Presuppositions in NLP

The majority of these are oft-repeated NLP Core Presuppositions, though I’ve added a few based on my own research into human behavior and my working with a wide variety of clients to make significant life changes.

But what’s meant by “Presuppositions” in this context? In studying top performers, people who were “successful” according to a measure relevant to them and their peers, the founders of NLP and early developers noticed some commonalities. This is one of the aspects of “Modeling Excellence”–finding the common attitudes and behaviors of an exemplar, a top performer we wish to role-model.

The value here is that as you internalize and PRESUPPOSE these statements to be true, you will find a good deal more behavioral flexibility as a result. Reading through them, using only your conscious mind, consider these questions: “Might believing this help me to be more successful in achieving my current goal?” and “Will believing this increase my behavioral flexibility (that is, my ability to influence the situation toward a successful outcome)?”

One quick note: This is NOT an exhaustive list of all such Presuppositions. Perhaps, in fact, as you observe successful people you admire, you may add a few such Presuppositions to your own list. Remember, it’s your brain. And it’s your success. Own it!

  1. Everyone is doing the best they can with the resources they have at that moment. In a stressed moment, the other person may not have the emotional or mental resources to be their customary “best”. But at this moment, this is the best they can do. Be patient and maintain your flexibility to influence them in a positive way.
  2. The person with the most flexibility (choices) of behavior will have the most influence on the system (The Law of Requisite Variety). Closely related to the above, the person who maintains the most flexibility will lead the other. This is your opportunity to influence you both in a positive way.
  3. Every behavior has a positive intention. It may be hard to imagine from your own perspective, but there is a positive intention behind even the most easily condemned behavior. Remember this and you will be best equipped to help guide the two of you where you both would prefer to be.
  4. The other person is not resistant. If they seem so, we must increase our flexibility. See items 1, 2 and 3 above. Your partner may be struggling and have limited resources at the moment—something we all experience on occasion. Since this matters to you, since you love this person, find your flexibility and creativity, and discover a new approach to get what you both want.
  5. People have all the resources that they need to make the changes that they want. We already have all the resources we need or we can create them. With the right strategy, we can utilize what is inside us already to make any change we want. The same is true for your partner, and you are going to help coach them lovingly toward the change you both want.
  6. Behavior and change are to be evaluated in terms of context and ecology.
  7. Accept the person, influence the behavior. You may not like your partner’s behavior in this moment, but our foundation is that you love this person. Accept that as your basis and use your emerging skills, which you will unconsciously practice often, to influence them in a loving way toward more happiness and fulfillment.
  8. Behavior is geared towards adaptation.
  9. People respond to their subjective experience, not to “objective” reality itself. The map is not the territory. This cannot be overstated. We all operate in a subjective experience, every moment. That experience is what we believe is “real”. There is no truly “objective” reality, which is useful as we might not be able to influence something that’s either “true” or “false”. But we can easily learn to influence subjective experience—that of ourself or our partner. Or both!
  10. The mind and body affect each other. You already know this. If you aren’t feeling physically well, it affects our thinking. Likewise, in a bad mood or limited state, we limit what we can accomplish.
  11. There are no unresourceful people, only unresourceful states. Even the most amazing person in the world experiences various states of mind and energy throughout the day, week, month, etc. Since we can influence these states very easily, both in ourselves and in others, we can help anyone. People, after all, aren’t themselves “unresourceful”—they may simply be in an unresourceful state. And you can help them with that. Even if that person is you.
  12. Possible in the world and possible for me is only a matter of how. Anything can be done. All we need to do is find an effective strategy for accomplishing it. Further, once we are excited, the “why” drives us to find or even create the “how” of it. Though we can shorten our learning curve by finding others who’ve already accomplished it and model their actions.
  13. The meaning of the communication isn’t what you intended, but the response that you get. When we relate a message to another person, it is us, the communicator, who is responsible for relating it effectively. It’s also on us to verify that the intended message was received intact. This may mean checking in with the other person, asking questions, verifying how they received the correct message. If it is any different from your intent, this is your opportunity to use this feedback to adjust. Too often, we simply blurt something out to our partner, assuming they will understand what we meant. When they don’t, we may not notice, and over time, this disconnect can be disastrous. You literally may be speaking “two different languages”, misunderstanding one another for years. Further, when they offer feedback that demonstrates our message was not received as intended, and we become angry or frustrated, we are holding them responsible for our own ineffective attempt. Remember: “what I meant” is a tiny part of the message itself. “How the other person took it” is a much larger piece. Knowing this, you can become much more successful using this feedback effectively.
  14. Respect the other person’s model (“Map”) of the world. Each of us has our own unique Map of the World and too often we assume that others’ maps exactly mirror our own. This is rarely the case. And as we begin connecting with others, we will greatly improve the quality of those relationships by respecting that others have their own Maps, created by years of experiences and life lessons unique to them. When you honor those Maps, you establish a foundation of respect onto which you can invite the other to build with you. Perhaps even create a shared Relationship Map to serve where the “you” and “me” combine to become “we”.
  15. There is no failure, only feedback. Realize that “failure” requires a time limit. This is your intimate relationship and you two are committed to making it the best it can be. If something goes badly, or if one or both of you are not pleased by the outcome you received, you can simply adjust your strategy, approach the situation from a different angle, and do something different. There are a limited number of ways to get it wrong. There are also quite a few ways to get it “right”. But beyond that, there are infinite ways to make it even better than you’d imagined. Not just “right”, but “sublime”!
  16. Having choice is better than not. All procedures should be designed to increase choice and develop greater personal flexibility.
  17. All procedures should increase wholeness.
  18. This person needs something. They want you to help them find it. In life, we are driven to create, to survive, to improve our environment, to expand and become better. Though of course not the only reason we form relationships, personal or professional, we are nonetheless drawn to those we believe can help us achieve our goals. This means that you are important to your partner. They value you highly even if they fail to communicate it to you in a way that you understand all the time. They wouldn’t have brought you into their life otherwise. Own up to just how much you matter and that they are counting on you.
  19. You need something, too, and this person wants to help you find it. See above—and ditto for you. They matter a lot or you wouldn’t have brought them into your life. Moreover, as you help them understand how important they are to you, how much you are counting on them, they now have the opportunity to rise to the occasion as they want to help. They want to be a part of your joy, your success, your life. In a personal relationship, this may take the form of a close friend or life partner. In our professional life, this may instead be a teammate, a manager, a leader, or key ally.
  20. The other person wants to help make you happy and successful, just as they want to be happy. Similar to 14 and 15, this person wants to have a happy, successful life (however they define it), recognizes that you want this for yourself as well, and they want to contribute, just as they want you to be a part of making them happy and successful.

    This one is specific to your partner in life and love, gleaned from my work with private clients of all types, as well as feedback in workshops. You may not like the results if you apply this presupposition to the workplace:
  21. This person loves you. Exactly as it sounds. This person is “all in” even at moments when it may not feel like it to you. They warrant your respect and appreciation for this, as well as…your own love.

As we bear these things in mind, your own resourcefulness in your relationships, within all arenas, will begin expanding before you even notice. So when you do begin to catch it, you may be surprised and delighted by how much more love, contentment, and patience you feel—and how your relationship has flourished!

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