What are Thinking Styles (Meta Programs)?

Meta Programs are thinking patterns. For instance: Are they focussed on the details or on the big picture? Or: Do they want to achieve things, or do they want to avoid problems? You can recognise people’s meta programs in what they talk about and how they talk about it.

Meta Programs combined with values make up someone’s mindset. Their mindset determines their  behaviour and their emotions. And those, in turn, determine their results.

Synonyms for ‘Meta Program’

  • Meta Programs
  • Thinking patterns
  • Thinking Style Qualities
  • Ways of thinking
  • Mindset elements
  • Cognitive-perceptual preferences

List of Meta Programs measured by MindSonar

Set 1: Proactive versus Reactive
Proactive = a preference for acting quickly and taking the initiative.
Reactive = a preference for waiting, considering, and reflecting.

Set 2: Towards versus Away from
Towards = a focus on achieving goals
Away From = a focus on avoiding problems.

Set 3: Internal Reference versus External Reference
Internal Reference = using one’s own standards in evaluations.
External Reference = using other people’s standards in evaluations.

Set 4: Options versus Procedure
Options = a preference for many different possibilities.
Procedure = a preference for step-by-step planning.

Set 5: General versus Specific
General  = a focus on the broad overview
Specific = a focus on the small details.

Set 6: Matching versus Mismatching
Matching = a focus on what is good and correct.
Mismatching =  a focus on what is bad and incorrect).

Set 7: Internal locus of control versus External locus of control
Internal locus of control = a focus on how someone influences their circumstances)
External locus of control (focus on how someone’s circumstances influence them).

Set 8: Maintenance versus Development versus Change
Maintenance = a preference for things staying the same.
Development = a preference for gradual change.
Change = a preference for fast and radical change.

Set 9: People versus Activity versus Information
People = a focus on people and what moves them
Activities = a focus on activities being done
Information = focus on information; facts and figures.

Set 10: Concept versus Structure versus Use
Concept = a focus on essentials and principles.
Structure = a focus on relationships between elements.
Use = a focus on practical applications.

Set 11: Together versus Proximity versus Solo
Together = a preference for working closely together with shared responsibility.
Proximity = a preference for mutual support with individual responsibility.
Solo = a preference for working alone).

Set 12: Past versus Present versus Future
Past = a focus on past events.
Present = a focus on the “here and now”.
Future = a focus on future events.

Set 13: Visual versus Auditory versus Kinesthetic 
Visual = a focus on images and movies.
Auditory = focus on sounds and words.
Kinesthetic = focus on feelings and movement.

If you want to see examples of these patterns in famous quotes, click here.

How do thinking style, filters, feelings and actions work together?
There is a dynamic relationship between thinking (meta programs and Graves drives), perception, emotion and behaviour.

  • How your mindset influences your perception and vice versa
    Mindset, consisting of thinking styles (Meta programs) plus motivational types (Graves drives), determines perceptual filters; what someone does or does not notice. And it works the other way around too: once in place, these filters tend to strengthen the thinking style and the motivational type they are based on. For example: someone uses the meta program ‘Procedure’. They think in terms of sequences that need to be run in a certain order. So when they look at a desk they will notice a stack of manuals. Manuals are full of the kind of procedural information that they like. If they would have had the meta program ‘Options’ active, they would probably not even have noticed these manuals.

  • How mindset and perception determine your how you feel
    Mindset plus the resulting perceptual filters affect somebody’s mood and emotions and vice versa. For example: Someone is working with a particular household appliance and they are focused on ‘Procedure’. They encounter a problem. They feel frustrated. Then they find the appliance’s manual on the kitchen drawer. They start to feel better: “Ah, there must be a solution somewhere in there!”

  • How your mindset, perception and mood determine your behavior 
    In the same example: The person sees the manual. Because they are focusing on ‘Procedure’, a manual with step-by-step how-to information makes them feel better. So with a sigh of relief they take it off the shelf and start reading (behaviour). They figure out how to solve the problem. Now they feel satisfied. At the same time this emotion reinforces their meta program (Procedure) and their Graves Drives (Blue for ‘doing things as they ought to be done’  and orange for ‘Being successful and winning’).

Meta programs and NLP
Meta Programs originated from NLP (‘Neuro-Linguistic Programming’), a model for studying and transforming subjective experience. NLP was developed from the late seventies of the last century in the USA, by Richard Bandler and John Grinder. For the development of NLP they borrowed concepts from: 

  • Fritz Perls (Gestalt Therapy)
  • Milton H. Erickson (Hypnotherapy)
  • Virginia Satir (Family therapy)
  • Alfred H. Korzybski (Linguistic Philosophy)
  • Vaihinger (Philosophy of ‘As-if’)
  • Miller, Galanter and Pribram (Cybernetics)
  • Gregory Bateson (Human evolution)

What are Value Types (Graves Drives)?

What are Value Types?

We use criteria all the time, MindSonar registers some of them
Criteria are the standards you use to evaluate things. MindSonar registers criteria and assigns them to certain value types. You use the yardsticks of criteria all the time, usually without being aware of them. For instance: when you meet someone new, you may be using ‘smart’ as a criterion. If the person seems ‘smart’ to you, you have a good feeling about them. Or you might use ‘authentic’ as a criterion. If they strike you as ‘authentic’, you feel good about them.

You can have all kinds of criteria. You can have hard to fulfill criteria like: ‘As smart as Nietzsche’. If you use that criterion, you’ll find a large proportion of people ‘not the sharpest tool in the shed’. Or you can have much ‘easier’ criteria, like ‘Smart enough to navigate with Google maps’. That will make a much larger percentage of people seem ‘pretty smart’ to you.  You can have specific criteria, like ‘Being a fan of the first three albums of the Rolling Stones’ or general criteria like ‘Liking music’. You can have emotional criteria like ‘Helping me feel safe’, or visual criteria, like ‘Looking healthy’. And so on and so forth. In day-to-day life, you use hundreds of criteria.

Values are very important criteria, MindSonar registers their hierarchy
Some criteria are very important to you. When a criterion is very important to someone, we call if it a value. MindSonar not only registers values, but also their hierarchy: which one is most important, which one is next, and so on. For instance: ‘Honesty’ might be a value when you meet someone new. If they don’t seem very energetic, you might not mind. But if they strike you as dishonest, you might think twice about doing anything with them. In that case, ‘Being energetic’ is obviously lower in your hierarchy of criteria than ‘Honesty’.

In general, you are highly motivated by goals, plans, dreams, projects and activities match your criteria. That’s why we sometimes call the values measured by MindSonar ‘motivational drives‘.

Thinking styles (meta programs) are ways in which you handle your values
Thinking styles (meta programs) are ways in which you handle your values.For instance: Are you assuming people will be honest (meta program ‘Matching’) or are you assuming they will be dishonest (meta program ‘Mismatching’)? Is it important to you that a person be honest (meta program ‘Towards’). Or is it important to you that they not be dishonest (meta program ‘Away from’)?

MindSonar determines value types (Graves Drives), which indicate the sort of values you hold
Graves Drives are a typology of values. In MindSonar we use them to make it easier to compare a value with other values. For example: is honesty about power for you (the red Graves drive)? Or is it about community (the green Graves drive)?

MindSonar measures mindsets: a combination of value types and thinking styles
MindSonar defines a mindset as a combination of value types (Graves drives) and thinking styles (meta programs). Since there are so many different combinations possible every mindset is unique. MindSonar measures mindsets for a given situation and assumes people may have different mindsets in different circumstances.

Value types (Graves drives) in MindSonar

  • Purple Drive
    Criteria in that have to do primarily with security and safety.Other keywords for this drive are: belonging, tradition, feeling at home, togetherness, and seniority.

Value type (Graves drive) security in MindSonar

  • Red Drive
    Criteria that relate primarily to power and respect—to getting respect in particular, but also to showing respect. Acting impulsively, quickly, and forcefully without thinking of the consequences.Other keywords for this drive are: reputation, power, strength, honour, and courage.

Value type (Graves drive) power in MindSonar

  • Blue Drive
    Criteria that have to do primarily with order and security.Other keywords for this drive are: discipline, reliability, duty, and control.

Value type (Graves drive) order in MindSonar

  • Orange Drive
    Criteria that that are associated primarily with competition and winning.Other keywords for this drive are: success, achievement, results, progress, and influence.

Value type (Graves drive) winning in MindSonar

  • Green Drive
    Criteria that have to do primarily with ideals and loyalty to the group.Other keywords for this drive are: harmony, community, connectedness, love, social contact, and consensus.

Value type (Graves drive) together in MindSonar

  • Yellow Drive
    Criteria that have to do primarily with learning and independence.Other keywords for this drive are: creativity, analysis, and personal growth.

Value type (Graves drive) learning in MindSonar

  • Turquoise Drive
    Criteria primarily associated with the big picture and a holistic vision.Other keywords for this drive are: responsibility for the earth as a whole, spirituality, balance, and integration.

Value type (Graves drive) spirituality in MindSonar

Value types (Graves drives) in MindSonar

MindSonar’s values typology was developed by Claire W. Graves
US psychologist Claire Graves theorized that there are eight value systems, which have evolved over the course of human history. He assumed that each value system flows from the previous one as a response to:a. Ever more complex life circumstancesb. Problems with the previous value system.

Graves and Maslow
Graves was a professor of Psychology in the sixties and seventies of the 20th century at Union College in New York, the same university where Abraham Maslow taught. Maslow was developing his motivation theory (the famous Pyramid of Needs), which shows the development of individual needs. Graves thought Maslow’s model did not offer a broad enough base for understanding man as a bio-psycho-social-cultural being. He assumed that human behaviour was not determined by individual needs alone, but by a combination of social, biological and psychological factors

Graves categorisation
MindSonar measures the extent to which someone’s criteria are associated with Graves Drives. We call this Graves categorisation: MindSonar puts someone’s criteria (which they have formulated already) into Graves categories.

Motivation: ‘What’ or ‘How’ or both?


Content oriented theories and process oriented theories of motivation
MindSonar is a process oriented instrument. Many authors have distinguished between content oriented theories and process oriented theories of motivation (Graham and Weiner, 1996). 

Content theories
A content theory is a system of constructs that are linked logically together, explaining why people behave as they do in which conditions. They want to predict what happens if the conditions change (McAuley et al., 2007). Content theories of motivation concern themselves with what people want.

An example of a content theory is Maslow’s ‘Hierarchy of needs’ theory (Maslow 1943). Maslow defines 5 sets of goals (basic needs), arranged in a hierarchy. Each of these goals has a specific content: physiological needs, safety needs, belongingness and love needs, esteem needs and self-actualisation.

Process theories
Process theories, on the other hand, attempt to provide a generalised explanation of processes and the behaviors these processes lead to, describing the major conditions necessary for explaining the process. They want to describe how people think, what the processes are in their minds that induce their behaviour (Kispál-Vuitai, 2016). They contain constructs (Binning, 2016) that are not necessarily linked together in a coherent theory, but explain behaviour and allow for prediction of future behaviour. Proces theories of motivation concern themselves with how people arrive at wanting something.

An example of a process theory is Bandura’s ‘Social learning theory’: the individual learns behaviours through observation, repeats behaviour if it is rewarded and ceases it when it is not rewarded (Bandura 1977). Bandura does not define the content of either the behaviour or the rewards.

These two types of theory spring from different traditions in psychology. Process theories stem from experimental studies as well as from qualitative experiential findings, systematically modeled by practitioners. The latter is the case with the meta programs and cognitive criteria measured by MindSonar. These constructs were formalised based on personal change work (Cameron et al, 1985). Content theories, on the other hand, have grown mostly out of personality studies and qualitative clinical-differential studies.

We propose an eclectic approach in which the findings in one type of theory are used to enrich understanding and exploration of the other type. For example, Bateman and Crant (1999) identify a general behavioural factor they call ‘proactive’, defining it by its specific behavioural elements as: ‘to intentionally and directly change things in an intended direction’. This content-oriented approach can be meaningfully complemented by a process-oriented one, explaining the critical cognitive meta programs, such as ‘proactive’, ‘towards’, ‘options’ and ‘change’, the are underlying this Bateman and Crant’s ‘proactive’ behaviour.

Atoms and molecules
We can take concepts from different psychological theories, compare them with the related meta programs and demonstrate how they can be clarified with their possible underlying process (meta program) elements. We like to use molecules and atoms as a metaphor. If we look, for instance, at the chemical structure of caffeine, we see that is is made up of four atoms (H3C, O, N and CH3) linked together in a certain configuration. Likewise, many constructs from content oriented theories can be described as configurations of meta programs.

Do You Follow a Set Path?

Are you driven to create new, unique ways of doing things? Or, do you prefer to follow an already established procedure? The Meta Program distinction that we will be exploring this week will have a dramatic impact on how effective you are at motivating someone or yourself toward a goal. Continue reading

How does Proactive/Reactive relate to the ‘Big Five’?

As you probably know all too well, the meta program Proactive’ is defined as ‘A preference for acting quickly and taking the initiative’ while ‘Reactive’ is defines as ‘A preference for waiting, considering and reflecting before engaging in overt activity. There is a scientific article by Bateman and Crant (1999), where they describe a type of behaviour they call ‘proactive’. They define it as: ‘to intentionally and directly change things in an intended direction’. They also describe the lack of this proactive behaviour, but they do not give that a label.

Taking the initiative
What are the similarities and differences between their definition and  the proactive/reactive distinction in meta programs?
a. Both Bateman and Crant and meta programs highlight taking the initiative as an important aspect of proactivity.
b. Bateman and Crant focus on behaviour, while meta programs focus on mindset (patterns of cognition and experience).
c. In their definition, Bateman and Crant include the result of the behavior: ‘change things for the better’. Meta programs do not assume that proactive behaviour will change things for the better. Proactive behaviour may change things for the worse. Think of someone who quickly lights a fire to get warm and in doing so sets the house on fire.

Several other meta programs mixed in
d. Bateman and Crant include several behaviors under ‘proactivity’ that in terms of meta programs are considered to be expressions of other meta programs:
– ‘Scanning for (…) opportunities’ would be coded in meta programs as ‘Options’, not necessary as ‘Proactive’. Someone may scan for opportunities in their mind without ever acting upon them.
– ‘Setting effective change-oriented goals’ would be coded as ‘Towards’ and ‘Change’ in terms of meta programs. Someone may be aware of what they would like to change, without  acting upon those ideas.
-’To do different things or do things differently’ would be coded as an effect of the ‘Change’ or ‘Development’ meta programs.
e. Bateman and Crant seem to strongly favour proactivity over ‘no proactivity’. In meta programs, the opposite of ‘Proactive’ is ‘Reactive’: needing more time and information before starting an activity. Meta programs assume there are advantages to reactivity in many situations, be they private or work related. Proactive spending f.i., may bankrupt a company, which could have been prevented by reactive thinking.

Summarizing: Both Bateman and Crant and meta programs highlight taking the initiative as an important element of proactivity. Differences are: Bateman and Crant focus on behavior, include the result of the action and seem to strongly favour proactivity. Meta programs, in contract, focus on thinking, do not include the result of the action and favour proactivity and reactivity equally. Also Bateman and Crant include many elements in their definition that are covered by meta programs other than ‘Proactive/Reactive’.

And how about the ‘Big Five’?
The  ‘Five-factor model’, or ‘Big Five model’, is a trait oriented typology, based on relationships within descriptors of personality in common language.

It suggests five broad dimensions commonly used to describe the human personality (Saucier and Goldberg, 1996). The five factors are:
1. Openness to experience (inventive/curious vs. consistent/cautious).
2. Conscientiousness (efficient/organised vs. easy-going/careless).
3. Extraversion (outgoing/energetic vs. solitary/reserved).
4. Agreeableness (friendly/compassionate vs. challenging/detached).
5. Neuroticism (sensitive/nervous vs. secure/confident).

Of the Big Five, the ‘Extraversion/Introversion’ factor seems most likely to be related to the ‘Proactive/Reactive’ meta program distinction. This factor is defined as: “The tendency to seek stimulation in the company of others, and talkativeness. Low extraversion causes a reserved, reflective personality. Extroverts draw energy from interacting with others, while introverts get tired from interacting with others and replenish their energy from solitude. People high in extroversion are comfortable with others, gregarious, and prone to action rather than contemplation (Lebowitz, 2016a). People low in extraversion are more likely to speak less, be quiet, introspective, reserved, and thoughtful.”

Extraversion traits in the ‘Big Five’
The traits associated with extraversion are:
Socially confident

When we compare the proactive and reactive meta programs with the big five conceptualisation of extraversion and introversion, we see the following similarities and differences.

Introspective versus prone to action
a. Both the ‘Extraversion/Introversion’ factor and the ‘Proactive’ and ‘Reactive’ meta programs define Introverted/Reactive as more introspective and thoughtful. Extraverted is seen as less introspective and less thoughtful than introverted, which corresponds with the  Proactive/Reactive distinction in meta programs.

b. Both sets of distinctions see ‘Extraverted/Proactive’ as prone to action rather than contemplation, and consequently ‘Introverted/Reactive’ as prone to contemplation rather than action.
– Both sets of distinctions see Extraverted/Proactive as drawing energy from overtly doing something (interacting with others, in the case of Big Five).

Major difference: meta programs do not focus exclusively on social interaction
c. A major difference is, that the ‘Extraversion/Introversion’ factor is focussed on one single context: social interaction, while the meta programs ‘Proactive’ and ‘Reactive’ may be applied to any context. Opening a door, to give one non-social example, may be done proactively (by immediately turning the handle or even kicking the door in) or reactively (by first thinking about the way the lock works and what might be behind the door).

Again: the mainstream distinction combines several different meta programs
d. Another difference is that, when we look at the list of traits that are part of extraversion, there are several traits that would be coded as meta programs other than ‘Proactive’. ‘Sociable’ f.i. would be not be coded as ‘Proactive’ but rather as the meta program ‘People’. ’Friendly’ would be coded as the meta programs ‘Matching plus People’. ’Merry’ would be coded as ‘Matching plus Kinesthetic’. ‘Assertive’ would be coded as ’Proactive plus Activity plus Internally Referenced’. The set of traits that are part of the ‘Extraversion’ factor, makes it much less specific than the meta program ‘Proactive’.

Summarising: Both ‘Extraverted’ and ‘Proactive’ are characterised by being prone to action, and their opposites ‘Introverted’ and ‘Reactive’ as being prone to contemplation or reflection. A difference is, that ‘Introversion’ relates to the context of social interaction only, while Proactive/Reactive may apply to any context. A second difference is that ‘Introversion’ contains a broad set of traits that are covered by other meta programs (or other meta program combinations) than ‘Proactive/Reactive’.

Rotters ‘Locus of Control’, is it the same as our Meta Programs?

Internal Locus of Control’ is, as you are probably well aware, defined as having a focus one how one influences ones circumstances, while versus ‘External Locus of Control’ is having a focus one how ones circumstances influence oneself.

They most probably came from Rotter
The locus of control meta programs are closely related to Rotter’s (1989) distinction bearing the same name. It seems highly likely that this distinction found its way directly from Rotter into the meta program collection. According to Rotter, ‘Locus of control’ describes “the degree to which a person explains outcomes and events in their personal life as due to – chance- fate- luck, or as a result of her/his own – skills- abilities- goal-directed behaviour”. Rotter conceptualised locus of control as variable, based on the circumstances and therefore different in different situations. For instance, situations differ in terms of the clarity of the reinforcement contingencies operating, i.e. how clear it is which behaviour will be rewarded or punished. Clear reinforcement contingencies increase the chance of internal locus of control, while unclear reinforcement contingencies increase the chance of external locus of control.

Social learning theory
Rotter derived the concept from social learning theory (Bandura, 1977). This theory holds that we observe and imitate the behaviour of people around us. Imitation is influenced by the rewards the behaviour is perceived to result in. If the perceived rewards outweigh the perceived costs, then the behaviour will be more likely to be imitated. Therefore, regarding the ‘control’ in Rotters term ‘locus of control’ is control of social reinforcement (being rewarded or punished by ones fellow humans). A logical consequence is, that when reinforcement conditions change, the perceived locus of control may shift as well.

The ‘Internal–External (I-E) scale
Rotter (1966) produced a  29-item questionnaire called the ‘Internal–External (I-E) scale’, measuring to what extent someone believes events are contingent on their own behaviour or their own relatively permanent characteristics or traits (i.e., internal predisposition), or whether they believe that events are contingent on  luck,  chance,  fate,  or  factors beyond their control (i.e., external predisposition). Studies have shown Gurin et al.’s 13-item scale’s validity for measuring the core construct of internal versus external control of reinforcement (Greenberger, Strasser, Cummings,  & Dunham, 1989; Howell & Avolio, 1993).

In this measurement, respondents are presented with 13 sets of two statements and asked to choose the one describing best how they feel. 1. Many of the unhappy things in people’s lives are partly due to bad luckPeople’s misfortunes result from the mistakes they make.2. One of the major reasons why we have wars is because people don’t take enough interest in politics.There will always be wars, no matter how hard people try to prevent them.3. In the long run, people get the respect they deserve in this world.Unfortunately, an individual’s worth often passes unrecognised no matter how hard he tries.4. The idea that teachers are unfair to students is nonsense.Most students don’t realize the extent to which their grades are influenced by accidental happenings.5. Without the right breaks, one cannot be an effective leader.Capable people who fail to became leaders have not taken advantage of their opportunities.6. No matter how hard you try, some people just don’t like you.People who can’t get others to like them don’t understand how to get along with others.7. I have often found that what is going to happen will happen.Trusting to fate has never turned out as well for me as making a decision to take a definite course of action.8. In the case of the well prepared student, there is rarely, if ever, such a thing as an unfair test.Many times exam questions tend to be so unrelated to course work that studying is really useless.9. Becoming a success is a matter of hard work; luck has little or nothing to do with it.Getting a good job depends mainly on being in the right place at the right time.10. The average citizen can have an influence in government decisions.This world is run by the few people in power, and there is not much the little guy can do about it.11. When I make plans, I am almost certain that I can make them work.It is not always wise to plan too far ahead because many things turn out to be a matter of luck anyway.12. In my case, getting what I want has little or nothing to do with luck.Many times we might just as well decide what to do by flipping a coin.13. What happens to me is my own doing.Sometimes I feel that I don’t have enough control over the direction my life is taking.

Looking at these statements, we see that 7 sets refer to having control over specific types of reward or punishment, while 6 items refer to general events:Specific itemsSet 2: Having warsSet 3: Receiving respect and recognitionSet 4: Receiving good grades as a studentSet 5: Becoming a leaderSet 6: People liking youSet 8: Being tested fairly as a studentSet 10: Influencing government decisionsGeneral itemsSet 1: Having bad luck and misfortuneSet 7: What is going to happenSet 9: Having successSet 11: Making plans workSet 12: Getting what I wantSet 13: What happens to me

Comparison with Rotters ‘Locus of control’
a. Conceptually, the meta program set ‘Internal’ versus ‘External locus of control’ is almost identical to Rotters ‘Locus of control’. Although we have no evidence of this, it seems likely that this meta program set was derived directly from Rotters work.

b. Both Rotter and meta programs assume that locus of control may vary depending on the context.c. In the short form of his measurement, the ‘Internal–External (I-E) scale’, Rotter defines 7 specific contexts (in 7 out of the 13 items). This is a difference with meta programs, since MindSonar only uses one single context (chosen by the respondent or the organisation using MindSonar).d. The definition of the meta program set may benefit from Rotters specification of three sources of internal and external locus of control each. Rotter mentions “chance, fate and luck” as sources of external locus of control and “skills, abilities and goal-directed behaviour” as sources of internal locus of control.

Skill, ability, chance and fate
Although these sources are almost synonymous, they are not exactly the same. ‘Skill’ refers to a specific ability, a specific expertise. ‘Ability’ is a more general concept: proficiency in a particular area (which may be made up of multiple skills and a mental strategy to manage them). ‘Goal-directed behaviour’ is more specific than ‘skill’, it might even refer to a single action. These three sources are on a general-to-specific continuum: ability – skill- goal-directed behaviour.

Looking at the sources of external locus of control, we see that ‘chance’ is the occurrence of events in the absence of any obvious intention or cause. This is a broad concept that does not even attribute the cause of the events to any outside forces either. ‘Fate’ is when events are predetermined by a supernatural power, which is outside a person’s control. ‘Fate’ is a little more specific that ‘chance’; fate at least contributes the events to something. ‘Luck’ is when success or failure are apparently brought by chance rather than through one’s own actions. Luck is more specific again than chance, it’s not about events in general, but about success or failure. With his specification of the courts, Rotter covers both general and (a little) more specific reasons for where the perceived control lies.