The originators of NLP, Richard Bandler and John Grinder, defined NLP as:

"The study of subjective experience".
(Dilts, Grinder, Bandler & DeLozier, 1980).

NLP stands for “NeuroLinguistic Programming”, but that doesn't really tell you what NLP is, does it?

NLP is Neurolinguistic Programming

  • "Neuro" in Neurolinguistic Programming (NLP) refers to the brain and nervous system.
  • “Linguistic” refers to the study of the structure of language and how linguistics affect and reflect who and how we are as human beings.
  • “Programming” refers to the patterns of our minds: our values, learned behaviors, habits, beliefs, fears, etc. The programming in Neurolinguistic programming could even be thought of as the “software” that makes our brain/mind, or “hard drive”, run.

NLP Practitioners use NLP in a variety of ways, from learning how to communicate more effectively, to using the existing tools and techniques as processes to help themselves or others. NLP Master Practitioners go even further, learning the deeper structure of NLP so that they can more powerfully create transformation for themselves or others.

According to a paper on "Neuro-linguistic-programming: A Critical Review of NLP Research and the Application of NLP in Coaching", by J. Passmore and T.S. Rowson:

"NLP is a tool that delivers transformational change”
"the study of the structure of your subjective experience"
"the art and science of communication"
"the manual for your brain".

One more way to think of NLP is that it is a set of tools and techniques that allow us to study how the brain processes information and how that affects our behavior.

NLP is all about the HOw.

NLP is also:

  • A model for modeling.
  • A deep dive into interpersonal and intrapersonal communication.
  • A set of models developed from the study of achievers.
  • The application of NLP models to help people achieve their goals.

Neurolinguistic Programming and Modeling

With NLP we can learn how someone thinks, feels, and behaves in order to achieve something. So from great communicators, to great athletes, to people who have overcome phobias, to people who somehow manage to keep their kitchen clean, we can learn from them and do the same thing to achieve similar results.

NLP is a lot of things, to a lot of people. The bottom line, however, is that NLP is a model, and a model for modeling. For instance, the NLP Fast Phobia Cure was designed out of the study (modeling) of people who had overcome phobias.

In fact, the NLP Fast Phobia Cure is one of the most well known models of behavior that has been turned into a process, and any NLP practitioner can use it to help someone overcome a specific phobia quickly.


By the way, for the purposes of this page, “NLP Practitioner” is simply used to refer to anyone who uses NLP. It does not imply that everyone who uses any kind of NLP is a Certified Practitioner of NLP, or Certified Master Practitioner, for that matter. Those designations are reserved for people who go through a course or courses that offer NLP certification.

NLP has a history going back to the 1970s, when Richard Bandler and John Grinder bumped into each other one sunny California afternoon. You can read more about the history of NLP, but for the purposes of this article, just know that a couple of guys from different areas of study, like mathematics, linguistics, and psychology, began to put a few things together, and thus was born NLP.

The Essence of Neurolinguistic Programming

the essence

While history and foundational elements like the NLP Presuppositions are great, to get to the essence of NLP it is key to understand that it is ever changing due to its very design.

When the originators of NLP created their first model, the "Meta Model", they were not looking to define something stagnant and finite.

They were simply beginning a process that could go on forever, if we want it to.

Bandler and Grinder and their compadres codified different elements of the human experience, bringing together linguistics, psychology, neurology and physiology...and other “-ologies”...and delving into the system as a whole, rather than the separate subjects. How does one thing affect the other, and vice versa? How do they all combine to create our experience?

NLP is the study of being human at its core, really. Being human comes with having a mind, having senses through which we experience the world, having thoughts and ideas and beliefs that may or may not serve our well being.

If our thoughts, ideas, and beliefs don't serve our well being, what can we do? We can change them, and that's what Neurolinguistic Programming is all about.

I Don't Want to Leave You Wanting

Get what you want.

Everybody wants something. Even those who "don’t want”, actually want. But there are different ways to focus on our wants.

This is my opinion - not fact. In fact, it’s important to note that NLP does not deal in “fact”.

It deals in humanity and the meanings we construct from the experiences we create.

That's right. You create your experience.

That’s one of the things that people into NLP are really into. We really, really like thinking about, talking about, and studying how we create experience, and how we communicate about that experience to ourselves and others.

When we want something we know it from the signals we receive from our senses and our minds. When we HAVE the thing we want, we get different signals. One thing we have learned from studying successful people, is that they spend a lot more time imagining "having", than they do "wanting".

They create the experience of "having" in their minds, which can help them get what they want. In other words, they focus on what they want differently, more effectively.

Modeling how successful people focus on what they want
can help other people achieve similar success. 

Creating Our Experience of Reality

Neurolinguistic Programming is a great tool for achieving success, which is entirely subjective. The experience of success has nothing to do with objective reality (although it could be argued that there is no objective reality).

Therefore, creating experience is not the same as creating reality. I used to have a friend who claimed they could "create" an open parking space when and where they wanted it. Now, I'm open to discovery, so I paid attention when I was in the car with her, because I want to create my own parking spaces too!

The Perfect Parking Spot

The Perfect Parking Spot

She "created" the parking space by:

  1. Looking for a parking space near the entrance. She had a disabled parking permit, so most of the parking spaces she can use are near the entrance to a place. Sometimes there were one or more open parking spaces, supporting her belief that she created it.
  2. If there was NOT an open parking space near the entrance, she would go around the parking lot another time or two, just in case someone left "her" spot. Sometimes someone would leave just in time, and her parking spot would magically appear, thus validating her belief.
  3. If she had not found a space by this time, she would park elsewhere with the "knowing" that the Universe had saved her some horrible fate that might have become her, had she parked closer to the entrance.

My friend believed that she had the magic to create a parking space. She was very firm in her belief, and so created the experience of creating the perfect parking space every time, even if it wasn't where she originally thought it should be.

She created her experience of a mundane activity like finding parking at the grocery store. She made the experience light, and magical. She believed in her power, which made her feel happy. Not only did she not dread finding parking (like I sometimes do), but she LOVED finding parking, as she had set it up in such a way that no matter where she parked, it was perfect and magical.

NLP is About the How

about the how

A lot of NLP Practitioners like to say that “NLP is about the HOW”.

How do we do what we do?

How do we think the way that we think?

Exactly HOW do our emotions work with our minds and bodies to create our feelings and behaviors and beliefs?

As the years pass, many different things become incorporated into NLP, because NLP is all about modeling what works in various fields, and learning to apply that to a current situation in order to understand and effect change.

So if a particular psychological approach has an effective strategy to help people get the change they are seeking, you might see that approach modeled in NLP, and turned into a process that practitioners can use to effect the same or similar change.

Over time, that process will be incorporated into what we call NLP, as long as NLP was used to model and understand the process. Ethical practitioners will give credit where credit is due, however, just as Bandler and Grinder cited Fritz Perls, Virginia Satir, Milton Erickson, and many others.

This All Seems So Familiar

When I teach NLP, I often hear that someone has seen "that" (some element) before. There is a reason that someone may recognize something from NLP, or that a process or concept may seem “familiar”. People may feel like something in NLP is familiar because it very likely IS familiar. 

After all, as NLP practitioners, we are studying what people do naturally. We take how the mind already works, how communication already works, how PEOPLE already work, and we study it, turn it into something repeatable, and then use it and teach it to others.

When I started learning NLP, I already matched people's body language to establish rapport. I did not KNOW that I did this, it was pointed out to me by my first NLP trainer.

The thing is, lots of people match body language unconsciously, naturally - because it is a natural human behavior. When I learned is that I do that, I learned that I can do that on PURPOSE to establish rapport with someone - it doesn't always have to be an accident.

There is literally nothing new in NLP. Maybe there was something new in the beginning, but even then they were studying and codifying the existing practices of highly effective people.

Now, THAT might have been new. Some of the people they studied had never really HAD their work studied in the way that the originators of NLP studied and modeled them.

What is NLP According to Chat GPT?


Neurolinguistic Programming (NLP) encompasses various definitions depending on the context and the perspective of practitioners, researchers, and theorists. 

Here are a few definitions:

1. NLP as a Model of Communication and Personal Development: NLP is often described as a model of communication and personal development that explores the relationships between how we think (neuro), how we communicate (linguistic), and our patterns of behavior and emotion (programming).

2. NLP as a Set of Techniques: From a practical standpoint, NLP comprises a set of techniques and methodologies aimed at understanding and transforming patterns of thought, language, and behavior to achieve specific goals. These techniques may include visualization, reframing, anchoring, and rapport building, among others.

3. NLP as a Framework for Understanding Human Experience: Some define NLP as a framework for understanding the structure of subjective experience. It examines how individuals perceive the world, how they interpret and give meaning to their experiences, and how these interpretations influence their behavior and emotions.

4. NLP as a Therapeutic Approach: In therapeutic contexts, NLP is often defined as an approach to psychotherapy and counseling that emphasizes the importance of language and communication in shaping beliefs, behaviors, and emotional states. It offers techniques for addressing limiting beliefs, phobias, trauma, and other psychological issues.

5. NLP as a Model of Excellence: Another perspective defines NLP as a model of excellence, focusing on studying the strategies and behaviors of successful individuals in various fields and distilling them into replicable patterns that others can learn and apply to achieve similar results.

6. NLP as a Cognitive Technology: Some view NLP as a form of cognitive technology that provides tools and methods for enhancing cognitive and emotional functioning. It emphasizes the role of language and mental processes in shaping perception, cognition, and behavior.

These definitions provide different insights into the nature and scope of NLP, reflecting its multidimensional and interdisciplinary nature.

Conclusion: NLP and Me

What is NLP Conclusion.

For me, NLP is a way of life and a way of perceiving the world. It helps me with my own mental health, and it helps me help others.

Understanding the core concepts has changed who I am and how I think.

Keeping a practice in which I apply NLP core concepts to my daily life helps me be more productive and have a sense of myself and the world that simply feels better.

NLP gives me the gift of “how”. I don’t just tell myself to “think positively” and go about my day hoping for the best. I understand how to effectively manage my mind, emotions, and physiology to not only think positively, but think positively effectively.

I have used studied and used NLP for many, many years, and resolved some of my own inner conflict and bad habits. And as a Certified Master Practitioner of NLP, I have helped hundreds of people resolve inner conflict, change habits, and create a better experience of their lives.

So no matter which definition of NLP resonates the most with you, incorporating it into your life and, if you are someone who works with others, your professional life, will make what you do...better.

Disclaimer: If you want to work with an NLP Practitioner on something health related (physical or mental), make sure you check with a qualified health professional, and do not consider the NLP Practitioner to be a health care provider unless they are licensed as such.