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This article is an outline of some principles and ideas about modeling
that my wife, Connirae, and I have been using as a basis for modeling
projects in the NLP Comprehensive Master Practitioner training for
some years, based on our experience of modeling a number of NLP patterns.
I offer it as an additional perspective in the current dialogue about
A model is only a more-or-less sophisticated metaphor for understanding
some part of the world. When physicists describe the behavior of an
electron as a "particle," it leads naturally to some kinds
of understandings and predictions, and tends to exclude others. When
physicists describe an electron as a "wave," they discover
understandings and applications that are not available to them when
thinking of an electron as a particle. What is an electron "really"?
Undoubtedly neither a "wave" nor a "particle."
Hopefully someday someone will come up with a new metaphor that comes
closer to describing what an electron "really" is, and which
yields deeper and more extensive understandings. Some physicists are
now using the metaphor of a "string," which has both particle
and wave qualities, and holds forth the possibility of integrating
the understandings that have been gained from both the particle and
wave models, and perhaps may suggest new understandings. I am not
sufficiently educated about contemporary physics to know how useful
this new description has been to date.
and Injunctive Language
1. an outcome (chocolate cake or a well-done roast)
"The term science should not be given to anything but the aggregate
of the recipes that are always successful"
All of us are surrounded by technology that we use, but do not understand. When we use a cell phone, an automatic transmission, or an antibiotic, most of us don't have the vaguest idea of the physics or chemistry involved. No human being lives long enough to understand even a small fraction of existing technology, even if s/he spent a lifetime studying it.
Technology is a specific application of a methodology (whether the
methodology is known or understood or not). Bronze age people discovered
that when arsenic or tin was added to copper, it made it much harder,
but they had no idea why that was so; the methodology came five thousand
years later with the understanding of how small amounts of impurities
"lock up" layers of atoms so that they don't slip and deform
when shearing force is applied to them.
Methodology and Technology
Typically a field develops by a kind of "leap frog" alternation
of technology and methodology. Usually some primitive technology,
discovered by accident or intuition, starts the process. Then someone
looks at several techniques and begins to generalize about them, describing
some elements of similarity, usually using a metaphor to describe
this understanding. If this generalization is a useful one, typically
it indicates other technologies that could be developed using different
processes, materials, or outcomes. These new techniques, and the knowledge
that is learned as they are applied and tested, in turn suggest other
methodologies--other ways of thinking about the technology. Methodology
is at a higher, more general (logical) level of generalization than
Epistemology is the study of how we know things. My Webster's unabridged
dictionary defines epistemology as "The theory or science that
investigates the origin, nature, methods and limits of knowledge."
Every model also has an implicit epistemology, at both the level of
technology and methodology.
truth, nor certainty. These I forswore
The more general a model is, the more it can be applied to a wide range of situations. However, the more general it is, the less information it supplies about specific situations. E=mc2 is understood to apply to the entire universe, but it doesn't tell you how to make a match or how to build a pump. More limited and specific models can provide more detailed and useful information. One important element of any model is to know the scope of the domain that is usefully described by it. For example, NLP is a wonderful model, but it is not directly useful in designing an automobile engine or telling a doctor how to set a broken bone.
A new model is created when one realm of experience (e.g. "particle")
is used to describe another (e.g. electron) metaphorically, and then
further developed through testing, statements of how to apply and
refine this metaphor through mathematics, etc. The initial creative
leap is followed by a lot of work to develop the detailed recipes
and procedures that make it useful. It took over a hundred and fifty
years from Michael Faraday's discovery of electromagnetic induction
(a needle suspended by a thread next to a wire moving in response
to a current in the wire)to the giant generators in today's power
Your Modeling Project
Why model something anyway? Centuries ago, people used to build barns
and bridges any way they could think of. Some collapsed, others lasted
until the first big wind or heavy snow, while others endured for centuries.
Modeling simply enables us to do things predictably, efficiently,
A. How to Start
There isn't "a" way to model something. A modeling process has been successful when you have a description (in injunctive language) that enables you to:
1. Gain the skill, or transform a limitation into something more useful.
2. Teach someone else to gain the same benefits.
An even better test of your modeling is to teach someone else your model and see if they can teach someone else to gain the same benefits. When you can do this, you have succeeded, and how you get there is not important.
B. What to Model
The first step is to define the skill, ability or limitation that
you want to model, and the context in which it occurs. Chunking this
down to a reasonable size is very important, particularly when you
have limited time. Even when you have more time it is usually much
more useful to chunk down to components, model each one separately,
and then integrate these components into a larger model.
1. Think of a particular difficulty and its resolution (for which
there is not yet an NLP pattern). Usually these will be nominalizations
("difficulty," "resolution"), and your modeling
task will be to denominalize it into the processing that the person
goes through, to find out "How, specifically?" the person
does it. If you model a nominalized experience, it will typically
be at a sufficiently general level that your model will be applicable
to a wider range of people than if you model a simpler and more specific
skill. However, usually as the level of generalization increases,
so does the complexity of the process you will need to model.
2. Think of a particular skill that you, or your clients, want or
need. Find a particularly good example of someone who has that skill
behaviorally, and model what they do differently from when the same
person is not able to exhibit the skill, or differently from someone
who does not have this skill. This is how we modeled how to respond
resourcefully to criticism.
3. Explore the structure of anything that you are curious about or fascinated by. This is how Connirae and I modeled how people represent time and criteria, and how I modeled the structure of self-concept. This is potentially much more generative, but it may also be more complex, and the applications, uses, and benefits are usually not clear in advance.
4. Look and listen around you for someone who is noticeably good at something or consistently exhibits a pleasant or useful attitude, and model that. This may be a particularly useful option. Although consistent attitudes typically generalize widely, they can be fairly simple in structure/process. Ror example, a ukseful attitude may be a consequence of a single fundamental presupposition. There are plenty of attitudes the world could use more of (gratitude, appreciation, tenacity, friendliness, tolerance, love, respect, connection, equality) and plenty of attitudes the world could use less of (scorn, hatred, meanness, superiority, inferiority, coercion/manipulation, imposition, distance, grouchiness, etc.). You can think of people in your life whose attitude you particularly like or dislike, and model that. I got interested in modeling self-concept by my dislike of pompous people whose self-esteem seemed to be much too high!
5. Notice the universal form of an individual solution: when a client presents you with a difficulty and you find a solution that works for them, chunk up to a more generalized form, and try applying the solution to others. This is how Connirae modeled a number of processes: Self healing, Core Transformation, Parental Timeline Reimprinting, Timeline Recoding, and Naturally Slender Eating.
6. Model a useful change that someone made spontaneously. Find out the characteristics of before and after, and how the transition was made. I have rediscovered the Swish Pattern, Content Reframing and Change History a number of times doing this. Although it did not result in a new pattern, it was a wonderful way to gain experience and flex my modeling muscles.
7. Model a skill of your own that other people have commented on, but you don't know clearly how you do. Ask someone who doesn't have this skill, and wants it, to gather information about it as their project. Since it is so natural to you, there will be many aspects that will be totally unconscious and presupposed. Someone else asking questions from a perspective of not being able to do it will be likely make them obvious.
C. How to Proceed
Some kind of contrast will be extremely useful in helping you find the crucial distinctions operating. Whenever possible make everything the same except the presence or absence of what you are modeling.
2. Selecting a counterexample.
If you are modeling a problem state, for example, you don't want to select any counterexample. You need a counterexample that has all the features described for the problem state except that the person's response is useful and life-affirming. This will be an immense help in disregarding all the elements in the two experiences that are the same, and are irrelevant to success/failure. However, later you may need to go back and identify other supporting elements that are necessary, but not sufficient, and since they were present in both experiences you disregarded them.
3. Characterizing the experience and its counterexample. It is usually helpful to start with the essential large-chunk features of the states or skills you are modeling. What are the most obvious differences between the two? Is one mostly internal (catatonia) and the other mostly external? What are the cues or triggers that send the person into one or the other? What, to paraphrase Bateson, are "the differences that make a difference?" What overall strategy sequence does the person go through? Then chunk down to the smaller steps, and characterize them using any and all NLP distinctions and methodologies that you have available to you. Among the ones that are usually very useful are:
T.O.T.E. (Test, Operate, Test, Exit), or
G.E.O. (Goal, Evidence, Operation)
Meta-program Sorting principles
Perceptual Position and Alignment
Attentional Shifts: self/other content/context
Most of the distinctions above are pure process differences and do not contain specific content. However, most real-world skills also requires knowledge of content. A geologist needs to know about rocks, chemistry, physics, etc., and a negotiator may need to know about corporate structure, contracts, interest rates, time to develop a product, etc. This content knowledge is essential for the good judgement required in carrying out the process distinctions in your modeling. These are often overlooked in the focus on process, and need to be included as a part of your modeling. For instance, an editor needs to know the letters of the alphabet, and how to read and speak the language involved. Even if it seems totally obvious to you, include required content areas in your modeling description.
5. Designing a Transition
When you have characterized the differences between the problem state and the desired state, or between having or not having a useful skill, this will usually suggest what changes are required to get from one state to the other. How can you design a sequence of changes to make the transition smooth, efficient, and effective? Keep in mind that a given set of changes may be very difficult when made in one sequence, and very easy when done in a different order. If there are a number of shifts to be made, decide which will probably be easier or more comfortable to make first, and then experiment to find out the best sequence of these shifts. Modeling someone who spontaneously went through a transition successfully will provide one effective sequence, but there is no guarantee that it is the best sequence.
At this point you should have an outline of a model of how to achieve the desired outcome. It is probably missing some distinctions and there will be certain clients for whom it won't work, but it will work in at least some cases.
6. Testing and Refining Your Model.
Some refining can be done conceptually, but trying out the model with yourself and others is the best way to learn how it can be improved. By trying out your model with additional clients, you can discover additional useful features.
a. Congruency. Try out your model with yourself. What problems could occur? How can you modify the process so these problems are excluded? Are all the positive functions of the problem state preserved? For example, if someone feels comfortable while public speaking by negatively hallucinating the audience, this will interfere greatly with a lively, connected presentation. An alternative way of feeling comfortable will be much more useful. Are there any supporting elements, or processes, reframes or preframes, etc., that you can add that would make this process even more positive, attractive, and beneficial for the person?
b. Streamlining. The process you modeled from the counterexample or exceptional model may have steps or aspects that are redundant or superfluous, and may even interfere with the desired outcome. Is there anything you can leave out, yet still get the desired result? Perhaps someone repeats a question inside, or shifts posture, etc., and this only delays the response.
c. Amplifying. How can you add to the process to make it more robust and enduring? This is best discovered by noticing exactly where the process fails with specific clients, and what you have to change to make it work. By building this into the process you can extend the range of successful applications. For instance, the phobia cure will not work well with some people because of postural anchors that prevent full dissociation. Perceptual position misalignment can also interfere. Adding these elements in, either as an earlier step in the process, or as "troubleshooting" followups can make the phobia cure work successfully with a much wider range of people. Sometimes the process can be amplified by changing the sequence of states or representations, or by changing the tempo of the sequence (or both).
7. Different Contrast
At this point it can be extremely useful to compare your model of an exceptional skill with:
a. Someone who is only moderately skilled, to gain more understanding of the relative contribution of individual components to the overall ability, and to highlight aspects that may interfere, or that were not obvious in your previous modeling.
b. Someone else who is also exceptionally skilled, to learn different ways to do a particular component of a process, and/or to learn additional supporting elements that your first model never learned--and that you can teach them to improve their performance even more. This potential improvement can be a useful incentive to offer a highly-skilled person to interest him/her in participating in your modeling project. Another incentive is that when you are successful, they will have an explicit model that they can teach to clients or associates, to their benefit.
c. Special cases. Some clients will need more than a small adjustment to deal with objections, concerns, problems, or unique aspects. Often you can simply add a "standard" step that checks for congruence ("ecology") or that preframes or reframes common objections, so that the model can be successfully applied to a wider range of clients without further modification.
Refining could theoretically go on forever. Typically when you have experience with 20 or 30 clients, you will have encountered most of the variations that exist. One way to speed up this refining process is to meet with a group of people and run them all through the process at once, with explicit directions to please report any and all concerns, hesitations, objections, or difficulties to you so that you can learn about them and build solutions into your model. (A tape recorder will help you get all this information quickly, and you can review it all later.)
Modeling is the basis for the continuing development and progress in any field. Physics began over 250 years ago; NLP only about 25. It's a nice beginning, but so much more must lie ahead.
*Reprinted from Rapport: The Magazine for Neuro-Linguistic Programming (UK) Winter No. 46, p. 7
©2000-08 Steve Andreas