The Power of Opposites - NLP Article

While running our recent Master Practitioner training in Tampa, I was struck by the repetitious theme of the importance of Polar opposites.

I'm going to begin by saying this is a somewhat unusual topic and style for me. Chances are that'll be obvious soon enough. I'm usually primarily so strongly into having the freedom to choose from a wide range of options... that thinking in terms of absolutes typically calls me into vividly describing all the grays between black & white. I'm often the guy finding exceptions to the rules, that sort of thing. But I've been reminded of the value of polar opposites, and exploring outside our comfort zone can be very empowering, so... here goes an attempt to explore the value of polar opposites for both you & me.

And so as you read this article, for the sake of brightening your life just a bit, maybe sparking creative approaches to situations you're currently in... I encourage you to think about any unresolved situations or problems you may be currently facing. Just for kicks, try thinking through these situations again, from an opposite perspective. From whatever the opposite reasons would be. See where it might take you.

For example, when my training partner Doug O'Brien and I were teaching an NLP technique known as 'collapsing anchors', Doug shared an innovative twist he & one of his other associates (Kevin Creedon) had come up with, that makes the technique more effective. Collapsing anchors is a process that helps neutralize any negative feelings one may still experience from a previous memory. Some would teach it by having one 'balance' the negative sensation against a combination of very strong positive sensations.

With Doug's & Kevin's approach, instead of just balancing the negative emotion with a lot of positive ones, they would first ask their client "what would be the 'polar opposite' of the original presenting negative feeling." And they would use the positive polar opposite of the negative feeling, with which to balance out the emotions, and leave the client feeling positive (or at least, neutral). By using what the client says is the "polar opposite," the technique is experienced a lot more strongly.

I've been finding opposites important in other situations as well.

One student at our recent course expressed a concern that he had lost his ambition. He said he no longer has a particularly strong desire to be motivated, to be ambitious -- even though he still has a desire to have a desire to do so! Most would look at that presenting situation and presume the student had lost his motivation to move "towards" something. Essentially, the obvious clues all point to a diminished positive motivation. My first test with him was designed around painting more vivid pictures & ideas of what he said he wanted... but I didn't get a really strong response, so I didn't think that was the real challenge; thus I let that challenge float around my consciousness for a while.

Later on, after hearing Doug remind me of his approach to collapsing anchors using polar opposites, I applied the same thinking to the student who'd lost his motivation to move towards various things -- and it instantly occurred to me that the student hadn't actually lost his positive desire for things... he had instead lost his emotional response to *avoiding* unwanted negative outcomes. He still had the positive desire for certain things, but he was no longer responding to attempts (by himself or others) to 'scare' him into doing things as a preventative measure.

He had decided, essentially, to no longer allow anything to stress him out. In NLP terms, he'd lost his 'away-from' motivating strategies. In more casual terms, he was still doing all the positive visualizing of his dreams, but he'd lost the proverbial fire heating up his rear end.

He did notice that there'd been changes in perception at some time in the past, primarily through the evidence that he just didn't seem to care to push his entrepreneurial dream forward in a prompt time frame, even though he wanted to.

But now that he knows how things have changed, he also has the tools at his disposal to fire himself back up again, and he can now more easily effect the kinds of changes he'd like to create in his life. Which is very exciting both for him and for us!

The insight gained from understanding how one's motivation strategy has changed, and how to adjust it appropriately -- is the difference between actually making dreams into reality -- and just sitting around and dreaming about doing so. It's fascinating: Sometimes we have to look in the polar opposite place from where we were initially looking.

So, ultimately, how can you use this discovery more simply?

It's great for understanding someone's intentions, values, and reasons for doing things. Here's a case in point: Let's say you're in the process of asking someone what's important to them (i.e., an NLP values elicitation process). You ask "What's important to you about X?"

If they say Freedom, it's just about guaranteed they're saying so because they fear the lack of it. They tell you what they want because there's been a time when they were without it, or there's been a circumstance where their freedom was challenged or withheld.

No one who's always felt fully free will notice that freedom is important to them. Only someone who fully appreciates freedom (because they've been without it for some period of time) will express to you that it's important for them.

No one who's always been treated with honesty is going to go out of their way to share with you how important honesty is. They're going to tell you that honesty is important because they've experienced a situation in their life when someone wasn't honest, and they felt violated and don't like to mistrust people. If someone will state that they feel honesty is important to them, it's almost a given that at some time in the past, and probably with something important, someone was dishonest with them.

So while I'm not saying it's always useful to look at the opposite of a preference or topic or challenge or problem... I do often find it useful in circumstances where optimal next steps are not obvious and optimal, to consider the polar opposite position next, rather than jump quickly to imposing our own intuition on a situation (valuable as we believe that may be!).

Perhaps you're not jumping into that new project because you don't want to try & then possibly fail. Sometimes that's because of a fear of failure. But if that doesn't ring true for you when you think about it... consider if it may be a fear of success! Sometimes people don't achieve success because they think others might then have too high expectations for them, from then on. And they think that would be too taxing or difficult to satisfy those higher expectations in the future.

Perhaps you're not getting closer to your new relationship partner because you think you don't think they're right for you long term... but if that doesn't feel like the right answer... maybe you have a history of preferring people that aren't right for you long-term, which gives you an easy out! In which case, perhaps you don't think they're WRONG enough for you, long-term, and it's not them personally you don't want, it's the permanent relationship?

Here's yet another example.

In teaching Lie Detection (which is actually teaching truth detection!), we typically experience 3 different categories of results through the training process. The category of those who are almost always accurate in truth detection (say, 80-100% accuracy), and the category of those who are almost always wrong (say, 0-30% accuracy), and then the category in the middle (40-70% ish). Paradoxically, the people who are almost always wrong... have a lot less to learn about truth detection skills... than people who are about half-right, half-wrong. Normally we'd expect people with the lowest scores to have more work to do. But that's not the case -- the people with the lowest scores already have most or all of the neural circuitry in place to get the wrong answer consistently. In which case we teach those people just to reverse their gut response, and they suddenly start getting the right answers consistently. (Some people actually do need to learn when & why to mistrust their intuition!).

And we can generalize from that response. When someone is experiencing a problem, the solution is often found in the polar opposite response, neurologically & behaviorally speaking.

It's my obviously biased opinion that there's nobody better than an NLP Practitioner, Master Practitioner, or Trainer, to help us find methods or patterns to rewire our strategies for solving our own problems.

Just a thought. I hope this article has given you a completely opposite and highly useful perspective on something you're currently facing!


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