What are Meta Programs?

The development of NLP
Meta Programs are part of ‘Neuro-Linguistic Programming’. NLP was developed from 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, Bandler and Grinder borrowed concepts from

  • Fritz Perls’ Gestalt Therapy
  • Milton H. Erickson’s Hypnotherapy
  • Virginia Satir’s family therapy
  • Alfred H. Korzybski’s linguistic philosophy
  • Vaihinger’s philosophy of ‘As-if’
  • Miller, Galanter and Pibram’s cybernetics
  • Gregory Bateson’s ideas about human evolution

Development of the Meta Program concept
Sequences of sensory responses (‘inner strategies’) were originally referred to in NLP as ‘programming’. Sometimes patterns common to several different mental strategies were used in NLP change work.. These distinctions were ‘meta’ in relation to mental programs, hence the name ‘Meta Program’. They were first inventoried and described in 1985 by Cameron-Bandler.

List of Meta Programs measured in MindSonar
If you want to see examples of these patterns in famous quotes, click here.

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

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

Meta Programs 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.

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

Meta Programs set 5: General versus Specific
General  = a focus on the broad overview
Specific = a focus on the small details.

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

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

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

Note: In many overviews of Meta Programs, the desire for stability or sameness versus change or difference is assumed to coincide with its perception. Someone with a desire for change is thought to also perceive more change. However, these two preferences might not reflect the same Meta Programs. People often desire change precisely because they do not perceive enough change and often desire stability when they perceive too much change. We have therefore chosen in MindSonar to focus this set of Meta Programs on the desire for—and not the perception of—stability or change.

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

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

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

Meta Programs 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.

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

Note: These last three distinctions are sensory modalities rather than meta-programs. They are measured together with the meta-programs for the sake of convenience.

Definition of the word Meta Program
Meta Programs are patterns that can be observed in someone’s verbal and nonverbal expressions. Meta Programs determine behaviour,  feeling states and emotions. Synonyms for ‘Meta Programs’ are:

  • Thinking style elements
  • Cognitive-perceptual preferences
  • Cognitive style elements
  • Ways of thinking.

Thinking, perceiving, feeling and doing
There is an dynamic relationship between thinking (Meta Programs and Graves Drives), perception, feeling and behaviour.

Meta Programs

  • Interaction with perceptual filters
    Meta Programs plus Graves Drives determine perceptual filters (the things someone does or does not notice) and the other way around. For example: someone’s Meta Program is ‘Procedure’, so when he looks at a bookcase he immediately notices a shelf with manuals (procedural information). If the Meta Program ‘Options’  had predominated, he probably wouldn’t have noticed these manuals.
  • Interaction with mood and emotion
    Meta Programs plus Graves Drives affect mood and emotion and vice versa. For example: someone is working with a particular appliance and is focused on procedure. They encounter a problem. They feel frustrated. Then they notice the manual on the bookshelf. They start to feel better: “Ah, there’s the solution!”
  • Interaction with behaviour
    Meta Programs plus Graves Drives plus emotions, together affect behaviour, and vice versa. In the same example: they see the manual. Because they are focusing on procedures, a manual with lots of procedures makes them feel better. 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’).


One Comment

  1. I always use MPA MindSonar in coaching and training. It is a fatastic way of people quickly provide insight into how they think. They understand which creates the communication problems. MPA MindSonar provides tools.

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