NLP Modeling

Introduction to Modeling

Modeling is NLP’s original core discipline. Thinking back to the history of NLP, all these strategies and techniques emerged as people observed the excellence of great masters, broke them up into little chunks, and finally described them in a way that enables others to imitate them.

One can say, as Dilts said:

"NLP is the process with which the relevant behavioral components of those communicatively gifted people were discovered and organized into a working model.

.... NLP has developed techniques and distinguishing criteria that identify and describe patterns of verbal and non-verbal behavior.

.... The goal of the NLP Modeling Process is not so that a correct or true description of the thought process of a particular person emerges, but much more, to produce an instrumental map that allows us to apply the modeled strategies in some useful way."

According to Walker:

" In modeling, an attempt is made to map a process conceptually in such a way that it is possible for third parties to practice this process."

Modeling can be done in many ways. The spectrum ranges from unconscious and informal modeling (which we constantly do with others) to sophisticated, complex modeling strategies of excellence in different areas. Modeling is a natural process. Children intuitively model their parents and others, unconsciously learning complex behaviors, attitudes and perspectives.

When modeling, it is critical on which level or chunk size of skill you want to focus. Sometimes simple mimicking or mirroring is enough when it comes to simple behavioral skills. However, this is ineffective when it comes to complex cognitive and linguistic skills.

The methods most commonly used in NLP for eliciting models are:

  1. Remembering and reliving a specific experience or
  2. Performing a task that requires or triggers a specific skill, strategy, resource or problem state.

    For example, if a person is an excellent speaker, you could:

    (a) ask that person to think of an occasion when he or she made a speech, or
    (b) ask that person to stand in front of a group and talk.

    Often different terms are used: modeling, modeling process or model building.

For What can you use Modeling?

  1. Improving meta-cognition:
    To understand something better, so that e.g., one can teach it.
  2. Improving performance:
    So that you can repeat something over and over and refine it until it's really good. For example, an athlete. Here, the top experts are closely examined.
  3. Achieving a specific result:
    E.g., spelling, fighting phobias or diseases. Here, successful cases or examples are examined.
  4. Transferring to other content:
    Processes that are useful in one area of life or context can be transferred to another area.

Three fundamental perspectives in modeling

In successful modeling, a particular phenomenon or occurrence is viewed from multiple perspectives. Here the three positions of perception from the view of the NLP Practitioner are very helpful to us.
The first position represents your own perspective - the situation is experienced as fully associated with yourself.

The second position is the perspective of the other - you look at yourself and the situation dissociated from yourself.

In the third position, you are an uninvolved observer and thus take an outside perspective.

  • Modeling from the first position means to try out something yourself and to investigate how "we do something." We see, hear and feel from our own perspective.
  • Modeling from the second position means standing in the shoes of the person being modeled and trying to think and act as much as possible like that other person.This can convey important intuitive insights into meaningful but unconscious aspects of the thoughts and actions of the modeled person.
  • Modeling from the third position would mean stepping back and as an uninterested observer witnessing how the person being modeled interacts with others (including ourselves). In the third position, we override our personal judgment and only pay attention to what our senses perceive, such as a scientist would study a particular phenomenon through a telescope or through a microscope.
  • The fourth position would be a kind of intuitive synthesis of all these perspectives in order to get a feel for the whole "form".

Implicit and explicit Modeling

Mastery can be described as a function of two basic dimensions:
Consciousness (knowledge) and competence (performance). It is possible that one knows or understands an activity but is unable to perform it (conscious incompetence). It is also possible that one is well able to do an activity but does not know how to he actually does it (unconscious competence). Mastering a skill means being able to "do what you know" and "know what you're doing".

Cognitive and behavioral competences can be modeled either implicitly or explicitly. Implicit modeling means going primarily into the second position with the person being modeled in order to personally get an intuitive sense of what subjective experience they are doing. Explicit modeling means going into a third person (position) to describe the explicit structure of role model experience so that it becomes transferable to others.

Experience - intuition - self-use (to make a subjective experience from the second position comprehensible) unconscious, right brainIntuition - structure - transfer to others (to define the structure of subjective experience from the third position) conscious, left brain
General - the wholeSpecial - parts
Inductive, intuitive, analogDeductive, cognitive, digital
Externally - internallyInternally - Externally

Basic Phases of Modeling (from Dilts: Modeling with NLP)

The following basic phases of the typical NLP modeling process reflect the path from implicit to explicit modeling, which was originally laid out in Grinder's original proposal to Bandler:


Preparing for modeling involves (1) the selection of a person who has the skill that one wants to model and (2) the following:

  • the context in which modeling is to take place
  • where and when you would like to have access to the person to be modeled
  • what relationship you want to have with the person you want to model
  • in what condition you will be when modeling

It also involves setting up the appropriate conditions, anchors and "lifelines" that will allow one to fully devote oneself to the project.

Phase 1: Unconscious Access

In the first phase of the modeling process, involve the person to be modeled in an example of the desired performance or ability within an appropriate context. Start the "modeling" by going to the second position in order to intuitively get a feel for the skills the person demonstrates. This is done without looking for any special patterns. Rather, just take on the attitude and physiology of the model and try to identify with it internally.

Sometimes it is better to take on the micro-muscular movements of the person instead of mirroring his obvious actions. The obvious behavior of the model is the surface texture. Micro-muscular movements and changes in the second position will allow you to penetrate to the underlying deep structure. (In addition, obvious mirroring can sometimes distract the person you want to model.)

This is the phase of "unconscious access". Do not (yet) try to understand what the model is doing. Building filters can cause you to lose important information. You do not know yet what is important and what is not. In this phase it is often useful to start from a state of "not-yet-knowing". This is a state in which all previous mental maps and assumptions in relation to your own current experience are set aside. When one enters a state of "not knowing," he or she attempts to drop all previous presuppositions and form a fresh and unbiased opinion of a particular situation or experience.

When you realize that in the second position you have developed a good intuitive feel for the person you are modeling, put yourself in a context where you can apply the skill you are studying. Begin with the skill within this context by trying it out "as if" you were the person you modeled. Then, achieve the same results by being yourself.

This will give you a so-called double description of the skill you are modeling. If you produce about the same reaction as the model, the first modeling phase is complete.

Phase 2 - the Subtraction Process

The next step in the modeling process is to sort out what is essential for the model's behavior from what is irrelevant. (For example, you do not necessarily have to sit in a wheelchair and wear purple pajamas like Milton Erickson to achieve therapeutic results similar to hypnosis.) In this phase, you begin to explicitly articulate the strategies and behaviors that you have modeled. Since you are able to evoke similar reactions as the person you have modeled, you will also want to use your own behavior in the first position as a point of reference. (That is, playing out the skill as "one's self" rather than "as if one were the person modeled.")

Your goal is to clarify and define the specific cognitive and behavioral steps required for the desired outcomes in the selected context(s). At this stage, you will also gradually, systematically omit portions of each of the behaviors or strategies you have identified to see what really makes a difference.

Anything you omit and any kind of response you get that does not make a difference is not essential for the model. If you omit something that makes a difference to the results you achieve, you have found something essential for the model. This procedure is called a "subtraction process". Its purpose is to reduce the modeled steps to their simplest and most elegant form and to distinguish the essence from "superstition".

When you have completed this phase, you will have your current "minimal model" of how you can reproduce the abilities of the model in yourself (i.e., in your first position). You will also have your intuitive insights from your second position on the abilities of the model that you have developed by putting yourself in his or her position. You will also have a view from the third position that lets you see the difference between the way you reproduce the model's abilities, and the way the modeled person shows that ability. This is called a threefold description in NLP.

Phase 3 - Design

In the final phase of modeling, a context and a method are designed that will allow other people to learn the modeled skills, and thereby be able to achieve the results achievable for the modeled person. For this design, you should synthesize the information that you received from all three perceptual positions.

For example, rather than simply imitating the individual steps that the modeled person has gone through, it is generally most effective to provide learners with appropriate reference experiences to help them discover and develop the particular "switch" they need, so that the skill succeeds properly. In order to acquire the skill, it is not necessary for them to undergo the same modeling process you have gone through.

Different learners will have differently conscious and unconscious competencies as "initial states". You should definitely include this in your design. For example, if a particular process that you have modeled requires visualization, some learners may already be able to do this quite well, while for others it may be a completely new idea. Some learners will be able to combine several steps in the procedure into one, while others will have to break a particular step into smaller sub-skills.

Again, the guiding principle is the "usefulness" of your design for the learners for whom the model is intended.

The determination of features in the modeling - process

The key features or distinctions considered in the NLP modeling process are:

  1. Pysiology
    Observe physique, posture patterns, gestures, symmetry and type of movement, eye movements, and other clues to accessibility, such as verbal patterns, pitch and pace (the B.A.G.E.L. model).
  2. Cognitive Strategies
    Observing the preference for certain sensory-specific representational systems, submodal patterns, and habitual cognitive sequences (the R.O.L.E. model).
  3. Meta-Program Pattern
    Observing general patterns of organization such as time perception and management, relationships with loved ones, goal orientation, etc.
  4. Belief and Value Systems
    Observing all expressed values, rules, attitudes, and assumptions about the behavior or skill being modeled.
  5. Meta-Patterns
    Observing the interaction between the person being modeled and the other people he is dealing with in the situation you are modeling. Pay attention to all the patterns of communication and relationships between the modeled person and the others involved in the situation. Of course, some of these distinguishing criteria will be more relevant for modeling some skills than others.

For example, simple behavior modeling will most likely focus on specific patterns in physiology. On the other hand, the modeling of simple cognitive skills will generally focus on systems of representation and submodalities. Modeling a complex behavioral skill would require more emphasis on interactive meta-patterns and so forth.

The following list shows which NLP distinction categories are generally related to the skill level at the heart of a particular modeling project:

  • simple behavior-specific - special physical indications and actions.
  • simple cognitive - representational systems and submodalities.
  • simple linguistic - meta-model patterns and predicates.
  • complex behavior-specific - S.C.O.R.E. model distinctions and perceptual positions.
  • complex cognitive - S.O.A.R. model distinctions, meta-program patterns and logical levels.
  • complex linguistic - Communication Matrix distinctions and Sleight of Mouth patterns.

Sequence of a modeling process

  1. Conduct a needs analysis to determine the specific topics, contexts, and skills that should be addressed.
  2. Select the persons to be modeled.
  3. Create modeling scenarios and conduct modeling exercises to update the skills or achievements to be investigated and to gather the necessary information.
  4. Recognize relevant patterns in behavior, strategies, beliefs, etc., of the individuals that have been modeled.
  5. Organizing the patterns that have been discovered into a descriptive and instructive structure, i.e., into a model.
  6. Experimental review and refinement of the model by trying it out in the relevant contexts to see if it leads to the desired results.
  7. Develop effective methods and tools for implementation or intervention so that the main elements of the model can be shared or applied to others.
  8. Measure the results obtained by applying the model.

Summary of the modeling process steps

We can summarize the basic phases of the NLP modeling process in the following sequence:

  1. Determine which experts and which contexts in which they are to apply the ability you want to model.
  2. Determine the appropriate procedure for gathering information in the corresponding contexts - from different perceptual positions. Start from intuitive insights in the second position, then try to reach the same results in your own first position. Take a third position and pay attention to how your way of reaching your goal differs from that of the modeled person.
  3. Filter the results of information gathering for relevant cognitive patterns and behaviors. Organize the patterns into a logical, coherent structure or "model".
  4. Test the effectiveness / usefulness of the model you have constructed by trying it out in different contexts and situations and make sure that you get the results you want.
  5. Reduce the model to the simplest and most elegant form that will produce the desired results.
  6. Find the best practices to teach or "install" the explicit skills identified in the modeling process.
  7. Determine which the most appropriate instruments for measuring the model's results are and find out the limits or range for the validity of the model.

Robert Dilts Modeling Strategy

  1. Determine the desired skill or ability to model, as well as the person(s) possessing this ability.
  2. Create a situation or context in which you get at least three different specific examples of how the people you want to model demonstrate the desired skill.

    a) Use the following perceptual filters to find the critical factors in each example:
    • Accessing cues
    • Speech patterns - meta-model, predicates, etc.
    • Physiology
    • Representational systems, strategies and submodalities
    • Meta-program patterns
    • Beliefs and values
    • Logical levels
    b) Determine which factors are the same in all three examples.
  3. Find at least one counterexample - i.e., another person or others (including yourself) who cannot adequately demonstrate the skill or situations in which the model failed to adequately demonstrate the skill. Determine the critical factors of the counterexample(s) by using the same filters as in step 2a.
  4. Contrast the critical factors in the three successful examples with the critical factors in the counterexample(s). Pay attention to significant differences.
  5. Change all the significant critical factors of the counterexample(s) so that they match the significant critical factors of the successful examples until you find the desired behavior or result in the individuals or in the situations that make up the counterexample / counterexamples.

    If the change in these factors does not lead to the desired behavior or result in the person / persons or in the situation / situations, then find other more appropriate or stronger examples for modeling and repeat the process from step 4 until the desired behavior or result is achieved.
  6. Now start to change the critical factors that contributed to achieving the desired behavior or outcome, one at a time.

    a) Find the limit by determining how far you can change the factor before changing the result.

    b) Principle of Elegance: find the minimum number of factors necessary to achieve the desired behavior or results.

The R.O.L.E - Model

From the book "Modeling with NLP" by Robert Dilts

The term R.O.L.E Model was circulated in 1987 by Robert Dilts to describe the four NLP basic elements involved in modeling cognitive strategies. The aim of the R.O.L.E Modeling Process is to identify the essential elements of thought and behavior that will achieve a particular response or goal.

This means identifying the critical steps of the mental strategy and the role each step plays in the overall neurological program. This role is determined by the following four factors; the four letters that make up the name of the R.O.L.E model stand for: representational systems, orientation, links / connections, effect / consequence.

Representational systems refer to which of the five senses is predominant for the particular mental step in the strategy: visual (seeing), auditory (hearing), kinesthetic (feeling / touching), olfactory (smell), gustatory (taste).

Each representational system is designed in such a way that certain basic qualities of the experience can be perceived. These include features such as color, brightness, tone, volume, temperature, pressure, etc. These qualities are called submodalities in NLP, as they are subcomponents of each representation system.

Orientation has to do with whether a particular sensory representation is externally oriented to the external world or internally based on remembered or constructed experiences. Is, for example, something that you see in the outside world, in your memory or in your imagination?

Links (connections) deal with how a particular step or sensory representation is associated with other representations. For example, is something seen in the external environment associated with inner feelings, remembered images or words?

Is a certain feeling associated with constructed images, memories of sounds or other feelings?

Representations can basically be linked together in two ways:

Sequential and simultaneous.

Sequential connections act as anchors or triggers so that the representations follow each other in a linear chain of events. Simultaneous connections are represented as synesthesia. Synesthesia has to do with the continuous overlap between sensory representations. Certain qualities of feelings may be associated with certain qualities of pictorial representation - for example, to visualize the form of a sound or to hear a color.

Certainly, both types of connections are essential for thinking, learning, creativity and the general organization of our experiences.

The effect (consequence) has to do with the result, the consequence or the purpose of each step in the thought process. For example, the function of the step could be to create or input a sensory representation, to test or evaluate a particular sensory representation, or to change part of an experience or behavior in relation to a sensory representation.

The B.A.G.E.L - Model

The elements of the R.O.L.E model primarily concern cognitive processes.

However, in order to function, these mental programs need the help of certain physical and physiological processes in order to consolidate and express themselves.

These physiological reactions are important for the teaching and the development of certain mental processes as well as for their external observation and confirmation.

The primary behavioral elements in B.A.G.E.L modeling are the following:

BBody Posture
AAccessing Cues
EEye movements
LLanguage Patterns

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