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INTRODUCTORY NOTE: This interview was conducted approximately one year back by Hypnotist, NLPer and Trainer Ulf Sandstrom for the publication of the 2014 Yearbook of NLP (Swedish language). This is the first time it has been published in full in English. Though since this interview I have continued to explore via the Three Principles and have evolved my perspectives accordingly, my current perspective is inclusive (and transcendent, I believe) of that which is presented here. I hope that you get value from it and that it stimulates further exploration ESPECIALLY among NLPers who take a first look at 3p and say "nothing new here" (as I initially did).
If you have any questions about anything in this post, or perspectives of your own you would like to add, please do make use of the comments section below.
Ulf: Hi James. I am the editor for the Swedish NLP Society, and I am putting together a "Yearbook of NLP 2014" with useful information for members and those interested in becoming members. I am bringing some specific peoples thoughts and techniques into light, this is where I would like your take on NLP at this moment.
James: The first thing that jumps up for me is that I really value NLP... AND there are things about it which are problematic for me. Some of that is about the original concepts and some of it is about how it has been marketed across time. When I was speaking at the NLP SuperFest in Melbourne I opened my presentation by saying "I am not an 'NLP guy'. I haven't thought in these terms for many years" - but being at the NLP SuperFest made me think about it again. A lot of the time when I work with clients I never use formal NLP patterns at all - its not a choice, they just fell away and never resurfaced. But a lot of what I learned from NLP is so deeply internalized that I am using it anyway. At the SuperFest somebody asked Frank Pucelik "do you think James using NLP?" He said "well he's using embedded commands, analogue marking, anchors etc. so, yeah - he is using it." Maybe I am talking crap here and I'm not using NLP that competently at all - but it's at the back of my mind and a massive part of where I come from.
Ulf: I think its something you learn deeply and forget consciously. Like mastering how to play music.
James: Yes. One thing that has struck me with people that seem to be effective with NLP is that it is not those who have just learned it and have it as their central focus that are really doing cool things. I had a conversation with Richard Bolstad - very good guy - very switched on - it seemed clear to me that he was highly skilled so I asked how he got into NLP (wanting to know more about him). He told me he was into Gestalt Therapy and when he got NLP it made him a much better Gestalt Therapist. It occurred to me also that Christina Hall was an accomplished psychotherapist before she came to NLP - and then there's Jörgen Rasmussen who studies everything and anything, and always tries to put a bigger puzzle together. There are countless examples, but the people who do great things with NLP are not JUST pure NLPers. They take NLP and apply it to what they do.
Jamie Smart was there at the NLP SuperFest too, and he has made a big switch in recent years from NLP to the Sydney Banks Three Principles (3P) stuff. He has gone 'all in' in as I have heard him put it. Of course, all his NLP skills are there in his 3P coaching and I think this really adds to it. Frank Pucelik, on the other hand, is pure 'old school' NLP, which Jamie has moved away from. It seemed pretty apparent that Frank is not into 3P and just doesn't like it - got a little ranty about it at points - "this is exactly the kind of mess we were sorting out with the creation of NLP... all these vague unspecified notions that don't mean a thing." Jamie did an incredible live demo with 3P coaching and it was very interesting to see how the New Code NLP people could apparently only see the NLP patterns in what he was doing. They couldn't seem to see through it to what was going on underneath.
It reminds me of that me Milton Erickson line where he said (allegedly) "those NLP boys really cracked the nut on my work! The trouble is they took the shell and left the nut". But of course, when you look at it, that was kind of the idea - to model the surface level of observable behaviours and responses. To be able to teach people to do great change work "like" Virginia Satir or Frits Pearls without them having to have their deeper understanding of people and change (i.e. the nut). I think it's been very successful in creating useful models, but those models are not at all complete solutions.
Take the Meta Model as an example. Grinder, Bandler and Pucelik could see that people weren't necessarily learning to be great Gestaltists by listening to Fritz Perls exposition of how Gestalt Therapy worked. They just weren't getting the kind of results that Fritz was. So they went to the other end of things by modeling the behaviors and building sets of 'if-then' style rules instead, but this didn't work either - have you ever seen someone drop into doing great Changework simply by learning and applying the Meta Model? But it was nonetheless a fantastic thing to do - because when you take those old Gestalt understandings (or substitute any other useful 'nut') and THEN add the beautifully modelled NLP 'shell' - "when this do that" - it becomes a beautifully rounded whole again. Because the shell is a very important part of the package - it's there to deliver the nut where it is supposed to go so to speak. So I think NLP has done a fantastic job of mapping something important at a specific level, and the tools this creates are fantastic - if you give them to a fantastic sales person it will make them an even better one. Give them to an average Gestalt Therapist and they will be able to do Gestalt significantly better. You give them to a 3Ps person and they will have more powerful conversations. So with NLP we have a set of understandings and some models and tools that you can give to anyone with a 'nut' and they will deliver that nut better.
And it's not only the models, tools and techniques that have been created that are useful, but also - and perhaps more importantly - the understanding that there are patterns that there are patterns to be spotted in all behaviour - in all skill - which brings me back to music. Much of music is pattern - rich patterns on many levels - and I think people who learn music develop an ability to pay attention to patterns which they can bring across to other areas.
During the most recent Hypnosis Skills Bootcamp that I ran I noticed that a lot of the participants didn't really seem to be tuned in at the level of spotting patterns in behaviour - except for the musicians in the room. And I've noticed this before - musicians seem to pick up hypnosis faster than non-musicians (magicians do too, but I think possibly for different reasons) and my theory is that this is down to being more tuned-in to spotting patterns. When people tune in to the fact that there are patterns, they can zoom in on a pattern and draw out the details and sub patterns. And NLP is about patterns too - that's its specialism - but it's all just surface level patterns without anything of real depth underneath until there is a 'nut' in place, which is when it becomes powerful. And this 'nut' could be Gestalt or Family Systems or anything really that's useful in understanding people and how they work. Including Three Principles.
Ulf: What is 3Ps?
James: I think what the 3Pers are attempting to do is essentially, in a buddhist sense of the word, 'enlighten' people (though this is not part of the common terminology of 3P). Not through a quick, neat language pattern, but through a longer, deeper conversation. The intention as far as I can see is to essentially assist people in waking up to their own role in creating their ongoing experience. It's a specialism for these guys. What is new in it? Well, nothing you essentially can't already find in Hermeticism, Buddhism, Philosophical Taoism, Stoicism, General Semantics - all over the place in the 'perennial wisdom' that crops up across the ages. But the idea is that of waking people up to their own role in creating their experiences. If they get "I live in the world as it occurs to me" or "my thoughts shape my experience" - however you want to lay it out - there are applications that make use of that fact, which is where hypnosis and NLP Techniques comes in; creating applications for change that utilise the principle that we are active in shaping our experience. 3Ps and Buddhism goes in a different direction - the direction not of applications but of implications. So when I catch myself creating my experience in the moment and become aware of it - how does that change life? It's about the perception of self as creator of experience. Once people make that shift it seems they become remarkably more capable of not disturbing themselves with their own thinking - as it would seem Guatma Buddha had already noticed a couple of thousand years ago.
I've heard some people say 3P is just repackaged Buddhism, and maybe it is. The story of Sidney Banks is that he had an experience and "woke up" - as a Buddha ('awakened one') you might say- so he may have been a 'Buddha' in that sense whilst not necessarily being a Buddhist or even knowing anything much of Buddhism. And it would seem this 'waking up' profoundly altered his experience of himself, his life and life in general. And this is where he would come from when he spoke, and so it would be unsurprising if he sounded like other 'Buddhas' or those who had had similar experiences. So this may account for the similarities with Buddhism - people who had experienced the same kinds of mind shifts speaking from the same kinds of places (psychologically/spiritually speaking). Or maybe he had the shift and then read up on a little Buddhism afterwards (although he was said to be poorly educated and not much of a reader) - I don't know.
Ulf: Right, but what are the actual 'three principles'?
James: I have to be truthful and say that the actual 'three principles' themselves, taken together, don't seem to be that relevant or useful to me (yet, at least), but they are the principles of Mind, Thought and Consciousness. This is the central conceptual framework that the 3Pers hang things on, but personally I don't think this is so important on a more pragmatic level. As I understand it, Mind is essentially the undifferentiated formless everything - the universe, the big grid. In Zen Buddhism they talk about small and big mind and Mind in 3P seems to align with the Zen Big Mind - we are part of it, we are of it, we merge with it. There is no separation. The principle of Thought relates to the notion that is our experience of the world is 100% thought generated. It doesn't mean there is no world out there, but our perception is 100% within us - generated through thought in a broad sense of the word (the totality of our cognitive flow - not just inner dialogue). The third principle is Consciousness, and this is what is said to bring thought to life in the terms of experience.
Ulf: That sounds like Constructivism to me?
James: It is entirely aligned with it Constructivism, but what is different, I would say, is the way of knowing. So, yes, we are creating our experience, but the question is "where do we know this from?" In Constructivism we know this from the place of theory. In 3P the emphasis is on knowing from an entirely different place - a less 'cognitive' and more 'embodied' place. I can live in space in a capsule and learn everything there is to know from books and papers about gravity - every book, every paper - everything. Then you take me to the surface of earth and set me down and I won't be able to walk a step or even stand up. The fact that everything is being pulled in apparently one direction is going to be totally alien to me in spite of all my learning. In Ancient Greek they have these two different words for two different types of knowledge - eidein (to understand in informationally or theoretically) and gnosis (to have experienced directly and personally in the real world). 3Ps is all about the latter kind of knowledge - direct, personal and experiential. It is less interested in theories such as Constructivism and more interested in people having directly sensed and embodied experience of themselves as the creator of their experiences.
And it is the implications of this direct experience that are transformational. When we experience ourselves as the creators we are less able to upset ourselves with what we create. To give an example: my daughter is 6 - if she imagined that there was a witch under her bed, she would terrify herself with that, and she may not understand that she is creating both the witch and the terror that she experiences. For me, if I imagine a witch under the bed it won't happen in the same way because however hard I try I cannot take the idea seriously enough to terrify myself, simply because I understand that I am just imagining, and that imagination is not reality. My daughter hasn't come to that realization yet. I could explain it intellectually, but until she gets it on an operational level (gnosis), she will keep scaring herself with the idea that there is a witch under the bed. Now that's just an example, but most people are doing this all day every day to some extent - scaring themselves or upsetting themselves with their thinking, and not seeing it for what it is. 3Ps assists people getting to that point where they go "BOOM" and suddenly start seeing their everyday thinking and imagination for what it is, enabling them to stop taking it so seriously. I did a philosophy degree in my 20s and so intellectually came to the realisation of this a long ago, but being coached by a 3p practitioner really helped me to start deepening that understanding experientially and pragmatically. This is a big shift.
What 3Ps people seem to do is make it their specialism to help people make that shift, and they are generally very good at it because they are coaching from a place they are experientially at themselves rather than just a place of theory. In NLP we have the state elicitation/installation concept of 'going there first' which is similar, but on the level of 'state' rather than 'understanding'. As a 3P coach/teacher you are both living from and coaching people from the very mind shift you are assisting them in making - 'go there first' on a grand scale.
Another key idea I think is very important in 3Ps is the idea of innate mental health - natural well being. That when people stop disturbing themselves with their thinking they drop into a place of natural well being where they have greater access to their intuition - 'natural wisdom' - and a more fluid, pleasant and present state of mind. It's the idea of dropping out of one way of processing the world into another, very different way. Because the focus is on that, and encouraging people to spend more time doing life in that way there is a reason in place to let go of our old 'left brain' habituation and connect with a more 'right brain' orientated processing so to speak. When people have access to a choice through having experienced that shift in being, and also discovering how they have been keeping themselves from it, they tend to choose peace, flow and healthy psychological functioning over self-disturbing thinking. It's a 'no brainer' - they see 'stressed out' or 'upset' doesn't really get much by way of good results so they drop out of it and into a more peaceful and resourceful 'mind space'.
Ulf: Yeah - and I don't' see the conflict between NLP and 3Ps - since one seems to be a nut and the other a shell?
James: I know - I can't see the conflict either. There is no contradiction - they just go in different directions from the same starting point.
Ulf: In what way?
James: They both come from an understanding that we are shapers of our experiences - once you have that understanding you can go in two directions: the 'applications' direction or the 'implications' direction. NLP and Hypnosis go in the 'applications' direction - "how do we do the shaping and use this knowledge to change things?" - and specific applications are created (NLP 'techniques' and communications models etc.). 3Ps doesn't go in this direction at all, because the whole idea is to take people to that perspective and have them realize it fully for themselves. Because when you see the world that way and drop into that experience - what does that mean in terms of 'implication'? How is it I will find myself showing up in the world and engaging with life now that I am experientially 'seeing' the world in such a different way? It's like when you're really understand gravity experientially rather than just theoretically - I won't hold my 32 kilo kettle-bell above my foot and let go because it is obvious that to do so would result in a badly damaged foot on my foot - it's a no-brainer. I just know the implication of doing so because I implicitly understand gravity. With 3p we 'awaken to' an implicit understanding of some specific deep psychological principles, and the implications of that understanding express effortlessly in how we do life. They are effortless and there is no technique or 'application', as such.
Ulf: Right - but NLP and Hypnosis can be helpful to facilitate that shift can they not?
James: Absolutely! I love the 3P stuff and have benefited massively from it, having been coached by people who are into it at various levels. But unlike Jamie Smart, for example (who I have been fortunate enough to receive some very powerful 3P coaching from), I am not at all "all in", and probably never will be because I cannot not see the value in so much other stuff (hypnosis, NLP etc.). Additionally I think much 'applications' based work can be used to lead people to the mind shifts that enable the 'implications' based effects to take off. This is how I like to use hypnosis and NLP - not to reprogram people but to 'wake them up'.
So, if you were to use a submodality based method with somebody, one option is to approach it like Paul McKenna in his I Can Change Your Life TV shows and operate from the metaphor of reprogramming. For me, when you do this it like having somebody coming in as an unconscious robot of one sort and leaving like an unconscious robot of another sort. And there is no flexibility within the new system - no way of the person being truly adaptable to the changing flow of life - so I don't want to use it that way. So if I were to use such a method I would be wanting to use it as a means for helping that person shift their understanding of who they are, and how they do life. I would be wanting to help them shape the meaning of the intervention experience in terms of its implications. So you might hear me sayings "isn't that interesting... I bet you didn't realise you could just shift your experience like that... Just by shifting your thinking?" Using the experience to start waking them up to themselves as the creator of that experience, and to start showing them where they can create new choices.
It's like in a recent discussion on a Facebook Hypnosis and NLP group - we were talking about 'high fees' for client work and a fairly well known hypnotist contributed by saying: "question is... once you have helped them and eradicated their issue... how much would they pay you to not put them back how they were". I didn't engage with that post because I didn't want to drag the thread off topic, but it struck me as coming from a place of 'doing to' the client. The client doesn't grow or evolve, they are just unconsciously manipulated by the hypnotist. My view is that once I have 'changed somebody' (more accurately, 'helped them change') I can't change them back - because they cannot un-know what they now know. I am all for raising consciousness and deepening understanding in the work I do, because this is exactly what has made the biggest change in my own life. I don't want the client staggering away saying "I don't know what happened but I am feeling better", because without deepening of understanding or an elevation in consciousness there is a good chance that the shift isn't likely to last too long.
I don't see any contraction between 3Ps and NLP because I think helping somebody see something differently and deeply shift their understanding is key, and there are so many paths and tools - magic, hypnosis, 3Ps, Clean - so many ways you can use to lead somebody to a deeper understanding from which they can live a more fulfilling and rewarding life. The question is, what specifically do you want to do with them? What are the mind shifts you are looking to facilitate?
The other thing - I do some hypnotherapy work, but if somebody comes in to stop biting their nails, whilst that is what we work around, the real measure of the work is the degree to which positive change shows up in all areas of their life. I like to consider that whatever my client is presenting as a problem is in actuality their best solution for something that is not quite right in their life, so that is where we want to go to uncover richer choices for them.
Ulf: Yes, I've noticed three types of therapy; method oriented, result oriented and people oriented. You can have a method you apply to every client regardless of issue - kind of like having a hammer and only seeing nail. You can define a result, like stopping smoking, and you go for that - which some people say can be "masking symptoms". With people oriented therapy you approach the person, and try to find what role their intended result has in the full picture, and use whatever methods you can think of to help them solve their issues without creating new ones.
James: That's interesting, I like that. That reflects my journey in coaching and Changework - first I was method orientated (NLP and Hypnosis), them later results, and now I am very much about people - the choices they have in how they show up in the world and engage with life.
Ulf: So, your final advice for anybody involved in NLP or just getting interested in it?
James: My advice is simply to explore and practise. Its a doing thing so get out and get doing. :)