(at a few of the bends and dips in the road)*
by Steve Andreas
get up every morning determined to both change the world and have one
hell of a good time. Sometimes this makes planning the day difficult."
From a very early age I
have been blessed (and cursed) with a penchant for seeing what could
be improved in the world. Usually unwilling to "suffer the slings
and arrows of outrageous fortune," I have more often than not been
willing to "take arms against a sea of troubles, and by opposing
In high school I was a
"science brain," what is now called a "nerd" on
this side of the pond, and I went on to college at Caltech, studying
chemistry in order to better humanity by unravelling the secrets of
the genetic code—at that time something far beyond our reach,
but now frighteningly close at hand. I have often been grateful for
the rigorous foundation in the hard sciences and mathematics that I
One of these understandings
is the philosophy of "radical empiricism" described by Karl
Popper and Hans Vaihinger that is the basis of all the sciences. Briefly
put, it is the understanding that there is no "truth," or
how things "really are," only "useful lies," descriptions
of the world that are more or less useful to us most of the time. If
we are clever enough, or lucky enough, we will discover understandings
that fit with each other reasonably well for a while—until better,
or more comprehensive, or more detailed, understandings are developed.
About half-way through
college I began exploring psychology and literature as more promising
ways to learn more about humanity. In 1958 I went to graduate school
at Brandeis, where Abe Maslow had a little island of pseudo-sanity in
the swamp of psychology. It is hard to remember what a wasteland the
field was forty years ago. Essentially there was either behaviorism
or Freud, and about the only thing they agreed upon was that if you
loved someone, it was because they resembled your mother (or father).
At that time there were a few other pioneering voices besides Maslow
crying out in the wilderness (Angyal, Barron, Frankl, Fromm, Kubie,
Perls, Rogers, Satir, Schachtel). They are now dead and all but forgotten,
but their legacy lives on in the wide variety of broader and more human
approaches that are being explored and experimented with today.
After two years of graduate
school, the only way I could avoid doing research on rats was to drop
out. After a year working as a chemist, I taught psychology in Junior
college for the next seven years—very badly at first, but over
the years I learned a bit about teaching. While I was teaching, my mother,
Barry Stevens, wrote Person to Person,
adding her own unprofessional commentary to professional psychology
papers that she thought were particularly interesting, by Carl Rogers
and students of Rogers. After
a number of rejections from publishers, I decided to publish the book
myself in 1967, and Real People Press was born. I found myself with
several thousand books in my garage, and a hobby job that eventually
became my major source of support, as other books followed.
The next year I chanced
upon the Gestalt Therapy work of Fritz Perls, whose willingness and
ability to demonstrate change work blew my mind out of the water. Here
was someone who could actually DO something, even if it had a bit much
of the angry Buddhist! For the next ten years I spent most of my free
time learning and practicing his ways of utilizing live behavior and
all aspects of awareness—dreams and other unconscious communications,
including nonverbal gestures, postures, voice tone, dialoguing between
parts of a person, etc.
During this time I edited
and published two Fritz Perls books, Gestalt Therapy Verbatim, and his autobiography, In and Out the
Garbage Pail. Under
my former name, John O. Stevens I wrote and published Awareness:
exploring, experimenting, experiencing,
a handbook of gestalt awareness exercises for individuals and groups
(many of which were "road-tested" in my junior college psychology
classes). Ten years ago, when I was asked to write a new forward to
the British edition, I found it still as useful as when I had written
it twenty years before. I would not delete anything; only add the presupposition
of positive intention, a very important piece missing from the Gestalt
model. Gestalt dialogues are often much longer and noisier than they
need to be. Adding the presupposition of positive intent makes them
a hundred times shorter, quieter and more useful—and saves a lot
of pillows and furniture from unnecessary violence.
And then a friend introduced
us to NLP in summer of 1977. Here was an approach that sounded outrageously
unlikely, but that had many very specific, small-chunk predictions about
observable behavior and change that were easily tested—which my
wife Connirae and I proceeded to do. I cancelled a scheduled Gestalt
workshop tour of South America, and became a beginner again, happily
stumbling along in unfamiliar, but very interesting territory.
At first it was a major
challenge just to understand and become passably competent in what had
already been developed by Bandler, Grinder, and the other early co-developers.
It was some years before we began to explore new territory and develop
some additional NLP patterns.
In the early 1980's Connirae
and I were introduced to the world of submodalities, and like small
kids with a new hammer, we began to apply it to everything we could
think of. Submodalities became both a tool for deeper and more detailed
understanding of existing methods and distinctions, and also a basis
for new modeling of other abilities, developing methods for helping
people make useful changes that were not previously possible. Besides
exploring the submodality structure of existing patterns, we explored
the structure of time (discovering timelines), presuppositions, internal/external
reference, and values/criteria, and used these understandings to develop
ways of changing these processes.
About a dozen years ago
we turned our attention to the experience of Grief, and modeled people
who felt joyful and resourceful (not just "OK") about a loving
relationship that had ended in death or divorce, etc. We discovered
that these people still had vivid associated representations of the
lost person, so they continued to feel a glad sense of the presence
of the person who was actually lost in the "real world." Most
of us experience the same thing when we are temporarily separated from
someone we love. Even though the person is physically absent (and could
died in the interim) we continue to feel connected, because we still
represent him/her as if s/he were physically present.
Understanding this made
it relatively easy to teach this useful skill to others who were still
stuck in feelings of emptiness, sadness, and despair. Only after the
method was thoroughly tested did we realize that the same process could
also be used for losses in the other four meta-program content sorting
categories: things, activities, locations, and even information. And
in fact these other categories are often overlooked aspects of the loss
of a person. When a relationship ends, often things, activities, locations
or information are also lost.
Next we realized that a
loss in the external world often entails a loss of the sense of self
as well. Loss of a spouse often results in a loss of self as a lovable
person, and loss of a job may take a heavy toll on a person's self-worth.
Although the same process works on both kinds of loss, it is respectful
to realize and acknowledge the self dimension of a loss.
Later still, we found that
the same process can be used with the loss of a dream—something
that the person never actually had, except in their vivid imagination,
perhaps for decades. This loss of a dream is often a major aspect of
an actual loss. Someone who loses a child also loses their dream of
the child's future growing up and maturing, etc.
This loss of a dream is
at the core of what is often called a "mid-life" crisis, and
the same process can also be used for this form of grief. What began
as a search for a solution for a particular problem became a process
with much wider applications, as well as a demonstration of the interrelatedness
of many different distinctions that had already been made in the field.
About ten years ago we
focused on anger and forgiveness in an advanced modeling seminar, and
we and the participants together developed a pattern for helping people
stuck in anger, resentment and desire for revenge. We found a way for
people to move forward into an experience of congruent forgiveness that
is consistent with taking positive action to maintain and support the
values that were violated in the experience that led to anger. After
developing this process, we realized that the few failures that we had
experienced when using the grief process had resulted from unresolved
anger and resentment toward the lost person, pointing out yet another
of the Core Transformation process grew slowly out of her work with
clients with whom the existing patterns were not very effective. One
vital element in this process is to use the chunking-up of a part's
behavior to outcome that is the essence of six-step reframing. However,
rather than experience this meta-outcome as a dissociated outcome of
a separate part, this process has the person identify with, associate
into, and fully experience the meta-outcome as if they were the part
and had already gotten the outcome. Core Transformation also continues
the chunking-up process to yet higher levels of generality until it
becomes a universal feeling embracing the whole world of experience—a
felt sense of universal "oneness," "beingness,"
"love;" a "core state" that connects with, and is
a part of, and in harmony with, all creation.
Growing up a part of the
person, so that it makes use of all the person's knowledge, maturity
and personal history, and allowing the part to become whole-body are
integrative processes that support the new experience of wholeness by
extending the core state in both time and space. Parental Timeline reimprinting
instils this core state throughout the person's representation of his/her
personal history, as well as in the personal history of the parents,
further supporting the universal experience of the core state by spreading
it through time even more.
Direct access to these
universal core states becomes a profound avenue of change at the broadest
level of generalization. We have known for a long time that a single
"conversion" experience can change much of a person's behavior
at once. Now it is possible to do so quickly and efficiently, without
religious doctrine, and in a way that ibis congruent with all of the
person's values, aspects and potential.
During this same time,
Connirae re-examined the three basic perceptual positions "self,"
"observer," and "other," because she noticed that
people kept having experiences that didn't fit these three simple categories.
By chunking down to the smaller elements, she discovered that people
often mixed together elements of the three positions. This results in
confusion, inability to fully utilize each position,
and in people making life choices that have unpleasant consequences.
By teaching someone how to separate these different elements and then
how to rearrange them by location, they can experience each position
fully, uncontaminated by elements of the other two positions, and gain
useful understandings and perspectives that had not been available to
them before this aligning process. Once the positions are sorted in
this way, each one informs and enriches the others, but without interfering
with each other.
In hindsight, what Connirae
did was to chunk down the perceptual positions into their smaller elements,
and use the single submodality of location to sort these elements and
put them where they belong. However, that understanding only emerged
after a long process of exploration and trial and error. Things always
appear so much simpler and obvious when looking backward. "Oh,
Over and over again we
have found the usefulness of this process of re-examining older patterns
and understandings and "re-searching" deeper into the finer
structure of them, using newer understandings to explore them more thoroughly
and characterize them in more useful ways.
In the mid-1980's we developed
a simple way to create a piece of self-concept when the person simply
did not have a useful way to generalize about a category of their own
behavior. We recognized clearly at the time that if the person already
had a negative self-concept about the same class of behaviors, creating
a new structure would either be very difficult, or plunge the person
into conflict. Nevertheless, what we had developed worked very nicely,
as long as the person did not already have a negative belief about themselves.
In recent years I have
returned to explore the overall functioning of self-concept (and the
much simpler and much misunderstood "self-esteem") and modelled
the entire process that people use to generalize about themselves. Since
the self-concept is a "through time" recursive process that
describes itself, and is also at a high level of generalization, changes
in it are particularly pervasive and powerful. Rather than just adding
to the self-concept by using a specific step-by-step pattern, this resulted
in much broader and deeper understandings, out of which specific applications
can be easily be developed as needed. A number of very interesting discoveries
emerged from this modeling.
One discovery was that
there are several processes that do two things simultaneously: 1. They
make the self-concept more durable and resilient, and 2. They make it
more open and responsive to ongoing feedback and correction when behavior
does not match the self-concept.
I had expected that there
would probably have to be two processes in balance—one to provide
durability, and another to make it open to corrective feedback. I cannot
tell you how pleased I was to discover that my expectations were wrong,
and that the same processes have dual functions that accomplish both
One of these processes (which
was very surprising to me) is the value of including counter-examples
in the self-concept database. Rather than weakening the self-concept,
appropriately represented counter-examples actually make it stronger,
like the effect of impurities that make steel much stronger than pure
iron. These same counter-examples also function as templates that sensitize
us to the kind of mistakes that we have made in the past, making it
more likely that we will notice if we repeat mistakes in the future.
This is just one example of the dual nature of these mechanisms that
simultaneously make the self-concept stronger and at the same time more
open to corrective feedback.
A serendipitous discovery
that emerged from this is an understanding of the basic self-concept
structure of "projection" and its more severe form, paranoia,
a process that was recognized a hundred years ago, but without a satisfactory
understanding of how it worked, or how to change it.
Another valuable understanding
that emerged from these investigations, is the fundamental structure
of what has been called "ego" or "self-importance."
Self-conscious preoccupation separates us both from others and from
aspects of our own experience, and this results in defensiveness and
being closed to feedback and useful change. Again this is something
that has been recognized for thousands of years, particularly by spiritual
traditions. But with the new understanding of how it works, it becomes
possible to work with it directly and change it quickly. Unfortunately,
the people who most need this kind of change are the least likely to
want it or seek it out; usually a spouse, or someone else, comes in
because they are suffering from its consequences.
More recently I have returned
to the Grief and Forgiveness patterns because they have such wide application
to the inescapable problems of everyday living. All of us experience
losses (of both world and self), and frustration of our outcomes and
values on a daily basis. The value of learning to deal with losses,
and forgiving those who have harmed us, is something that has been a
major concern of many spiritual traditions, and one that has been exemplified
by many saints and sages over thousands of years. Because of this, I
have called this area of exploration "practical spirituality."
Learning how to deal with these inevitable events easily and graciously,
as a through-time capability of the self, seems to me to be a goal well
worth pursuing, even for an atheist or agnostic like myself.
Judgement of our experience
as being "good" or 'bad" is another element that has
been a basic concern of many spiritual traditions. (In English, there
is another quite different use of the word judgement that simply means "understanding," or "good
sense," as in "She has good judgement.") Generally speaking,
mystics have advised against judgement, while the religions that followed
have usually been very judgemental. Judging our experiences (and ourselves)
as being "good" or "bad" (in contrast to simply
noticing our response of liking or disliking, etc.) takes us to a meta-level,
adding another layer of complexity that makes it harder, rather than
easier, to find solutions.
It is one thing to notice
that we don't like something, but judging it draws our attention from
the problem itself to its goodness or badness, separating us from our
experience, and creating a very information-poor context in which to
attempt to solve problems. Judgement is the first step down a road that
is paved with intolerance and rejection, and its ultimate destination
is violence and killing. Look around you; wherever you find violence
and killing, there you will also find judgement.
Preference is a useful
counter-example to judgement, because preferring also expresses our
values, but in a much more useful way. Unlike the absolute, universal,
digital generalization of judgement, a preference is a sensory distinction
made by a specific individual in a specific state and context, time
frame, etc., making it rich with information that can be used to find
solutions. In a recent modeling seminar I guided the participants in
characterizing the differences between judgement and preference and
in designing a transition from judgement to preference. I invite the
interested reader to explore this area for yourself, to find out what
you can discover on your own.
Sometimes I am asked to
speculate on the next developments in the field, but that would be as
foolish as trying to predict such things as optical fiber communication
or the internet. Instead, I would like to point out what I believe are
a few of the potentially valuable areas to model (and where, and when
I find the time, you will find me toiling in the hot sun). There are
still plenty of things that NLP cannot accomplish, or cannot accomplish
efficiently, despite the hyperbole of the ads and brochures (some of
which I have been personally responsible for). Look around and you will
see plenty of problems crying
for solution. And lest I be accused of being "problem-oriented,"
there are also plenty of models of excellence who could be studied so
that their useful skills could be taught to others.
Depression and manic-depression
is a promising area. Some years ago (in a fit of optimism about having
a block of spare time) I saw several clients, one of whom is no longer
manic-depressive (and she was certified, had been on lithium for years,
etc.). I learned a lot about the structure of very high expectations
of self and universal generalizations, and how it can be easy to flip
from "Everything is great" to "Everything is terrible"
(both judgements), but I did not get enough data to formulate a specific
pattern that I could begin to test. There are plenty of other "mental
illnesses" that we have no effective way of helping as yet.
Complaining is another
activity that, like judgement, impoverishes our experience and adds
another layer of complication to our troubles, distracting our attention
from the task at hand to "the injustice of it all!" An attitude
of gratitude for what we have been given is certainly a lot more enjoyable!
And with this frame, we can more easily focus our attention and energy
on how to make something better. So gratitude is yet another useful
piece in the puzzle, and one that has also had an honored place in a
wide variety of ancient spiritual traditions, particularly the mystic
ones. What is the structure of this resourceful experience of grateful
thanks for what one has been given?
Most NLP patterns presuppose
that a client comes in and asks for
help. Of course many people don't know what they need, but at least
they come in with a description of a problem and ask for something.
But there are many problems, like depression, abuse, and other "powerless"
conditions that usually include the assumption that "Nothing will
do any good, so why try?" We need to find ways to reach out to
people with this presupposition of hopelessness, because many could
be helped with methods that already exist.
There are many other situations
in which a person does not perceive what they do as a problem, but others
around them do. I have never yet had a client say, "I'd like some
help with my arrogance; I'm really obnoxious, and I'd like to learn
how to relate better with others," but I have seen plenty of people
who could use that kind of help, and some of them have been well-known
NLP trainers! Virginia Satir showed some ways of working with people
who act in an arrogant or superior manner, and blame others for problems,
but that is not one of the skills that the original developers were
successful in modeling from her. Superiority and blaming are two promising
areas for future modeling, because, like judgement, they occur as a
complicating and distracting overlay to a wide range of problems.
I have seen very little
written on the patterns of implication, despite the fact that this was
one of Milton Erickson's main covert patterns. Implications are weaker
than presuppositions, but they are also much subtler, and much less
likely to be noticed and challenged.
I think that we have only
scratched the surface in developing NLP applications to learning and
education, and my guess is that successful and deep application in this
area would probably require a wholesale dismantling of our current western
What would I put in its
place? Probably a system with two parts. The first and more basic part
would teach children about themselves and about communicating with others,
about the destructive consequences of our tendency to compare ourselves
with others and then act in superior, judgemental, or scornful ways,
etc. Part of this would include discovering how to "immunize"
kids mentally with certain presuppositions, thinking skills, appreciation
of diversity, maintenance of resource feeling states, etc., so that
they would be forever safe from the variety of individual and social
madnesses that now repeatedly ravage both the neighborhood and the globe.
In addition, there would
be lots of exposure to the full range of human excellence that all cultures
all over the world have accumulated over the centuries—all the
arts and sciences (very loosely defined), and all other expressions
of our diverse humanity. This would be provided to nurture kids' natural
sensitivity, curiosity and inventiveness, a nonverbal message of the
wide range of possible human expression.
Finally, an enormous learning
facility full of resources would nurture children's curiosity, with
guides to teach kids how to find the resources that they need in order
to learn whatever it is that interests them.
Like any field, NLP is
growing by fits and starts, sometimes exploring blind alleys, and at
other times stumbling out of the wilderness into a wide expanse of understanding.
Some new developments are like "cold fusion," which burst
into the limelight, promising much and delivering little, while other
less flashy but more substantial developments linger in the shadows,
waiting for recognition.
Much of the development
of any field is taking a small part of it and simply documenting it
in greater detail, as a zoologist might spend years describing and categorizing
all the mollusks on the bed of a small estuary. No one has yet listed
all the ways that a person can have a phobia. Some people make the threat
very large, while others make themselves very small—and some do
both! Others do it by stopping all motion, resulting in a very unpleasant
"freeze-frame." Some run a very short movie over and over
again in an endless loop. Who
knows what new understandings might emerge from such a list? Of
course, perhaps no new understanding might emerge. That is the way
with research; if you knew ahead of time what you would find, there
would be no need to do it!
As in any field, some are
perceived as leaders and others as followers (whether or not either
deserve it). Some take credit for the work of others, while other hard
workers get little or none. Some in the field are motivated by success,
or money, or the thrill of manipulating others, while others are just
intensely curious, or want to serve the human enterprise.
The field of NLP is substantial
enough that there is now a significant
danger that we will blindly accept without question the presuppositions,
metaphors, and understandings of those who have participated in the
earlier development of the field. I have done this myself, and seen
many other examples in intelligent people. Typically these errors could
have been avoided by a simple testing in our own experience. However,
it is much easier to find answers than it is to learn how to ask useful
questions—and it is so much easier to just take someone else's
word for it! Someone once spoke about being able to see
farther because he was standing on the shoulders of giants. But it is
also possible to see less because one is standing in the giant's footprints!
Every artist's work is
enriched by all the other styles and techniques that have already been
developed, even if s/he dislikes some (or even most) of it. This variety
does not necessarily produce masterpieces, but it does widen the range
of possible resources from
which we can choose, and may suggest additional possibilities not
yet tried. All of us are enriched by the work of all the rest, and the
possibilities that they find—even when it only suggests clearly
what we do not want to do. I have learned so much from so many; it pleases
me greatly to think that, in some small measure, I can return the favor.
As one of my favorite sayings
of us is as smart as all of us."
*Rapport (UK) Summer, 2000,