Book Review

The Structure of Excellence
Unmasking the Meta-Levels of "Submodalities"
Reviewed By
Armand Kruger, MA (Psych)

This book has been republished under the new title of

Sub-Modalities Going Meta

    Another "makes you think" book by Michael Hall with Bobby Bodenhamer! In reading this book about their views and thoughts on the submodalities, I cannot but express appreciation for the work they are doing in giving our vocabulary and tools in NLP the precision it deserves.

   Did I write? A book on submodalities? Let me say immediately, if that is the frame with which you would approach this book you will lose significant pleasure and learning in the journey through the book. It is also an epistemology of the submodalities, but with a but.  In this book you will also read some excellent and novel ways of formulating the process and concept of genius and/or excellence. These fresh  ways of thinking about genius are with the applications and new ideas around the submodalities. These applications are not only demonstrations, but allow the sceptic to find ground for becoming convinced.

   What stands out for me about this book is how they describe the process of being human, and specifically the "best" of being human. As a lecturer in NLP at three different universities I am confronted frequently with two concerns students in psychology have when comparing NLP with some of the current models about being human.

    The first concern is that NLP is too simple, and people cannot be reduced to their modalities. Secondly, when they mismatch NLP using their very complex terminology (for which you definitely need a degree in psychology to understand or one would be "out of the club"). In both cases I had wished for a reference that I can recommend to them for reading about the "enfolding complexity" of human experience.

    These two authors have given me the reference which I was looking for. In the first three chapters they describe with many useful examples, how experience is a process within a process. The complexity of our experience is not in the theoretical or linguistic complexity with which we try to language our understanding. The complexity of experience is in the unfolding of the layers which presents itself like a swirling kaleidoscope. These two writers have said this for me in a very clear and precise way: to my mind this book is an excellent process description of experience.

    And then, their first main theme: the "submodalities" which are not sub but meta. I have started this book with a strong resistance. I do trauma counselling using as a preferred method the "submodalities", meaning I had a vested interest for them to stay the way I know them. Working  with trauma is challenging enough to not have the complication of suddenly becoming consciously competent at what I have been doing like an expert. The good news: submodalities are still understandable and useful! But with a difference: they are the coding of meaning. The submodalities stand for the meaning of the experience, and this explains why not for everybody "close" means "good". Or, "small" is not "safe". Or, "far away" is not "objective". The submodalities are a very personal, customized way of representing or coding meaning. Essentially, this is how people recognise meaning in their experience: this is a description of an epistemology of meaning! Now that we have this new thinking about the submodalities, what do we call them?

   Calling the submodalities something different is less important than what follows in the following 11 chapters: the applications of this thinking about the submodalities. For the reader who stayed with the authors up to this point (the shortcuts are reading the excellent summaries) you now have reached the conclusion that the submodalities are highly personal coding of meaning, and they are not "sub" to anything. The next chapters are both for the applicator and the sceptic. The sceptic now has the opportunity to verify their conviction for "what is new and valid". The applicator can enjoy the action and add to their repertoire.

    It is in the 11 chapters (from chapter 5 to 15) of applications in which the submodalities and meta-states are linked that one gets to appreciate the authors' willingness to share their information. Each one of the chapters refers to a meta-pattern and it's usage, how it may create a problem in experience, and an example, with the language patterns, of a personal application. These applications I suspect are what they teach on their programs, but here they give sufficient practical detail for the reader to make this information his/her own. And this characterises this book: a willingness to be more than intellectually persuasive.

   They round this part of the book of with referring to some of the genius of Richard Bandler by citing examples of him unknowingly using "meta-stating patterns". Reading the chapter on Bandler (chapter 16) and the examples that they refer to, I got this real experience of "de ja vu". (The Dutch existentialist psychiatrist, J H van den Bergh referred to "metabletica" in his studies referring to how ideas happen simultaneously in different parts of the world. Jung called it synchronicity). Having just finished Robert Dilts' book on "Sleight of Mouth", he refers to a similar way of being influenced in his learning by Richard's genius in "framing" or "punctuating" experiences (1)

    At the risk of saying it too simplistically, meta-stating is punctuating or framing the experience in a way that determines the meaning of the experience. (Enjoy how Hall and Bodenhamer describe this process using foregrounding/backgrounding on page 95). Different words from different experiences getting to the same intellectual place! That this is more than coincidence is illustrated in chapter 17 where Hall et al cites numerous examples of how the mental  processes of genius as described by Robert, are about making many distinctions in different levels of experience. The name Hall et al gives the process, namely meta-detailing is a very apt label for the process.

   The book concludes with a theoretical wrap up that positions the meta-detailing process as an integral part of how people experience, and deals with the meaning in their own experience.

   The book is not easy to get into, it is as if the authors got too playful too soon. The repetition of their questioning of the submodalities in the beginning was experienced as a hindrance, but in retrospect it was necessary for me to get past my own resistance and conviction about the submodalities. To get around it I found it useful to read the summaries of the chapters and let them tease my inquisitiveness to want to read the detail.

    Why go to the trouble? For the same reason I never miss a Dilts' book, this book deserves a reading because it will teach, and stimulate, and give pleasure in confirming. I consider the meta-principles, which is the conclusion of Hall et al (on page 301ff), a definitive set of content presuppositions. I, for one will treat them like the existing process presuppositions that are taught on practitioner level. I could not teach language patterns and influencing in the future without referring to these "level of content" presuppositions. Future studies on the nature of consciousness would have to deal with this work and these presuppositions to have validity in the mind of this reviewer.

 About the reviewer:

Armand Kruger is a registered clinical psychologist and international NLP-trainer working from South Africa. He has trained with International NLP in the USA, Switzerland and Austria. Kruger  specialises in modelling, the design and redesign of training to get peak performing effectiveness during competence acquisition. He has published in NLP World and  Anchor Point, and can be reached at armandk @


Robert Dilts (1999): Sleight of Mouth: The Magic of Conversational Belief Change. Meta Publications, Cupertino, California; page X, and 272 ff. 

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