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NLP Presuppositions (3): All behaviour is the best choice currently available

If people have their own internal representations or maps of the world, and they make choices according to those maps and not to reality, it follows that the choices they make are going to be the ones that make the most sense in their map. These are the best choices available to them. There may have been other choices they could make, but if those choices weren’t in their map, they won’t even see them.

Notice that this presupposition doesn’t say that the choices you make are objectively the best choice, or the one you would have picked if you had the benefit of hindsight.

This idea has a couple of interesting implications. Firstly, if you did something in the past that you now regret, that means you have learned something from it – if you would now act differently in the same situation. You were doing the best you could with the resources available to you at that time; now, with your enriched and expanded map, you would act differently. So there’s no point beating yourself up about your past decision; the important thing is to learn from your mistakes so you do better next time.

Of course, you are still responsible for your actions. So you still have a responsibility to continue to enrich and improve your map, so that you increase your ability to make better choices.

If you’ve ever given up smoking multiple times, or continued to overeat at the same time as wanting to be slimmer and fitter, or put off preparing for an important presentation or work project even though you actually want to get it done, you may have wondered “If all behaviour is the best choice currently available, why do I still do things that aren’t good for me?”

These kind of problem behaviours might be unwanted habits like smoking or overeating, or inappropriate emotional responses like excessive outbursts of anger, or persistent unfounded anxiety. How can that problem behaviour be the best choice available?

The answer is that the problem behaviour or habit is the best choice the person has been able to find so far; there’s some kind of benefit or payoff to the behaviour that they wouldn’t get if they stopped. This applies just as much to organisational change as it does to individual change.

Sometimes it’s as if a part of the mind that sees the world differently from conscious awareness, with different filters and different values, is responsible for a problem behaviour, and keeps the person doing the behaviour, and even though consciously they would like to stop, they don’t. Anyone who has given up smoking multiple times will know what I mean.

Secondly, if behaviour is the best choice currently available, that means that other people are doing the best they are able to as well. It’s harder to hate or despise other people, and easier to feel compassion for them, when you remember that just like you, they are doing the best that they can given the way that they see the world.

Another way you often see this NLP presupposition stated is “There is a positive intention behind every behaviour” – ‘positive’ in the sense that it’s trying to achieve something or get some benefit for that person, not necessarily for anyone else. When you want to change behaviour like this you need to separate the intention – which is positive – from the behaviour, which may well have ‘negative’ or damaging results. In fact there is an NLP change process called the Six Step Reframe which is based on that distinction.

© 2011, Andy Smith. All rights reserved.

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