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To understand better how NLP works, it is important to be aware of two schools of thought and methodology in therapy. One is that change comes by working on the root of the problem. The other school favors working on the symptoms or behaviors. NLP is mostly--but not exclusively-- the latter.
One way of understanding this is that by improving your interactions with the world, you get more from the world which leads to internal changes. Another way of understanding it is that by improving the everyday interactions with the world the inner personal issues become less important and you can function better.
One of the co-founders of NLP, John Grinder, defined NLP as "The Study of Human Excellence". By discovering how people achieve excellence in a given area and then adapting their methods to ourselves in the same area, we can also achieve more. This process is called "modeling" and includes discovering what are their thoughts, global and personal beliefs, behaviors, communication patterns-- to name just a few. Similarly if we, ourselves, excel in a particular area we can adapt our methods to other areas of our lives.
However, NLP also recognizes that there are "roots" to problems people have and that it can be important to take these into consideration. The question is when do we have to delve into deeper personal issues in order to make changes?
The guideline I like to use is that if a personal issue disturbs the person to the extent that it significantly interferes with their functioning, it is unlikely that they will be able to make changes by just working on the symptoms or the external behaviors. It is comparable to a person who is learning a sport. If he has a pebble in his shoe that hurts his foot whenever he takes a step, all of the training in the world will not help him to excel as an athlete. In order for his training to be effective he has to first get rid of that pebble.
Typically the NLP process is structured as follows. First we have to clarify and understand the problem. Second, establish a goal: Specifically, what does the person want. Thirdly, figure out how to reach that goal.
For most people it is step 3 that is the most challenging. Sometimes the person is merely missing out a method of reaching the goal. In those cases the work is fairly straightforward as was described above in "modeling".
For most people, however, there is something much more significant that blocks them. Then we have to find out what is stopping them from functioning as they would like and work on that issue. Examples of this include: false beliefs about his capabilities, negative identity, distorted beliefs about how the world works, overwhelming fears about making changes, motivation issues, no real direction in life due to lack of self-awareness, etc.
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