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NLP THE HOW OF NOW – The Coaching Room

Here’s another way to describe NLP and Neuro-Semantics.  What are these models and what do they do?   They focus on the how of now.  That is, whatever is now-whatever experience, whether an experience of excellence, or just a mediocre experience, or even a hellish experience- whatever the experience is, there is rhyme and reason to it.  It has a structure and therefore an internal form.  There is a how that explains it.  That’s the how of the now.

After all, the person who has the experience has created it.  That person has taken an event, the data of some event, and interpreted those facts in such a way as to generate his or her experience of it.  And if we explore the combination of what happened and how that person has interpreted it (given it meaning, drawn a conclusion, developed a belief, made a decision, etc.) then we could explore the how of now.

Your now experiences also didn’t just drop out of the sky.  It was co-created by you from the event.  Event happened, you interpreted, bingo -experience. And NLP, as you well know, is “the study of the structure of subjective experience.”  Now in what could be considered, the prelude of all NLP books, this is what Fritz Perls said.  It is the book that Richard Bandler edited from the audio-tapes that Robert Spitzer gave him some time after Fritz died and which became the book, “The Gestalt Approach and Eyewitness to Therapy” (1973).  Read it now with an NLP ear!


“In previous centuries, we asked ‘why.’  We tried to find causes, reasons, excuses, rationalizations.  And we thought if we could change the causes, we could change the effect.  In our electronic age, we don’t ask why anymore, we ask how.  We investigate the structure, and when we understand the structure, then we can change the structure.  And a structure in which we are most interested, is the structure of our life script.  The structure of our life script … is mostly taken up with self-torture, futile self-improvement games, achievements, and so on.” (122)


From Why to How

The NLP idea of “Don’t ask why,” as almost all of the original NLP ideas did not come from Bandler, Grinder, or Pucelik, it came from Fritz and Virginia (which by the way they got from Maslow and Rogers).  Here is what Fritz, in the book, “The Gestalt Approach”, said:

“Asking questions that begin with ‘why’ are of little therapeutic value. “The ‘why’ questions produce only pat answers, defensiveness, rationalizations, excuses, and the delusion that an event can be explained by a single cause.  The why does not discriminate purpose, origin, or background.  Under the mask of inquiry it has contributed perhaps more to human confusion than any other single word.  Not so with the ‘how.’  The how inquires into the structure of an event, and once the structure is clear all the whys are automatically answered.   …

“If we spend our time looking for causes instead of structure we may as well give up the idea of therapy and join the group of worrying grandmothers who attack their prey with such pointless questions as ‘Why did you catch that cold?’  ‘Why have you been so naughty?’” (p. 77)

“The majority of questions the patient asks are seductions of the intellect, related to the notion that verbal explanation are a substitute for understanding.  We want to elicit the structure of the patient’s question, its background; and possibly we can reach the self in this process.” (p. 78).


If you have read “The Structure of Magic, Volume I”, or nearly any other basic NLP book, then you may have to do a double-take on that paragraph.  You may go, “Hey that sounds like something right out of my basic NLP training.” But it is not.  Before NLP even existed, it came from Fritz Perls’ Gestalt Therapy!  And so now you know where Bandler and Grinder got so much of what is now basic NLP.

This is actually some of the original material that today is the background of the Meta-Model.  And there’s more.  Because Fritz was very challenging and confronting in his style, Bandler picked up on this, mimicked it and from this even came the language that was originally used with regard to the Meta-Model of Language.  When a client says something, “challenge it” with a question.  Again, this comes directly from Fritz!

“The therapist’s primary responsibility is not to let go unchallenged any statement or behavior which is not representative of the self, which is evidence of the patient’s lack of self-responsibility.” (p. 80).

“Responsibility is really response-ability, the ability to choose one’s reactions.” (79)

Fritz also explained that “the patient’s statements are always clues for further questions, and possibly more specific ones.” (p.79).  Now you know the answer to the question when someone asks, “Besides Transformational Grammar, where did the structure of the Meta-Model come from?”


In the How of Now

Today when you work with someone, explore the how of that person’s now so that you can model the how.  This is important.  When you do that, you are thereby able to identify the strategy of the person which will, in turn, enable you to understand them, pace them, and possibly identify the leverage point of change for them.  As you do so, identify the components, the steps, the sequence, the cause-effect structures, the standards or criteria, etc. of their linguistically-created and based reality.  After all, it is their map that has created their experience.

If you are a trainer, consultant, therapist, or coach, don’t engage in any of these processes with another person until you first do some modeling of the how, then, when you know the how of that person’s now, you will be ready to go.  Ask and explore.  If the person says that she is not confident, if he says he’s afraid or worried about having a low profile, or depressed, or whatever-

  • What you are doing or experiencing right now?
  • How are you doing this?  What are you doing?
  • How do you know that you insecure, or afraid, or depressed, and so on?


Michael Hall, Ph.D.


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