Our most important objective, whether singer, teacher, coach, composer, administrator, lyricist, conductor, stage director, stage manager, etc, is our ability to communicate effectively, both on stage and off. This objective encompasses our relationships with each other, the characters we portray onstage, and most importantly the one we have with ourselves. Yes, we do spend a lot of time with “self” talk – you know that voice in our heads that I like to call the “Brat”.
There is a process that can help us achieve this objective. It is called Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP), and it helps us better understand our behavior and how we communicate. I am a Certified NLP Trainer and have spent many years studying the principles of this program. Over the past 36 years I have learned to apply these principles in my career as both singer and teacher. I understand first hand the benefits of having and using these tools and skills and enjoy passing them on whenever I feel it appropriate.
So, what exactly is NLP? Neuro relates to our nervous system. It is our mind body connection. It is the world we know through our senses: hearing, seeing, feeling, tasting, and smelling. Linguistic is our ability to speak using specific words and phrases that mirror the thoughts in our heads. It also refers to the inner language we use when talking to ourselves, our habits and our general style of thinking. Programming is how we are wired to carry out our thoughts, feelings and actions. We can change “our programming” by learning to be aware of how we do what we do and whether we like the outcome.
One of the main principles of NLP is that our brain doesn’t know the difference between what is real and what is made up; we tend to act or re-act the same to both. An example of this would be: “You are walking alone down a dark street at night and suddenly hear footsteps behind you. You make up a story in your head that someone is going to rob you so you pick up the pace as your heart races and you look for a safe place to go. You are afraid and even start breathing faster as you hold onto your purse or wallet. When you get to where you are going, you hurry inside and look to see who it was. It was a policeman walking his beat.” We use the information we have gathered through our senses, current experiences and past memories to form the building blocks of our own model of our world. Because no two people experience things the same way, you can better understand why there are so many differing opinions, behaviors and miscommunication. However, it is these differences that make each of us unique and create the amazing and wonderful diversity of personality we encounter within and between societies.
“If there is any great secret of success in life, it lies in the ability to put yourself in the other person’s place and to see things from his point of view – as well as your own.” ”
~ Henry Ford
Once we accept that not everyone sees, hears, feels and thinks the way we do, it is easier to understand the importance of learning to become conscious of how we do what we do. Our conscious actions and behaviors can then be used as skills and tools to enrich our relationships, including the one with ourselves and help promote highly effective and influential communication. Attempting to see another’s perspective of their world doesn’t mean that you necessarily agree with or accept their actions or behaviors, but it does help you better understand the differences that occur between people. Using NLP tools and skills enables you to become conscious of how we do what we do. It gives us a broader range of choices and helps promote a feeling of trust and rapport so important in any relationship, which in turn creates the ideal climate for positive growth and change.
“I don’t let my mouth say nothin’ my head can’t stand.”
~ Louis Armstrong
Who were the originators of this process? In the 60’s at UC Santa Cruz, Richard Bandler and John Grinder started studying how to model excellence by examining the relationship between the brain, language and the body. They realized that there are many differing systems, traits and behaviors we use unconsciously hundreds of times every day. They realized that by bringing them to consciousness, we could use them as tools and skills to better understand how we all tick.
Our thoughts are intimately linked with our bodily states; the mind body connection. It is impossible to treat them separately. Internal and external responses form a unity and our bodies respond to what we are thinking. Thoughts do have physical effects. To consciously experience this, think of a time when you had a not so great experience either in performance or auditioning. Notice how your thoughts are linked to where you are physically holding tension in your body when you simply think about this event. You probably feel frustrated and angry and feel physical tension in your stomach and shoulders. This response will be the same each and every time you think about it, and might even increase in intensity over time. It can put you in a “bad” mood. Try thinking about sucking on a lemon and you will start salivating. Or how about being in the presence of a puppy, a baby anything or a piece of music that you love. You are simply happy and present not thinking about anything else.
Now that you have been introduced to the mind body connection, how do we figure out what we want to pay attention to; what really needs our attention right now? How do we stay focused?
Because there is so much information out there, we use filters to help us make sense of our world. How we simplify, eliminate and alter our thoughts is a very individual and unconscious process. Let’s look at each response separately to better understand the significance of this process.
- Simplification -This eliminates the necessity of relearning a concept each and every time we are faced with an alternative of the original. For example, let’s look at the word “music”. You may have first learned the word “music” which represented to you what your parents listened to when you were a baby. You then applied this symbol “music” to other forms with a similar function, i.e. hip hop, rock and roll or opera, as you grew up. It all became “music”. Another example might be when you were told as a young child not to touch the stove because it was “hot”, or you would get burned. With time you learned that when something was too “hot”, you might get burned even if it was not in a physical sense.
- Elimination – Because we are continually bombarded with over 2 million pieces of information every second, it is our ability to delete portions of this barrage of input that helps us survive. To experience this, read these two examples of elimination.NYC in the
A bird in the
the hand is worth two
two in the bush.
In order to make sense of what you see, there is a tendency to eliminate the portion of the sentence that doesn’t make sense. Go back and look at it again noticing the extra “the” and ‘two” in the sentences. Knowing this allows you the opportunity to experience and find the “important point” without the fear of being overwhelmed by minute details. Another example might be a memory we have had as a child. We tend to eliminate aspects of the memory that weren’t important and hone in on the principal issue whether it creates a good or bad feeling.
- Alteration – This is the process by which we adjust our slant on a current situation or memory of what has happened, thus changing how we see, hear and feel that experience when we retell the story to ourselves or others. This involves using your imagination and after retelling the story with these embellishments, whether they are true or not, they become our reality. It is also the process we use to enjoy works of art, music and literature. It makes it possible to dream and plan for the future. It allows us to enhance parts of any memory or story we have created about our lives. It alters our perception of what the truth really is or was.
These three processes can be a double edged sword. They work not only when we learn, think or create, but are also used by the “Brat” to sabotage ourselves and can create pain and suffering that keep us in our comfort zone.
So here is what we do unconsciously; we simplify information, we eliminate unwanted stuff, and we alter a memory, good or bad, by embellishing parts of the story we tell ourselves and others. Why is this information vital? It gives you the opportunity to consciously look at the information you are storing as past memories which often keeps us stuck unable to move forward. Remember the brain can’t tell the difference between what is real and what is made up.
“Watch your thoughts; they become words. Watch your words; they become actions. Watch your actions; they become habits. Watch your habits; they become character. Watch your character; it becomes your destiny.”
~ Author Unknown
Now that you are aware that our mind, body and actions are intrinsically linked, we can decide to change an unproductive pattern to work to our advantage. The same awareness and control can also be developed in the words we choose to communicate so that we may nurture our relationships, both personal and professional.
Here is another principle of NLP. We are all wired with an internal sensory language system. We use all three systems, but have a primary preference that is oriented to one of the following senses – visual, auditory (hearing), or kinesthetic (feeling). Let me give you an example of how this works.
Each of these paragraphs employs one of these representational systems. Which one of these resonates with you?
As I entered the audition space I looked over and noticed that the three people I would be auditioning for could not have been less interested. One was reading a paper, one was busy with his computer and the third was just staring off into space like she wished the day was over. I could clearly see that I had my work cut out for me.
As I gave my music to the accompanist, took my place, and began to sing, I could feel myself struggling with the voices in my head. I was suddenly aware of that helplessness I had struggled to get rid of; that gnawing sensation in my belly and the cold and clammy over all feeling of knowing I was about to blow another audition. I could almost smell the fear I felt. I started getting a really dry mouth so I bit down hard on my tongue to bring a rush of saliva to help me get in charge once again.
I could hear my voice sailing out into the room and said to myself, “That’s not too bad!” I was then able to fully tune into that sound and could hear the resonance come back to me. I could now hear those that I was singing for talking among themselves and paying attention. I listened only to the sound of my voice and what I wanted to say with it. I noticed that I was winning.
Because of the consistent use of certain words in each paragraph (first paragraph is visual, second is kinesthetic, the third is auditory), you were led through an experience which was or wasn’t consistent with your internal sensory language system; seeing, hearing, feeling. If the language used is not a match, we have to translate the best we can to try to understand what is being said.
So which paragraph worked better for you? Remember that we always use all three systems but do have a primary preference for one over the others. When you are aware of this consciously, it gives you the opportunity to recognize that you are not stupid or just don’t get things. It means most times, that the person speaking or what you are reading is not your primary internal language system. Another way of using this information is that when you are having a conversation with someone, pay attention to what words they are using and try using those sensory words back to them even if it feels foreign to you (and it will). You will notice that their response is very different and more positive. It puts you in better rapport with that person and your relationship becomes stronger. It’s about communication.
Remember, when you don’t feel understood, it’s usually because you are speaking to someone who is using a different internal language system.
Here’s a sentence that makes no sense at all to me. How does it work for you? Remember there is no right or wrong about this. It is simply becoming aware consciously of all the possibilities out there and why we can understand some people better than others and vice versa.
It is quite possible that the current situation could be improved, if not by moderating, then perhaps by rearticulating the response argument in order to preclude less desirable results.
This sentence is unique because none of the words use a sensory based system. This is an example of purely digital information from “Magic Demystified, A Pragmatic Guide to Communication and Change by Bryon A. Lewis & Frank Pucelik.
Just think of how much better all communication would be if we were able to be consciously aware of how we do what we do. Miscommunication would be a think of the past. You now do have this information so try using it. Find out for yourself if it works.
“The way we communicate with others and with ourselves ultimately determines the quality of our lives.”
~ Anthony Robbins
In addition to knowing how we make sense of our own world through our filters and our individual systems of communication there are many other systems we use unconsciously all day every day.
One system is our particular preference for how we deal with our inner timeline. Some people get stuck in the moment and their emotions, while others seem to be more detached from their emotions getting the task done more easily. We all have different standards or set of values. We experience and use our personal space, the space that surrounds us physically, differently. We are each motivated by a different set of criteria and we keep ourselves that way with a particular pattern in our work traits. Being in rapport is easier for some than others. The list goes on and on.
In the end it is first and foremost, understanding your own preferences, patterns and systems of dealing with the world. Knowing this gives you more of an opportunity to participate effectively in your own life and will help you further discover and recognize your own uniqueness. This creates trust within you and with others allowing and encouraging others to express themselves and feel safe in sharing their own uniqueness. When you understand yourself better, it is easier to be able to enter another person’s model of their world on their terms and real communication happens.
Now that you have been exposed to some of the NLP information, I hope you understand the limitless possibilities available when you make choices about your life consciously. They become tools and skills that will change your life. It will take lots of practice for them to become a habit, but in the long run, it is well worth the effort. You become congruent on the inside so your actions and behavior becomes consistent on the outside and you do it consciously.
As I said in the beginning, our most important objective as a human being is our ability to communicate effectively, whether on stage or off. And learning to be aware that you do have a choice of how you do what you do will most times give you the outcome you want.
If you want to know more about NLP, here are some books to get you started. You can go online to find them.
NLP Workbook, a practical guide to achieving the results you want by Joseph O’Connor,
Using Your Brain for a Change, Richard Bandler
Frogs into Princes, Richard Bandler & John Grinder
Change Your Mind and Keep the Change, Steve Andreas & Connie Andreas
“If he is indeed wise, the teacher does not bid you enter the house of his wisdom, but rather leads you to the threshold of your own mind.””
~ Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet
Keep your observations, comments, and suggestions for my future newsletters coming.