If you have read any material on personal change or self improvement, you will have come across the idea that they way you think is a vital ingredient of success, and that one of main differences between people who experience success (whatever that means for you - financial, social, career, relationships) and happiness and those who don’t is their habitual thinking patterns.
This is great advice, but sometimes it can be hard to see exactly how to put it into practice. What you need are concrete and specific ways of changing your thought patterns in order to experience success.
Neurolinguistic Programming (NLP) is one way of seeking to achieve excellence through observing and copying the ways in which successful people think and the ways in which such people use language to encode their experiences. The basic premise of NLP is that success is the result of excellence, and that excellence can be copied. Individuals can change their experiences by doing so and hence can achieve success in any area.
NLP was developed by academics observing the ways in which therapists achieved outstanding results with their clients. Because of this, it is often couched in obscure and technical language. However, the essential components of NLP are not difficult to grasp. Like all the best ideas, the insights offered by NLP are simple and can be amazingly effective.
There are many excellent introductions to NLP, and you can check out our other articles here. When you start to copy the behaviour of successful people, here are six of the things you will be doing.
You will have clear goals. Everyone knows about the importance of having goals, and yet so few people actually set them! In NLP, we use the term ‘well formed outcomes.’ These are like affirmations, statements of exactly what you intend to achieve. Most people don’t know what they want to achieve. They often know what they don’t want, but they have very vague ideas about what they do want to experience. A well formed outcome is a simple statement of what you want. It is couched in a positive way (the subconscious does not process negatives), it is specific and it has a time frame. clear outcomes give you a sense of direction and are a vital starting point for success.
You will be very observant. The NLP term for this is ‘sensory acuity’ and it means developing the ability to notice things which often go unnoticed. As a high performing individual, you will observe your own thinking patterns, the way you speak, the way others speak and behave, the progress you are making towards your goals, your environment and anything else around and within you. In time and with experience, this keen power of observation will enable you to develop what seems to be a remarkable insight. This is the power of Sherlock Holmes - the acute and penetrating skill to notice every detail which allows you to notice when you are deviating from the pursuit of your goals and helps you to keep on track.
You will be highly adaptable. Like the chameleon changes color depending on its environment, you will be able to change your behaviour and approach depending on who you are with and what your situation is. I am always amazed when I see new people start a job and expect their new working environment to adapt to them! Inevitably, they are unhappy, unsuccessful and don’t last long in their job. The most successful people are very observant and adapt to their environment: they follow the natural grain of their situation and don’t fight against it. In NLP, this ability to adapt and be flexible is called the ‘law of requisite variety,’ and it means that the person with the most flexibility will have the most power in any given situation.
You will take responsibility for yourself. ‘Proactivity’ is the first of Steven Covey’s ‘Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.’ In NLP terms, we say that a person is either operating from the ‘cause’ position or the ‘effect’ position. As a successful person, you will be at ‘cause,’ taking the initiative to change your experience by adapting your own behaviour, influencing those around you and bringing whatever power you can to bear on your situation. This is the essence of ‘personal power.’ You cannot change the outside world by force, but you can change your own thinking and your own behaviour. You will not be operating from ‘effect,’ where you see yourself as a victim of circumstance, powerless to change anything, complaining about your situation and blaming others for where you are.
You will practice seeing situations from multiple perspectives. In NLP terms, this is sometimes called adopting different ‘perceptual positions.’ There are three places in which to stand as you observe the events which make up your experience. First, and most obviously, you can see events through your own eyes; this is the perspective most people adopt almost all the time. Secondly, you can see things from the perspective of another person. This can be useful when you disagree with someone - stepping out of yourself and into their shoes can be very revealing. Another of Steven Covey’s habits is ‘seek first to understand and then be understood.’ Successful people can see situations through the eyes of others. Finally, you can see events as a detached observer - a ‘fly on the wall.’ This is a useful perspective to adopt since it provides distance and takes the emotion out of a situation.
You will be able to think about situations in different ways. In NLP, this is called ‘re-framing.’ Take the example of a parent who is infuriated by his daughter’s unwillingness to cooperate (tidy her room, come home on time, or whatever). The parent might tend to think about her behaviour in a very negative way - she is being disobedient, disrespectful and thoughtless, for example. But with a simple re-frame, the whole situation looks different. In future years, her independent mindedness may well be an asset, whereas a tendency to always follow instructions might hold her back. In the end, the parent wants what is best for his daughter, so if he can focus on the positive potential of her behaviour, he can come to see things in a very different way and restore their relationship.
This approach has lots of applications. People who have a phobia, for example, often think about the object of their fear in a distorted and exaggerated way. Learning to think about it in a different way (by using certain NLP techniques involving ‘submodalities’) can quickly and dramatically reduce the phobia.
Successful people have predictable behaviour patterns, and these are six of the most important. If it still seems a bit abstract, here’s an idea for putting all this into practice.
Take one of these ‘patterns of excellence’ each working day of the week (except the first one - you only need do this once and revisit it now and again) and focus on that one pattern - try to use it wherever you can as you go through your day. Do this for a month and your experience of life will almost certainly change for the better.
I’d love to hear your thoughts. What other patterns of excellence have you observed?