NLP Is "Not" Magic


From:  L. Michael Hall

Dec.  29, 2008

Meta Reflection #57

Metaphors are funny things.  At first glance, they seem like merely delightful but shallow turn of phrases, of the kind Forest Gump popularized.  “My momma says life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re going to get.”  Yet at a more profound level, they are at the basis of most (if not all) of our language making and even meaning-making as the leading thinkers like George Lakoff and Mark Johnson in Cognitive Linguistics have been showing.

Metaphors are also funny in how they can disappear; well, disappear from our perception.  When we invent a new metaphor for something, at first we are fully consciously aware of them as a metaphors, but soon they disappear.  With use, they vanish from our awareness.  We are then likely to confuse the metaphor with reality.

Where I’m going with this?  You can probably tell from the title.  When NLP began, the developers used the metaphor of “magic,” the seeming therapeutic magic of Virginia Satir and Fritz Perls in their conversations.  They would simply engage in a dialogue with a client and a number of minutes later, the person would be different.  They would think and feel in new and different ways and from that conversation, their lives, actions, and relationships would change.  It was like magic.

It was like magic in that it didn’t seem reasonable or logical to think that merely saying words could have that kind of impact.  It was like magic in that it worked so quickly compared to the months that it would take for Behaviorists to re-condition a client or the years that it would take for Psychoanalysts to complete a full analysis of a client.  It was like magic in that instead of dealing only with the client’s story, somehow it also dealt with something else, something that on the surface seemed irrelevant, but in the person’s life had profound life-changing effects.

It was like magic.  But it was not, and is, not magic.  It is not the “magic” of the illusionists and stage magicians who can astonish and amaze people with their magic shows.  And it is not the superstitious “magic” of a charm, spell, ritual, or incantation that supposedly has supernatural powers over natural forces.

It is more like the magic of science that astonishes and amazes people who don’t know how a process works.  It is like the magic of electricity that with a flip of a switch can turn on a light or the lights on an entire city.  It is like the magic of flying in a 777 jet, how thousands of tons of weight can be flown through the air.

This past week I got a call from someone who wanted me to work with them.  When I explained that I don’t see private clients any more, but can refer them to highly qualified people, they urged me to re-consider,

“Dr. Hall, I don’t want to work with someone you trained, I want to work with the magician himself.  I’ve heard about the magic you can do in just minutes, and that’s what I want.  I want you to do your magic with me.”

I thanked him for the ego-stroking, but warned him about believing that PR.  That’s when he argued that he needed the “magic” of getting quick relief from his problems.  “And what problems are you talking about?”  It turned out to be about his finances.  So I asked:

“And what solutions are you wanting?  What solutions are you expecting?  In what time frame?  Who else is involved?  What do you believe about this?  What other belief frames do you have regarding this?”

After gathering sufficient information to have an overview of his situation, it was obvious to me that he had a lot of work before him.

“You are going to need to change a lot of your frames, create a number of new meta-states—for persistence, patience, focus, and then you will need a business or a wealth creation coach to help you change a great number of things about the way you are doing business, to develop a business plan, to change many of your management practices....”

When I finished, he asked,

“Damn!  Isn’t there some magical pattern in one of your books that could just turn all this around, something like the ten-minute phobia cure?”

“Ah, ‘the ten-minute phobia cure,’ is that your reference point?”

“Well, of course.  Isn’t that what NLP is all about?  The magic of creating instant changes!?  That’s what I want.”

“Well, I’m sorry to disappoint you, but NLP is actually not about speed, it is about structure; it is about how an experience is formed and framed.  A short experience that affects only you, like fear or an intense emotional distress—that kind of experience can generally be created and un-created quickly.  But that’s not the prototype of human experiences.  Most experiences are more complex and involve a longer time frame.  So a longer experience like building a business which involves a lot of domain-specific knowledge and many other people—that takes much more time to create and to re-create.  In fact, one of the frames that will undermine success in these cases is the ‘Get rich quick’ attitude.  That frame will only make you a sucker for deceptive schemes.”

That’s when he said,

    “This is really disappointing.  What you’re saying is that NLP is not magic.  Is that right?”

And all I could say was,

    “That’s right.”


L.  Michael Hall, Ph.D.

International Society of Neuro-Semantics
Meta-Coach Training System

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2008 L. Michael Hall, Ph.D.