Together with State Management NLP Presuppositions form the foundations that support the understanding and practise of NLP.

In the pursuit of excellence NLP Presuppositions form a set of basic beliefs and attitudes that effective NLP Practitioners work and live by.

They provide the practitioner with an effective starting point in their work, and a better way of thinking and interacting with their clients.

Exposure to NLP radically changed my way of thinking and interacting with others. As a result it is fair to say that NLP changed my life and I recommend consideration of these guidelines to everyone.

I hope the originators will forgive me if I have adapted, misquoted or added some of my own.


People represent the world internally by creating their own model of the world, an inner map of reality.

It is a personal and subjective reality.

We all tend to respond mainly to our own internal map which is based on our own beliefs and experiences. Yet we may fail to recognise that our own map does not always conform to the external reality itself.

How we represent things in our mind are our interpretations and assumptions: these interpretations may or may not be accurate. However they determine how we experience our reality moment by moment, and they lay the foundation for our experience of reality in the future as well.

Having choices about how to interpret subjective reality changes the experience of it.

Increasing available choices begins by choosing to interpret each experience in a way that frees up thinking, and allows the individual to explore different points of view.

Exercising freedom of choice and not getting bogged down with habitual ways of seeing things creates new and different choices, and so the map of reality is expanded.

Other disciplines may have a similar concept and use the word ‘schema.’


We are all unique and we all experience the world in different ways.

Each individual has their own special way of being.

Because reality as we perceive it is not fixed but fluid (the map is not the territory) we can often come into conflict with other people who have a different map.

To maintain rapport it is always useful to respect another persons personal reality: after all, your map is no truer than theirs! Just because someone else has a different point of view it doesn’t mean that they are wrong and your are right.


I love this presupposition. It is one of the many beliefs that distinguishes NLP from other remedial mental health disciplines. As a consequence you will notice that I have ‘clients’ rather than ‘patients.’

NLP takes the view that no one is wrong, broken or in need of fixing. Indeed, people function perfectly even if what they are doing is bringing them unhappiness and ruining their life.

People carry out their behavioural strategies perfectly, but it also has to be said that the strategies may be poorly designed and ineffective. Being aware of a) what it is you are currently doing (behaviour), b) what the positive intention of that behaviour is? i.e. what positive result are you trying to achieve? And c) comparing it with your actual, specified objective (outcome) enables you to change an ineffective strategy to one that is more suited to achieving useful and desirable results.

All behaviour has a structure. When you understand the structure, you can change the behaviour into something more desirable, and get what you want, rather than what you do not.


Behind every behaviour there is a positive intention – our actions are not random.

We are always trying to achieve something useful for ourselves, although we may not always be consciously aware of what that is. This may be the anticipation of pleasure or the avoidance of pain. People want to achieve something that they value and which benefits them.

NLP separates the intention or purpose behind an action from the action itself. A person is not their behaviour. When a person has a better choice of behaviour that also achieves their positive intention, they will take it.

When the behaviour is undesired, it is always possible to find alternate ways to achieve the behaviour’s positive intention.

Always seek to add choices and resources. When you take away choices, other compensating behaviours can occur: internal conflicts, indecision, procrastination and lack of motivation are often the result of conflicting values in our unconscious awareness. Establishing the highest intention or purpose of each conflicting value enables integration and inner alignment. This in turn results in greater choice and freedom.

Before looking to change unwanted behaviours it is important to start by eliciting the highest positive intention which drives that behaviour. Then you can work to satisfy that intention through more appropriate means.

A good way of increasing understanding and compassion towards others is to seek to establish what the positive intentions behind their (unreasonable) behaviours are.

We all tend to act according you our current level of awareness. By bringing the underlying purpose of particular actions into conscious awareness, we create more possibilities for ourselves.


A person always makes the best choice they can, given their map of reality at the time.

The choices they make may be self-defeating, strange or even self-destructive, but for them it seems the best option at that time. People make bad choices because they are not aware that better options are available to them.

Increase a persons options and give them a better choice in their map of reality and they will take it. Updating a persons map by exposing them to better beliefs, attitudes and perspectives will increase their options in future.

We all have the potential for more choices than we are aware of when dealing with problems, difficult situations or other people’s behaviour. Recognising that more options are probably available to us and exercising freedom of choice helps make us increasingly flexible in our approach and ultimately more effective.


Clients who have been struggling with an issue for some time are often surprised when I tell them “You already have the resources you need to deal with this problem.”

Each individual already has whatever they need to effect a positive change. However they may not be consciously aware of the fact. Often people have resources that they have not even considered, or that are available to them in other contexts.

Resources may be defined as the assets and strategies available to a person to enable them to function effectively. In a coaching or therapeutic context resources may be classified as both internal, and external. Notably the internal responses and external behaviours needed to achieve desired results. Our most basic resource is our ability to learn.

There are no unresourceful people, only unresourceful states of mind.

We are all responsible for managing our own ‘State’ – states of mind and body that are experienced as emotional states.

We all have the potential to manage our own mind and mental states. We can therefore move toward getting the results that we want. The key to achieving this is through knowing how to change one’s state, as specific resources are accessed only through being in the appropriate state as required. States are the keys that either open or lock the door to the infinite reservoir of resources inside all of us.

Appropriate states are those that match the kind of resources that you would like to gain access to, and that are most likely to achieve the desired result. Accessing a confident state, required for a public speaking event for example, may require changes in mental focus, body posture, breath and internal dialogue to that which matches confidence. When the correct adjustments are made the individual will immediately begin to feel more confident.

By making adjustments to the ‘system’ i.e. mental focus or what you are thinking about and internal dialogue (mental state), body posture, breathing and physical behaviours (physical state), we can assume any state at will. Through assuming appropriate states thinking becomes clearer, and new creative choices become available to us, and empowered actions are the result.

The hypnotic state is highly versatile state, and has been referred to as the ‘master key’ to inner resources. Hypnosis enables people to have direct contact with the deeper levels of awareness that are usually unconscious. Hypnotherapy utilises the hypnotic state for the purposes of positive change and healing.


By aiming to increase your choices you are choosing to expand your map of reality.

Expand your map to one that gives you an increased range of more effective choices.

The more choices you have, the more flexible you are. The more flexible you are the more choices you can generate and the more influence you have over yourself and others.

Choice can be increased by changing your point of view: Looking at things in a different way can present more potential solutions.

NLP offers 3 main Perceptual Positions i.e. First, Second and Third positions as a means of generating more options. These perceptual positions are especially helpful when dealing with interpersonal difficulties.

With practice it is possible to move through different perceptual positions to get more information, increase choices, and personal flexibility and effectiveness.

“The person or element with the most flexibility in a group or system will have the most influence, and the greatest likelihood of achieving their outcomes”

This is the Law of Requisite Variety, and reflects the first law of Cybernetics and systems theory. It means that the person with the most options and behavioural choices will control the system.

In any field, the top people in that field are those who have the most variety in their behaviour. They are more flexible in their approach and have choices of behaviour that their colleagues do not.

Whenever you limit your behavioural choices you give others the competitive edge.

If you are capable of responding to a given situation in a variety of ways, then you are more likely to achieve your outcome.


There is a story I have told many times to illustrate the point that making a mistake does not mean you have failed!

Legend has it that Thomas Edison had boasted at length that he was about to invent the electric light bulb. When, at last he did, he was interviewed by a cocky young journalist who demanded to know why Edison had ‘failed’ to invent the light bulb so many times?

Edison´s replied that he had not failed to invent the light bulb, but instead had merely discovered many different ways not to invent it!

With that kind of attitude, Edison was able to maintain a resourceful state, and to be positively motivated to persevere in his efforts until his goal was reached.

This kind of attitude toward ‘failure’ produces results that allow you to improve.

The attitude (and state) that we bring to a situation determines our response to that situation.

Every result gives you feedback, maybe information about how not to do something; but that information may then be used to determine how to do things differently (and hopefully better) next time.

Feedback is helpful therefore, and sets direction.

Results are the means by which you measure your progress and adjust your behaviour in order to achieve your desired outcomes.

Every experience offers a positive learning, one from which we can grow both intellectually and emotionally. Living is learning: even if you ‘fail,’ you still have the potential to the learn from your mistakes.


Multiple descriptions may be defined as the process of describing the same thing from different points of view.

When I am working with clients I endeavour to explain a point in more than one way, as what works for one person may not work for another.

As has already been shown NLP distinguishes three main points of view, or Perceptual Positions. Being able to move fluidly between them offers more choices and enriches our maps.
Different descriptions also increase understanding and enrich our maps.

Whilst sameness leads to boredom and mediocrity multiple perspectives and descriptions offer the flexibility that is one of the common characteristics of successful people.


No matter how you define success, many successful people have got to where they are through modelling the successful performance of others.

Modelling is not just copying.

Copying how someone became successful 50 years ago may not make you successful today. Modelling in NLP is the process of identifying and replicating both the conscious and unconscious competence in another person, which resulted in that person’s success.

Unconscious competence (what we do effortlessly, without conscious awareness) can be identified through careful observation, asking the right questions and eliciting the strategies that were used.

Once you know the thought processes, values and beliefs, and behaviours that resulted in a successful outcome then you can test the model and refine it to fit you.

When you are able to replicate the same degree of success in a specific context, you have successfully elicited that model.

If it’s possible for someone else, it’s possible for you!

Most people can learn to get better results in their own way. You do not have to become a clone of the model – you learn from them:

  • Find a model of excellence (someone who has already achieved the successful results you desire) in a field that you are interested in.
  • Identify the components i.e. thought processes, values, beliefs, and behaviours (sequence) that are necessary to achieve the desired result.
  • Apply that model in an appropriate and similar way and you are likely to get the same kinds of results


You might imagine that by sitting in silence and refusing to talk you are not communicating, however this is not the case.

We are always communicating either verbally or non-verbally even when we do not intend to.

Communication is not solely expressed though words. Body language and how we present ourselves to the world send messages that can be loud and clear.

Most people read these non-verbal messages on some level, sometimes unconsciously. Almost everyone can be trained to be more sensitive to and to understand better the non-verbal communications inherent in another’s body language.

I am always particularly interested when the mouth says one thing, and the body another.


The message you intended to send is not always the message received!

Resistance or a lack of compliance in others may indicate a lack of rapport, or that the other person simply does not get your meaning. We all resist when we do not understand. Your communication may not always be understood as intended.

As has already been proposed you cannot not communicate.

We are always communicating either verbally or non-verbally. Even the absence of a response says something. Furthermore we communicate in more than one modality i.e. not all of the message we send is verbal.

Consider which is more important –
a) What you intend to communicate, or b) what you actually communicate?

Effective communicators are flexible communicators, they change what they are saying until the other person gets the message they intended to send. This includes the words they use, voice qualities (rhythm, tone, pitch and inflection) and their body language. In other words both what they are saying and how they are saying it.

Accept personal responsibility for the quality of the messages that you send, and make sure they are received and understood as you intended.


Mind and body clearly affect each other: prolonged periods of stress, depression, anxiety, or other heavy emotional episodes can often result in a lowered immune system and physical illness.

Likewise, positive mental and emotional states such as optimism, happiness and contentment boost the immune system. A life filled with joy and laughter not only feels good but also promotes general well-being, and helps prevent illness. Positive mental states also promote healing and quicker recovery from sickness.

Mind and body interact and influence each other mutually. It is not possible to make a change in one without the other being affected. When we think differently our bodies change. When we act differently we change our thoughts and feelings.

Treating only mental/emotional symptoms or physical symptoms without taking account of the underlying reasons why such symptoms have manifested may disrupt the mind/body system.

Ignoring the subtle causes of unwanted symptoms can result in complications later on. For example, anti depressants only affect the symptoms without addressing the underlying causes of the depression. A dependency on the drugs may develop and so an extra layer of problem is added to the mix.

Using sleeping tablets to get to sleep at night, without addressing the mental/emotional causes (like stress or anxiety) of insomnia may lead to both a lower mood state and a compromised immune response.

Consciousness expresses itself through the system of the mind and body. Mind and body are therefore intimately linked. Ultimately they are two aspects of the same system.

Any healing program must aim to optimise the flow and balance of consciousness in both the mind and body in order for healing to be effective and complete.

The concept of mind/body harmony is particularly relevant to the process of state management. Physical health and well-being can be affected by changes in outlook and improved mental focus. So too can one’s emotional state

Some physiological cues (body language) that both indicate and affect our mental processes are:

  • Breathing – rate, rhythm, depth etc.
  • Speech patterns – volume, clarity, tone, pitch etc.
  • Facial expression – smiling, frowning etc.
  • Posture – how you sit or stand.
  • Movement – fast, slow, energetic, lethargic etc.

Since body language reflects the functioning of the mind, changing particular physiological cues can affect the functioning of the mind, one’s mental state. At the same time it will obviously be simultaneously affecting one’s physical state. For example, slumping in your chair can make you feel tired and de-motivated, while a vigorous walk can make you feel energised and at the same time stimulate your thoughts.


How often have you heard the phrase “I was only trying to help…” It might also be fair to say that the road to Hell is paved with good intentions!

It is all too easy to get into the habit of thinking “My way is the right way” however even if this is true, it might only be true for you!

Always be aware that if someone hasn’t asked you for help, what you are doing is probably not going to help and worse, may be seen as an intrusion.

When I am working with someone one of the first questions I ask is “What do you want to achieve by working with me. What do you want to work on?” This sets a boundary and ensures I only work on what I have been given permission to work on. Anything else would be intrusive.

I also rarely give advice. I will give an opinion and offer suggestions and it is then up to the client whether or not to put those suggestions into practise. This is another way of ensuring there are no intrusive interventions.


Real learning is in the doing: experiencing and practising something until it is ‘in the muscle.’

The object of learning is not merely to intellectually understand the theory of a concept or process, but to understand and integrate it fully through experience.

By doing and experiencing you soon discover what works and what does not work. You can then keep doing and refining the things that gets you the results that you want.

Always bear in mind there is no such thing as failure, only feedback.


I believe this was originally a quote from Milton Erickson, one of the role models for NLP theory and practise. It is useful to counteract the traditional view of ‘resistance’ in patients.

I choose to have clients rather than patients because the word patient suggests a dysfunction that may not be present. It also reflects the traditionally inferior role of the patient compared to the doctor.

When I client consults a therapist they are probably not at that time utilising all the choices available to them. They may not be in touch with all their resources and capabilities. It makes sense therefore that the therapist is the one who needs to go the extra mile and take responsibility for the level of rapport achieved, and the quality of communication generated between both parties.

When a client doesn’t ‘get it’ it does not mean they are being difficult or ‘resistant’ in any way. They might just not be getting it!


This is one of my favourite presuppositions which illustrates to my mind that NLP does not take itself too seriously. It also reflects the truth about many other disciplines and models of practise available to the practitioner.

People often forget that a diagnosis is not necessarily ‘true.’ It relies on a (medical) model of dysfunction: a set of symptoms which are given a certain name or label. When that name or label is referred to between practitioners they all believe they know what is being talked about and should therefore be able to come up with an appropriate treatment plan. This is not always useful when a set of symptoms are given a label which then seems to contradict or resist the resulting treatment because it does not work. All diagnoses therefore are merely models to work to that are generally true. It still needs to be understood that they are merely models.

Another problem with believing a diagnosis is ‘true’ rather than merely being a model to work to is that it can create a form of prejudice that leads to a lack of observation and flexibility in the treatment plan.

If remedial measure do not work the diagnosis may not be correct i.e. the model being worked to may not be the correct one.

NLP does not claim to be ‘true’ which I find refreshing, it merely claims to be a model to work to. If it works, do more of it, if not, change your approach!