The Ultimate Guide
I've pointed out before how NLP is NOT therapy. Most beginning students mistake NLP to be a form of therapy because so much has been published, debated and criticized about the therapeutic models developed in NLP.
This guide aims at giving you solid grounding in NLP’s most important discipline: modeling. So important, in fact, that it gave birth to the field. Once you understand the distinction presented below (and you will), the field will make even more sense to you.
If you read through this entire post, you’ll have figured out 99% of the NLP game.
Many experienced NLPers that I’ve talked to haven’t understood the distinction I’m about to share with you. And yet, when you get it (and you will), you’ll breeze through any NLP material and assimilate it much more quickly, because you’ll have a framework with which to absorb it.
NLP Modeling: Explanation
To best understand NLP Modeling, think of NLP as both:
1. A modeling technology, and
2. A meta-field.
A modeling technology
NLP itself is a modeling technology. Think of it as a process with three overarching steps (we'll dig into a full 6-step description in a bit):
- Choose someone who stands out in a particular field or activity (sports, communication, management, leadership, therapy, learning, education, etc.) Make sure they demonstrate stellar performance.
- Model that person in order to create an explicit model of how (s)he produces those outstanding results. I will share the unique way this is done in NLP will be shared in greater detail in this guide, but it’s important to distinguish NLP modeling from other types of modeling.
- Install the model in others. You have to be able to transfer it. You can deem the project successful if the person who receives the model can produce results comparable to those of the outstanding performer. A critical criterion is that ANY person committed to mastering the model can do so — provided there aren’t any biological limitations that make it impossible.
While patterns and models such as representational systems, submodalities and the meta-model of language in therapy are useful to design change patterns such as the compulsion blowout and the swish, they are mostly useful to map out processes that are taking place in and out of awareness.
Sometimes, when reading Bandler’s or Dilts’s writings, we may get the impression that the coding of submodalities was a therapeutic breakthrough.
In my opinion, it was a modeling breakthrough.
All the models developed in NLP that make it possible to map out cognitive processes furthered the modeling technology. As such, we could also include perceptual positions in that category, as well as Michael Hall’s work with meta-states.
A Meta Field
I’ve come to adopt the perspective that NLP is a field that lends its discoveries to other fields. Let me give you an example so you can easily understand this.
If you’re new to NLP, you’ll soon study the Milton Model, which consists of a collection of language patterns distilled from modelling Milton Erickson, the most prominent practitioner of hypnotherapy.
The Milton Model consists of a series of language patterns used by Milton Erickson, the most prominent practitioner of hypnotherapy of his time (and among the greatest in history).
Most NLPers would tell you that the Milton Model is an NLP model. I prefer to say that NLP practitioners produced a hypnosis model called the Milton Model.
Likewise, I’d rather say that a practitioner of NLP produced a financial mastery model, a soccer dribbling model, a seduction model and so forth and so on. Each field to its own. Our field is the field of modeling. And our tools are those tools that make modeling possible.
Remember: this is only a point of view. Many NLPers would more than likely disagree with me. Nevertheless, I find it more useful to organize the field in that way – perhaps you also will.
How NLP Modeling Is Different
Before we get into the practical steps of NLP modeling, let's have a look at what's so unique about it.
What differentiates NLP modeling from other kinds of modeling?
John Grinder co-founded the field of NLP with Richard Bandler. He was, in great part, responsible for the creation of the code of NLP.
Listen to him succinctly describe what makes NLP Modeling so unique.
The unique difference of NLP modeling
NLP modeling is a bit different than other types of modeling activities. In this article you will learn what distinguishes NLP modeling from other types.
*** Update: I strongly suggest you read the comments at the end of this post. They complement the information in the post and address such topics as safety guidelines when modeling. ***
In a previous article I mentioned that the modeling done in NLP distinguishes itself from other forms of modeling in significant ways.
NLP Modeling is incredibly exciting and rewarding. It leverages the behavioral learning skills that all of us used as small children to develop our first abilities. Unfortunately, most of us lose access to those skills after we grow up. But it's never too late to bring them back...
Someone once asked me if it would be possible to use NLP modeling to model groups of people.
I’m sure it’s possible to model a group of people. Researchers do it all the time. It’s called profiling, demographics, psychographics, or any number of additional terms. All of these terms point to certain models created about groups. But it has nothing to do with NLP Modeling.
The purpose of NLP Modeling is to find someone who’s really good at something, observe and imitate that person like a little kid and then, once I become as good as them, start figuring out what the heck she’s doing and I’m doing that makes it work, so I can teach that skill to other people.
End of story.
Big progress happens when people like Tony Robbins come in and distill models such as the following:
- From Jay Abraham: How to take a business from $400,000 to $20,000,000 in yearly revenue;
- From Grandmaster Jhoon Rhee: How to get a black belt in Tae Kwon Do in 8 months;
- From Gerry Coffey: How to find meaning in the most excruciatingly painful experiences;
- From Robert Young: How to restore total cellular health in 30 days or less.
Bandler and Grinder's contribution goes without mention, of course. Distilling how to do lightning therapy from Milton Erickson, Fritz Perls and Virginia Satir is heroism.
And the key to it is, you have to be able to do the skill yourself. Bandler became as good or better than Milton, Virginia and Fritz. Grinder didn’t become as good as Bandler but he can still kick some serious therapeutic ass leveraging the models they produced.
That’s NLP Modeling. That’s taking the best of human achievement and making it sharable. That’s making a serious contribution to human heritage. That has impact. That matters.
How to Do
Now, let's cover the 6 master steps of NLP Modeling.
This is the "official" instruction set as taught by John Grinder and Carmen Bostic St Clair in their modeling workshops.
They also outlined it in detail in their book "Whispering In The Wind".
The 6 Master Steps of NLP Modeling
Here are the six steps. Click on any of them to go straight to it:
Identify a model
This first step requires that we choose a top performer.
Here's your most important criteria: choose someone who produces outstanding result or results consistently.
For instance, you could model a soccer player's unique way of dribbling.
Or you could model a top salesperson's closing skills.
Or you could model a clinician who has an unmatched record for helping patients recover from illnesses.
Find someone who can get a result you'd like to produce time and time again, consistently without fail.
Assimilate their behavioral patterns unconsciously
In most modeling methods the modeler acts simply as an outside observer.
NLP Modeling demands that the modeler actually step into the shoes of the outstanding performer. Through repeated imitation and practice, you will unconsciously absorb his or her behavioral patterns.
This is the crux of NLP Modeling. Let's talk about this some more.
When using other modeling methods, you'd be constantly trying to consciously figure out how the top performer is achieving those results.
You'd be analyzing his movements, his behavior, his words, his tonality, and so forth, trying to understand consciously how he produces those astonishing results.
NLP Modeling is different.
When modeling the NLP way, you imitate the genius without trying to figure out what's going on.
Just do as he does. Or do as she does.
But not in a caricatural way.
Do it in a genuine way, acting as best as you can to let that person mold you so you become just like him/her.
As an example, imagine you'd want to model an outstanding tennis player's serve. In Step 2, you'd actually pretend to be the player, going through the same motions over and over, seeking to emulate the player's behavior.
One of the questions I most often get in modeling seminars is this:
"Which Pieces Do You Need To Focus On When Modeling?"
What do you think? If you had to successfully replicate someone’s behavior, chiefly someone who produces outstanding results, what would you focus on?
When you begin modeling someone, begin by observing their physiology. That word simply means “the way someone moves or uses their body.”
Pay attention. Where are they looking? Are their heads up or down? Where is their breathing? How open are their eyes? Are they standing fully erect or rather compressed? Where are they hands? What about their arm muscle tone?
Take notice of all these details and immediately duplicate their posture. This will take you a long way into the modeling process.
Their intonation will give you access into their internal experience. Pay attention to and duplicate it.
Someone who speaks loudly will experience and produce an effect completely different from someone who whispers.
Adopt their vocal behavior yourself. Notice the change in your own behavior and feelings as you begin to speak with the same vocal qualities as the person you are modeling. Adopt their volume, their timbre, their pitch and notice how that makes you feel.
To get a full list of auditory qualities, check out my article on auditory submodalities.
Outstanding performers organize and channel their resources differently than average and mediocre performers.
When Ennio Morricone undertakes the writing of an Oscar-nominated movie score, he goes about it in a very specific and unique way.
Pete Sampras had a very specific guiding strategy he used to obliterate his opponents quickly.
Bill Clinton uses a communication strategy that enables him to garner the population’s sympathy even in the most trying conditions.
Every top performer has a specific strategy (s)he follows to produce results, even though that strategy may remain unconscious.
You, as a modeler, must make that strategy explicit. You must elicit it and then map it out so that someone else can learn it.
Caveat emptor: Only model beliefs when ABSOLUTELY NECESSARY.
Anytime you model beliefs, you alter your model of the world in favor of someone else’s. That would be the equivalent of updating the operating system of your computer without fully understanding what consequences might be.
Beliefs offer the gateway to possibility. Those who produce outstanding results have a set of beliefs that unleash their potential. You want to identify those as quickly as possible and adopt the ecological ones (if you want to know more about this, post a question in the comments and we discuss it below).
Often times, you’ll notice that outstanding performers’ beliefs provide the fuel for their performance. It enables them to recover from failures, bounce back and keep moving towards their desired outcome.
5. Other pieces
While there are indeed other pieces to the modeling puzzle that you will learn to attend to, I gave you the most important chunks.
A few of the other pieces would include:
- representational system used
- submodality preferences, and
- energy level
While these other pieces are very important, the first four I listed above will take you 90% of the way in replicating the results produced by an outstanding performer.
Give it a shot. It’s much easier than you think.
Produce results similar to those of the top performer
You know you've unconsciously assimilated the behavioral patterns of the top performer when you produce similar results in roughly the same amount of time. Depending on the modeling project, this may take minutes, hours, days, weeks, months or even years. It all depends on the complexity of the skill you're working on acquiring.
In the case of our example, you'd know you've unconsciously assimilated the other player's serve once you were able to consistently produce a similar quality of serve.
Criteria are subjective, but you can always enlist outside help to evaluate whether your results are congruent with your model's.
Clean up the pattern
In anyone's behavior, even that of a top performer, there will always be "white noise". This simply means that certain parts of their behavior will not be necessary to produce outstanding results. In this step, after you've demonstrated that you've absorbed the pattern by producing outstanding results, you start testing what actually needs to be included in the pattern and what can be left out.
Let's go back to our example:
Imagine that you were modeling an outstanding tennis player's serve. One piece of the player's behavior is to bounce the ball three times on the court prior to starting his serve motion.
During Step 4, you'd actually test serving without bouncing the ball three times on the court to verify whether that piece of the pattern is essential to maintaining the serve's quality. You might discover that it's absolutely necessary and you might also discover that it's completely dispensable.
Code the model
Once you've cleaned up the pattern, it's time to figure out what's going on and to create a description of what you and the outstanding performer are doing. The key here is to describe this in a way that anybody truly committed to mastering the pattern can do it.
Pass it on
This is where the rubber meets the road. The last step and master purpose of the modeler's job is to transfer or teach the pattern to someone else. In this step, you'd take the model you created in Step 5 and transfer it to a new person. If this proves difficult, you might find it necessary to modify the description you created of the pattern until transferring it becomes easy.
The most elegant models can be absorbed very quickly by a committed learner.
What are the next steps in the development of modeling?
As I see it, the most interesting next steps in the development of NLP touch upon modeling tools, technology and coding protocols.
All of these from the standpoint of all three modeling phases:
- Unconscious uptake of patterning to be modeled
- Effective coding of the assimilated patterns
- Effective installation of the coded patterns
Potentially, we could include a fourth modeling activity. This is up to debate.
- Effective uninstallation of old, obstructive patterning
As modelers, we need to develop more effective protocols for each of these activities, which are today at a craftsman’s level.
The goal is to reach industrial-strength technologies and models that we can depend upon as modelers.
There are far and few resources available to understand Modeling, the discipline that gave us NLP. Here are some resources I recommend you read through to deepen your understanding. I will add to this list over time.
WARNING: I don’t agree with all of them. I don’t agree with any of them that the modeling methodology they describe was the one used by the co-founders. And yet what they’re writing is worth reading. Each offers juicy little nuggets that will improve your perspective on the field.
How To Do A Modeling Project – Penny Tompkins and James Lawley
This article addresses the modeling project in a very well-defined and structured way. It will show you, step by step, how you can identify your modeling outcomes, map out the results you want to achieve, plan your project, execute it and transfer your newly acquired competence to a learner.
A fantastic resource.
My caveat is that they focus almost exclusively on 3rd person modeling, or observer modeling. In Whispering In The Wind, John Grinder details that the key characteristic that distinguishes the modeling that gave birth to NLP was the unconscious acquisition of the patterning by the modeler. I’ve detailed those defining steps at length in the 6 Master Steps of NLP Modeling.
Expanding Your World – David Gordon and Graham Dawes
David Gordon has been involved in the world of NLP as long as human beings have had two feet. He’s responsible for developing the Emprint Method, one of the earliest NLP change models, which I still use to this day because of its elegance.
Their new book, Expand Your World, focuses on modeling. On their website, they offer an introduction to modeling. Have a look at it. They describe the advantages and benefits you will draw from learning how to model.
Pay close attention to the stages of modeling they propose in their introduction and how those differ from the ones I list in the 6 Master Steps of NLP Modeling.
Remodeling Modeling – John McWhirter
In this fantastic article (and you might want to read his entire series), John McWhirter describes at length the various types of modeling available, the advantages of each and how they tie into NLP.
If I were you, I’d take the time to study his website and the treasure of articles he has written on DBM (Developmental Behavior Modeling), a discipline he developed to improve and further structure NLP.
Once again, I think the modeling methodology used by the co-founders is much simpler and straight-forward than the scope he addresses in his article. Yet, reading the distinctions he puts forth will enrich your modeling experience and your appreciation of the nuances of your model’s behavior.
Stever Robbins Riffs On NLP Modeling
Most of my readers know how keen I am on discussing NLP Modeling — both on this blog and offline.
Stever Robbins is a VERY respected NLP trainer, and habitually offers keen insights that are worth your attention.
In a post, he riffs on NLP Modeling and weaves a few juicy historical details into his narrative. Pay particular attention to his mention of the 4-tuple, a variable created by Bandler and Grinder to track sensory modalities brought in and out of awareness. Very, very few NLP beginners know of the 4-tuple and only the most serious students will sit through the hairy presentation of the concept.
On distinctions and operations:
In Math, distinctions called “numbers” include 4, 5, and 9. Our operators include something called “addition.” The rules of math say when you combine 4 and 5 using addition, you get 9.
In NLP, we have distinctions called “4-tuples” with a specific set of internal/external sight, sound, small, taste, etc. We have an operators, “set anchor” and “fire archor.” Given two different 4-tuples, we can anchor both. When we combine them using the operator “fire off anchors,” we get a new 4-tuple with elements of the original two.
Notice how Bandler and Grinder worked on creating a specific code with which to track what’s happening in awareness and communication. Little attention is given to this code in trainings nowadays but you’ll find it worth your while to sink your teeth into it and figure it all out. You’ll find all of this in the seminal books of NLP (Structure of Magic I and II, Patterns I and II).
The paradox is that those who love building models rarely enjoy applying them once the model seems to work. And those who like application are rarely good at building them.
That’s why so few NLP trainers are well-integrated and multi-faceted. One of these few is Tony Robbins.
Although I disagree with Stever here. If you adhere strictly to the NLP Modeling distinction (also discussed here), the modeler MUST by presupposition apply the model naturally in his or her behavior.
Read through Stever’s post. Great little nuggets on modeling that will hook nicely into what we’ve been discussing here.
There you have it! The 6 Master Steps of NLP Modeling. If you're interested in furthering your comprehension of NLP Modeling, read Whispering In The Wind by John Grinder and Carmen Bostic St Clair. The distinguishing characteristic of NLP Modeling exists in Step 2. In most other forms of modeling, the modeler acts as a mere observer. In NLP Modeling, the modeler gets deeply involved in the modeling process.
That's how as a small child you developed your first behaviors. How about claiming that unique skill back and using it to increase your overall sense of personal excellence?
Going Beyond The Marketing
When learning how to model, you have to go beyond the beaten trail. Modeling actually requires work. That’s the truth. It’s a discipline like Kung-Fu. Entering the know-nothing state is not like eating an ice cream cone on a hot sunday.
And it takes time. It took Bandler and Grinder months to model Perls, Satir and Erickson. In the latter case, if I remember correctly John Grinder’s account in Whispering In The Wind, it took at least 8 months.
So go past the fluff and into the real stuff. Modeling is not something you’ll pick up at a seminar. You’ll participate in a quick intro, but the real work will happen on your own, practicing.
Kind of like Michael Jordan shooting free throws thousands of times in a row.
And it’s worth it. Every second of it.
Here’s how Steve Jobs does it. Let me show you, I can do what he does. And let me teach you how you can do it too.
Here’s how George Soros does it. Let me show you, I can do what he does. And let me teach you how you can do it too.
Here’s how Richard Branson does it. Let me show you, I can do what he does. And let me teach you how you can do it too.
Here’s how Woody Allen does it. Let me show you, I can do what he does. And let me teach you how you can do it too.
Here’s how Dave Matthews does it. Let me show you, I can do what he does. And let me teach you how you can do it too.
Here’s how Ronaldinho does it. Let me show you, I can do what he does. And let me teach you how you can do it too.
Here’s how Dan Brown does it. Let me show you, I can do what he does. And let me teach you how you can do it too.
That’s NLP Modeling. That’s what it’s all about. That’s what matters.
And it’s f&%$ing hard. Oh, let me tell you… Describing what Steve Jobs does from the third person isn’t all that hard. You can use all of your NLP jargon and descriptive chops and make it sound very NLPish.
But mesmerizing an audience the way Steve does is a whole other ball game. You can’t watch Steve in video and get it. You have to be in his presence. You have to feel him. You have to let it soak in. Then, once you try to figure out what’s going on, you can add in some video performances to help you out. But first, you have to snif the guy out. You have to absorb his skill the way a kid would absorb his dad or his teacher’s idiosyncracies. You have to enter his world. You can’t do that from just watching a performance. Gotta be there. Gotta feel it.
That’s the big challenge with NLP Modeling. It’s not a journalist job. It’s not just “watch and describe what you hear and see in NLP terminology.”
It’s an extreme sport.
So whenever someone says they used NLP to model someone, run them against that criterion. I’m sure 99% of all models that come across you will fall like flies on a blue zapper.