NLP: A more useful way of thinking

Have you noticed that some people get consistently better results in their lives than others?

Ever wondered how they do it?

You probably already realise that it is largely about their approach to life, their way of thinking about life. So, what do they do that is different?


Each of us has a set of beliefs that we have built up over time. These beliefs are our own individual understanding of how the world works – what is true and not true.

In many cases, we share these beliefs with other people: for example, we believe that the sun will come up tomorrow and we believe that if we let go of something gravity will ensure it falls. However, many other beliefs differ markedly from person to person: for example, money is good (or bad); relationships are fun (or painful); people like me (or not); I am basically successful (or not); I am lucky (or not), and so on.

Key concept

The results we get in life are based on how we behave and what we do. The way we behave and what we do is based on what we believe about the world and about our place in it. So this means our results – what we get in life – are based on our beliefs.

NLP has identified a set of beliefs that have proved useful; in other words, it has been observed over time that you and I will get better results if we act as though these beliefs are true.

Note: this does not mean that they are true, although they might be. It just means that if you act as though they are true, you will get better results and better experiences in life.

These beliefs have come to be known as the Presuppositions of NLP. If we start from the basis that they are true (that is, we presuppose they are true), then how would we act?


Read through the presuppositions below. Taking each one in turn, think of a current situation in your life where this belief might be applicable, and think about how you would do things differently if the presupposition were totally true.

Presuppositions of NLP

1. The other person’s model of the world deserves respect.

In NLP, the set of beliefs we develop over time is called our ‘model of the world’. Since we each develop our own model of the world, based on our own experiences, our model is true for us. Another person’s model is equally true for them, and just as valid as ours. It thus deserves respect in the same way that we would wish them to respect our own model. It is not our responsibility to change another person’s model of the world through an attempt to convince them that ours is better.

2. The meaning and outcome of communication is in the response you get.

We are generally taught that if we clearly communicate our thoughts and feelings through words, the other person should understand our meaning. We know from experience, however, that this does not always happen. The only way you can determine how effectively you are communicating is by observing the response you get from the person you are communicating with. If you get a response that indicates that they did not understand, then your communication was faulty. You therefore need to find a different way to get the concept across.

Acting as though this is true means that you accept 100 per cent of the responsibility for effective communication. You cannot ‘blame’ somebody else if your communication does not succeed.

3.The map is not the territory.

The model of the world which we create is what we use to navigate through life. We use it like a map to navigate through our reality. The map we use is not the actual reality, any more than the map in your car is the real countryside. It is simply an incomplete representation, which includes inaccuracies and errors, just as your roadmap can get out of date and not show absolutely everything that is there.

Each of us acts according to our personal map of reality, not reality itself. We operate and communicate from our maps. Most human problems are caused by the maps in our heads. Think about this; it is easier to change the map than the territory.

4. The mind and the body affect each other.

The mind and the body are one unit, fully interconnected. It is not possible to make a change in one without the other being affected.

5. People are doing the best they can with the resources they have available.

People set out to do well, not poorly. We do the best we can with what we have at the time in the way of resources.

6. Every behaviour has a positive intention.

A person’s behaviour has a positive intent for them at the time of the behaviour. From the perspective of their map of the world, the behaviour makes sense and seeks to provide a benefit.

The intention behind a behaviour may not be obvious to others or may not be considered positive by others.

Consider how things would be different if you assumed that everything anybody did was for a ‘good’ reason. Good by their standards that is.

7. People are not their behaviours.

This means that you accept the person, even if their behaviour is unacceptable to you, given your map of the world. If the behaviour is not useful to them, you can support and assist them to change that behaviour.

There is a distinction between self, intention and behaviour. We often get these muddled up. Take the time to separate these, especially in difficult situations with other people.

Consider how you would want others to view you. How many times have you done something and thought later ‘I don’t know why I did that. It just wasn’t me’?

8. People have all the resources they need.

People do not lack resources. They can, however, experience unresourceful states where the resources are out of reach. This means that in a different and more resourceful state, they can accomplish whatever they choose.

9. If someone else can do it, then I can do it.

If someone can do something, then, barring physical limitations, it is possible for anyone. There are no limitations to a person’s ability to learn.

10. The part of a system with the most flexibility will have the most influence on the system.

This is the sometimes called the Law of Requisite Variety. It means that the more choices you have, the more options you have and therefore the more likely you are to be successful within the system you are operating in.

11. There is no failure, only feedback.

If a person does not succeed in something, the key is to learn something; treat what’s happened as feedback and thus do something different next time around.

Consider failure as simply meaning that you have not succeeded yet, and make it an opportunity to learn. Failure is just a label for the result you did not want, but it is a label with a sense of finality and dead end. Feedback is another label for the result you did not want and it offers hope of eventual success.

12.If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always got.

So if what you’re doing isn’t working, do something else!

And remember, it is easier to change your own behaviour than anybody else’s.


Remember, we are not saying that all these are true, though they might be. We are simply saying that they are a useful set of beliefs that offer you a more successful approach to life, an approach that will bring improved results if you act as though they are true.

You may also find many other forms of this list in the books on NLP, each with their own slant on what particular presuppositions mean. Experiment and then choose to use the ones that will make a difference for you.

If a presupposition feels particularly uncomfortable, ask yourself why. What is it about that statement that makes it such a poor fit as an addition to your map of the world?

Perhaps your map needs updating.