How the Brain Processes Information with NLP Meta-Programs

Each and every day, our brains process billions and billions of sensory messages, transforming these collections of lights and sounds into meaningful, actionable information.  And while this is no small feat in and of itself, what’s even more interesting – at least, from an NLP standpoint – is how this information processing capability can be used to drive our thoughts and reactions.

According to NLP teachings, our brains process these experiences according to a number of different strategies, known as “meta-programs.”

Essentially, meta-programs give us a framework for processing thoughts and experiences according to a set of pre-defined criteria; much like a computer uses software programs to handle repeated tasks and demands.  If the computer had to write a separate program to process new information every time it was entered, the processing demands would be overwhelming!

In their landmark Encyclopedia of NLP terms, researchers Robert Dilts and Judith Delozier describe NLP meta-programs (referred to here as “strategies”) in terms of this same computer metaphor:

“A strategy is like a program in a computer. It tells you what to do with the information you are getting, and like a computer program, you can use the same strategy to process a lot of different kinds of information.”

And while there are plenty of different NLP meta-programs we’ll discuss later, let’s look at one example now in order to better understand how these strategies help our brains to better process incoming information:

One common NLP meta-program is the “Internal versus External Frame of Reference”, which defines where and how we seek validation.  Think, for a second, about how you prefer to receive feedback on projects at work.  If you need others to compliment you or congratulate you on a job well done, you’re operating with an external frame of reference.  On the opposite side of this NLP technique, if it’s enough for you to simply *know* you’ve done a good job, you’re processing feedback based on an internal frame of reference.

In this example, the sensory input that’s being processed is feedback on your job performance.  Your boss provides the input, but it’s up to your brain to utilize existing NLP meta-programs in order to interpret this data.

Following this theory, an employee who’s using an external frame of reference may be unsatisfied with a lackluster response from his or her boss, while a worker with an internal frame of reference may feel uncomfortable if too much verbal recognition is given from outside parties.  By understanding the role that NLP meta-programs play in causing these feelings of discomfort, we can seek to resolve these issues more logically in order to achieve greater productivity and overall happiness.

In addition to the “Internal versus External Frame of Reference” NLP meta-program, there are a number of others you should be aware of:

  • Overview versus Detail – When confronted with new information, does your brain prefer to seek out additional detail or understand the bigger picture?
  • Proactive versus Reactive – Do you prefer to take a proactive approach to dealing with problems and challenges or do you usually wait to see what results from these issues before taking action?
  • Toward versus Away – Are you more motivated by the thought of obtaining a benefit (“toward” motivation) or by avoiding pain and discomfort (“away” motivation)?
  • Comparison Processing – When presented with new items or ideas, do you tend to associate this information with similar concepts in your mind or instead contrast it to dissimilar items?
  • Self versus Others – In general, do you tend to think it terms of “What’s in it for me?” or “What is the effect on the group?”
  • Matcher versus Mismatcher – Similar to comparison processing, do you look at the world and see how alike certain items are or do you take more notice of their differences?
  • Time Orientation – Are you an “in the moment” person?  Or do you tend to view items within a historical or future-oriented context?

There are plenty of other NLP meta-programs out there that can be studied, but what’s most interesting to note about the items on this list is that there’s no “right or wrong” answer.  If you tend to process incoming information according to a detailed perspective versus a “big picture” approach, you aren’t wrong – you’re simply using your own unique set of NLP meta-programming.

As you might imagine, being able to recognize and understand these NLP meta-programs within your own psyche can be incredibly value.  If, for example, you’re able to determine that you are a detail-oriented person, you’ll prioritize seeking out the level of information you need to work successfully when approaching new projects or ideas.  You may also seek out people with a similar mental set up, as you’ll find you naturally have better rapport with those who understand your unique needs.

Once you understand how NLP meta-programs are applied to your own thoughts and ideas, you’ll naturally start to see the results of this mental processing in others.  In my next post, I’ll show you how uncovering the NLP meta-programs that others are using can help you to drive change in your workplace – so stick around for more information on how to use these tools successfully in various aspects of your life!

Image: Rego


3 thoughts on “How the Brain Processes Information with NLP Meta-Programs

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