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Do NLP Techniques Actually Work?

In the days before COVID, I was giving a talk about NLP to a group when a woman approached me and asked:

“What do you think about the Havening Technique, does it work?” 

I said: “Like all techniques, it does … until it doesn’t.” And smiled. 

I could tell by her question, she held the misinformed belief about how techniques work. 

The idea that the magic happens in the technique, rather than realising the magic happens when we run our mind-body system in specific ways that creates new ways of feeling, responding and acting. 

Sometimes that requires several repetitions for the new pattern to be wired up. 

Sometimes it means combining techniques. 

Sometimes it means changing the order in which you do things. 

The only hard-and-fast rule is do whatever works. 

(A topic for a future article.) 

Last week a reader asked:

“How can we avoid the most common mistakes when we use NLP techniques on ourselves since we are the coach and the client at the same time?”

That’s a good question.

While NLP was made famous by the idea of ‘programming’ people; it’s important to remember human beings are not computers. And NLP originally wasn’t meant to be a tool for self-application. 

Richard Bandler even warned people against using NLP on yourself.

Many early students of NLP got lost in the conceptual woodlands ‘treating themselves’.

So the first mistake to avoid is to think using the techniques on yourself is the same as doing them with others.

Running a process on yourself while you are supposed to be experiencing the process means you are context and content switching what is going through your mind-body and creating instances of THAT pattern, and not the actual technique…

This can result in poor results and the erroneous idea that 'the techniques don’t work' or ‘don’t stick.’​

It’s better, where possible, to have someone else (who is skilled) drive you through the process, or in the absence of that option, use external aids (a voice recording app, post it notes, 3x5 cards etc.) to help you.

Essentially you want to minimize the interruption of managing an overt process and use tools to help you guide you through what to do, while you FOCUS your attention on doing it.

The second big mistake to avoid is doing something other than the actual technique!

Make sure you actually FOLLOW the instructions of the technique, fully and do them in the right order.

If the technique says “make a life-sized movie of yourself looking at a picture of yourself, looking at the thing that has frightened you”, then make sure you follow the instruction which has 3 elements in it.

If you make a life-sized movie of the scary thing first – instead of a dissociated movie of yourself, you will create a frightening response in your body…

If you do something else, (and many people do without even realising that is what they are doing) then you won’t get the same class of outcome the technique offers.

As you can sense, applying the techniques on yourself, requires you have pretty good control of your ability to perceive and observe things accurately, follow clear instructions AND control what you do inside your mind and body.​Doing it well is far more than simply reading words on a page.

All this means you need to develop pretty good awareness of your own internal process.

Something, most people in my experience, have little conscious skill with.

Does that mean you shouldn’t try?

Of course not.

All of these skills can be learned and improved.

The third big mistake to avoid is picking the wrong technique for the job.

You wouldn’t choose a hammer to create a ¼ inch whole in the wall. Same goes for choosing the techniques.

You need to know a bit about how the techniques function, what they are good for AND what they are aren’t good for.

There’s much more to be said about this, but focusing on:

  1. Thinking through and planning ahead how you will run the process side of applying the techniques on yourself cleanly
  2. Refining your observation, processing and output skills so you can do the right things in the right order
  3. And choosing the right technique for the job…

…will dramatically improve your ability to use the techniques successfully on yourself.

So you can get exactly the results you want.

If you’d like to learn more and discover which are the most useful techniques I recommend people learn, check out my top ten picks over here.

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I'm Tom.

Everyone has something they’d like to change in their life. I’m here to help you transform the behaviours that get in your way so you can have the life you really want.


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