‘Metaprograms’ (sometimes written as ‘meta programs’, ‘meta-programs’ or ‘metaprogrammes‘) is the NLP term for the content-free filters that we apply to the information we receive about the world around us, and our internal experience, determining which aspects we focus on. They run ‘in the background’, so we are usually not consciously aware of them. They drive:
- what we pay attention to
- what we respond to
- what motivates us
- how we interact with the people around us
- the kind of language that will influence us
As the name implies, metaprograms are at a different logical level to our other mental ‘programs’ such as strategies. They influence the type of information fed into our strategies, the goals we set for ourselves, the way we make decisions, and the motivation behind our strategies.
When you understand metaprograms, you will be able to see very quickly, from a minute or two’s conversation with a person, what motivates that person and how to communicate with them in a way that makes it easy for them to understand – and act on – your suggestions.
History Of Metaprograms
The term ‘metaprogramming’ first appeared in John C Lilly’s book Programming and Metaprogramming in the Human Biocomputer (1968). Lilly presented the human nervous system as a biological computer, running ‘programs’ either hard-wired or learned. ‘Metaprogramming’ as Lilly describes it is changing the central control system so that we can learn more quickly and select more useful programs.
Richard Bandler introduced the idea of metaprograms to NLP in the late 70s, as a way that people maintained coherence in their cognitive patterns.
Leslie Cameron-Bandler and others investigated further, using the Meta Model to identify a list of Meta Program patterns for use in therapy which eventually grew to around 60. One of her students, Rodger Bailey, simplifed the model into 14 patterns for use in a business context – the LAB Profile (Language And Behaviour patterns) as set out in Shelle Rose Charvet’s excellent book Words That Change Minds.
Tad James and Wyatt Woodsmall’s book Time Line Therapy and The Basis Of Personality presents a very similar simplified set of patterns, and links them to Jungian personality characteristics as used in the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator – not entirely convincingly in my view, but then I’m not a MBTI expert.
What Metaprograms Are Not
(Although you’ll sometimes find people using them as if they are):
- A way of putting people into boxes at the Identity level! They may be influenced by context and the person’s emotional state.
- Either/or – instead, each metaprogram is like a spectrum and most people will be somewhere between the extreme ends
- Absolute. Metaprograms are context-dependent – for example, people tend to be more detail-focused about subjects that interest them.
Note: you will often see them referred to by British NLP trainers as ‘metaprogrammes’. It’s a very detail-focused point, some might say nit-picky, but I think this is a mistake. Why? Because the ‘program’ bit is an analogy to computer programming.
It’s been 25 years since I quit the IT industry, so things may have changed, but even in the UK the ‘American’ spelling of ‘program’ was universally used – so we should follow that and spell it ‘metaprograms’.