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Relationship between Levels, Modelling and Models







Metaphoric Modelling





Conceptual Modelling





Sensory Modelling


Figure 1

Modelling The Modelling Process

Our purpose for defining three types of modelling is to distinguish between different approaches to model-building. However, the overall framework originally used by Bandler and Grinder is applicable to all types of modelling. This can be summarised, in its simplest form, as a five-stage process:

  1. Set outcome and identify models
  2. Gather information
  3. Construct model
  4. Test model by using it
  5. Modify model for transferring on (if required)

Although we describe the five stages as a linear process, it should be obvious that it is systemic as each stage feeds-forward to the following stages and feeds-back to the previous stages.

Each of the five stages requires a different set of skills. For example at Stage 2, a useful way to describe the skills required to gather information is by distinguishing between:

    (A) Second Position Modelling
    (B) Third Position Modelling
    (C) First Position Modelling

(A): 2nd Position Modelling

Second Position information gathering is when the modeller puts aside as much of their own 'map' as possible and 'becomes the other person,' i.e.. takes on their behaviours, strategies, beliefs etc. as appropriate to the outcome. In Sensory Modelling this is best done by physically shadowing the model while they are being excellent naturally.

One of the fundamental skills required at Stage 2, however the information is gathered, is the ability of the modeller to remain in a state of 'not knowing' for as long as possible. In other words, to not jump to premature conclusions which would inevitably be based on the modeller's experience rather than what the other person was actually saying or doing. Judith DeLozier calls this the 'nerk nerk' state. (ref. 12)

In Second Position modelling, the modeller adopts the 'nerk nerk' state and accepts all sense impressions they receive without interpretation. This requires a significant conscious and unconscious commitment on behalf of the modeller.

Erickson's Map

One way to undertake Second Position modelling is called 'deep trance identification.' It requires the modeller to set up appropriate 'safety lines' and 'contextual markers' so they can come back to themselves after each modelling session is complete. Charlotte Bretto says it took John Grinder six months to prepare himself sufficiently before he was ready to commit 100% of his neurology to 'becoming Milton Erickson'. Until then he could not act with complete congruence.

An important distinction here is between 'process' and 'content'. Modelling is about acquiring a working description of the map of the person being modelled not the person themselves - that is the territory. Apparently, one of the early NLP modellers took to a wheelchair in order to act like Erickson (who was partially paralysed due to Polio) until Erickson found out and reprimanded him. This is an example of confusing map and territory.

As an aside, we find it ironic that while most traditional education is about getting to a state of knowing as quickly as possible, the way to acquire expertise through modelling is to stay in the state of not-knowing for as long as possible. The only NLP book we know that addresses this skill directly is "Turtles All The Way Down" by Judith DeLozier and John Grinder (ref. 13).

Spiritual Healing

When James started learning the modelling process, he chose to model three spiritual healers "for the state they are in when they think healing is taking place." Given that none of the healers used words during the healing sessions and none of them thought they were consciously controlling the process, this was a challenging first assignment! Much of the information required to build the model could only be accumulated via Second Positioning.

James discovered that in order to return to himself after 'becoming each healer,' he would have to have a strong sense of his own identity to come back to. At the time, a sense of his own identity was not available to his conscious mind. So he set out on a quest to 'find' his identity before he could fully commit to Second Positioning his models. This was quite a lengthy journey. What's more, he discovered that each of these healers had a method for 'setting aside the self' so that they could become a conduit for 'healing energy'. Thus no sooner had he discovered his identity than he had to learn to set it aside. He now sees this as 'divine humour'!

A subtle distinction we make is between (a) going to Second Position with the person being modelled and what they are doing; and (b) going to Second Position with the information and the way the information is input, processed and output by the person being modelled. The first approach is typical of Sensory Modelling while the second approach is the preferred mode of Symbolic Modelling.

(B): 3rd Position Modelling

Third Position modelling occurs when the modeller takes a detached standpoint to observe and ask questions of the person being modelled. As a modeller is attempting to find out what happens, it is important that they can distinguish between what they are seeing and hearing, and their own interpretations. This is particularly true when asking questions, as all questions contain presuppositions and therefore influence.

The last thing you want is for what happens to change before you have modelled it! Especially as we have heard of modellers unwittingly "messing up" the productive strategy of their models with inappropriate questions.

While keeping the modeller's presuppositions out of the process is central to all forms of modelling, it is paramount in Symbolic Modelling. Because of this, David Grove has developed a set of questions which contain minimal presupposition and are thus called Clean Language. The nine basic Clean Language questions were outlined in Rapport 35 (ref. 2).

Another form of third-position modelling was conducted by Robert Dilts when compiling his Strategies of Genius series. His only source of information was the written word in either autobiographical or biographical form. Therefore he had to work from historical descriptions about what these geniuses did. By necessity these accounts were once, twice and sometimes three times removed from the original behaviour.

(C): 1st Position Modelling

We are grateful to Michael Breen for pointing out to us that "All modelling is self modelling." Thus what is being modelled is the modeller's impression of the information gathered from studying the other person. In other words, we cannot get to someone else's map without going through our own neurology.

A higher level description of the underlying patterns (i.e.. a model) will start to emerge from the modeller's unconscious mind when they have acquired sufficient sense-impressions. The process has now entered Stage 3 as the modeller is starting to use their own neurolinguistic systems to model themselves! We call this First Position modelling.

This is why it is so important in Stage 2 to remain in the 'nerk nerk' state for as long as possible. Otherwise the modeller ends up with a description of their own map! This may be valuable but there is a danger of believing "every magician I model thinks just like I do. Therefore I must be a magician!"

Four Steps to Learning

We recognise our description of modelling does not follow the traditional 4 steps of learning presented on many NLP programmes. These are:

    (a) unconscious-incompetence
    (b) conscious-incompetence
    (c) conscious-competence
    (d) unconscious-competence.

Our research shows that the modelling process (which is another name for learning) is more accurately represented by the sequence:

    (a) unconscious-incompetence
    (b) conscious-incompetence
    (c) unconscious-competence
    (d) conscious-competence.

The difference between the two formulations is that steps (c) and (d) have been transposed. In our experience of modelling, step (b) represents the 'nerk-nerk' state. As a result, the unconscious learns something new by step (c). Only now is it possible for the conscious mind to know. Thus step (d) denotes the meta-knowing of a true expert: one who consciously knows through experience.

Young children mostly learn by modelling. What separates their approach from that of adults is that they either miss out step (b) and go straight from unconscious-incompetence to unconscious-competence or they are completely comfortable with not knowing. Learning to welcome a state of conscious-incompetence as part of the modelling process is a stretching new idea for many people.

The Spelling Strategy

Having coded your model's behaviour, the modelling process needs to move to stage 5 if you want to transfer the information to someone else. Your coding of the material may well have to be modified so that it can be learned by someone who was not involved in the original process. The NLP spelling strategy illustrates this perfectly.

Part of learning the spelling strategy is to spell the word being learned backwards (ref. 10, page 182). None of the original excellent spellers did this. So why is it is in the strategy?

When they first tried to teach the strategy to poor spellers, they found that even though they learned it, they did not believe this was enough to become a good speller. So someone had the bright idea of getting them to spell the words they were learning backwards on the basis that "If you can spell the word backwards, you know spelling it forwards will be easy." So for the spelling strategy to be useful an extra 'convincer' step had to be added.

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