NLP Presuppositions (12): Any changes should increase choice and wholeness, and be evaluated in terms of ecology

Following on from the “Law of Requisite Variety“, we can say that choice is better than no choice. The more options we have open to us, the more likely we are to be able to make the right choice for any given situation. Also, when conditions change, it’s good to have the flexibility that additional options give us.

For example, a lot of independent trainers and consultants I know have seen a drop in their business in the last couple of years, where the old ways they used to get clients have stopped working. One way they could do something about that would be to pick up the phone and start calling prospects.

But they won’t do it, because that behaviour is just not part of their repertoire and they don’t feel it would be “them” – even though in some circumstances it may be the very best way to increase or even save their business.

If only they had that additional choice available to them – if they could do something different to what isn’t working any more – they could start reaching more people and making their lives better (for great reframes around picking up the phone and cold calling, see my friend Gavin Ingham‘s blog).

So any changes we make should increase choice. Remember the presupposition that ‘All behaviour is the best choice currently available’? By now you may be starting to see how these presuppositions fit together. You may remember that we used the example of smoking as a behaviour that a person’s conscious mind might want to stop, but nevertheless they don’t always find it easy to stop, because at the unconscious level they may be getting some payoff or benefit from it – ‘secondary gain’ as it’s called in therapy.

When I ran a hypnotherapy practice, one of the clients told me about her brother, who had been to see one of those old-school hypnotherapists who specialised in smoking cessation and worked mostly through authoritarian hypnosis and – let’s be frank – fear. He got the brother into trance, ran through his smoking cessation script, and near the end implanted this suggestion: “And if you ever pick up a cigarette again, you will find that you are smoking five times as much as you used to.”

What could possibly go wrong? I think you may guess what happened next. The brother stopped smoking, but a few months later he was at a party, had a few drinks, and out of habit accepted a cigarette that someone offered him. Before he knew it, he was indeed back on the cigarettes again, smoking five times as many as he used to. Not an ideal solution.

The NLP approach to change accepts that any behaviour could be useful in some context, although the situations in which smoking would be the best choice are pretty rare. With this in mind, we aim to add better choices rather than take away or prohibit the problematic choice. So with smoking, part of what you might do is to establish what, if any, is the secondary gain from smoking, and help the person to generate better choices that they can use instead of smoking in those situations where previously they used to smoke.

If you have better options that give you the same or better payoffs as the old problem behaviour, but without the downside, of course you will always choose the better options – even though the previous behaviour is still available to you. Plus, you still have the previous behaviour in your set of choices if circumstances change and it becomes useful.

Change should also aim to preserve or increase wholeness. This principle originated from therapy, where – following Virginia Satir and Fritz Perls – the early NLP pioneers did a lot of work with the idea of ‘parts’ of someone’s personality being responsible for problems, and talking directly to that part. They even got to the point of installing new parts. A side-effect of this can be that the more you treat the parts as real – rather than just convenient metaphors – the more of a life of their own they can take on. So before someone takes a decision, they have to sit down and listen to each part in turn, in the hope that they can all reach agreement.

I understand there are even some therapists in America – not NLP ones, I’m happy to say – who find that every single client has multiple personality disorder. If not when they start therapy, then by the time they leave.

In organisations, there are also costs involved with the old fashioned model where communication is mainly up and down, between managers and the people who report to them, rather than across the organisation between departments. Many organisations I’ve worked with in the UK, especially in the public sector, complain about ‘siloisation’, where staff in different departments don’t know each other, don’t communicate with each other, and the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing. In the worst cases you get turf wars, withholding of knowledge, and departments competing for budgets, forgetting the big picture that they all work for the same organisation and are supposed to be working towards the same goals.

Any fragmentation increases costs and disrupts communication, so changes need to promote wholeness and heal unnecessary divisions.

Finally, change should be evaluated in terms of ecology – in other words, its wider effects. This is to make sure that the change is something you would still want when you look beyond the immediate context where its made – so if someone is thinking of taking a new job, for example, they should consider not just the step up and the extra money, but also commuting time, what hours they will be working, the impact on their time with their family, how closely the new job aligns with their values, and the opportunities it will give them to learn, along with many other areas.

© 2011 – 2019, Andy Smith. All rights reserved.

1 comment

  1. Richard A Luck

    Great post Andy! Expanding upon our gains for a change, and evaluating the secondary gains from that change, or lack of change, can help make change that much easier to deal with. This is a post that can benefit anyone, in virtually any situation.


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