Dilts Pyramid - The Neurological Levels

Robert Dilts has developed a wonderful model for NLP, which we can use for our personal development and the description of change processes: the Dilts Pyramid.
The model provides valuable suggestions and support in the areas of goals and personality development, among others.

Table of contents

  1. What is the Dilts Pyramid?
  2. Robert Dilts
  3. The Levels
  4. Questions and Examples
  5. Example
  6. The Application

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What is the Dilts Pyramid?

The model helps you to understand yourself and your environment better. At the same time, it should provide an indication of the level at which changes need to be made if personal development is to take place. The logical levels are levels of change. They serve to clarify where, for example, a problem, a goal or one's own mission is located. The logical levels can be used, for example, in problem-solving and resource work.

Through guidance and questions, awareness is raised of the at each level. These are then introduced into the levels below. A common misunderstanding of this valuable concept, however, arises from the name "logical levels", because when looked at closely they are neither really logical (as logicians define this term) nor are they precisely delimited levels. This is the reason why today we rather talk about the Dilts Pyramid.

  • Pyramid of Motivation
  • Model for structuring change processes
  • Higher levels generally have a greater effect on lower levels than vice versa
  • The solution to a problem is rarely found at the level of the problem
  • One of my most important coaching models

Robert Dilts

Robert B. Dilts born in the USA, is an author, trainer, consultant and developer in the discipline of Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP). He pioneered the introduction of NLP applications in the discipline of Organisational Development, Leadership and Learning. He works for companies like. in more than 30 countries: The World Bank, Isvor Fiat, IBM Europe.

He designed the model of logical levels in the mid 1980s. He formulated them according to Bateson's logical levels of learning. In NLP they have gained immense importance since their publication. In book form they were probably first published in 1990 in "Changing Beliefs with NLP".

The Levels of the Dilts Pyramid

Dilts Pyramid

On the lowest level, the "Environment" (1st level) the human being moves with his "Behavior" (2nd level).

Behind the behaviour are the "Capabilities" (3rd level), which make it possible to execute any behaviour at all.

Behind/above the abilities is the motivation to want to do something or to develop and practice the ability to do it. Since this motivation is not only drive-driven, we are not only talking about motives here, but also about "Values and Beliefs" (4th level). We use these constructs (model of the world) as criteria to decide what we believe, i.e. what we consider to be right, true and important. In NLP, we like to call this "beliefs" in New German as well, since the distinction between "belief" and "religious belief" is clearer in English than in German.

In the 5th level we define our "Identity" (5th level). With this we distinguish who we are, what we are, what belongs to us and what does not. In the nineties Dilts added another layer above identity. Transcending personality, he speaks of both "belonging" and "spirituality". In the course of the further development of NLP, he has thus laid the foundation for what he has called "Third Generation NLP" in recent years. Often the term "Vision" is also used for this 6th level. Since "spirituality" can be easily misunderstood, I personally like to use the terms vision and belonging for this 6th and in my world most important level.


On the lowest level is the surroundings. Each event takes place in a temporal and spatial context. The level of the environment contains all external conditions that affect a person. They can be experienced externally with the senses and can be answered with the questions "Where?", "When?", "Who?", "With whom?", "Who else?".


The level of behaviour refers to all externally perceived actions and reactions of a person: their actions, their words, their choice of vote, their gestures, their movements, their breathing. Behaviour can be described with sense-specific terms. This is about the "What?".


Activities are cognitive and emotional processes that a person goes through to make a certain behaviour possible. They are not perceptible from the outside. It is about knowing, thinking and feeling, including awareness of these abilities. The question is "How?".

Values and Beliefs

The next level are the beliefs, the convictions, the values, the inner criteria that underlie the actions (consciously and unconsciously), they are the actual motives of a person, guiding ideas that he believes to be true and uses to use his abilities. People only use existing abilities if there are corresponding beliefs and criteria that allow them to do so. Beliefs are interpretations from previous experiences. They are individual theories of why something is like this and not different.


The next level is the level of identity: the self-image, the ideas a person constructs about himself and his behaviour, abilities and beliefs, mostly unconsciously. Identity - with the poles of personal and social identity - can also be "conceived" as a special religious belief. It is the central model about the overall personality.


The highest level is the level of affiliation or mission, vision. This is about our professional, family, social or perhaps philosophical, religious affiliation and vision. This spiritual level guides and shapes our life and gives our existence a foundation. It is about the "big questions" in life: "Why do we live?", "Why are we here?", "What is the meaning of life?"

Questions and examples

EnvironmentWhere are you here? Who are you here with? What are you listening to? What do you see? What do you taste? What do you smell?The noise in the room makes it difficult to have dictations written.
Anchors can easily be set during a group exercise.
"The cancer has taken hold of me."
BehaviourWhat are you doing here?You didn't spell this dictation well.
You have set an anchor with this person.
"Sometimes I just can't act healthy."
SkillsHow do you do what you do? How do you relate to others here? What special skills do you have here?"You can't spell well."
"You are capable of Anchoring other people."
"I'm unable to be in good shape."
Values and BeliefsWhat is important to you here? Why do you do what you do? What do you believe in here? What motivates you? What do you believe about yourself, others, your job etc.?"If you can't spell, you'll never get along at school."
"Knowing how to anchor makes you an influential person."
"It's a wrong attitude to want to rebel against the inevitable."
IdentityWhat kind of self-image do you have here? How do you understand yourself, who are you?"You are stupid, a child with learning disabilities." "You are a good NLPer." "I am a cancer victim."
VisionWhere do you belong to? Is there something or someone or a group you know you belong to on the professional, private, ideational, spiritual level? What is your task, what is your mission?"You belong to the learning disabled, the weakly gifted."
"You are one of the best of NLP cream."
"You are one of the victims of cancer who suffer the same fate."

The Dilts Pyramid using an example

In connection with stress, we want to use the neurological levels after dilts to identify stressors and activate resources that help us to counteract stress. At each level there are numerous NLP intervention techniques that help to bring about the desired changes.



  • What in the environment triggers the stress?
  • Answers could be: noisy office, argument with colleagues, meeting in the morning etc.

To reduce stress, it helps, for example, not to carry out certain tasks in noisy surroundings or to move them to another time of day when the office is still quiet. At this stage, one looks for lack of resources within the individual environment to help avoid stress.


  • What about my behaviour contributes to stress?
  • answers could be I'm constantly changing my daily routine, taking appointments at the last minute etc.

After answering this question, we look for useful behaviours that can serve as a resource. For example, taking time to relax during the lunch break or doing sports after work. NLP has an extensive collection of tools for changing behaviour. Only by specifically influencing one's own physiology (e.g. by changing one's own posture, breathing, voice) can stress be effectively reduced.

The so-called VK dissociation has proved very successful in dealing with severe stressors. With this technique you watch yourself encountering the stressor on a cinema screen. Through a targeted influence, it is now possible to view the situation calmly and serenely and thus prepare the way for a realisable behavioural change. Also methods of classical conditioning - called "anchor">anchor in NLP "anchor" - and relaxation methods are used here.


  • How do you carry out the activities, which internal processes and programmes are running?
  • answers could be I can't concentrate. I can't be on time because there's always something in between.

In order to activate resources at this point as well, it is helpful if the client learns to imagine how he can develop the missing skills, for example, to arrive on time for his appointments, and then to ask what he has done to achieve the positive goal.

At this level, strategies play a special role in NLP. They describe the internal processes that lead to a certain result. It is necessary to interrupt inappropriate stress strategies and learn new, effective alternatives. These are derived from already successful models. In this way, one can very effectively develop new skills in dealing with one's own stress factors in a relatively short period of time.

Values and Beliefs

  • Which beliefs could cause stress?
  • answers could be I must be able to read the wishes of others from their lips. I always have to do everything perfectly.

"All beliefs that make you dependent on the grace of other people or on certain events or that leave no alternatives for action contribute to the development of stress", say Ian McDermott and Joseph O'Connor, who have dedicated a separate, very detailed chapter to the topic of stress in their book "NLP and Health". They argue that all beliefs that reinforce the feeling of being influenced are resources.


  • Who am I (if I live these beliefs, abilities)?
  • answers could be I am a slave to my schedule. I am a servant to the others.

Healthy Self-confidence is a good source of energy to prevent stress. Self-confident people know who they are and therefore what they can do for themselves. Stress on this level arises when one's own personality is not lived. This can be expressed by hiding it and not showing feelings or by wearing a mask that protects you from others but also from yourself.

Here it is important to go deeper into the true personality. For example, one can consciously ask oneself: "Who am I really?" and "How am I? Also from the demarcation you can learn a lot about yourself: "How am I not?", "How do I not want to be? There are methods in NLP methods to explore your own identity more closely. In doing so, one becomes aware of one's qualities (e.g. passionate, patient, vulnerable, etc.), which are examined below: Where are reference experiences that "prove" that someone has these qualities? What does somebody prove it by? Are there also experiences where the opposite is true? These experiences are questioned. Piece by piece the own becomes clearer and clearer.


  • Is there something, or someone or a group of people on the professional, private, idealistic, philosophical level that you know you belong to? What is my role in this world?
  • The answers to these questions conceal very considerable resources.

Whoever finds good answers for himself and can live them will not feel his stress as such any more. He will be happy and grateful to live his destiny a little bit more every day. The boundaries of the present identity can be broken with this awareness and integrated into a comprehensive sense of self. This can be achieved in various ways, such as meditation, spiritual experiences, love, etc.

The Application

  1. Part: Guiding the target state through the neuro-logical levels (NE)

    • First, with A, carry out a short target definition according to the known criteria (positive, self-actualising, contextualised, sense-specific, ecological).
    • Keep the "as-if" frame for the whole exercise from now on: "Suppose you have reached your goal already now..." and guide A in this state through the whole NE-levels. Begin with the level environment and from there go on step by step and anchor the respective situation with a spatial anchor and perhaps with terms or symbols.

      If it becomes apparent at one or more levels that resources are still lacking, first go to the next higher level and possibly find the resources that were still missing at the previous level. Otherwise, just remember the level where something is still missing for later.

    Coaching questions at the different levels:

    Environment: Where are you here? With whom are you here? What are you listening to? What do you see? What do you taste? What do you smell?

    Behaviour: What are you doing here?

    Skills: How do you do what you do? How do you relate to others here? What special skills do you have here? Belief and Values : What is important to you here? Why do you do what you do? What do you believe in here? What motivates you? What do you believe about yourself, others, your job etc.?

    Identity: What kind of self-image do you have here? How do you understand yourself, who are you?

    Belonging: Where do you belong? Is there something or someone or a group you know you belong to on a professional, private, idealistic or spiritual level? Which task, which mission do you have?

    Go one step further now.
    Your unconscious will send you another important piece of information at this point. It can be an idea, a picture, a symbol, a feeling or whatever. It is a special gift from your unconscious to you, for your goal. Take as much time there as you need to absorb it completely into yourself.

  2. Part: Collect Resources

    • Now go back the way you came and remember all the insights and resources you have already found along the way. Experience how each level has been enriched and intensified by the knowledge and experience of others. Notice the changes.
    • If something is missing on any level, go into dissociation and give resources from here (send them or set a resource anchor). Go back to the level in question and experience the change that has now occurred with the resources.
    • Go on to the environment level and remember your goal. Experience how your goal has become richer now compared to the beginning.
  3. Part: Internalisation and Conclusion

    • Now run through all layers once again at your own pace. Take all the time you need for this.
    • Now run through the entire levels from top to bottom in one quick pass without thinking. Come back to the starting position and notice how your goal has become richer now.
    • Future Pace: When will you take the first steps towards achieving your goal?

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