When I studied NLP, here’s what I learned

I first heard about Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP) in 1995. Back then, NLP courses were hard to find in Australia. However, I was intrigued and persistent. I kept searching until 1998, when I finally found a practitioner course in Sydney. Back then, I was sceptical about the transformative powers attributed to NLP. These days, I know they are triggered by the intensely personal, experiential nature of well-designed NLP programs. My practitioner certification took 20 days. Master practitioner was an additional 20 days. Several years later, I completed trainers’ trainer. Yep. That was 20 days (and two flights to London!) too.

Would I say NLP transformed my work as a trainer? Absolutely. Did it transform my personal life? Yes, indeed. These days, I unconsciously embed NLP patterns in most coaching and groupwork sessions. Looking back, I see that NLP equipped me to excel. I ‘learned heaps’ in every course I attended. But three skills still stand out as my favourites: cognitive reframing, metaphor construction and meta-model questioning techniques.

Does that all sound like a lot of jargon? Welcome to the world of NLP! The guys who created NLP seemed to have a knack for inventing serious-sounding labels. Behind the names, though, are some seriously useful techniques. Here’s a quick rundown on my favourites and how they are useful to trainers and coaches.

Cognitive reframing

The more I learn about cognitive reframing, the more firmly I believe it is the foundation for all learning. Reframing means shifting your perspective on a situation or event. It involves making new meaning and interpreting things differently. The purpose of reframing is to generate new understanding or insight. As a positive psychology trainer, for example, I often encourage learners to view challenging situations through a lens of childlike curiosity. This simple reframe helps people find new solutions to old problems – and have fun while they’re doing it!

As a rookie NLP practitioner, I was intrigued by the pragmatic approach NLP took to reframing. I learned step-by-step language patterns I could use to reduce resistance and increase learning, whilst honing my reframing skills. 25 years after learning those techniques, I continue to teach them to participants in my Learn with Eleanor Shakiba courses and retreats. Why? Because they work.

Metaphor construction

Metaphors were the reason I enrolled in my first NLP course. I’d heard NLP practitioners were exceptional storytellers. I wanted to be an exceptional storyteller, too! I soon learned this would involve mastering ‘therapeutic metaphor construction’. Hmm. What did this mean? Put simply, it involved crafting storylines and characters which would engage conscious minds whilst teaching to unconscious minds. It’s an incredibly creative process, which every trainer should master. My own passion for metaphor construction runs deep. I learned the structure for this in my NLP Practitioner course back in 1998. And I’ve never found a better way of building teaching metaphors.


Subscribe to our mailing list and receive fornightly tips and videos:


Meta-model questioning

Speak to any NLP practitioner and it won’t be long before they sing the praises of ‘the meta model’. This mysterious title is actually an abbreviation. Originally, this foundation-stone of NLP was known as ‘the meta-model of language in therapy’. This is a complex, deeply structured model. For now, let’s stick to a basic definition. The meta model is a set of questions practitioners can use to shift or expand mindsets.

Why would trainers and coaches want to do this? The applications of the meta-model are limitless. For example, just this week I have used meta-model questions to:

  • Draw out strengths during career coaching sessions
  • Surface limiting assumptions which are preventing people solving their own problems
  • Handle hecklers or people who aggressively challenge content in training sessions
  • Subtly guide the thinking processes of individuals or groups
  • Manage my own thinking, especially when faced with tough problems.

To me, NLP rocks. Admittedly, though, it is not an evidence-based discipline. This means it is viewed with scepticism in some circles. Why do I still suggest that trainers explore it? Because no other discipline teaches you to listen with the precision and accuracy of NLP. What NLP contributed to the world was a fascinating breakdown of the language patterns which promote change. Learning those patterns will make you a masterful facilitator and coach. Which, after all, is much better than simply being a good trainer.

Want to learn more about NLP and how it can transform your work as a trainer? Download my Positive Psychology Toolkit for HR and L&D Practitioners now.


About the author: Eleanor Shakiba

Eleanor is a positive psychology trainer and coach. Her passion is teaching skills for positive thinking, proactive communication and purposeful leadership. Her clients work in academia, education, IT, engineering, finance and health. Eleanor is qualified in Social Anthropology, Positive Psychology, Counselling, Coaching, Adult Education and Neuro Linguistic Programming. She’s the author of the Positive Psychology Toolkit for HR and L&D Practitioners a free resource for trainers.