The New Code of NLP; A Paradigm shift in Neuro-Linguistic Programming

Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP)

NLP is a new field of endeavour within the Behavioural Sciences, a communication methodology for detecting patterns and building models of human behaviour. NLP is used to study the patterns of how we do what we do and how we know what we know; subsequently it is also an epistemology 1.

Its methods are so successful that many of its models have been incorporated into management training, coaching, psychotherapy, education, sports performance and personal development. If you have attended a recent management seminar or done some form of personal development it is likely that you have been exposed to some NLP techniques. The NLP method of modelling has been used to build models that are applied to many areas of human performance, including presentations, derivative trading, learning, even the practise of hypnosis.

The Origins ofs NLP

NLP was originated by Dr. John Grinder, at that time an associate professor of Linguistics at the University of California, Santa Cruz and Richard Bandler, who was a fourth year psychology student.

New Code NLP

The new code of NLP is a reorganisation and recoding of the fundamentals of NLP. The recoding was begun by classic code NLP co-creator John Grinder with Judith DeLozier 2 . and has been developed further in recent years by Grinder with Carmen Bostic St. Clair 3.

History: NLP began with Modelling genius

The classic code of NLP began in the mid 1970's with the collaboration between John Grinder, an assistant professor of linguistics and Richard Bandler a psychology student. Grinder modelled Bandler tacitly while Bandler did Gestalt therapy.

Tacit modelling involves mimicking the behaviour of a model while in a 'know nothing' state until you can reproduce the skill and get the same result as the model in a similar context within a similar timeframe. See the chapter on modelling.

Grinder used the patterns he had modelled, later making them explicit from his own experience. After this, Grinder and Bandler modelled other patterns from exemplars of human excellence in psychotherapy and published these. They became the first models of NLP 4.

An explicit model comprises the minimum number of patterns necessary and sufficient to reproduce similar outcomes in the same class of context as the exemplar who was modelled5.

A pattern is a sequence of behaviour that repeats through time such that if the first part of the sequence occurs the second part of the sequence can be predicted.

Bandler and Grinder then began teaching NLP to the public, with the assistance of their early students. Through the following years thousands of people have learned the classic code of NLP, and now there are thousands of classic code NLP trainers. Most cities in the developed world have at least one and often a number of NLP training organizations purporting to teach NLP.

Neuro-Linguistic Programming is a generic name for a field

The name "Neuro-Linguistic Programming" is deemed in law to be generic and is not able to be trade marked. Subsequently, there are no formal controls over who can teach and certify others in NLP. Buyers beware. This makes it particularly important to identify problems with the definitions, application and training of NLP.

NLP in the classic form has been taught for about 25 years, and has a number of flaws in its application and teaching. The purpose of NLP is to model human excellence. One of the results of NLP modelling is a collection of explicit patterns and models of human excellence. For some NLP trainers the practice of training involves a recipe book approach where specific examples of previously modelled patterns are taught explicitly. The deployment of any particular pattern is made consciously, with the usual constraints of conscious attention 6.

Excellent practice of NLP is driven by feedback. Grinder responded to the consequences of the way classic NLP is coded, practiced and taught within the NLP community by thoroughly re-examining the classic code of NLP. As a result, he and his partners developed a solution to the most significant problems in the classic code NLP, which are built into the new code.

The shift in emphasis with the New Code

What are some of the differences between the NLP codes? A significant difference between the new code of NLP and the classic code is the specification of the roles of conscious attention and the unconscious mind.

Historically, application of classic code NLP was oriented towards conscious manipulation of internal representations (visual images, sounds, and sensations). There was no formal engagement of the unconscious mind. An outcome was chosen in isolation and a process implemented to shift from the present state to the desired state. If the outcome had unfortunate consequences to the person's lifestyle, family or social system, this became apparent through feedback in real time.

Engaging the unconscious has its benefits

It is useful to engage the unconscious mind when choosing outcomes and resources. The unconscious has access to a greater range of possibilities than the conscious mind. It works with patterns, in metaphor and can consider multiple time frames, logical levels and perceptual positions. The unconscious mind has the capacity to imagine future scenarios and include likely consequences. It can deliver intents, solutions and many other resources to consciousness and carries information from all our experience.

When we engage the unconscious mind in forming outcomes and choosing resources, the ensuing change respects the person's ecology. Ecology in this context considers the broader scope of possible consequences (benefits and costs) of any action, including change. When we include consequences, we can test resources before the change and ensure the entire well being of the person and the systems in which they operate. Unfortunate consequences are identified early on so the process can be altered to fit the needs of the person.

When the classic code was developed, there was no explicit reference to the unconscious mind and no formal means of engaging with it. This has been rectified in the New Code and is an essential element.

The importance of framing (conscious involvement)

One of the roles of conscious attention is the art of framing. Framing defines the context to be examined and / or the desired outcome to be considered. Framing identifies the parameters within which the unconscious will operate to make links and develop resources.

Arranging unconscious selection of resources

A person wanting a change can consult their unconscious mind about consciously identified proposals and possible resources for achieving their outcome. Initially they can learn to develop a formal signal system with the unconscious. As their acuity develops, they recognize and use naturally occurring bodily signals as communications from the unconscious.

This form of communication enables a person to propose courses of action to their unconscious mind. When the unconscious disagrees, the person can change their approach, gather more information, research the frame and context or take such other action as they see fit. They are forewarned that pursing the original proposal will be incongruent and therefore liable to unfortunate consequences. Equally, an affirmative response from the unconscious indicates that the proposed action will be taken congruently, thereby increasing the likelihood of functional consequences.

As communication with the unconscious mind develops, it may progress naturally from "yes", "no" and "don't know" signal responses to offering fully formed ideas to the conscious mind in response to proposals and questions. Since this is how ideas are communicated already, the intent is to recognise when the unconscious uses this route to communicate in response to conscious queries.

The inclusion of intention/s and consequences

Intention was first identified within NLP practice with Grinder's development of the Six Step Reframe, a pattern used for changing behaviour and states. Six Step Reframing 7. can be applied to any defined pattern. Including intention increases the scope of possibility when considering desired outcomes. For example, "What do I want? And what do I want it for"? This question applied in a well-formed outcome raises the possibility that the original outcome may not lead to the most effective result. The intent for an outcome allows multiple options to be considered or the intent itself to become the outcome.

An indicator of the likely ecology in an outcome is a match between the consequences of achieving the outcome and the intent for pursuing it. Grinder has expressed concern about the lack of ecology in the use of classic code patterns when used to pursue outcomes in isolation from the rest of the subject's life. Grinder's outcome, intention and consequences model addresses that issue.

Emphasizing state rather than behaviour in NLP

The new code of NLP attends to changing state instead of replacing one behaviour directly with a single, different behaviour. A change in state leads to a range of different, naturally occurring behaviour. Instead of replacing one piece of behaviour with another in a context, an appropriately framed context can be used to elicit a suitable state which enables a range of possible, fitting behaviour to manifest. When the state is associated into the context, the client can alter their behaviour spontaneously in response to the conditions they find there.

Change processes with the new code of NLP often use content free high performance states. These can be associated into one or more contexts where a client wants more choice or a specific outcome.

Features of a new code approach to teaching NLP

Teaching the new code requires deep unconscious familiarity with the patterns to be offered, combined with fluency in chunking, perceptual position shifting and the language of process instructions. A trainer needs to be able to offer experiential discovery exercises in which the intended pattern is presupposed, having demonstrated the pattern at intervals, covertly, throughout the training. This approach precludes conscious interference, spurious meaning or comparison with prior knowledge. A comprehensive new code NLP training produces graduates who think in NLP patterns, ask penetrating questions and communicate naturally and elegantly in their own style.

The new code approach to training is minimalist, code congruent and process and discovery oriented. Minimalism strips away non-essential material (content), ritual and artificial aids from the training context. Code congruence in training requires maximum similarity between training and assessment with reference to context, process, resources and material, in the interest of facilitating learning and performance. Code congruence in disseminating learning to life requires the training to blend with life as much as possible and to maintain that connection through each exercise. The new code training uses experiential discovery exercises. The training room has freedom of entry and exit, natural light and direct links to the outside. The new code approach requires students to converse in their own words in as natural an environment as possible, using process instructions as their frame for each exercise.

Framing for conscious attention and metaphor for unconscious attention

Framing is essential to a new code training. The intent is to facilitate students to discover patterns of excellence for themselves through exposure to training exercises, experiences and games.  Also for students to experience unconscious uptake of generative patterns of excellence for which the evidence will be the questions they ask, the behaviour they offer and the links they make.  The intent for unconscious uptake is to prevent students from making conscious links between what they think they are learning and what they know already that they think relates to it. Ideally, students learn unconsciously, then allow the patterns to generalise and be expressed unconsciously until sometime later, the student starts to gain conscious awareness.

Given the ascendancy of conscious processing in western society, students like to know what they are going to learn, what it is for and what is the reason for learning it before they do anything. When training the new code, this is first raised on day one.

Conventional learning expects the conscious mind to learn before a skill or topic becomes available unconsciously. This is hard work and allows conscious ideas and opinion to filter new information before it is experienced. This is limiting. Learners want to be able to respond with nlp patterns, not talk about them. Therefore participants are asked to do discovery exercises without knowing what they are for in advance. They are given clear process instructions but no reasoning. After doing the exercises there will be a chance to discuss them.

New code NLP trainers and practitioners use framing extensively before beginning to teach a pattern or intervene with a client. It can be presupposed that the unconscious has access to all our resources; and there are times when we run out of ideas. At those times the unconscious mind needs a frame of reference on which to base the search for resources that fit the particular situation. For the conscious mind, the discovery method favoured in the new code of NLP does not provide meaning in advance and conscious minds like meaning. Framing provides enough meaning, albeit different from the covert intent of the exercise, to enable participants' conscious minds to participate in a useful manner. That is, to perform the overt task of the exercise.

To recap what we stated earlier, framing is a way of establishing and defining the context and / or the desired outcome. It is a prerequisite for engaging both the conscious and unconscious attention of students or consulting clients.

The use of games to build content free high performance states

One aspect of a new code design for training and coaching is the use of activities and games to develop content free high performance states in participants. Once elicited, these states can be applied to any context where someone wants to enhance their performance. These high performance states are referred to as content free as they arise as a by-product of the game or activity. They manifest in the present, thereby avoiding the use of sense memory as a source of resources for high performance. Thus they are uncontaminated with specific memory content.

The use of content free high performance states leads to more robust changes and better generalizations of those changes into people's lives. It is also congruent with the idea that ethical application of NLP be content free. It avoids any risk of imposing consultants' values on their clients, which is a serious drawback of content oriented models, for example conventional psychotherapy, counselling or management consulting.

NLP trainers model the patterns to be learnt

Getting NLP back on track; reorienting to patterning and modelling

With the exponential growth of people teaching the developed models and applications of NLP models to business, coaching, therapy, education, personal development etc., there has been very little attention from NLP trainers to modelling and the development of new models. Much of what is promoted as new models is simply repackaging of existing NLP models into applications of NLP. In fact most of the NLP books published in recent years are simply variations on standard NLP themes. As Grinder states in an interview he did for us in 1996

" One of the expectations which I personally carried at the time of discovery and development of NLP was that people interested in our work would cleanly make the distinction between NLP and applications of NLP. My hope at the time was that given this distinction, there would arise a group of committed men and women who would recognize the meta levels tools which we had either discovered (the Milton Model.....), or created (the verbal patterns of the Meta Model or Precision Model, Representational Systems....), and go out and identify and create new models of excellence to offer the world. This has not happened and is very disappointing to me. NLP is popularly represented and commonly practiced at least one logical level below what it was clearly understood to be at the time by Bandler and me." 8.

The new code of NLP corrects this consequence with an explicit reorientation back to the core skills of NLP Modelling.

From NLP technicians to NLP artists; the shift away from procedure to the incorporation and generalisation of patterns

A consequence of classic code teaching and learning NLP is that the material becomes formulaic through packaging as techniques in recipe or scripted form. This results in practitioners who are really NLP technicians. They can only express NLP through the formatted techniques that they have been given, without an appreciation of the underlying NLP patterns.  Unless they can gain the patterns experientially, they will remain technicians and be limited to the ritualised techniques they were taught in their NLP training. Unfortunately, even ritualised NLP makes a discernible difference to the qualitiy of people's lives, so continues to attract many students who are then led to believe they have learned the genuine article. This leads to another consequence; the development of perceptual filters that preclude the likelihood of discovering the patterns of NLP. If you know it all already (and your trainer has anchored credibility), why would you "repeat" what you have finished learning?

A new code approach to teaching and learning NLP involves creating a context or series of contexts within which the target patterns are demonstrated, with multiple descriptions 9.

Students who learn to attend to the detection and utilization of patterns in self and others develop artistry in their use of NLP. They have behavioural flexibility and can respond creatively in any context.

Summary of differences between the classic code and the new code of NLP

A useful way of thinking about the difference between new code and classic code NLP is in terms of emphasis.

The classic code emphasizes technique, mechanistic metaphors and the production of NLP technicians. It uses conscious explicit models that are often divorced from their original context. "Where do I use this technique" and "how do I know which technique to use" are common questions from classic code students and practitioners. There is a tendency for classic code practitioners to try to fit clients to procedures, instead of creating interventions with each client.

The new code emphasizes the relationship between the conscious and unconscious minds of the individual, their relationships with others and their relationship with the world. It works towards the personal evolution of the participant. The new code promotes unconscious competence which may be followed by conscious appreciation. Training drills are used in service to pattern incorporation and the development of unconscious competence. The balance between the conscious and unconscious minds is paramount. This is known as the conscious / unconscious interface. The new code is directed towards the detection and utilisation of patterns in the world, with an emphasis on patterns. A new code practitioner often creates a process spontaneously in response to a particular context. In the new code, participants explore psychological states. They learn to recognise, inventory and change states. This work connects with the development and incorporation by each participant of a modelling state. A modelling state is a state of mind for modelling excellence. Another aspect of the new code is attention training (essential for modelling). That is learning where and how you place your attention, how that relates to state, perceptual position and context.

Grinder and DeLozier developed the new code as a second description of Neuro-Linguistic Programming to create a system for learning NLP that fosters the development of systemic wisdom in the participant. If you want to learn more about the new code, read Turtles All the Way Down by Judith Delozier and John Grinder and Whispering in the Wind by Carmen Bostic St Clair and John Grinder. The new NLP qualification the Graduate Certificate in Neuro-Linguistic Programming is taught through a new code design.


Chris Collingwood is an NLP Trainer Trainer, NLP modeller and Director of Inspiritive Pty Ltd. He is the co-author with Jules Collingwood of The NLP Field Guide; Part 1. A reference manual of practitioner level patterns. He has over fifteen years experience in coaching, consulting and leading seminars in Australia, New Zealand and the United States.

Chris's background includes extensive training with developers of NLP, including Dr. John Grinder, co-originator of Neuro-Linguistic Programming. Chris is an NLP trainer certified as a trainer by Dr. John Grinder.

Chris holds a Diploma in Training and Assessment Systems, a BA degree in Psychology, a Graduate Certificate in Neuro-Linguistic Programming and a Masters degree in Applied Science Social Ecology. He has been exploring Neuro-Linguistic Programming since 1980.

© 2003 Chris Collingwood.

New Code of NLP - Footnotes

1. Epistemology, a branch of philosophy is the study of how we know what we know.

2. One of the first new code of NLP seminars was DeLozier and Grinder's Prerequisites to Personal Genius, taught in San Francisco in 1986 the seminar was transcribed and edited into their book Turtles all the Way Down.

3. See their book Whispering in the Wind, 2002 which contains a major section on the new code. The book examines NLP Epistemology in depth and distinguishes between NLP modelling, NLP application and NLP training. This is a seminal book in the field and one of the most important NLP books written in recent years.

4. See Bandler and Grinder's The Structure of Magic Volumes 1 & 2, Patterns of the Hypnotic Technique of Milton H. Erickson MD. Volumes 1 & 2 (with DeLozier), Frogs into Princes, Trance-formations and Reframing.

5. See Whispering in the Wind. Bostic St Clair and Grinder have a chapter explicating the criteria for modelling in Whispering.

6. Conscious attention at any one moment in time is limited to between 5 and 9 chunks of information. See G.A.Miller's paper "The Magical Number Seven Plus or Minus Two; Some limits on our capacity for processing information" .

7. Read the chapter of the Breakthrough pattern which documents the development of Six Step Reframing in Bostic St. Clair and Grinders book Whispering in the Wind (2002).

8. See the interview with John Grinder

9. Read DeLozier and Grinder's Turtles all the Way Down and Bateson's Mind and Nature; a necessary unity, for rich explanations of the concept of Multiple Descriptions. Referred to as Double Description by Bateson.


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