Meta Programs in NLP (revised list)

This is the list I use for presenting/grouping Meta Programs (in the context of teaching NLP). I think some people do it differently so this could be a useful thread if we share more versions.

People (who)
Places (where)
Activities (what)
Information (what)
Things (what)
Motives (why)
Purposes (what for)
Time (when)
Processes (how)
Quantities (how much)

In time
Through time
Between times
Beyond time / “out of time”


Possibility / Desire


Global / Large
Specific / Small
Matching (Sameness)
Mis-matching (Difference)

# Repetitions

Credit goes to a lot of people who’ve helped me understand and develop my understanding of Meta Programs, including Gabe Guerrero, Eric Robbie and Richard Bandler.

28 Comments on “Meta Programs in NLP (revised list)”

  1. Steve Cowie

    That’s a nice comprehensive list, Chris.

    How do you present the information as in Shelle’s Convincer Behaviour? As in SENSE (See, Hear, Read, Do).



  2. Stephen Woolston

    Hi Chris,

    I like this list, as you know.

    One of the things I realised about NLP very early on is that, contrary to what some books portray, it isn’t a fixed, closed, just-so field with fixed, closed, just-so inventories. Rather, it’s a field of ideas and exploration.

    What you haven’t shown is how Gabe and Eric mapped these to the different stages in strategies, something that’s missing from most Meta Program literature. I take it that’s a deliberate choice!


  3. Chris Morris

    Hi Steve – do you mean Shelle Rose Charvet’s work with LAB Profiles? It’s an interesting question, thanks. I haven’t studied her work in detail but I think she includes ‘Convincer Mode’ and ‘Convincer Channel’ in her model.

    I *think* (check with her) that ‘Convincer Mode’ is similar to what I’ve put for ‘Convincer Process’.

    ‘Convincer Channel’ (in LAB) seems to be about the way the convincer is represented (see, hear, read) and that’s different to what I’ve put for ‘Convincer Behaviour’. For example, I think emotions are distinct from thoughts. So what is the true convincer behaviour then – the emotion or how that emotion is represented? We could play with that. :)

    I’d love someone who’s studied LAB Profiles to add more.

    Naturally, the magic is not in the labels but how we use the ideas.

  4. Chris Morris

    Stephen – I know, I know. :) It can be tempting to learn something, internalise it and repeat it. But NLP doesn’t have deep enough roots for that yet. We’re still enjoying the first morning of the first day. There’s so much more.

    I’d like today’s version of this to be out of date in a few months and laughable in a few years. Isn’t that how a field like NLP should be progressing?

    And I’m curious:
    How would *you* map meta programs to strategies? :)

  5. Steve Cowie

    Language & Behaviour Profile (Shelle Rose-Charvet/Rodger Bailey)




    Away From



    Sameness with Exception
    Difference with Exception











    # of Examples
    Period of Time


    There is a crossover with Chris’s list.
    The LAB is said to be designed for profiling in a specific context. e.g. Work.
    There seems to be a mix of meta-programs & content/primary interest within some ‘traits’.
    I have some sympathy for Chris’s view about shoe horning people into a profile – development is about widening people’s choice – Although, as an example, it might be useful to *initially* select someone for bomb disposal that doesn’t go into feelings!



  6. Bart

    the first thought that crossed my mind…

    why the heck are so many of these behavioral descriptions limited to an “either or” format…

    Have fun


  7. Bart

    Hey Chris,

    just noticing the ‘limiting’ possibilities in descriptions/labels there…

    things are never either yin or yang…

    as you know there’s an amount of yin in yang… and the way around …

    giving endless plausibilities in different contexts


    in the SAME context flowing from one to the other and back…

    Have fun


  8. Shelle Rose Charvet

    Hi Everyone,

    I’m delighted that you are discussing this. We have been doing a lot of research on the patterns and they are rarely only either/or. We know as well, that the patterns describe behaviours not personality so they can switch in different contexts.

    For example in the commercial realm, let’s say when people are considering which toothpaste to buy, they may be Away From cavities (cavities is the Criterion) and Toward whiter teeth.

    When purchasing mutual funds they are often both Person and Thing — they need to trust the financial advisor/fund manager and have some kind of relationship (Person) with them and they want good results (Thing) too.

    The narrower the context, the more likely that there will be only one pattern in a category. A narrow context is like toothpaste. A broad context is work or career.

    I work with companies to help them understnd the contexts and the patterns within the contexts for their customers and potential customers. Then we can shape how they communicate.
    Hope this helps! I love working with these patterns. My 2nd book is about LAB Profile in the business realm. “The Customer is Bothering Me.”

  9. Chris Morris

    Hey, welcome Shelle – I’m delighted you’re here with us. :)

    I like how you think, Bart. What is it about the labels that made you think the yin in the yang isn’t being honoured here?

    I’m thinking this way – when meta programs are used to notate what’s already happened, in terms of strategies, and if we treat each node as a chunk and assume that the chunks are linear, *then* it makes sense to think of meta programs as either-or options, in that context. Similarly, we can notate music that’s already been recorded and the fourth note in the sequence can be labelled either an A or a B or a C… etc…

    When we generalise from the past into a hypothetical future, or change the chunk size, thinking of meta programs as either-or options in that context becomes a horrendous limitation.

    People aren’t ‘polarity responders’ any more than they are ‘visuals’, I agree. But I also don’t know anyone who treats them that way.

    I’m still thinking about it. Does what I say make sense to you? I’d love to discuss it more.

    Now I’m going to download some of Shelle’s products… :)

  10. Gabriel Guerrero

    Hi guys,

    I am in the middle of a class but will simply start with a first post replying to Bart’s intersting interpretation of the post….
    Bart unless we read a different post, on Chris description of my work (along with Eric based on Rb’s ideas) it is not said to be an either/or thing. However some of it do have two poles as in internal/external. It can be both to several degrees (sometimes it is not and it has a sequence though) but if you can think of a thrid option that is not internal or external please do share.
    I am guessing you interpreted the list based on what you’ve read/heard somewhere else on how to use the list.
    We could say at some point of a strategy someone is behaving as a source of motivation 0.766 internal and 0.244 external… but how would you write the list?
    If we go:
    Internal 0.0001 external 0.9999
    Internal 0.0002 external 0.9998
    Internal 0.0003… and so on it would be a list too ridiculous.
    I think Bart’s observations are great to clarify this and also to point out how much we interpret based on previous ideas.

    As Stephen pointed out we use them in relationship with strategies (plus beliefs, values, etc). Chris posted a list not the methodology to use it.

    Would love to write more but my students are in the middle of an exercise and I should return to them.


  11. Chris Morris

    Hi Gabe! And thanks – that gives me another perspective on what Bart may have meant.

    It’s similar to when NLPers ask “associated or disassociated?”, as if those are binary options.

    I want to know how much people are disassociated and – even more – how they’re doing the disassociation.

    It didn’t occur to me that someone might think it had to be “all internal” or “all external”. That is a useful learning for me. Thanks all.

  12. Bart

    that’s the big question Chris,

    Could there be other possibilities besides ‘linear’ for the chunks to be?

    sounds as an awful bad sentence construction, but I’m sure you understand

    similar as very few might even grasp the idea of dual tone singing/ overtone singing – simultaneously singing 2 different tones (J. Altfield teaches this btw on one of his products)

    and then with your standard western 12 note A B C notation you might feel very limited when transcribing some traditional Indian or Arabic music which often uses much smaller/flexible intervals

    and then you could also ignore these types of music as if they don’t ‘exist’

    Getting back to NLP’s basic models…

    Have fun


    … and you never seem to know someone who does it that way… :-)

  13. Chris Morris

    Sure, I think a lot of strategies utilise simultaneous processing. Wasn’t it that realisation that initially spurred Richard Bandler to create his DHE model?

    I am humming and whistling ala Altfeld in your honour. :)

    I don’t follow the Indian/Arabic music example though. Can you say more? Whether we label it a Middle C or 261.63 hertz, the sound is the same. We choose for ourselves what chunk size is useful, given the context.

    Are you saying that as well as the range from 100% internal/0% external – 0% internal/100% external, there’s something that’s NOT internal AND NOT external, for example? It’s possible. What are you thinking? For me, meta programs are about behaviour and not beliefs. I might agree with 100% internal and 100% external at the same time.

    I’ll be away from now until Tuesday, but I’d love to read more later.

    Any other perspectives too? :)

  14. Bart


    “Whether we label it a Middle C or 261.63 hertz, the sound is the same. We choose for ourselves what chunk size is useful, given the context.”

    the thing is that it that metaprogram “only allows for 2, 3 4 notes…

    and not the whole range of other possibilities in between and beyond…

    but even that is just 1 dimensional thinking shifting linearly between 2 polarities…

    C’mon boys…

    I don’t say that there has to be another possibility…

    but maybe there could be one that you’re all sitting with your face on but not noticing…

    who knows…

    Have fun


  15. Bart


    interesting…but I guess I wasn’t clear enough when I used the ‘either/or’ distinction…

    … but sometimes things get lost in translation…

    it’s so much more then that…

    so are you saying that because you don’t have a “linguistic” label you just delete the possibility as a “static” reference point

    in your example you mention a one dimensional scale between 2 polarities…

    I am just wondering what we can come up with if you drop the one dimensional thinking…

    … and then it’s all convention

    back to internal/external

    well I would ad “universal” to that which might be neither, both or just external… depending on your ‘belief’ system

    then you can see/feel things internally from ‘out’ your own astral body…

    or universal consciousness… which I happen to think is neither internal/external… on an energetic level.

    maybe there are just other possibilities that’s all that I am saying…

    and then it might just be my filter of ‘labels are limiting’

    Have fun


  16. Eric Robbie

    Well, if you’re going to really play (in the sense of “discover, learn about/ be creative with”) with meta programs (as they’ve come to be called), then might I add a few things to stir the pot?

    1. They are definitely not filters. That canard was started by Tad James in the mid-80s, taking a short cut and explaining this ‘new thing’ in terms of something people already knew. Feh.

    2. There are good reasons for thinking the “primary sorts” are different from the rest.

    3. The people who especially conceive of, and think about, and talk about meta programs as “filters” are people who sort by information. The word “filter” especially makes sense in their sorting style.

    But it doesn’t in the other primary sorts (try it and see).

    4. The list the Gabe and I drew up in late 2005 and early 2006 had 15 items on it. The thing that most people still don’t get is: those 15 are not a homogenous set.

    But if they are not, then how many sets do they fall into?

    5. “Either/ or – or both” is the least of the correcting factors I apply to the way most people think of MPs. But at the very least, the fact that there are plenty of times when people ‘fall into’ “or both” should scupper any attempt to turn meta programs into a typology.

    6. It may be blowing my own trumpet here, but before the first inkling of DHE began in RB’s mind (in late 1990), I had talked lots of times (at the 1988 Trainers’ Training, for example) about simultaneous strategies vs linear ones.

    And you could say another key moment was in 1989 when I was explaining something that I do to Richard. And he said something back. And I said, “No, I do them all at the same time.” And Richard started thinking ….

    So … question you could interestingly play with: which of the 15 major meta programs ‘have to” be applied at the same time? And which are consequent (or dependent) on others having been expressed first?

    And the word “expressed” brings us back to preferences. Which is a way of saying (again), no, they are not filters. And they may – some of them – be more than just behaviours too.


  17. Gabriel Guerrero

    Hey Eric always good to read you! But stop presupposing there are more MP’s or that this is work we did some years ago and not really what we do now. haha

    For everyone else to know, as we both have played with this, it never is about MP’s by themselves or one at a time. It is about simultaneous interaction between many of them with several variables at one point in an experience. And yet we have always understood a description of human behavior is never human behavior. A description should be useful and the way we use them it is… it can be improved and yes we have reviewed them and evolve the description over an over again and will continue to do so.

    Bart, you consider labels limiting, good for you, you could even stop using words (read it with humor please), remember words are JUST labels!!!… we consider it a useful way to describe “elements” which in a dynamic interaction represent just a portion of experience so we can do something with it as we continue to research and develop things.
    BTW as clarification, internal/external for us has nothing to do with what you described… we have origin of motivation as in you start it or something/someone external (other than you) does. If YOU are outside of your body and start something (even the behavior of watching yourself) it is still internal in our description/labeling. Yet agian I remind you, Chris ONLY presented categories not a glossary of terms or our methodology.

    Eric, hope to get together some time soon to get your perspectives on a few thinsg I have been working on.

  18. Jim Flint

    NLP speak, lots of huffing and puffing for what?

    Seems no 2 trainers can agree on anything, lots of angry peole


  19. Bart


    I’m going to shift things a bit here… and the story on labels

    the other day I’m walking through town here, when I read this billboard above a store…

    “Ik kook, je kookt, hij kookt”

    now this is written in the Dutch language. and literally means.

    “I cook, you cook, he cooks”

    and this pulls my attention because something just seemed odd.

    now in the Dutch language we have different words to describe the same thing…

    to keep it to this example above.

    For the word “you” we have for instance two possibilities “jij” en “je” (ie: you cook: jij kookt, je kookt)

    And to complicate it even more … “je” and “jouw” can also be used to express ‘your’ ie: your glass: je glas – jouw glas

    and a lot of different other possibilities …

    now what seemed odd is the rythm is ‘learned’ differently:

    “I, you, he,…”… is learned as “Ik, jij, hij .”.. instead of “ik, je, hij, …” as on the billboard.

    Now linguistically it’s completely correct.

    and this got me thinking and noticing the difference in the use of “je” en “jij” to mark out “you”

    now the very subtle difference but oh so obvious is

    Where “jij kookt” (you cook) is a neutral disassociated observation of someone else doing something

    “je kookt” (you cook) is an disassociated observation of someone else doing something, it’s also matching and mirroring the other person in an associated for

    simply said “je” is much closer then “jij”… but it’s much more then just that distinction, if you look at it closer… when we use ‘je’…there are a lot of different things that simultaneously get triggered, it’s like feeding back the other persons experience in a subtle “understanding” manner instead of just an 2nd position disassociated observation

    If that makes any sense at all…

    now I noticed this the other day… and I’ve gone through some research to find this distinction mentioned any time before, but I don’t seem to find any neither in NLP books or trainings in Dutch.

    Now it took me 40 years to notice that little subtle difference, which we use day in and day out

    So far I don’t know about anyone else ever grasped that.

    makes you wonder what else we’re missing



    but then it might just be a Flemish (Belgian Dutch) dialect thing, gotta go ask my Dutch NLP friends

    SO the question is … what are you sitting upon that you use every day

  20. Gabriel Guerrero

    Bart, thanks for sharing.

    I’ve made several of those distinctions (or at least in the same category of linguistics) for the spanish language… most NLPers who speak spanish not only don’t know them but don’t even care to look for and few won’t even agree because the label they got came from one messenger of god (as in Grinder, Bandler, Dilts, etc).

    Most people who would read this do not know I am not teaching NLP certification programs or workshops and haven’t for a couple of years now. I have developed my own stuff along with several people interested in furthering knowledge so I truly do get what your point is.

    My point still is… a label is limitng, true, but labels are necessary for some things (reason I used language as an example). When we (Eric, me and some others) use this labels we do know there is much more to learn and discover. I argued that you assumed your perception of our labels was used in a way that created an either/or distinction and that it included everything.

    Good luck to you and hope that we are not boring other readers.


  21. Gabriel Guerrero

    Great! Thanks for sharing.

    Unfortunately Mr. Merlevede (if I am correct on the spelling) contacted me many years ago to get resources for his research and I pointed out great video material of Bandler explaining his perspective of them, and he (Patrick) dismissed that material because it was not on the written form or at least that is what he replied to me.
    The videos showed not only categories but most importantly how to use them and a set of premises that change the way most people in NLP think about meta programs.

    I encourage anyone to research and question what has been done and I am glad he did research to a point, I do hope he eventually got around to see the tapes but if he didn’t it would be a very misfortunate thing since to me it still is the best resource for Bandler’s view on the meta programs.

    Videos not available on the market anymore due to copyrights and stuff like that. Title: Building and Maintaining Generalizations… and furthering it the other title is Creating Therapeutic Change.

  22. Steve

    This is from the official manual we got on my Master Practitioner [Richard Bandler’s] in 2009. I am not claiming credit for the work except typing it in.

    Criteria: Hierarchy of
    Direction: Toward/Away From
    Motivation Source: Internal/External
    Chunk Size
    Attention Direction: Self or Others
    Rule Structure
    Stress Response: Choice, Feelings, Thinking
    Modal Operator Sequence

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