How does it work?
The brain, nervous system and therefore immune system and all the organs that function in your body (remembering skin is also an organ) and skeleton are connected. The brain and the mind are without a doubt connected also (some may argue they are in fact the same thing). It is well researched and documented in the medical and psychological fields that the mind and the body are connected. In other words, how we feel psychologically affects our body and therefore our health. A simple example: the well known fact that psychological “stress” lowers our immune system (due to a release in certain hormones) and makes us more susceptible to illness.
We also know our body responds to certain thoughts or images that go through our minds. For example if I ask you to picture a lemon, and imagine cutting into it and tasting it, you will make a picture in your head and you will start salivating and your stomach will get ready to eat it. Your body thinks the lemon is really here and you are ingesting it! Another more obvious and somewhat unspoken example of this is how just thinking about sexual images produces feelings of arousal in the body. This unconscious part of your brain therefore, does not quite know the difference between what is “real” and what is “not real”.
You can imagine the consequences of this in some people’s case, for example the person who is scared of flying on planes. They make pictures in their head of the terrible crash they are “about to have”, their unconscious brain sends a warning signal to the nervous system, thus producing physical sensations in the body (sweating, shaking, dry mouth, heart racing etc). A single thought is all it takes for your body become as physiologically aroused as if it were actually happening. No wonder they feel highly anxious and want to get off the plane!
Researchers in various disciplines have therefore realised that this visual part of the brain has a very significant function. Because of its significance it is used positively in NLP to make important, permanent changes in the whole system of the mind and body.
If we think again of the person who is scared of flying. In their brain, there is a connection between planes, crashing, and fear and anxiety. These “connections” are made in the brain by millions of little neurons, which when connected form a chain, or a neural network in scientific terms. These neural networks are connected with the chemicals like adrenalin and endorphins. They send signals to the nervous system which produces the physiological sensations for fear, originally designed by the body for escape and survival.
It is important to recognise that these networks once formed, connect together again and again. Each time they connect they are reinforced and form a pattern, for example a repeated behaviour (i.e. smoking), or a repeated thought (i.e. “this plane is going to crash”). The connection gets stronger each time the pattern is repeated, (i.e. each time the person lights a cigarette or gets on a plane).
How the neurons decide which chemical to use to connect its network, depends on which one is “hanging around” at the time. How the chemicals get to be around at the time, depends on our emotional state. For example if we are happy our brain produces a lot of serotonin (the “happy” chemical), and therefore the neural network connects with serotonin, and then the brain produces even more, and so on. This is wonderful for the happy person! You can imagine the implications of this in reverse though (i.e. the person who suffers with “depression”). It’s also important to recognise that these networks connect and reconnect again without us having any control at all, and without us even being aware (i.e. having to consciously think about it). They happen entirely in the unaware, unconscious part of the brain.
Of course this unconscious part of the brain is important in regulating major things in our nervous system, like our heart beating, our breathing, our eyes blinking and our body healing from an injury. We would not consciously be able to think about these things – it would take up too much time! We also do not need to when we can trust our unconscious to do it for us. Just take a moment to think about this. If our unconscious brain controls so much without us even thinking or asking it to do anything, just imagine what we could achieve if we did communicate with it and ask it to do something! This is exactly what NLP is designed to do.
Also, consider that if all of this happens unconsciously, so does your immune system’s response to an allergen, say pollen for example. This is also the case with your brain’s phobic reaction to a spider or anxious reaction to an exam or job interview. 90% of your thoughts, feelings, attitudes, responses and behaviours, beliefs and memories are controlled by this unconscious part of your brain. Seeing as these affect you mentally and physically and pretty much control everything you do every day and in life, it is exceptionally important that you have some control over these critical internal functions.
These beliefs, responses and behaviours are in many cases set up at a time in our lives we were too young (often as children), or at another time when we can not control it, or have the resources or knowledge to do any differently. This is true of physical responses as well. Your brain and body thought they were doing the best for your protection at the time the response was “set up”. The same patterns therefore will keep on repeating themselves again and again and all the information we take in from the world, will simply reinforce it. The neural networks will reconnect and become stronger, until something happens or we do something purposeful to change it ourselves. For example, we might consider ourselves a shy person, so we make ourselves take a trip around the world on our own to build our confidence. However, it is not always possible to do this as we don’t always know what to do or how to do it, or we have various “limitations” that stop us from doing anything at all.
This is where NLP is so important. It is the development of understanding how someone takes in the world through the senses, and uniquely stores, codes and organises this information. Then, by using specially developed language patterns and processes we can “talk” to the brain in a language it fully understands, communicating fully with it, asking it to respond to things differently, in a way that suits us better and serves us fully.
It is important to point out that because NLP processes are so specific and direct, they have very powerful effects and positive change is often instantaneous. People therefore could have an idea of an NLP practitioner “waving a magic wand” and magically solving all their problems for them. This is not the case at all. It is not NLP that “works” by itself, it is you and your brain that “work”! Remember one of the key assumptions of NLP – we are simply reminding the brain of its inherent excellence. It already has everything it needs (the “hardware”) and all we are doing as an NLP practitioner and client is working together, and gently guiding your brain in the right direction (reprogramming the “software”). By doing this we connect those neural network patterns inside your brain to do what we want them to do, not what they thought they had to, do all that time ago, when they were first connected.
Einstein is quoted as saying “our thinking creates problems that the same kind of thinking cannot solve”. I think this is a good way of describing how NLP works. If it was just as easy as saying consciously “I’d like to change this behaviour now please” everyone would be their own therapist and would be completely fulfilled and happy and healthy in life. The only difference between you and me is that I know how to communicate with the type of thinking that can change you positively.
Mental and physical dis-eases therefore like depression or allergies are just a “way of thinking” (i.e. a neural network pattern in the brain) and can be changed if you really want them to be.