If I keep going in the same direction, I'll simply end up where I'm headed.



Here's a little test.  Join up the nine rings with four straight lines without removing your pencil from the paper

(If you haven't worked it out, you will find the solution at the end of this article)


Your belief system is that total set of rules by which you live your life.  If we believed we could fly and put it to the test, we would either end up with wings on some ephemeral plane, or without them six feet under. We are born without pre-existing knowledge about our universe and survival depends upon the inferences and conclusions we draw from our observations and experience.  This involves generalisation.   In his book Changing Belief Systems With NLP, Robert Dilts maintains that our ability to generalise is essential to coping with the world.

Generalisation is one element of the Meta Model which was the first formal model introduced into Neuro-Linguistic Programming by its founders Richard Bandler and John Grinder. (The Structure of Magic, 1975).  The most significant principle in the Meta Model is the statement of Alfred Korzybski that "the map is not the territory".  It is when we generalise from limited experience and base our belief and action on that generalisation that we run into difficulties.  As a child, if my father had become irate at something my mother said to him while she was serving him roast lamb for dinner and I incorrectly attributed his anger to the food rather than the conversation, I might possibly have grown up with the assumption that roast lamb and anger were unconditionally associated.  [So that's why I'm a vegetarian?  Just joking.]

© An ABC of NLP published by ASPEN-London 1992

In addition to Generalisation, there are two other processes that affect our representations of the map (or model) of our world upon which our belief system is based.  These are Deletion and Distortion.   Deletion consists of excluding part of an experience from thought or speech.  We selectively delete language in our communication, omitting nouns and verbs, which will often lead to misunderstanding.  One of the simplest forms of deletion in speech is when a verb is changed into a noun, for example "failing at" becomes "failure".  A specific is turned into a generalisation.  And the best way to handle such negligence is the use of the word "specifically"



© An ABC of NLP published by ASPEN-London 1992

Click on thumbnails to enlarge


Thus "He is a failure" may be countered with "At what, specifically, does he fail?"


Movies such as the various Police Academies and the Airplane series are resplendent with examples of NLP deletion.  One that I saw quoted on the Internet, from Airplane, went:

Woman: "You got a telegram from headquarters today."

Man: "Headquarters? What is it?"

Woman: "It's a big building where generals meet."


Distortion is the way we alter our perception to make sense of our world. It is easier to believe that one's distorted view is the truth, rather than someone else's perceived view, because it fits into our own map of the world.  Thus though we may not fall into the actual trap of eating the menu instead of the meal, we may easily fall into the trap metaphorically by confusing our view of reality with the real world outside ourselves.

Here are some more presuppositions:

®    If you keep doing what you’re doing, you’ll end up with the same result.

®    Increase your choices and you increase your chances of a successful outcome.

®    You cannot “not communicate”

®    Your communication is defined by the response it elicits.

®    All you need is the recognition that you already have all you need.

®    All behaviour is based on a positive intention.

®    There is no failure, only feedback.

In a language system a presupposition is a meaning hidden within a deep structure which must be true if the surface structure is to make sense.  Deep structure is rooted in the unconscious, and tends to be too complex for everyday communication, and so is simplified to surface structure in conversation.    Our deep structure comprises the totality of our experiences of the world.  Within the realms of perception, deep structure and surface structure, our representations are affected by the three processes of generalisation, deletion, and distortion through which we create our model of the world.

Bandler and Grinder in The Structure of Magic (1975) suggest that “A person who has at some time in his life been rejected makes the generalisation that he’s not worth caring for.  [He now either] deletes caring messages or distorts these messages as insincere.”

Very often "why" questions precede a presupposition, as do statements beginning with "if" or "when".  "Why don't you think of me sometimes?" makes the assumption that you do not think of me.  "When you grow up, you'll understand what I mean."  In other words, you do not understand what I mean.  "If you had more sense you'd see what you're doing to me," is another way of saying that "you don't have much sense".

Presuppositions are a form of mind reading; they are the cause of much misunderstanding, and may be countered by the response: "How do you know that. . .?"  or "What makes you think I don't. . .?"  Thus: "How do you know I don't think of you?", and  "What makes you think I don't understand?"  

The presuppositions of NLP have been formulated in various ways. However, their effect is to provide a deep structure, by which NLP may be understood, rather than by providing a more basic surface structure definition


Beliefs are always part of a belief system.  A belief system is a set of mutually supportive beliefs.  It is an organised way of trying to explain the world around us.  Since no belief can exist outside the mind of the believer, if we want to change our world, we need to change ourself  In an article I wrote for Nurturing Potential some years ago – which I repeated in my book Did I Really Say That (2000), I quoted a good example of failure to change a belief: 

There was a man who believed he was a corpse.  He wouldn't eat, wouldn't work.  He just sat around claiming he was a corpse.  He was sent for psychiatric assessment. The psychiatrist argued with the man at considerable length, but was unable to convince him that he was not really dead.  Finally the psychiatrist asked: "Do corpses bleed?" The man considered the question and then replied: "No.  Once the bodily functions have ceased, there can be no bleeding." The psychiatrist produced a needle and jabbed it into the man's thumb, and the man looked at the blood in total amazement. Finally the man said: "My word!  Corpses do bleed!"

If an assumption seems to result in failure or lack of progress try asking:

What if the assumption is wrong?

What alternative might I adopt in the event that it is wrong?

How can I check out that assumption?

Are there any other possible obstacles in the way of my making progress?

Solution to problem

The tendency is for people to assume the solution has to lie within the boundary of the square.  But this has at no time been stated.  Discard the faulty assumption and just "think outside the box".

This problem was previously stated by Paul W. Schenk in his article Faulty Assumptions in Issue No. 5 of Nurturing Potential.