a kind of infantile position. After all, it’s the perceptual position we had when we were babies, right? At that point, we really knew what we wanted.

“I’m hungry. I’m cold. I’m wet.”

That’s all we knew then and we yelled until we got it addressed. You probably know some adults who still operate like this.

When people get stuck in first position, we describe them as narcissistic or immature.

In NLP, some people also refer to this position as self.

This ‘position’ has similarities to the psychological theories I’ve been banging on about in some of my recent posts: all to do with the ego and its relationship to mental illness.

For example: you don’t get a dog looking in the mirror and saying “God I’m so fat, ugly, awful” etc, etc, etc – the sense of ‘self’ or ‘ego’ can play against us as humans in a major way, and it’s important to be aware of that!

Second Position

Second position is the position where you’re very, very simpatico to another person.

You feel someone else’s pain. If you’re in second position, you might get someone a glass of water before they even know they’re thirsty.

It’s a position of great solicitation and understanding of others. When we go too far with second position, we tend to be oversolicitous and overdependent, and that’s often referred to as co-dependency.

In NLP, some people refer to this position as ‘other’.

In essence this position is about having the empathy to understand things from another person’s perspective. This is a helpful objective to dip in and out of, but not a healthy one to stay in permanently.

Third Position

In NLP, the third position is often called the observer position.

That’s where you’re outside a situation and you just sort of record what’s happening. You see what’s going on as completely separate from yourself, like an objective reporter might.

It’s a position where you can evaluate yourself and options.

Scientists frequently operate from third position, as do surgeons, engineers, and professional performers. People who work in these professions benefit from stepping outside themselves to judge what’s going on. And because there’s not a lot of emotion in third position, they can effectively determine what’s working and what changes might be helpful.

What’s the drawback?

Well, if someone gets stuck in third position, they’re sort of habitually detached, and people feel like they can’t ever really connect with them.

The goal in all of this is to take advantage of these different options by:

1. Going into first position to get clarity about how you feel

2. ‘Trying something on’ from someone else’s point of view by briefly going into second position.

3. Evaluating the situation and potential solutions to obtain a sense of objectivity

My initial thoughts on all of this, is that I do already shift from first to second, third and back again, so it makes sense to me – it’s just that someone has applied language to it so that they can explain it and write it down!

It is useful to remember though, that not everyone is the same, and that we tend to only see the world through our own perspectives – this is one of the biggest problems that we have when it comes to communication!

Dealing with others

Another quick point to mention from The Essential Guide to NLP, also relates to dealing with other people.

This is especially relevant to all of my friends with mental illness AND myself because one of the biggest challenges (apart from the brutality of the illness of course), is dealing with people who say the wrong thing!

This can have devastating consequences for the person in suffering, and can lead to huge rifts, miscommunications, and fall-outs.

Anyway, Tom Hoobyar’s advice for dealing with those you are in conflict with, is to say:

“I’ve been thinking about the expectations that I’ve had of you – and I think I owe you an apology”…

Apparently, this is a very unexpected and effective way of approaching a conflicting argument but I’m really not sure that this would go down very well in my own situation, so I’m going to have to think about whether I can use this or not!

The book also suggests that you go on to say:

“The more I think about our situation, I imagine you must feel like I don’t take you into consideration….”

Hmmmm…. But isn’t that the point… they’re not taking me and my illness into consideration in the first place, and that’s the crux of the argument?

Hmmmmm… I need to think about this!

First lecture

Yesterday was my first lecture in NLP and it resonated far more than I even expected it would. I think it helped that I’d done the pre-study to the course because I immediately understood the key concepts, terms and presuppositions.

I’ve decided to document all of this learning as a kind of revision for myself as I go through the training, because: a. I know that regurgitating the information is the best way to solidifying it, b. Because the other course members might like to read and benefit from it too, and c. Other people can get an idea of NLP and either decide to study it themselves and/or find a practitioner to have some sessions with.

I’m not going to discuss every point that was mentioned yesterday because that will make this post (that’s already ballooning out of control) far too long, so the following is a brief overview of what we have already learnt:


People live at cause or effect.


If they live at ‘cause’ then they take responsibility for the occurrences in their lives.

These people see results and are in the ‘driving seat’ of their lives as it were; directing and shaping their life, believing they are in control of it as much as they possibly can be.

They are therefore in a position of empowerment.


These people make excuses for the happenings in their lives. They blame external factors for the reason as to why they don’t or can’t have what they want. They either blame themselves or others for this and are therefore ‘disempowered’.

The aim of NLP is to direct and move people from ‘Effect’ to ‘Cause’ so that they can begin to feel more in control of their life and its outcomes rather than seeing everything as ‘happening to them’.

Events are interpreted by the five senses

Our experiences are interpreted through the mind and processed through the five senses.

Some people will have a propensity towards visual processing, some through sound, and some through ‘feeling’ or touch, taste and/or smell.

These categories or ‘representational systems’ are as follows:

  • Visual

  • Auditory

  • Kinesthetic

  • Gustatory

  • Olfactory

People will generally favour either Visual, Auditory, Kinesthetic, or Auditory Digital (‘thinkers’) and will have different characteristics relating to their favoured representational system.

Using words to label our experience

  • Your use of language can affect how you think about things

  • To be effective you must focus on what you WANT not on what you DON’T want

  • To be effective you must think about what could go RIGHT and NOT what could go wrong

Filtering Information

Our brains filter the enormous amount of information they receive and then make sense of it via a process of:




After making sense of the input in this way, this is then expressed in BEHAVIOUR.

NLP aims to improve a person’s communication and therefore change their behaviour towards a desired outcome.

Secondary Gain

Clinicians must be aware that certain clients will fight to hold on to their problem or belief because the brain tends to like what is familiar (even if it is leading to a destructive and/or unwanted behaviour).

These people crave attention and the validation that their problems are insurmountable (another reason why I hate social media!)…

They tend to enjoy complaining and are often guilty of ‘The Double Bind’ for example:

“ – I hate my job, but I’m not prepared to leave it either…”

SIDE NOTE: I have to interject at this point because I do immediately imagine every scenario to involve a person with severe depression, (and because I know there is a biological basis to it), I’m thinking that there may be some people who need to find the correct medication before they can see all of this!

BUT, this is a psychological model and not a psychiatric cure – I must try to remember this as I go through the course!

Responsibility to Change

Similarly, the client must accept that it is their responsibility to instigate the change - the practitioner is only there to guide them towards it.

The process is a collaborative effort to achieving the desired change and is a ‘To do with’ rather than a ‘To do to’ process…

Physiology needs to support the desired outcome

Our posture and the way in which we present ourselves is affected by our feelings which are both affected by our thoughts.

This all has a cumulative effect on our behaviour.

During communication, body language accounts for the largest proportion of the overall message.

In important conversations - stand up and feel yourself important and assertive!

Perception is Projection

“You can’t attend to something that is outside of you unless it’s part of you too.”

In other words: you cannot recognise that someone is arrogant unless you have the experience and/or ability to be arrogant yourself.

Carl Jung also stated that we project out too both in a positive and a negative way.

This made me think of my doctor because the first thing he did when I met him was to confidently say:

“I will get you better!”

This made all the difference because even though I thought I was days away from taking my own life, his confidence and assurance ‘projected out’ and I left the appointment thinking:

“Ok, here is a man that is actually going to help me, I am in the right place.”

He instilled confidence where confidence did not exist – that’s quite an achievement!

No previous doctor had ever told me that they were actually going to help me (they didn’t manage to either) this is something to consider psychiatrists!! – There’s far more to it than just dishing out medications!

Mind body connection

I have already written two detailed posts on the ‘Gut-Brain axis’ or the ‘second brain’ but essentially it’s all about ‘you are what you eat’.

Nutrition is important for the body AND the mind! See here…

When I heard Tracey say:

“In the coming years psychiatry and psychology will have to expand to factor in the second brain”

I thought…

“Yes, it bloody will, but unfortunately current psychiatric care is so far from factoring in any of this that it’s laughable”

(Or would be if it wasn’t such a desperately sad situation!)

Steps to learning

The steps to learning involve:

1. Unconscious Incompetence

2. Conscious Incompetence

3. Conscious Competence

4. Unconscious Competence

This sounds complicated but Tracey used a horsey analogy to explain it whereby:

1. You are bouncing around and can’t sit to the trot but don’t know you’re doing it (unconscious incompetence).

2. You are told by your instructor that you’re bouncing around and you're now aware of it (conscious incompetence).

3. You master the sitting trot by being aware of what you are doing (conscious competence).

4. The ability becomes instilled and you do it second nature (unconscious competence).

Conscious or ‘thinking’ mind and unconscious mind

The conscious mind is what you are thinking about in the current moment (reading this sentence and taking this all in hopefully!) You are not currently thinking about what you are going to make for dinner (you are now I’ve mentioned it!) This is the conscious mind or ‘thinking’ mind.

The unconscious mind is everything else that you have going on in there that you’re not currently thinking about. It is a sort of reservoir of feelings, thoughts, urges and memories that our outside of our conscious awareness.

The two interplay between each other and the unconscious mind can have an effect on our behaviours even though it is outside of our awareness.

I have discussed this in detail in a previous post too… see here:

Congruence and incongruence

This is the final point that I’m going to mention this morning.

It is similar to Carl Rogers’ definition in psychology whereby he says that if there is a discrepancy between your ideal and real self then that will lead to incongruence.

In NLP it is explained more in terms of whether there’s a discrepancy between your behaviour, actions and your desired outcome – a disconnect between the conscious and unconscious mind.

Both ways of explaining it are important.

I have already written a detailed post about all of this too, which you can find here:

I am now signing off to go to my day job (well the one I had before I was booted – why the hell am I doing this? – Big discrepancy, disconnect and incongruence going on, but anyway…)

– I’m laying turf in 30 degree heat!! Don’t ask!!

Whoever said life was boring?!

Thanks for reading,

Speak to you soon,


164 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All
bottom of page