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This article was originally written by Michael Hall – gently edited by The Coaching Room


If you have studied NLP and Neuro-Semantics you will know, we are the framers and the pattern detectors. We do this intentionally and mindfully even though this is what the brain does naturally. Our brains are forever looking for and trying to recognise patterns all around us. It’s a basic survival tendency. It began when you were a child. Your primitive form of thinking even then was on the lookout for patterns. Then if something happened twice or three times— Lo and Behold! A Pattern! You then “jumped to a conclusion,” made a learning, and created a generalisation that then became part of your mental mapping about how the world works.


The problem is not about how to detect or create patterns. You naturally and inevitably do that. That’s not the problem. The problem is how to do that with sufficient accuracy, validity, relevance, and sufficiency. And that’s what critical thinking and effective learning is all about. The problem is that because you have this automatic and habitual tendency of seeing patterns— you see them and invent them where they do not even exist!


In fact, when you learn the Meta-Model, you actually learn that several of the ill-formed and flawed thinking patterns and linguistic patterns are the result of an over-active pattern-detection ability. You are inventing flawed and fallacious patterns, where none exist. You can see a few examples below:


Mind-Reading: In this Meta-Model distinction you assume and project onto someone else motives, intentions, emotions, agendas, purposes, etc. that they may or may not have. You think that the other person is upset, angry, fearful, hopeful, stressed, etc. based on some cues that you notice and so you assume that you know the pattern that they are exhibiting. When you assert it, however, you are using your own history about yourself or others and projecting it onto the person.


The Meta-Model question that challenges this is a simple one: “How do you know that this person is feeling or intending X?” “What information are you using to draw that conclusion?” The problem with this is that you may be using information that was an accurate pattern from your childhood home and that did indeed indicate what someone else was experiencing at that time. But you are now with another person and it may no longer fit. And, the more dysfunctional your childhood home— the less true the pattern will be for others. You are calibrated to some event in your history and are not in the here-and-now with this person.


Cause-Effect: In this Meta-Model distinction you link things together— “This X causes that Y.” Again, this may mostly indicate your learning history and your learning experiences than what is occurring on the outside. Associative thinking is the kind of “logic” that we typically use in constructing cause-effect relationships and which gets us into lots of trouble. That’s because with it we can easily confuse correlation to causation and also because we overly rely on linear causation when most of the world involves systems and systemic causation. That’s why we often think we have detected a pattern when we have not.


Lost Performative: In this Meta-Model distinctions you use a pattern (mental map) that others have created and that have been communicated in such a way that whoever made the map is now lost. We don’t know who created it. We don’t know when. We don’t know under what circumstances. And so the person who performed the creation of the pattern is now gone … and all we have left is the pattern. “Boys shouldn’t cry.” “He who hesitates is lost.” “It’s not personal, it’s just business.” Now the pattern shows up in proverbs, “common sense” statements, truisms, street knowledge, urban legends, superstitions, etc. and we quote them and use them for our thinking template without even questioning them.


When you use these, and others, in an unthinking way and never question them, then this is a pattern that has gone wrong. It may be an inaccurate pattern—someone has jumped to a conclusion prematurely and the so-called pattern just is not so. Or it could be an old pattern that simply is no longer relevant. The times and places and contexts no longer exist. Or the patten could speak of one’s personal subjective history and does not apply to anyone else.


Therefore if you or someone else uses it today, the person using it is using a pattern that does not exist. Yet if you do not recognise this, the so-called pattern will actually operate as a way to shut down your thinking.


Detecting patterns is your heritage given the brain that you have. It’s what you do. Learning to do it mindfully so that you are accurate and relevant in your pattern detection is one of the benefits of learning the Meta-Model. Your brain, as a “creature of habit,” establishes neural pathways as it detects patterns and then uses them over and over, thereby creating habits. That why some of the patterns you detect are left-over habits from previous experiences and no longer relevant. That’s why they can go wrong.


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