Let’s start at the beginning — how did you first discover NLP?
I was working as a political speechwriter and I was interested in the power of language. More than that, I was fascinated by how the formless comes into form; how people create ideas and communicate them. So a few people mentioned Neuro Linguistic Programming to me as a way of exploring that kind of thing and especially as a way of understanding how we think and how our thinking creates our experience of reality. Other people I knew in politics were scornful of this as “pseudoscience” and “psychobabble” but I thought I’d read a few books at least. Why not?
Actually, I already knew something about NLP before then because I’d done a basic training with Paul McKenna when I was studying psychology back in 1997. Paul was just starting to teach NLP at that time and not many people in England knew about it. What I remember most from Paul was an intense attitude that anything is possible. I took that idea into the business I was setting up at the time, running web servers and designing websites. So I already knew a bit about NLP as a personal development tool for success and then I started learning about the principles of modelling language and communication. But I was still very much on the fringes at that stage.
It was in 2005 that I started the bulk of my training. That’s when I first trained with Richard Bandler and saw more of what’s possible.
How was your first experience of Richard Bandler?
It was amazing! There were about 40 of us on that first training but it felt like Richard was talking direct to me. We were at Centrepoint in London but it felt like the centre of the universe. My mind got blown that week. And I began the process that many of us get into: I signed up for the next training… and the next.
How many trainings did you do in total?
Richard is such a flirt. He can push you away and pull you closer at the same time. So I was intrigued by him and I was learning a lot, and I basically followed him around the world for a few years.
Then I remember waking up on a beach in Mexico and he was talking about the structure of sympathetic magic. I was working with him by then, co-hosting the retreat. The world came back into focus and I knew my time with Richard was up. He’d taught me some of the mysteries behind his work but I’d started to lose myself and we both knew it. I was doing his work, not mine. So that’s when I thanked Richard and moved on.
Did you find yourself?
Yes, I was right back where I’d started. I love that line from TS Elliot: “We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time”.
The more time passes, the more I realise how much I learnt during those years. I’m incredibly grateful. And it absolutely feels right to be doing something different now.
What would you say about Richard Bandler now?
I’d say he’s probably the most misunderstood person I know, and I’ve misunderstood him more than most. Nothing I say will do justice to the fondness I have for him or the admiration I have for his work. More than anything, I appreciate his willingness to be himself and whoever you need him to be, both at the same time. I think that’s very magical.
What do you think about NLP now?
I make a distinction between Neuro Linguistic Programming and NLP. For me, Neuro Linguistic Programming is fundamentally about modelling the structure of subjective experience; it’s what the Meta team started to do in Santa Cruz in the early 1970s. I still find that really useful and I love the axioms that underpin Richard’s model of modelling. For me, they turn space-time into a grid that makes it possible for anyone to create specific experiences through intention.
What’s normally taught as NLP now, at least in England, is quite different. People go to these NLP training events to become more confident, more charismatic, more influential, more motivated, and so on. They learn to think differently, and therefore behave differently. But in my experience they’re only learning the functional output of models, not the magic of modelling.
I like James Tsakalos’s way of explaining this. James is a great trainer from Melbourne, Australia. He points out that when you look outside on a windy day and there are trees swaying in the wind, you don’t actually see the wind — you just see trees moving. This is also the case with NLP. What people typically see are the results of the process of modelling, not the modelling itself.
If you just want to be more confident, for example, NLP may be very appealing to you. But remember that you’re learning to experience someone else’s version of confidence, and you’re not learning about yourself or what’s true for you. In what way are you similar or different to this other person whose strategies you’re going to use instead of your own? Do you like that person? Are they happy and grounded in wellbeing? Do you know? Do you even know who they are?
Do you know how to undo the hypnotic installations and get back to your natural wellbeing?
Other than Richard Bandler and Paul McKenna, who else have you trained with?
I wanted a broader perspective so I trained with John Grinder as well as Richard, and several of the original development team too — people like Robert Dilts, Stephen Gilligan and Frank Pucelik. I think Eric Robbie is a remarkable teacher. Eric had the John La Valle role before John did — he travelled with Richard, co-taught programs together and lived a wild life on the road. That’s when Richard was younger, of course. Eric has an incredible mind and he’s the best Neuro Linguistic Programmer I know. I learnt a lot from him, not just about the field but about honour. He’s a very decent man who’s given a huge amount to the NLP community and I admire him very much. Gabriel Guerrero is another great teacher. He’s another one who cuts through the hype and teaches in a very genuine way. I’ve learnt a tremendous amount from them both.
There are too many great people to mention everyone but Philip Farber’s work on Meta Magick stands out. Drs Ron and Edie Perry have used Neuro Linguistic Programming to model various bodywork techniques and create Patterns of Physical Transformation — an extraordinary system. I’ve been lucky to hang out with interesting people like Stephen Woolston and Xavier Pirla too — they’re both really smart guys who offer thorough trainings. Michael Carroll has created a wonderful centre at the NLP Academy in Croydon. Owen Fitzpatrick also stands out as a bright star. I think Owen is very skilled.
What did you find most useful from your training?
I really appreciate what Richard calls the attitude of NLP — the set of beliefs that emphasise curiosity over caution and tenacity over timidness. As I learnt about the structure of beliefs, I also came to understand my own beliefs better. Realising how I create beliefs out of nothing, I became much more comfortable with letting go of beliefs and exploring the nothingness. I became more comfortable with not knowing and not needing to know.
I think that’s what made it possible for me to really deepen my sense of how I create my own experience, moment by moment. I had a lot of intellectual ideas about it before but intellectual ideas aren’t worth very much. Seeing beyond my beliefs made it possible for me to trust my senses more.
What about unconscious installation and nested loops?
I spent years learning that stuff and I got pretty good at it, but I do things differently now.
I learnt a lot from a brilliant lady called Nancy Kline, and she asked me “how far can you go in your own good thinking before you need mine? and how much further? and how much further?”. Nancy is so respectful and appreciative of other people’s thinking that her presence itself is transformative. That’s a difficult one to explain and it’s something to experience rather than talk about. But I think it is a good contrast to what I see in the field of NLP, where trainers are so often put on pedestals and I’ve seen people tremble when they’re talking to their trainer. To me, that’s a sign that the power dynamic is a bit weird.
So I don’t think it should be a crime to use mind hacks but I don’t think they’re useful in the long run, and I do wonder what it says about NLP if nested loops have become the holy grail.
How did NLP Connections come about?
My original intention was to crowd-source my education. I knew I couldn’t go on every training course with every trainer so I wanted to utilise crowd theory. My idea was to get thousands of people together and learn from the interactions. I set up the site so anyone could ask questions and anyone could answer. It became a success very quickly and grew into a huge resource. I learnt a lot, not only from the articles but mostly from the connections I made there. I met Eric Robbie through the site, for instance. For a time it was the hottest meeting place for NLPers and I got a huge amount from us sharing our experiences together. I also made some really good friends.
Why did you close it down then?
Sites like Facebook didn’t exist when we first launched NLP Connections and I enjoyed being on the edge of something new and creating a new way for people to connect. Then I kept it going for about five more years, even once I’d moved on from NLP myself. But eventually it made sense to close it down. I looked at the site one day and they were all arguing and I couldn’t see the point of it any more.
Do you think NLP training is too expensive?
It’s only too expensive if you’re not getting good value in return. I once paid Richard $10,000 for two hours of teaching and that was worth it for me. I did that because I’d never seen Richard teach something in one short session and I wanted to see him do that. Usually his trainings are spread over several days and it’s harder to keep track of what he’s doing. So I wanted to see him open and close something in one short session and I made it work by inviting 250 people to an evening event and I charged enough that Richard could have his $10,000, I made a similar amount myself, and I got to see Richard do the two-hour set.
You can be creative and get what you want without spending money. I didn’t pay much for my training, even though I did a lot.
What are you exploring these days?
I’m really happy these days and I absolutely love my life. That’s relatively new for me! I’m fortunate to be making a good living by having the kind of conversations I love and I’m very grateful for that.
My biggest lesson has been to keep it real and be honest and vulnerable in my work. So much of NLP is about excellence and being the best. When I thought I had to be perfect, that was such a burden. I can only be the best I can be and often that’s about being honest about myself.
I never thought it was ok to be me and many of my experiences with NLP reinforced that because my teachers were constantly telling me I could swish and jump my way to a better version of me. The self-improvement industry is almost tyrannical sometimes. I realised a while ago that I’m ok as I am and I’m deepening that sense as I go forward. Robert Holden says that no amount of self-improvement can make up for any lack of self-acceptance, and I love that. We don’t need to change things just because we can. After so much change, that’s a liberating thing to realise.
Would you still advise people to train in NLP or Neuro Linguistic Programming?
I think it was Leonardo Da Vinci who said that the greatest deception men suffer is from their own opinions, and I try to remember that my opinions don’t mean much. My experiences might be useful but each person gets to decide what they make of the stories. I don’t really have any advice. I’ll happily explore the question with anyone who is thinking of doing some training and we can go deeper into what is true for them. Going in with your eyes open is probably going to save you a lot of time and money. I often work with people who are thinking of learning NLP because if nothing else I can get them good discounts! I’m still friendly with most of the trainers.
What is the next step for you?
I recently heard Brené Brown share the original definition of the word courage: to tell the truth of who you are with a whole heart. I think that’s beautiful, don’t you? I didn’t know before how lovely it is to experience the world with the clarity I am experiencing now, rather than filtering everything through the roles and masks I used to hide behind. NLP was another mask for me. So nowadays I don’t think there’s a next step or destination, only a direction to keep going. The more I’m comfortable being me, the easier life is – and my coaching and group events are so much more powerful now too. I never thought life could be this simple or feel this good. Often in the past I’ve been caught up in the game of “who has the longest finger?” before realising that most good teachers are pointing in the same direction. That’s why I like that line from TS Elliot. We keep coming back to the same place and renewing what we already knew. I keep learning afresh what I thought I’d learnt years ago, and each time it feels great.