Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) is a method for controlling people’s minds that was invented by Richard Bandler and John Grinder in the 1970s, became popular in the psychoanalytic, occult and New Age worlds in the 1980s, and advertising, marketing and politics in the 1990s and 2000s.It’s become so interwoven with how people are communicated to and marketed at that its use is largely invisible.“Neuro-linguistic programming” is a marketing term for a “science” that two Californians—Richard Bandler and John Grinder—came up with in the 1970s.Bandler was a stoner student at UC Santa Cruz (just like I later was in the 00s), then a mecca for psychedelics, hippies and radical thinking (now a mecca for Silicon Valley hopefuls).Inspired by the computer revolution—Bandler was a computer science major—they also sought to develop a psychological programming language for human beings.Full disclosure: During my 20s, I spent years studying New Age, magical and religious systems for changing consciousness. I’ve been on both ends of the spectrum: I’ve had people ruthlessly use NLP to attempt to control me, and I’ve also trained in it and even used it in the advertising world.Despite early fascination, by 2008 or so I had largely come to the conclusion that it’s next to useless—a way of manipulating language that greatly overestimates its own effectiveness as a discipline, really doesn’t achieve much in the way of any kind of lasting change, and contains no real core of respect for people or even true understanding of how people work.After explaining a bit about what NLP is and where it came from, I’m going to break down 10 ways to inoculate yourself against its use.
Grinder was at the time an associate professor in linguistics at the university (he had previously served as a Captain in the US Special Forces and in the intelligence community, not that this, you know, is important… Together, they worked at modeling the techniques of Fritz Perls (founder of Gestalt therapy), family therapist Virginia Satir and, most importantly, the preternaturally gifted hypnotherapist Milton Erickson.
Bandler and Grinder sought to reject much of what they saw as the ineffectiveness of talk therapy and cut straight to the heart of what techniques actually worked to produce behavioral change.
It’s also somewhat of a pernicious, devilish force in the world—nearly in the business of influencing people has studied at least some of its techniques.
Masters of it are notorious for having a Rasputin-like ability to trick people in incredible ways—most of all themselves.
After throwing it to the wayside, however, I became convinced that understanding NLP is crucial simply so that people can resist its use.It’s kind of like the whole PUA thing that was popular in the mid-00s—a group of a few techniques that worked for a few unscrupulous people until the public figured out what was going on and rejected it, like the body identifying and rejecting foreign material.