When it came for the field of NLP to start modeling in a mindful and conscious way, they took the TOTE model from Miller’s The Plan and Structure of Behavior (1960) and created the NLP Strategy Model. That gave them a way to map the step-by-step process description for how an expert does what he or she does. That structure gave us the foundational steps regarding how to achieve a specific performance. As a linear strategy it established the essential steps and stages of the expertise - the bare-bones understanding of how the expert achieves peak performance. And while it is essential, it is also usually insufficient.
We need more. We need to detail more about what’s happening inside the meta - the little (m) that they put inside the strategy. Later various attempts in the field of NLP sought to enrich the strategy approach.
Robert Dilts put together the Neuro Logical Levels Model using Bateson’s levels of learning and distinctions about meta-levels. From that he identified the first meta-levels: beliefs, values, identity, purpose.
David Gordon and Graham Dawes put together the Experiential Array wherein they distinguished motivating beliefs, contributing beliefs, enabling beliefs along with values, criteria, etc.
James Lawley and Penny Tompkins put together Symbolic Model with Clean Language and then, using the meta-level of metaphor, how the person constructs one’s background understandings. Then using symbolic space, they went after the hidden assumptions and premises.
“There’s more to behavior than meets the eye.”
These models made various meta-levels explicit (i.e., beliefs, values, identity, purpose, metaphor, assumptions, criteria). That was good and contributed to our knowledge of modeling. Yet none of these models addressed the meta-mechanisms which drive, empower, and control the meta-processes.
The result? The meta in NLP remained an under-developed area. It had no theory and no key factor that created a structural relationship between the meta-levels. Dilts proposed hierarchical structure as a controlling mechanism, Gordon and Dawes proposed that it was the set of relationships of the meta-levels, Lawley and Thompkins proposed it was the outside-of-conscious comparative metaphorical structure. As valid and useful as these were, they still did not touch upon the key meta-cognitive mechanisms, especially self-reflexivity.
Enter Meta-States Modeling
It was only with the Meta-States Model (1994) that the hidden mechanisms of the meta-levels were made explicit so that we can fully understand the driving forces in the meta-domain.
Key to everything is self-reflexivity. Due to the special kind of consciousness in humans, e.g., self-reflexive consciousness - we never just think. T-F (thinking-feeling) is not simple. It is not a one time activity of the brain. As soon as you think, you think about your thinking. As soon as you feel, you feel about your feeling. We think about our thinking, we feel about our feeling and we do this level upon level reflexively to construct a matrix of frames and meanings which then make up the hidden reference structures that inform and govern the primary experiences. They make up the outside-of-conscious awareness mind. [In what follows @ stands for “about”.] I’m having fun learning this.” Fun @ Learning > joyful learning.
Within self-reflexivity is self-organization. That’s because beliefs, identities, prohibitions, decisions, understandings, intentions operate as system attractors. Once set, they become executive commands for the mind-body-emotion system and thereafter govern how we think, perceive, feel, talk, respond, etc. Incorporated into the person’s state - the state holds and expresses the executive commands. We experience this as our “way of being in the world,” our “personality,” and our fundamental “programs.” ‘Joy’ becomes filter for thinking about learning.
Linguistically, self-reflexivity is multi-ordinality. That is, the same word used at various levels has different meanings. First level love is different from loving love. First level fear differs significantly from fear of fear. With every self-reflexive jump, the about-ness changes. So we ask, “What is your first level fear about? What is your second-level fear about?” etc. “I’m fascinated about communication. I want to understand how it works and how I can become an effective and professional communicator.”
Tracking the levels, distinguishing what thought/feeling is being experienced about what, is often the challenge in trying to understand ourselves or others. It is also key to meta-level modeling. Fascinated @ Commun. < Understand how operates < how-to knowledge , Identity.
This whole system works holographically rather than hierarchically. So while we have many, many words for meta-levels (over 100), thinking of them as a hologram - they are all aspects of the same thing. The one thing - experience / consciousness - has many facets. We can look up the various meta-level aspects as a single diamond with many facets. It all refers to the same thing - the person’s rich and varied mind. What is “joyful learning?” Belief, value, identity, memory, imagination, etc.?
It is the meta-relationships that one’s self-reflexivity creates which, in turn, creates a unified matrix. And each of us live within an unique matrix of our own creation. It is that matrix of frames, and all of their relationships, that we will want to model from the expert to fully understand how the person does what she does. This is what you can do with the combination of the Meta-States Model and the Matrix Model.
With Meta-State Modeling, we can now take modeling to a new level, a richer level, and generate a much more systemic approach to modeling. The benefit is that we can now model experiences which we could not previously model, namely, Complex experiences which have multiple layers and hidden sets of relationships. Long term experiences which occur over time and which take time to develop such as leadership, vigorous health, and wealth creation. You cannot just “access” the state, step in and presto! Gestalt experiences which arise due to various emergent systemic properties. Responsibility + Care @ fearful situation >> Courage.
The Self-reflexivity Mechanism
In the meta-dimension, human consciousness inevitably and inescapably reflects back onto itself. Each time it does, it creates a reference structure for the first experience. While it may seem that this reflection of T-F is simple or innocent, it is not. When you bring a second T-F to a first T-F, you simultaneously do multiple things.
The reflexive thought-feeling:
Sets a frame for the first as a semantic environment.
Sets a frame of reference as an internal mental context.
Textures and qualifies the first.
And given time, integrates into the first state, embodies it as your “way of being.” This constructs it as one of your automatic programs. It establishes an executive command so that it organises the whole to that T-F as a program. Now you have an integrated system. Respect + Empathy + Care + violation of values (anger) >> Respectful Anger.
Find out more about this topic at the NLP International Conference
To learn more about this advance in modelling and more insights from Michael Hall, join his session at the Virtual 2021 NLP International Conference on Saturday 15th May 2021. Discover how to use Meta-States to flush out the meta-frames of an expert so you can discover the higher level thinking driving expertise.