The NLP Communication Model describes how we take in messages from outside the body – the external event – and move them through a series of filters into our memory. It’s an important model to learn because once understand that we can learn how we the ‘internal representation’ of that event can continue to impact our lives – and what we can do about it.

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What is an external event?

Our senses help us process the estimated 12 million bits of information we receive every second (to put that into context, that much information would fill a 64Gb tablet in less than a day, whereas our brains keep going!). In order to protect us from informational overload, our minds put this flood of information through several transformations:

Deletion – your unconscious mind is constantly deleting information that you don’t need to store, like the fact you’re wearing a shoe on your right foot. Your brain asks if it’s relevant, and if not it simply forgets it – and it’s doing this all the time.

Distortion – your brain makes something of the information that’s coming in but it’s wrong. As an example, when I moved into my new house, the burglar alarm went off on my first night. It was just a fault, and I checked the whole house to make sure I was alone, but for the rest of the night the slightest noise was taken as a sign that there was an intruder in my home. This was because my brain was distorting the external event of a banging pipe as though it was a noise to be afraid of.

Generalisations – you have these for things you encounter every day, like doors and stairs. They enable us to go places we’ve never been and still function; we use these all the time and they form our belief structures, but the question is do they always work for us.

An introduction to filters

The information also goes through numerous filters. For example, people who are bilingual often say they see the world differently depending on what language they’re speaking.

Similarly, our beliefs are a filter. We’ve all heard the saying ‘whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right’. If we’ve created a belief that we’re not good enough, everything that comes in that disagrees with that gets deleted, distorted or generalised to conform with our negative beliefs.

A word on metaprograms

The way we see and make sense of the world differs from person to person. If someone sorts by ‘difference’, they focus on detail rather than the global picture. If they enter a room they’ll focus on the one small thing that’s changed, whereas a ‘global’ person will simply see a nice, ordered room. These metaprograms change the way we see the world.

What does this all mean? Simply, when something happens on the outside, we filter it in half a second and we create an ‘internal representation’. That’s what allows NLP to work – it gives you the understanding to review and alter your internal representation.

What are State and Physiology in NLP?

Do you behave differently when feeling good or bad? Are the outcomes different? Yes. That is your state, and is very important to our daily lives.

Physiology is changed by state, and vice versa. You can see physiologically in someone that they’re not in a good state. But equally, your physiology affects your state – how quickly does the state brought about by a bad day go away when you go to the gym? Almost instantly, because the physiology of a workout is hugely different from that of a bad day.

How can the NLP communication model help me on a daily basis?

Here’s how it’s possible to use techniques to change people’s state, behaviour and the results they’re getting in their life.

The problem is never the external event. It’s the internal representation of that event. If you have a phobia of lifts, is it the lift that’s causing the phobia? No, if the lift was a problem everyone would have a phobia. So it’s the representation we need to change.

If someone says I have a problem because of something that happened when I was seven, it’s not true, because they’re an adult not a seven-year-old. And even when they were seven, the problem was not the external event, it was the internal representation.

We can’t change what happened, but we can change our internal memory. Memories are fragile. Police forces know it. They know they’ll get 30 different witness reports of an event because each of those people filter the event differently. They also know when they go back 6 months later, those same witnesses will all give a different report – and will swear the one they give today is the right one! You can’t remember something as a seven-year-old because you’re remembering it as an adult. Just your memory alone changes the way you feel, which changes the memory.

The exciting thing about NLP is it doesn’t matter where you are or what you’ve been. It matters where you want to go. We can’t change what’s happened, but where you are in your life is due to internal representation. We change it all the time naturally – all we learn with these techniques is how we can change those memories in a way that empowers us. 

How the NLP Communication Model impacts Cause and Effect

Let’s, instead of thinking about external and internal, think of cause and effect. Most people live in the Effect side of the equation, which is what happens externally. NLP enables us to live on the Cause side, where we can create our own experience, moment by moment.

Perception is Projection

Remember – all we have is a perception of the things and people outside of us, and what we project on to external circumstances, people etc is our perception, or our filters. So if we change our filters, release our negative memories, delete our limiting beliefs we can get different results.

As Richard Bandler, one of the founder of NLP, said: “One of the things with NLP is I can be happy for no good reason.”

You can create certainty inside of you that allows you to reach your goals.