What is Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP)?

In the early 1970s, a thesis by a Californian psychology student, Richard Bandler, would set in motion a new human behavior model. Sharing an interest in the field of personal development, Bandler and his linguistics professor, John Grinder, wanted to know why some people are high achievers and others are prone to failure. They studied three therapists who were exceptionally effective at bringing about change: Virginia Satir, Fritz Perls, and Milton Erickson. If patterns of effective behavior could be modeled, they concluded, excellence could be acquired by anyone. For more insight into the human mind, they also drew on the cybernetic theories of Bateson, Korzybski’s expertise in general semantics, and Chomsky’s works in transformational grammar.

By the late 1970s, Bandler and Grinder had developed Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP): a practical human potential methodology that would be criticized by some as pseudoscience lacking empirical evidence and revered by others around the world as a new-age breakthrough in the fields of therapy, counseling, and communication. NLP is often endorsed by famous self-help gurus like Tony Robbins. Today, various NLP models and techniques form the basis of executive training, entrepreneurial leadership, and a wide range of self-development programs.

NLP was developed as a method for helping people transform their behavior. It’s based on an understanding of the dynamic interaction between neurology, language and behavior. According to the model, the way we experience our reality (life) is shaped by the way we take in information through our senses (neurology), translate it into language (linguistic) and make mental patterns (programming) that influence our behavior.

The dynamics that guide character transformation in storytelling are no different than those that drive personal and social change in real life.

Broadly speaking, NLP is based on a set of principles that makes it possible to understand and describe how people communicate, learn, and change in a detailed way. In its therapeutic form, NLP provides tools and techniques for developing resourceful states and empowering beliefs to help people reframe the thought and behavior patterns that keep them stuck. By adopting more effective mental strategies, they are able to overcome obstacles and attain their goals.

Despite some criticism of NLP, professionals and students worldwide have adopted and advanced the original concept. This growth and spread of NLP as an intervention model and coaching practice has led it to become less uniform than at the time of its conception. There are many competing organizations offering varying forms of training and certification, business seminars, and self-development courses. Individual coaches, trainers, and authors have developed their own methods, techniques, concepts, and models under the umbrella of NLP. These days, innovations in the field are designed to make a difference in a troubled world.

NLP is a multifaceted discipline, like psychology or business, that belongs to everyone—it’s not a brand name or company with legally protected exclusive rights. For the purpose of this book, I intend to use certain NLP concepts to give creative writers a fresh perspective on the dynamics of change to help them shape character transformation in a credible way.


Grinder, John & Richard Bandler, “The Structure of Magic Vol. I & II” (Palo Alto, CA: Science and Behavior Books Inc., 1976).

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