The Presuppositions of NLP

NLP, or Neuro-Linguistic Programming, has come into my life lessons at least a couple of times, starting with dating and culminating in the Presuppositions of NLP.

NLP is a pseudo-science that posits the possibility of controlling many of the processes of our brain that we’ve always been told were impossible to control. Once I learned some of these concepts, it became obvious that I could help other people by sharing the ideas. What I didn’t expect were the roadblocks they had when trying to learn things like “How to be Happy.” Why wouldn’t anyone push themselves to do this? A huge number of people define the quality of life by how much happiness you can get from it, and I can teach you to be happy, all of the time, whenever you want. Why would someone not push themselves to learn this?

The answer is that they don’t know about or grasp the presuppositions of NLP.

I was taught the basics of NLP years after I had learned about some of the useful tools* in its arsenal. I was taught the basics by Prince and Riddler on Project Rockstar last summer, and I wanted to share them with you. I spent a little while online trying to find what I mean by Presuppositions of NLP as they were taught to me but none of the resources I found hit the nail on the head.

* Things like anchoring good emotions to specific stimuli, like having the waitresses I worked with giggle whenever I made a fairly innocuous facial expression.

So I rewrote them. Hurrah! This is an exhaustive list based off of my notes, so bookmark it if you don’t have a lot of time right now. I didn’t make these up, and my interpretations are strongly influenced by my buddies from Rockstar and events in my life.

The Map is Not the Territory

In the early 1900s, scientists and professional athletes the world over were adamant that the four minute mile, or running a mile in less than four minutes, was impossible. Literally, the human body couldn’t do it. That was the map that professional athletes followed. In 1954, Roger Bannister broke the four minute mile by just under a second. That same year the record was broken again, and again, and again. Obviously, the human body, or the territory, was completely different than we had perceived it to be. Once people realized this, the map changed, and people started doing what was once considered impossible.

Common knowledge is not reality.

People do their Best with the Resources they have Available

My last girlfriend used to say, “No one is evil–just lost.” You can’t judge people by their mistakes. You might be able to predict their future actions based on those mistakes, but when we say that someone is bad or evil, it generally relates to how successful they are at achieving their good intentions (see the next Presupposition of NLP, and then re-read this one). When your significant other cheats on you, they might have been trying to improve their happiness and didn’t have the emotional stamina or self-confidence to break up with you for either not providing that happiness or because they themselves can’t achieve the happiness they need with you or in any monogamous relationship.

Mistakes are weaknesses that can be improved.

Every Behaviour has a Positive Intention

The intention could be greedy, but that’s positive too. I work towards making money, which is a greedy intention. Me getting or earning money in a vacuum isn’t a bad thing. If I steal your money to have more money, then I’ve done something negative, but my intention of making money was still positive. I just didn’t have the mental resources, such as an unconventional but strict morality, to make money without hurting others. Ideally I would have made money and helped others at the same time. But not doing it that way isn’t evil or bad, it’s just a mistake (see the last Presupposition of NLP).

Every behaviour has a positive intention.

Respect Other People’s Models of the World

I have an entire monologue ready about carpe diem. About how a little-known author named Sky Lee wrote, “Would you rather write a great novel, or live one?” And how the answer is so obvious. I believe that a week or even a day without a story to tell is a waste of the little time we have.

But a good friend and mentor of mine commutes every day for more than an hour one-way to a job he doesn’t really enjoy, lives with a girl he knows isn’t perfect in every way, and yet is happy. I could go on about how he could be lying to himself, settling, or otherwise lives a life in need of improvement. But I don’t have the right to. His model of the world isn’t necessarily right.

But neither is mine.

Respect, respect, respect.

People are not their Behaviours

There is an extremely powerful concept based on this idea in the field of dating. I won’t get into it because I won’t need to if you read this and understand it. Also, I know maybe two people I fully trust with it.

A behaviour is what we do consistently. If I go to my cushy 9-5 government job where I can’t be fired every day, that’s a behaviour. I, personally, think cushy jobs and stability limit a person’s ability to develop, and when you’re not getting better, you’re getting worse. So I might have a schema of a person who would be in the mental state to take a job that I think only makes people worse.

That schema is invariably wrong. Like all other judgements, it can predict future behaviour but doesn’t even come close to describing the person. People identify with ideals, not behaviours. They can consider themselves adventurous despite never leaving home. I need to be open to the idea that their behaviours have absolutely nothing to do with who they are in order to actually get to know them.

You may have worked a go-nowhere job for years, but when I talk to you about beautiful foreign black-sand beaches; or a beautiful house filled with happy, giggling babies; or feeling the strength of your body as you perform some feat of athletics that you might only dream of right now; or a relationship that makes you feel appreciated, encompassed, and free; suddenly you light up.

Because you are not your behaviour.

The Meaning of Communication is the Response that you Get

It’s my fault that Chinese people don’t understand me. It’s my job to try incredibly hard to make my meaning apparent. Chinese people are not stupid for not understanding what I say in a foreign language. I’m stupid for not being able to talk to them. That’s why I’m learning how to speak to them.

The same is true when someone doesn’t understand you even in your own language. It is always your responsibility to communicate appropriately to whoever it is you’re speaking to. It is never their fault when you screw this up. If someone thinks you’re a loser, but you’re not, you’ve communicated yourself wrong. Instead of blaming them for misinterpreting you, you should learn how to speak to them.

我会说普通话。

You are Responsible for your Mind and therefore your Results

This has something to do with the idea that we are always the CAUSE of any EFFECT that occurs in our life. In Radical Honesty, I wrote that this goes two ways: when something goes wrong, it is always your fault. When something goes well, no one can take that victory from you because you earned it.

This idea is similar, but relates exclusively to the fact that we have control over our own minds. If you are incapable of making yourself happy, you will be unhappy. And it will be your fault that you are unhappy.

You are the cause of everything that happens in your life.

The Law of Requisite Variety

I recently had to deal with the dilemma of where to offer my services. In one place, the market is saturated which drove prices down to, let’s say, $10. I spent a long time trying to figure out how to make my service efficient enough to handle that price point. This is the equivalent of fighting tooth and nail for low-paying jobs in the town you grew up in. Then I found a different market where I could easily charge, let’s say, $50 for the same service. Suddenly, I was making $40 more for the same service. Since my business is online I had the freedom to switch markets, unlike brick-and-mortar shops which are limited to the markets within a certain distance of them.

Here’s another example. Let’s say you’re like a friend of mine who is on a $700/month lease, has a significant amount of debt, and works a job that drives him insane half of the time, all about an hour away from where he was born.

What if I told him that there was a place where rent is $250/month and people speak English. In this magical place, even with only a high school education he is overly qualified for jobs that pay the equivalent of 40,000 CAD/year plus benefits, doing the same amount of work he currently does. If this seemed like a good deal for him, and he had the freedom to go to this magical place, he would be living a better life.

He who has the most freedom controls the system.

There is no Failure, only Feedback

My friend Ajay from Jango Mail once told me that successful businessmen had an average of 17 failed businesses before finally succeeding. You only learn by failing.

I started my online business by doing Performance Marketing. I would sell other people’s products on commission. Basically, I gambled on my ability to sell better than the people I was working for. I had to constantly be finding the better ad in order to do this.

I looked at every campaign, every ad, as a test. If it wasn’t profitable, it taught me something. Telling people that they’re fat and should join a gym doesn’t get them to join someone’s gym, gotcha. That ad might have cost me $10. Was it a failure? Not really; it taught me something about marketing.

If they never failed, those businessmen would never have learned the lessons they needed to start making the big bucks.

People have all of the Resources they need to get their Desired Outcome

By the time I got to Sweden I had stopped worrying about meeting girls. But I was nerve-wracked daily by what I would do after I finished University in December. I knew that I couldn’t work for someone else for my whole life and still be happy. But I was an English Major with no business knowledge, period. So I couldn’t start a successful business.

When I presented my case to Riddler on Project Rockstar, he looked at me like I was silly. “What would you do to gain the skills to start a successful business?” I looked at him like he was silly. “Well, I would have to learn them… Maybe through classes, figuring out how other people became successful, or trying it myself and learning from my mistakes until I knew enough to start a profitable business.” He told me to write that down, along with what my goals were and what resources I already had that could let me achieve my goal.

We always have the resources to get what we want, even if it takes a lot of our other resources to get there.

Everyone has the Potential for Genius

Malcolm Gladwell wrote an awesome book called Outliers. One of the chapters is called “10,000 Hours.” He basically shows that the amount of time you spend pushing your limits in a specific area correlates nicely with your ability in that skill. Geniuses are just people who spent a lot of time learning and pushing their limits in a certain field. If I do something for five hours a day for five years, I will be a world-class expert. It does not matter what that skill is.

While that sounds like a long time to me, doing a boring, repetitive task for five years is still five years.

If you keep doing what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always gotten.

If I’m not living the life I want to live, or succeeding in the ways I want to succeed, I have to change something. Einstein defined insanity as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. He also said the only way to win at roulette was to steal from the dealer. I’d say he’s a pretty smart guy.

If I’m not actively working on improving something in my life, I’m just stagnating.

I hope you appreciate my rendition of the Presuppositions of NLP. This stuff changed my life completely and for the better, so I hope you take it to heart and share it with others.

As always,

Enjoy irresponsibly.


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