Unconscious Installation of NLP Skills - NLP Article by Jonathan Altfeld

November 28, 2004

      There's been a lot of criticism lately on several online NLP forums (not our new NLP forum created in 2010) denouncing "unconscious installation" as a process. Mostly I would say this criticism comes from people who do not know how to do it, or, what the limitations of it are, or, for that matter, what exactly is meant by it. I could be wrong about that, but from reading the criticisms leveled at the concept of unconscious installation, I would say they were not well-informed opinions.

      It sounds like several people are suggesting that NLP's co-founder Richard Bandler, & other NLP trainers, all share the same bizarre opinion: That somehow, magically, while listening to hypnotically-woven stories, without hearing any conscious references to a skill being taught, by the end of some period of time you'll magically have some complex skill 'installed' and can be trusted with people's lives. Especially that last bit. That's a ridiculous comment. That was never suggested to me when I was learning "unconscious installation" as a process. I've never heard any trainer that I would go see, suggest anything of the sort.

      Also, someone mentioned in one of their diatribes that the metaphors Richard Bandler uses/used were isomorphic. That is not accurate. He rarely if ever uses isomorphic metaphor, at least in recent years, as far as I can determine. He uses what he describes as homomorphic metaphor, whereby a trainer delivers multiple stories that all elicit the same response (many to one). Sometimes those stories are embedded inside others, sometimes not.

      The general process of Unconscious Installation might best be described as primarily a process whereby you're eliciting a series of emotional responses, and you do that to build a chain of emotional shifts. That's a good macro view.

      You start at the beginning (or on the outside) with something that reflects or paces a problem emotional state of some kind. Or perhaps better described as an emotional state that you might be in, when facing a problem of some kind in your own life. And you keep doing it (pacing that state with some story, perhaps even with irrelevant content) until you get the emotional response you're after, and then you anchor that response for your audience. So that you'll have a trigger to that emotion set up for later on. Then you leave whatever story you're in at that moment unfinished, and move on to another story, that represents the next emotional step in the chain. And you keep going until you've built an emotional state chain from "problem state," all the way through any interim emotional steps, to any useful "solution emotional state."

      No one in their right mind that I know would ever suggest that that process above, by itself, automatically hands anyone an optimal solution to a problem, especially when a specific complex skill is involved. Hypnotically or otherwise. It does what it does. If the speaker/practitioner is good, then they should be able to elicit any of the emotional responses along the way of the chain they've built, and sequence the subject through to the solution-state emotion, and see visible evidence of the shifting taking place.

      As for specific complex skills. One can take a break from any of the stories along the way, and happen to mention almost as a short reminder, something about the specific skills/tasks/steps that need to be accomplished in the problem situation. One can even repeat them consciously a couple of times, then, stop talking about the skill, and come back to the seemingly irrelevant stories. Now, some might argue this wasn't unconscious, it was directly conscious. And with respect to that little bit, if you myopically focused only on that subsection of what the NLP speaker was doing, they'd be right. It was conscious delivery of a small portion of a larger process, in a targeted place in a larger hypnotic process.

      And there is a more hypnotic version of the above tiny bit, whereby the content is not the same as the skill being taught, but the embedded commands and other forms of indirect suggestions match both the storyline you're in, and the skill being taught. I have found this to be sometimes effective, and sometimes not.

      But one of the principles behind both of the above 2 immediately preceding paragraphs is that everything goes to context. What is learned in one emotional state will be maximally available to you/me/us -- when we're next in that emotional state. And will be less & less available to us, in any other emotional state. So it's possible to consciously teach very small portions of a larger skill, within a much larger storytelling/emotional-state-chaining process. And it's possible for listeners to have a form of mild amnesia for the specifics of those tasks/skills, as the stories unfold and as their emotions follow along with our elicitation's.

      However, later on, while I'm testing the sequence I've built, they might have brief conscious remembrance of the specific skills I've taught, within each emotional step along the way from problem to solution.

      So is it really unconscious or conscious teaching? Both. The micro view, within each state, is that I've done some possibly very conscious teaching, even potentially with brief conscious repetition. The macro view involves a much larger hypnotic training process, at an emotional state shifting level, and utilizes the likelihood that most people won't remember all (or even many) of the specifics of a skill taught within that storytelling process, consciously. And yet, when they next approach the problem (and thus enter the problem state), their neurology may very well now have a new pathway to follow. And (a) if I've done my job well, and (b) their retention was good, then their neurology will remembers only the specific things they need to do within each emotional state, and, what the next emotion is they'll need to jump to unconsciously. After they make each leap, other data/steps/tasks become contextually available to them. And then the process continues.

      Now after that entire process has been completed, does the person emerge a gifted expert? No way in hell would I ever suggest that consistently. Personally if the skill being taught involved anyone else's safety, I would want to view their skills from a distance, test their skills, refine their skills, find out how well prepared they are for known exceptions, and get them to practice a lot more, before ever putting my safety in any of their hands.

      But often enough, a person emerges from what I've described above, with a far more complete skill than they would ever have expected themselves to have learned, by comparison to rote memorization of all the specific sub-tasks of a process.

      And it is that amount of surprise that we consistently read about here, and in other NLP forums, from people who have attended trainings with Richard Bandler & some others, and have gone home capable of some things they were not capable of before.

      Unconscious Installation does often work exceptionally well, IF you know what it is you're talking about when you use the term, IF the person doing it is skilled enough to know when they're getting the responses they're after, IF they're skilled enough at delivering the right pieces at the right times, and IF we accept that we're not saying people emerge with unconscious mastery with any likelihood or consistency.

      I'd say that people emerge at a different place than the typical model of learning suggests are possible. Do you know that model?

  Unconscious incompetence ==>

      Conscious incompetence ==>

          Conscious Competence ==>

              Unconscious Competence ==>

      I think after Unconscious Installation, people emerge in a mix between steps 2 & 4. I.e. most or all of the steps/tasks may very well be there, but they don't conscious remember them all when asked beforehand, even though they'll accomplish most or all of them in the right sequence. But normally associated with forgetting the steps & still being able to completing them all is a certain sense of competence that's still missing, and still needs to be drilled in.

      So that's my take on unconscious installation. I may be wrong, but I don't think I'm alone in holding this opinion of how it's supposed to work or what it's supposed to accomplish.

      My question is, why do others hold such a skewed view of what unconscious installation is or is supposed to enable us to do/convey?

      I will be teaching some of the above, both consciously & otherwise, as well as giving very conscious feedback to individual participants, in any/all of my upcoming Speaking Ingeniously seminars.


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