I believe that the Meta Model is one of the most important parts of NLP. I have been lucky enough to hear Richard (Bandler) explain the Meta Model as well as some other great trainers such as John and Kathleen LaValle. Indeed, when Brian Colbert and I teach our NLP courses (www.nlp.ie) with the Irish Institute of NLP, the language models are a significant part of the course.
What I want to do here is argue for a way of thinking about the Meta Model (*for more historical and technical info on the Meta Model, please go to the end of this post) which simply, easily and practically can allow anyone to improve the way in which they think and communicate. Although in NLP we often hear about ‘Meta Model Violations’, the way I like to think about the Meta Model is as a set of questions that allows you to do three things: specify information, clarify information and by doing both of those things help people to open up their model of the world.
What I mean by a ‘model of the world’ is that we all have a set of beliefs which are formed through our experiences and are filtered by our emotions, prior beliefs and goals at the time. A belief is an idea that we have certainty over. These beliefs not only help determine how we think about what happens to us and impact how we feel but also inform our decisions on what to do. Some of your beliefs help you to be happier and more successful. Some do not. If those beliefs do not then they are not useful. If they are not useful then it is a good idea to challenge them.
The reality is that when we use the questions of the Meta Model, it forces people to explain the evidence for their beliefs and how they actually connected the evidence to prove their theory. The more we ask these questions, the more likely the person will be to realise that their beliefs are held on shaky foundations. When you ask someone ‘how do you know?’ it invites them to explain their evidence and show you how they reasoned the belief. When you ask someone ‘who says?’ it leads them to revealing that their belief is just the opinion of someone. When you repeat the generalisation ‘Always? Every? Never?’ you have them come to the realisation that what they are saying is not true in every case. When you ask them ‘what stops them?’ from doing something, they are more than likely going to start to understand that they can do it once they overcome certain hurdles.
The questions get you to double take on your beliefs and realise that they are just ideas that you have formed… and not necessarily very accurate ones. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy works in a similar way with beliefs although possibly not in quite as much depth. The modern field of Behavioural Economics has also educated us a lot on the many errors we make in reaching the conclusions we reach and the prevalence of biases which make us believe something that is more than likely not true.
Probably the most important step is how we frame these questions. People do not like to be wrong. Therefore, if you are using these questions on yourself, then you need to be prepared to be wrong about what you thought you knew. If using them with others, then you need to be prepared to ask them in such a way that gets them thinking rather than trying to win an argument with them. The reality is that whatever beliefs they may replace such limitations with, may be equally as open to being challenged… they are simply more useful that the limitations.
So, to bring this all down to a simple takeaway message let me say this. Become more aware of what you believe to be true. About yourself. About the world. About others. About your problems. Notice how you describe them and how you think about them. And challenge them in the following way:
- What is the source?
- Where is the evidence?
- How does the evidence demonstrate that as a fact?
- Is it always true in every situation?
- What is a more useful way of thinking about it?
- What do you need to do about it?
Although there are plenty more Meta Model questions (not to mention Sleight of Mouth patterns), these six will help you get started in thinking differently. I really hope this helps. Let me know how you get on.
*In NLP, the very first book to be written was also one of the most technical: The Structure of Magic. The sequel Volume two was equally academic and the follow up books Patterns of the Hypnotic Techniques of Milton H Erickson weren’t much simpler. What came from these books was the beginning of the models that we know as the Meta Model and the Milton Model.
Much of the linguistic basis that laid the foundation for the coding of these models comes from the work of Noam Chomsky and his work known as Transformational Grammar. Chomsky’s work has evolved since then and other academics that have followed in his footsteps, the most notable probably being Steven Pinker, have argued for different ways of thinking about language than TG. My friend and a terrific NLP Master Trainer for many years, Eric Robbie has written a number of wonderful articles on how modern day linguistics can impact the use of the Meta Model. I will avoid doing a disservice of replicating what Eric himself puts so eloquently.
Image: Thanks to http://www.gratisography.com/