This is the (long awaited) fourth installment in a series about the presuppositions of NLP. Earlier installments can be found in the archives in May 2013. I call these presuppositions essential attitudes, because the ones we’re including in this episode are paradigm shifting. So be warned. If you incorporate them into your thinking, the world (as you know it) might never be the same.
The essential attitudes I want to share with you in this segment are about choice, behavior, and purpose.
So fasten your seatbelts …
This next presupposition is especially important. And when we take it to heart, it can yield some helpful insight about ourselves, our loved ones, our clients and associates. It’s two presuppositions, really and so far reaching that we have to get there a step at time. The first step is this corollary:
BEHAVIOR IS PURPOSEFUL
It is intention that drives behavior. No matter what we do, there is something we are trying to achieve by doing it. Often the intention seems so obvious … and we don’t even think about it. Yet what seems obvious isn’t always so and occasionally we have to ask. “Why would someone DO such a thing!?” This NLP presupposition encourages us to take a look at the intention behind the behavior. “If behavior is purposeful … what purpose does it achieve?”
But the next step takes it a bit further, and in its fullest form the presupposition is expressed this way :
THERE IS A POSITIVE INTENTION BEHIND ALL BEHAVIOR
In training classes this one usually leads to a discussion of all the counterexamples … and names like Hitler and Dahmer and Manson come up. In my personal opinion (and in spite of outward appearances) people don’t wake up in the morning with an intention to be evil. Yet even these three, when viewed from their own perspective, were in pursuit of something that they needed or valued. It may have been a tangible goal, or an emotional one. And it may or may not have been conscious.
The road to hell is paved with good intentions … but so is the road to heaven. Good intentions aren’t the problem. It’s their execution that isn’t working out well. There needs to be a better way.
This idea opens up a widely used and highly effective approach to change.
Clients often come to us claiming that they are unable to eliminate unwanted behaviors that don’t seem to serve them in any way.
I don’t believe that there really is a part of any of us that wants to smoke cigarettes, or overeat, or do anything against our will. But there may be part of us that wants relaxation or comfort or some other positive experience and this is how it gets THAT. So rather than seeking a remedy for smoking, we find better ways to relax. It’s good to have a part of us that’s committed to getting that for us and we want it to succeed at that.
This is especially important, because many of our clients are asking for an exorcism of sorts. They say in effect, ”I’ve got this (habit) and it’s got possession of me. I can’t control it, and I want you to get rid of it. Cast it out!” I remember when I was in college a group of religious zealots who wanted to “cast the demon nicotine out of me.” And many well-meaning therapists and changeworkers attempt to do just that. And when a part believes you’re trying to annihilate it, there really isn’t any rapport. Just resistance and an absence of internal cooperation. Especially since that part is the most important one in resolving the issue. So it isn’t surprising that a lot of resistance comes up … or that the change isn’t lasting … when the positive intentions are ignored.
On the other hand, good changework can be as exciting as Christmas Morning to a part that understands you’re going to help it get what it really, really wants.
Having better choices is where it’s at. Being better equipped to get our deeper needs met is what growth is all about. And that’s what makes the next essential attitude one of the most basic and most important:
CHOICE IS BETTER THAN NO CHOICE
Since behavior is purposeful, so are the choices we make as we move through the world. This seems obvious, because the choices that we make really define our lives, don’t they? From the activities we choose to engage in, the friends we make, the work we do, where we live, who we marry (or don’t marry), the beliefs we adhere to … We make our life through choices. In fact, making choices IS our life.
And yet some people don’t feel that they have choices about their behavior. And every time a certain situation arises, they respond the same way – with some unwanted behavior. It seems to be on “automatic” – the default response – and the only choice available.
But one choice is no choice at all. In fact, it’s a rut.
And two choices is often a dilemma …
So it takes THREE choices to really have choice
And that brings us to the next presupposition of NLP:
PEOPLE MAKE THE BEST CHOICES AVAILABLE
Now I know it doesn’t always look like that. And as I look around I see all kinds of folks ranging from world leaders to clients to colleagues to family members making some pretty lousy choices. At least from my point of view.
But there are a couple important things to notice about this presupposition … a couple magic words that really impact its meaning.
“BEST” is the first magic word. What criteria is being applied? In NLP-speak we mean “most likely to succeed at achieving some outcome”. More specifically, most likely to satisfy that positive intention we’ve been talking about.
“AVAILABLE” is the second magic word. A person can only choose from the possibilities they have access to. These possibilities vary from one person to another based on their beliefs and understandings, skills and abilities, and other resources.
A wise teacher once said: “The obvious truth is what is so. It is also, not so obviously, SO WHAT?!”
Do I need to remind you again that it isn’t a matter of whether these essential attitudes are true or not? It’s more important to notice how they can help us. How we can use them.
If we assume that there is a positive intention behind what people do, we can begin to use this attitude to let go of judgment and try to be more understanding of what people are really up to. And when we know that – we can help them find a better way.
Presuppositions are the place where we begin our thinking. If we begin by presupposing that whatever people are doing is the best choice available to them, we can work on accessing more resources and making new choices available.
Incorporating these essential attitudes into your work can give you great insight, demonstrate a deeper respect for your clients and empower them to make meaningful changes.
How to make those adjustments is something we’ll cover more fully as the series continues …