The development of NLP
Metaprograms are part of ‘Neuro-Linguistic Programming’ (NLP for short). NLP was developed in the late seventies in the USA by Richard Bandler and John Grinder. NLP is a model for studying and transforming subjective experience. When formulating NLP concepts, Bandler and Grinder borrowed concepts, structures and procedures from
- Fritz Perls’ Gestalt Therapy
- Milton H. Erickson’s Hypnotherapy
- Virginia Satir’s family therapy
- Alfred H. Korzybski’s linguistic philosophy
- Miller, Galanter and Pibram’s cybernetics
Development of the ‘metaprogram’ concept
Students of NLP noticed that Bandler used terms in his transformational work which transcended sensory responses. The order of sensory responses (‘inner strategies’) were referred to in NLP as ‘programming’. The strategy-transcending terms used by Bandler were referred to as ‘metaprograms’, because they described the content of several different mental strategies. These distinctions were ‘meta’ in relation to (above) mental programs, hence the name ‘metaprogram’. These metaprograms were first inventoried and described in 1985 by Cameron-Bandler.
What is thinking?
There are at least three ways to look at a human thought:
- Coding the content
Someone can describe the content of a thought in words. This is usually the way people respond when they’re asked what they are thinking about. For instance: “About dinner.” This is a – usually very brief – verbal coding of the content of a thought.
- Providing details about the content
The content of a thought, as defined by the brief verbal indication, is a) described in more detail and b) in sensory terms. There are several things someone could think about, regarding ‘dinner’, for example. Suppose the question is: “What exactly do you think of when you think about dinner?” The answer might be: “I’m thinking I had better not eat too many carbs” or it might be: “I’m thinking: I’m in the mood for steak and potatoes”. Metaprograms are generalized descriptions of this detailed content. The content “I’m thinking I better not eat too many carbs” is coded in metaprogram terms as ‘Away from’, because the speaker indicates that he wants to move away from something; he describes what he does not want. The content “I’m thinking I’m in the mood for steak and potatoes” is coded in metaprogram terms as ‘Towards’, because the speaker describes the direction he wants to go in; he indicates what he does want.
- Sensory processing
In addition to content, a thought may also be described as a sensory process. For example, when asked: “What do you experience when you think of good food?” the answer might be: “I see a plate with steak and potatoes, I smell the delicious aroma, and I think: steak and potatoes sure sound good!” This sentence describes a sensory series of seeing (visual), smelling (olfactory) and self-talk (auditive-digital). This is the area of sensory modalities (seeing, hearing, feeling, smelling and tasting) and sub-modalities (the finer distinctions within these modalities).
Thinking, perceiving, feeling and acting
There is an interchange between thinking (metaprograms), perceiving, feeling and acting.
- Cognitive styles (metaprograms) and perceptual filters (the things someone does or does not notice) affect each other. For example: someone’s metaprogram is ‘Procedure’, so when he looks at a bookcase he immediately notices a shelf with manuals (which contain a lot of procedural information). If the metaprogram ‘Options’ had predominated, he probably wouldn’t have noticed these manuals. This is an example of an interaction between a metaprogram and a perceptual filter.
- Cognitive style and emotion affect each other. For example: someone is working with a particular appliance and is focused on procedure. He encounters a problem. He feels frustrated. Then he notices the manual for that appliance on the bookshelf. He starts to feel better: “Ah, there’s the solution!” This is an example of an interaction between a metaprogram and an emotion.
- Together, cognitive style and emotion affect behavior. For example: he sees the manual. Because he is focusing on procedures, a manual with lots of procedures makes him feel better. He takes it off the shelf and starts reading. He figures out how to solve the problem with the appliance. He solves the problem and continues working with the appliance. This is an example of an interaction between a metaprogram and behaviour.