*This article is designed for those with a practitioner knowledge of NLP*
At this year’s NLP Conference, I’m giving the keynote introducing some Inner Wisdom Techniques (IWT) that tap into our deep resources of inner guidance and knowing. This article brings an Inner Wisdom perspective of the first, second and third positions used to perceive and re-process events from multiple different perspectives (seen in patterns such as the Meta Mirror). It adds a focus on where these positions have value and where they can cause issues through over or underuse and introduces a fourth ‘zero’ position.
This is the perceptual position where we are focused on what we think about things and our needs, feelings and experiences. Here we see the world from our own map/our own point of view. We are less concerned about others’ needs or experiences, although we may guess, judge and evaluate how their thoughts or behaviours might affect us.
Our earliest years are probably experienced from this perspective, as our focus is mostly on our own needs and feelings – three-month-old babies rarely worry about upsetting their parents by screaming for attention in the middle of the night when they need something. These early experiences may result in this perspective being the default starting position for many in adult life.
As we’ll see for all three positions, each one can provide great value, but accessing them too much or too little, or at unhelpful times, can cause issues.
Useful: Being in position one is so valuable when you are thinking about what you want, what your choices, dreams or goals are, what is, or is not, OK for you and what you are prepared to accept and tolerate. It can be valuable for pioneers and those going against the usual way of doing things.
Overuse: People who spend too much time in position one are likely to have less insight into how things are for other people because they’re only seeing the world from their own point of view. Position one can be great for working out what you want but when overused it can make you insensitive to other people’s needs or how they’re responding to your actions. Dictators, narcissists and bullies sit in position one most, if not all, of the time.
Underuse: Those who don’t spend time in position one when they need to, for example when making choices about their life, can end up feeling they don’t know what they need or want and they start to rely on other people to tell them. This can result in having a life planned by others that is rarely fulfilling, a sense of disempowerment and a loss of their sense of self.
This is taking the perceptual position of others and seeing a situation from their point of view.
Useful: This can be invaluable in understanding how others are feeling and for resolving arguments and conflict. It helps in seeing things in a new light, encouraging creative processes, and sensing how you and situations show up for somebody else. It’s invaluable for creating rapport and for insightful, intuitive therapy, NLP and coaching.
Overuse: Spending too much time viewing the world from other people’s perspectives can make you over-aware of other people’s needs. You may forget what’s important for you and put their needs above yours to the detriment of your own wellbeing. This is often combined with underusing position one. This may result in a low sense of self and self-worth, and falling into co-dependent, controlling and coercive friendships or relationships.
As practitioners, we are likely to be skilled at position two – it’s very common for those in the caring professions. There is a downside to it though. We can become too aware of how something feels for others and start to take on their emotions or symptoms or want to rescue them and fix their world for them. This rarely works, disempowers them and can result in us burning out from exhaustion.
Underuse: This can produce a sense of disconnection from other people as we may lack insight into how things are for them. It can seem that we don’t care or understand; we may appear cold, insensitive, or too wrapped up in our own stuff to have time or attention for others.
In this perceptual position, we take the role of an unbiased observer.
Useful: When there are emotions that are difficult to hold and when resolving conflict, this position allows us to calmly observe what is occurring in an emotionally detached way. This, combined with the wider perspective it naturally provides, helps us to gain rational and nuanced insights and find innovative solutions.
Overuse: Over-inhabiting the observer position can make us unemotional, disconnected and feel like a bystander in our own life. Clients who are over-analytical, hyper-sceptical, who run the ‘yes, but’ pattern, or find it difficult to access powerful resource states may have become too familiar with this position. The training for certain careers can encourage this way of thinking, so it may be more prevalent in some researchers, architects, lawyers and journalists.
Underuse: Finding it difficult to step out of positions one and two can prevent us from having this more nuanced way of perceiving situations. Practitioners use position three to effectively step away from the emotional impact of working with somebody else’s difficult experiences and to reflect on and change how they practice. Without good access to position three, practitioners can end up being unreflective and emotionally entangled with the client.
This new perceptual position is developed from the idea of the Gateway State of Connection. Gateway States are states that work as catalysts to speed up change process. ‘Connection’ shows up when we sense that bond with friends and loved ones, or simply say “Hi” to people in the street. It can also be experienced at a much deeper level, where we view things through a different lens and get a sense of the connection between us and the much bigger systems we’re part of. Examples include how the ground we’re on right now connects to all other parts of the world, or that we’re part of nature, the human species, our ancestors or our genealogical heritage, the solar system, or even the vastness of space. Gregory Bateson was fascinated by this idea, often searching for ‘the pattern that connects’, famously asking what connects “the crab to the lobster and the primrose to the orchid, and all of them to me, and me to you?”
Take a few moments to access the state of connection using these two short guided journeys, taken from my Inner Wisdom Techniques book, The Coach That’s Always There.
Focus on the air you’re breathing in. See it as part of the planet’s atmosphere that circulates around the globe. The oxygen in this breath was produced by plants or plankton (tiny lifeforms) in the seas, somewhere on the planet. They created it by drawing in the carbon dioxide breathed out by us and all the other animals and, using sunlight, converted that into oxygen.
- 1 Imagine riding on a molecule of the air being breathed into your body right now. Follow its journey as you and it are carried around your body.
- 2 Continue on as it’s breathed out to flow through the air, travelling around the world.
- 3 Follow it to when it is being taken in again by plants or other creatures to be part of their world for a while.
- 4 Continue with it on its journey all the way back to being breathed in by you again. This is the cyclical journey these elements have endlessly been part of for hundreds of thousands of years.
Nature and time
Many of us have experienced a deep connection with something bigger than ourselves in the presence of nature. This may be observing a beautiful sunrise or sunset, standing inside a forest of ancient trees, or gazing at the sea as it rolls gently in and out. We may consider that our ancient ancestors stood awestruck by these same wonders, maybe feeling as we do now. There is a Japanese word for something similar to this, Yūgen (幽玄), which is described as an awareness of the universe that brings on emotions that are too deep and powerful to be entirely captured by words.
Re-immerse yourself in one of those moments of connection with nature, which may come with that appreciation of a larger sense of time. Notice what you see, hear, feel and sense as you connect with that.
This is the ‘position zero’. It’s not being in you (position one), the other (position two) or observer (position three), but instead being a part of everything. Here there is no sense of me, you or them as separate entities and time itself seems to blur and be perceived differently. Take a stuck situation that’s been waiting to change. Breathe deeply as you step into this position zero and feel how coming from this perspective naturally transforms it.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this brief journey into the four positions and look forward to seeing you in May at the conference for more and in my course on Inner Wisdom Techniques.