Glossary of NLP Terms

NLP Glossary imageA by no means comprehensive glossary of some of the specialist jargon used in NLP. If you’re studying NLP, why not bookmark this glossary so you can refer to it easily?

Analogue

1. Describes a representation that corresponds to what it is representing. So a picture of a dog looks like a dog. The sound of a bark sounds like a dog – and the louder and deeper the bark is, the larger you might reasonably expect the dog to be. The opposite of digital; a digital representation of a dog, for example the word ‘dog’, looks nothing a dog. All sensory representations are analogue.

2. Of submodalities, describes a submodality for which degrees of intensity are possible (rather than the ‘one or the other’ of a digital submodality). For example, a picture can be ‘light’ or ‘dark’ or any point in between.

Anchor

The neurological link between an internal state or response and an external stimulus (e.g. a smell that evokes a memory). Anchors can be set up accidentally in the course of a person’s life or be installed (or removed, or chained to a sequence of other anchors) deliberately.

Associated

To view a memory or imagined event from within, through your own eyes. This typically gives more access to your feelings in the event than if you are dissociated.

Auditory

Refers to the sense of hearing. If someone is in ‘auditory mode’ they are paying more attention to what they hear than to other senses and using the sense of sound as their primary method of processing information.

Auditory Digital

Processing in internal dialogue.

Calibration

Noticing the non-verbal signals that a person gives off, particularly with the aim of detecting changes from the initial ‘baseline’ as a sign of changes in the person’s state.

Cause and Effect

A Meta Model pattern stating or implying that one event caused another, whether or not this is actually the case, as in “You make me angry.” Often used as a way of avoiding responsibility for one’s actions.

Chaining Anchors

The process of setting up a sequence of anchors such that setting off one anchor automatically leads to the next one in the sequence being set off. Useful for pulling yourself out of a ‘stuck state’ like apathy or boredom.

Chunk

A quantity of information that a person processes as a single item in their working memory.

Chunking

How the person divides the information available into chunks for processing it; also how a trainer, for example, divides course material into smaller chunks to make it easier to learn.

Chunking Down

Moving from the big picture and abstractions to details and more concrete observations.

Chunking Up 

Moving from details and the concrete to abstractions and the big picture.

Collapsing Anchors 

The process of getting rid of an existing negative anchor by setting off a more powerful positive anchor at the same time. The more powerful ‘positive’ anchor ‘blows out’ the negative one, as they can’t coexist.

Comparative Deletion

A Meta Model pattern where something is compared to something else, but the thing being compared to is not stated. E.g. “I’m much better” invites the question “Better than what?”

Complex Equivalence

A Meta Model pattern stating or implying that one thing (or action or concept) is the same as or is a sign of some other thing, action or concept, where the link may only exist in the mind of that person. E.g. “You don’t bring me presents, you don’t love me.”

Congruence

When your actions, beliefs and values, and identity are fully aligned, and you are fully in harmony with yourself.

Conscious Mind

The part of your mind that you are aware of. See also Unconscious Mind.

Content

In any representation (memories, thoughts, stories), content is what the representation is about – as opposed to the structure of how the content is being represented.

Content-Free

Looking at the structure of a statement or story while disregarding the specifics of what the statement or story is about. “There is no content in content worth knowing” – Tad James.

Cross-Matching (also ‘crossover matching’ or ‘crossover mirroring’) 

Matching some aspect of a person’s body language, breathing rhythms etc with a different part of the body. Usually done because it is less obvious than straight mirroring, and is also useful where mirroring would be inappropriate or have damaging side-effects (e.g. tapping a pencil to match an asthmatic breathing pattern instead of mirroring it with your own breathing).

Deletion

The process, often unconscious, of ignoring some of the information available, e.g. not noticing some aspects of sensory input or leaving out some information that we tacitly assume the other person knows when we formulate a spoken sentence.

Digital

1. Describes a representation that is ‘coded’ and can only be understood if you know the code. E.g. describing something in words is a digital representation; you will only know what is described if you know the language the description is written in. The opposite of analogue.

2. Of submodalities, describes a submodality that is either one thing or another with no intermediate states – like a switch being on or off, or a computer bit being either one or zero. E.g. one can be either associated into a memory or dissociated from it. There are no intermediate states (although one can alternate between an associated and dissociated representation rapidly). Again, the opposite of analogue.

Dissociated

To view a memory or imagined event from the outside, as if you were a detached observer and the event were happening to someone else. This tends to distance you  from your feelings about the event more than if you were associated into it.

Distortion

The process, often unconscious, of changing information so that it corresponds less closely to external reality – e.g. making links between things that are unrelated, or mind reading another person’s intentions.

Downtime

Having your attention turned inwards, on your thoughts and/or emotions.

Ecology

In NLP, this means considering the effects of a change on all parts of the wider system.

Elicitation

Discovering some aspects of a person’s internal processing, for example their strategies or values, without altering them either deliberately or accidentally.

Eye Accessing Cues

Movements of a person’s eyes in particular directions that indicate visual, auditory or kinaesthetic processing.

First Position

The perceptual position corresponding to viewing a situation from your own viewpoint, associated into your own thoughts and feelings.

Frame

The boundaries that we draw around our perception of a person, thing, event or concept, which also defines the context in which we view it.

Future Pacing

After making some change, mentally rehearsing what will be different in the relevant situations in the future now that the change has taken place. This is an essential final part of changework, both to check that the intervention has worked, and to set up a link between the ‘trigger’ of the future event and the new more resourceful response.

Generalisation

The process, often unconscious, of making up rules and expectations based on limited observations.

Gustatory

The sensory modality involving the sense of taste.

‘In Time’

When we perceive our time line as passing through us, so that ‘now’ is where we are. Usually, but not in every case, the past is behind us and the future is ahead.

Internal Representation

A person’s representation in their mind of the world around them, made up of sensory images and/or internal dialogue and including memories and imagined events as well as processing of sensory input. It bears a similar relation to reality as a map does to the territory that it depicts.

Kinaesthetic

The sensory modality that includes the senses of touch, emotions, balance and proprioception (knowing where each part of your body is in relation to the rest of you).

Leading

You are leading someone else if you do something and they unconsciously mimic it or follow your lead. See also pacing.

Lost Performative 

A value judgement, spoken as if it is an objective fact. Value judgements are made by people, with particular values sets and agendas, but the original ‘performer’ of the judgement is not referenced – they have been ‘lost’ from the sentence.

‘Logical Levels’ 

Model developed by Robert Dilts that analyses change in terms of six levels: Environment, Behaviour, Capabilities, Values and Beliefs, Identity, and Spiritual (or Purpose). Usually represented as a hierarchy with Environment at the bottom and Spiritual at the top. Often criticised as not being ‘true NLP’ on the grounds that it’s ‘content based’ and that the levels don’t actually form a logical hierarchy, nevertheless it’s a useful model.

Matching

When people are in rapport, they tend to unconsciously copy each other’s body language, speech rhythms etc. Matching is doing this with intent to facilitate rapport – it needs to be done discreetly or it won’t be successful. See Cross-matching, Mirroring.

Meta Model

The first model of excellence developed by Richard Bandler and John Grinder, derived from their modelling of therapists Virginia Satir and Fritz Perls, codified a set of language patterns that help us recognise various distortions, deletions and generalisations in statements, together with questions designed to recover missing information or invite therapy clients to compare their distortions and generalisations with sensory experience. They called it the Meta Model of language because they believed it would be useful to therapists of any tradition (‘meta’ is used in this case to mean ‘beyond’ or ‘above’).

Meta Model Challenge

A question designed to ‘challenge’ a Meta Model violation, aimed at retrieving deleted information or inviting the ‘violator’ to check their statement against sensory experience. Perhaps ‘violations’ and ‘challenges’ are too adversarial a way of thinking of the Meta Model to be useful in most contexts.

Meta Model Violation

A phrase or sentence that ‘violates’ the Meta Model by containing deletions, distortions or generalisations. You may choose to question it with a Meta Model challenge.

Meta programs (also written as meta-programs, metaprograms or metaprogrammes) 

The content-free filters that we apply to information, determining which aspects we pay attention to. E.g. a person may habitually focus on the big picture or on details, or their motivation may be primarily towards or away-from. Meta programs may be different in different contexts (e.g. people will tend to be more aware of details for subject areas they are interested in). People can be anywhere on a spectrum of choices for a given meta program, rather than (for example) being either 100% reactive or 100% proactive.

Metaphor

Metaphors are analogies that our brain makes up to more easily make sense of information (e.g. ‘life is a journey’, ‘time is money’) or by extension, stories that feature elements and events that are analogies to our experience.

Milton Model

A set of trance-inducing ‘artfully vague’ language patterns modelled by Richard Bandler and John Grinder from the work of the great hypnotherapist Milton Erickson.

Mind Read

A Meta Model pattern where the person speaks or acts as if they know for sure what another person is thinking or feeling, e.g. “I know you think I’m wonderful.”

Mirroring

A subset of matching where one person matches the posture of another symmetrically, as if they were a mirror image.

One of the categories of language pattern in the Meta Model (and Milton Model) indicating unspoken rules about what must or should be done (‘Modal Operators of Necessity’) such as should, ought, must, have to; or rules about what can – or can’t – be done (‘Modal Operators of Possibility’ – or ‘Impossibility’).

Model

In NLP, this can refer to a description of a process or method for achieving a skill that is the output of the Modelling process; or, slightly confusingly, to the exemplar or ‘model of excellence’ who is the subject of the modelling process. In the latter sense it’s pretty close to the everyday English usage of ‘role model’.

Modelling

The heart of NLP – the process of replicating the skill of an exemplar, filtering out the elements that are idiosyncratic to that person, and so reducing the replica to a ‘model’ that can be taught to others. Most (some would say all) of the techniques in NLP come originally from modelling people who are able to do particular things well.

Nominalisation

A Meta Model pattern in which a process is referred to as if it is a thing. So the nominalisation of the process of two people relating to each other would be ‘a relationship’. Nominalisations are abstract concepts, often classified as ‘deletions‘ in the Meta Model because the information regarding the process of relating was lost when it was ‘frozen’ into ‘a relationship’.

Olfactory

The sensory modality involving the sense of smell.

Outcome

Generally used in NLP to be synonymous with ‘desired outcome’ – i.e. a goal or the result you want to get.

Pacing

Matching another person’s body language (or values, preferred sensory modality, social etiquette etc) as a means to achieving rapport and often as a preliminary to leading once rapport has been achieved.

Perceptual Positions

Describes viewing a relationship or disagreement from multiple viewpoints: first position is from your own point of view, second position is the other person’s viewpoint, third position is the viewpoint of a detached observer.

Presuppositions

1. Beliefs or assumptions, often unconsciously held, that are embedded in a statement or question without being explicitly stated. In order to make sense of the statement or question, you have to accept the presupposition. The acceptance often also happens outside of conscious awareness.

2. ‘Presuppositions of NLP’: the primary ideas and assumptions underpinning NLP. The exact wording of these ideas differs slightly from NLP trainer to NLP trainer. You don’t have to believe these presuppositions are true, but you pretty much have to act ‘as if’ they are true in order to get results with NLP.

Primary (or ‘Preferred’) Representational System

The representational system that a person is mainly using at any given time. This can change depending on context, so avoid classifying people in rigid categories as ‘a Visual’ or ‘a Kinaesthetic’.

Rapport

The process of being in harmony and trust with someone, so that the ‘signal to noise’ ratio of communication is at its best and messages are received more or less as sent. Some schools of NLP define rapport more in terms of ‘getting the attention of the person’s unconscious mind’, so that it does not necessarily involve mutual liking. For example, if you go to hear someone you admire speak, they will have a degree of ‘rapport by reputation’ and will not have to work so hard to achieve rapport with the audience as someone previously unknown to them.

Reframing

Representing a statement, thing or event in a different way, which changes our response to it.

Representational System (often called ‘rep system’ for short)

One of the systems in which we represent and process our experience. These can be sensory modalities (visual, auditory, kinaesthetic, olfactory, and gustatory) or ‘digital’ representations (usually words).

Resource

A quality or ability that is useful in some context.

Resourceful State

A state in which we have access to the resources we need in a given situation. In an unresourceful state such as anxiety or guilt we may be temporarily unable to access the resources we have (e.g. the higher thinking processes of a normally intelligent person may shut down when they are in the throes of road rage).

Second Position

The perceptual position corresponding to viewing a relationship or disagreement from the point of view of the other person, helping you to guess at how they might see you and what they might be thinking and feeling.

Sensory Acuity

Noticing what is going on around you via your senses. It is the product of how sharp your senses are, and the quality of attention that you bring to noticing.

Sensory Modalities

The five ‘channels’ through which we take in and process sensory information, including visual, auditory, kinaesthetic (touch/emotion/balance/proprioception), olfactory (smell) and gustatory (taste). Along with the non-sensory ‘digital’ modality, these are also representational systems.

Simple Deletion

A Meta Model pattern where part of the information needed to understand a statement is left out. E.g. “I’m so happy” might leave you wondering “About what?”

Stacking Anchors

The process of linking multiple compatible resource states to a single stimulus.

State

The ongoing mental and physiological processes within a person at any given time; the totality of their thoughts, feelings and physiology. State can influence a person’s memory, learning, and even beliefs.

State-Dependent Memory

This describes the finding that memory retrieval works best when the person is in the same state of consciousness (which can be influenced by factors such as emotion and drugs) as when the memory was originally formed.

Strategy

A sequence of internal representations and external sensing and action that consistently leads to a particular outcome. Analogous to computer programs for the brain, strategies (or well-formed ones at least) have a TOTE Model structure.

Submodalities (also ‘sub-modalities’)

The qualities of each sensory modality that act like codes to the brain, telling it how much significance to attach to a representation. E.g. with the visual submodality of movement, we will generally pay more attention to something that is moving than something that is still.

Third Position

The perceptual position corresponding to the viewpoint of a detached observer, helping you to be aware of you and the other person, and the relationship between you, as a whole system.

‘Through Time’

When we perceive our time line as crossing in front of us so that we are looking ‘through’ it (usually but not always from left (past) to right (future), and ‘now’ is some little way ahead of us.

Time Line

The way in which our unconscious minds perceive time and order our memories, by means of a spatial metaphor. In Western societies at least, time is usually spoken of as linear, like a road that we travel along (if we are thought of as moving while time remains still – so ‘moving on’ or ‘leaving the event behind us’ or ‘looking forward to something happening’) or like a river or road that we are standing beside, and events move along from the ‘far future’ towards us and then flow into the ‘distant past’ behind us.

TOTE Model

Acronym for “Test, Operate, Test, Exit”. The TOTE Model describes the structure of our mental strategies and is derived from Pribram, Miller and Galanter’s book Plans And The Structure Of Behaviour (1960).

Unconscious Mind

The part of your mental processes (actually most of them) that take place outside of conscious awareness. The unconscious mind can be communicated with, influenced, and listened to, most obviously in hypnosis.

Universal Quantifier

A Meta Model pattern describing universal generalisations like ‘never’, ‘always’, ‘everyone’, ‘everywhere’. Usually extrapolated from a limited number of examples, so a counter-example can usually be found.

Unspecified Referential Index (also Unspecified Noun)

A Meta Model pattern where it is not clear what person, thing or place is being referred to in a statement. E.g. “They’re loving this.” Maybe who ‘they’ refers to is clear from the context, maybe it isn’t.

Unspecified Verb

A Meta Model pattern in which an action is stated but not specified. This is only a problem if the listener is not clear on what needs to be done. All verbs are unspecified to some extent. E.g. “I want you to fix the problem of climate change” might reasonably invite the question “How specifically do you want me to fix it?”

Uptime

Having your attention entirely focused outside yourself on what is happening around you.

Values

The abstract concepts (with an emotional charge attached) that motivate us, and that act as the criteria by which we decide if something is right or wrong.

Visual

The sensory modality associated with sight and thinking in pictures.

Well Formed Outcome

A goal or desired result that is specific, measurable, timed, and which the people who have to achieve it are both able and motivated to achieve.