by Dr Phil Parker, PhD, NLP Certified Master Trainer, NLP researcher

NLP, or to give it its full title, Neuro-Linguistic Programming, is one of the most popular tools used for change by practitioners, coaches and those wanting self-help solutions. Researchers found that between 2006 and 2009, 326 of the UK’s National Health Service (NHS) trusts and strategic authorities spent more than £800,000 on NLP-related trainings (Sturt et al., 2012). Yet for many, NLP is something they’ve heard of, but are not quite sure exactly what it is. This article addresses that, explaining:

  • What NLP is
  • How NLP works

What is NLP?

One common way that’s often used to describe NLP is as ‘the missing manual on how to use your brain’, and that’s quite a good starting point as it does provide a general sense of what NLP could do for you.

A more complete way to describe it is to break it down by its initials.

How does NLP work?

NLP focuses on how change happens. Change is something that many people discover they have issues with. There are many problems that we’ve probably all experienced with change. It’s often that either change:

Is not happening fast enough

Is too fast

Isn’t happening at all

Is happening too much

Isn’t the kind of change they want

Is change designed by someone else

Is being accepted by others as we hoped

This means that understanding change and how to make it happen more easily and in a way others find appealing could be a key tool in helping your and others lives move forward more smoothly.

NLP and change

NLP is one of those things that becomes clearer with practical exploration, so let’s begin with a couple of intriguing exercises.

Start with this: Without writing it down, say your postcode (or your ZIP code) backwards

When we try this a very interesting set of things occur.  For most people, it’s an unfamiliar task.  We can recall it forwards but it’s rare to be asked for it backwards. As we have no well-rehearsed brain pathways for this task, we have to create some new ones.  And you may notice initially it can be a bit of a struggle.  Many people find themselves drawing it in the air just in front of them, trying to see it backwards.  It feels like a very clunky machine trying to process something and initially for most people we are not very successful at doing it.  It’s very stuttering, it’s slow, it’s a little bit unreliable and you can feel the energy that is being expended in trying to make that happen.  Try this out on your friends, when you do you will see their eyes flickering around, their body almost contorting as they try and drag this information out.  And because NLP is fascinated about change it is really useful to experience what change, in this case creating new pathways, feels like.

Now repeat this exercise until you find it easy to say your postcode backwards.  Normally it takes most people about 4-10 times, but after repeating it enough you suddenly find that you can quite fluently repeat your postcode backwards.

And at that point, you’ve not only new neurological pathways but ones that are now quite reliable.  This is an example of how change can happen rapidly, and this of key interest to NLP.


This is because one of the main focuses of NLP is the process of modelling.  Modelling is the process of working out how to do something well.  It can be seen in other disciplines, like computing or design, where creating a new car, for example, involves starting with a rough idea of what will work, fine-tuning and testing it (in a wind tunnel with a small-scale model, then prototypes on test tracks).

NLP models how well people do this and is interested in both top performers (great athletes, people who can be motivated, can spell well, find change easy etc.) and those who seem to consistently not get the results they want in some area of their life (those who are always late, can’t get up in the morning, find public speaking difficult, find change difficult etc.).  Understanding how their neurology and their linguistic patterns create these results allows skilled NLP practitioners to develop a model of what processes have caused those results and then either teach others the successful models of peak performers or help those not getting results to break free of their old patterns.

Is change easy or hard?

Some people say that change takes a long time, it takes a long time for the brain to learn or ‘you can’t teach an old dog new tricks’ and yet there are lots of examples where that’s just not true.

When someone finds clear evidence that their friend or partner is not quite who they pretended to be (maybe they’ve just discovered them lying or cheating for example) – how long does it take for the feelings of trust to change? – milliseconds.  So change can happen in a moment and yet we’ve all observed people who are stuck with problems they have had for years that don’t seem to change.  So what’s missing?

What’s missing are effective models of how change works and a way to teach tools developed from those models to make that change possible.  The compassionate and experienced use of the skills of NLP can provide these.

And when that happens change can suddenly appear to be so much easier than it ever did before…

Find out more?

Having worked in the field for over 30 years I’m passionate about the kind of change YOU can make using these skills in your life and, if trained as a practitioner, in the lives of others. If you want to know more about my clinic and NLP training courses please do get in touch, with me and my team, we’d love to help.

If you want to know more about the research into NLP go here, or to find out how to choose an NLP course then please check out this page.

Dr. Phil Parker