NLP Methodology for Creating Models

NLP Methodology and Modelling, Psychology and Cognitive Science

NLP is a field of endeavour whose primary purpose is to create models of human excellence. It is, at its core, an epistemology and a methodology for creating models of how we know what we know, and how those who excel are able to perform with excellence in attaining clear and measurable outcomes. NLP is made up of a number of different models, which are results of a process known as NLP modelling.

Psychology and Cognitive Science are long-established epistemological endeavours, whose aims are to build models of human psychological functioning and attempt to prove or disprove their validity and usefulness as metaphors through empirical analyses and to determine when such models break down and how far they can be used as interpretive guides to how the human system really works. Being aware that it is the methodologies of those fields as opposed to the efficacy of any one of their component models or disciplines which defines them and forms a framework for all their undertakings.

The process of creating models and maps of the world explicitly engage the presupposition that the map is not the territory; our models of the world are not the world itself, but to the extent that they are useful in achieving outcomes, they are helpful and worthwhile, as is any endeavour which endeavours to create such maps. Science as a whole is one such field.

Models and Maps of the World

All models have theoretical presuppositions, consequences and predict specific outcomes, which can be tested for validity through experimentation. Cognitive Science uses computational models to create working formats of models, which force explicit descriptions of the contexts, processes, structures and variables for which the model is appropriate. NLP uses formats and outcomes, and to the extent to which the presuppositions inherent in any given model are kept intact, and applied with methodological credibility, the models are amenable to experimentation. To assist in scientific investigation, models must be clearly specified and their presuppositions must be identified so that they may be explored experimentally.

Thus, NLP should be tested using the same scientific rigor as any other discipline which involves the creation and exploration of models, and for this to take place it is important, as noted by Einspruch & Forman (1985), that “researchers should be adequately trained in NLP so that the procedures and interventions generated can be used within the presuppositions contained in the model.” Scientific investigation has and will continue to assist in creating a clearer specification of the models of NLP through the analytic process.

As Sharpley (1987) has observed, “failure to produce data that support a particular theory from controlled studies does relegate that theory to questionable status in terms of professional accountability.” Once this occurs, a model must be refined or corrected, new models proposed, hypotheses and predictions made and experiments performed which allow the development of new models.

This is, in essence, the process of science, and any field of endeavour which attempts to create useful maps of the world.

It is very important for the NLP community as a whole that people become aware of the principles it shares with fields of research such as Cognitive Science and Psychology. However, this has not always been recognised in the experimental literature; various researchers (for example, Sharpley, 1987) have mistaken some of the models within NLP for the discipline of NLP as a whole, assuming innacurately that the entire credibility of NLP as a whole lies on the shoulders of one of its models (e.g. the representational systems model) Just as the credibility of psychology does not rest on the efficacy of any one model (e.g. Baddeley & Hitch’s, 1974, model of working memory), so it is with NLP.

Future Directions

Unfortunately, until now, there has not been a single standard methodology within the field of NLP. Thus there have been no controls on the method for introducing new models, nor has there been an agreement on precise specifications of the models of NLP. With the Graduate Certificate in NLP and Grinder and Bostic-St. Clair’s book Whispering in the Wind, Inspiritive is assisting in creating a centralised community of NLP practitioners, trainers and developers who can collaborate in the study of and development of models of excellence.

In addition, there have not been clear guidelines for experimental methodology, or clear specifications of the formats and processes of NLP. On this website, we provide such methodological guidelines, and The NLP Field Guide is the most comprehensive listing of NLP patterns and processes currently available to the NLP community.


Baddeley, A.D., Hitch, G.J. (1974). Working Memory, In G.A. Bower (Ed.), Recent advances in learning and motivation (Vol. 8, pp. 47-90), New York: Academic Press.

Bostic St. Clair, C., & Grinder, J. (2001). Whispering In The Wind. Scotts Valley, California 950666: J & C Enterprises.

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Learn more about NLP by reading our Ultimate Compendium of NLP

About the Author

Richard Thompson, BSc. (Cognitive Science)., Grad Cert NLP., is a Graduate of Exeter University, and is a freelance writer and web consultant. He holds the Graduate Certificate in NLP and enjoys receiving responses to his work.

Article content copyright © 2006. Richard Thompson. All rights reserved.

All other material copyright © 2006. INSPIRITIVE Pty Ltd. All rights reserved.

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