The Meta-Model is one of the most useful language tools in NLP. It's simple and very effective at helping you get to the essence of a situation, of your own thoughts and beliefs. It can even help you reveal your own prejudices that block you from seeing what's really so, and what's possible. In future chapters, we'll explore using meta-model with others. Here is your chance to use is with yourself.
Here's Jan Prince introducing the Meta Model from our Portable Practitioner Training
An easy way to train yourself is to start spotting the use of what are called “modal operators of necessity” is to pick an article, an essay or interview, and use a highlighter to go through it and pick out every occurrence of the words should, ought, must, have to, need to, required, and so on you can find. Then you might even look for the sneaky ones, like “may” where, although the strict definition of the word is to ask or give permission, it can be used with tonality or framing that makes it a command.
What you are recognizing are the hidden (and frequently unjustified) commands in everyday language. It's not that these are right or wrong, it's that if we don't recognize them they can limit our world, our options and choices.
A really clear example is an internal voice some people (not you, certainly) have that says “you can't do that!” If that comment is about flying to the moon on gossamer wings, yes, it's accurate. However in other cases it can be really freeing to ask that voice or person or part of you “according to whom?” or “what would happen if I did?”
For instance I had a friend with a wonderful speaking voice who always had a terrible time when he had to give any kind of presentation. As a salesman that was a real limitation. After chatting about this kind of experience he noticed such a voice saying, “You can't talk in public.” He challenged it gently asking, “Gee, I don't remember… who said I couldn't?” He remembered an incident in grade school where he was a rather ebullient child. One teacher in particular kept telling him to “stop talking over everybody!”
This had overgeneralized to “you can't talk in public.” Realizing the source and how old and far behind him it was enabled him to do his sales presentations with a lot more ease and comfort. He found it simple when he heard or felt that inhibition to simply say, “That was then, this is now, and now is different. Now they want me to talk to them.”
So after you've practiced spotting these “shoulds” in other people's writing or conversation, you'll start to recognize if, when, and where you are “shoulding” on yourself. And that is worth questioning. 😉
Here's a sample list of some of the common phrases and words that form “Modal Operators of Necessity and Impossibility.
Modal Operators Of Necessity & Impossibility:
Necessity: “have to,” “must,” “should,” “required,” etc.
Impossibility: “can’t,” “impossible,” etc.
Response For Necessity Words:
“What would happen if you did/didn’t?” This gets information about the projected consequences.
Responses For Impossibility Words:
- “What would happen if you could?” This tends to project the person into future possibility. “What would it be like if you could?” This accesses the future desired state.
- “What stops you?” gets information about past or present obstacles or secondary gain.
You can have some real fun applying these to other people's statements, especially political ones. Applying these language tools to your own inner dialogue is where you will discover beliefs you have been holding on to that are holding you back. Simply questioning those imperative statements will bring them into awareness and loosen their hold on you.
Here is the video segment on Modal Operators of Necessity from our Portable Practitioner program. There is a whole lot more you could explore and use in the Meta Model, and this is a really liberating place to start.
Intro To Modal Operators of Necessity
If you would like to get even more in depth on the Meta Model, the book “Magic DeMystified” is a great source. And naturally you can get a thorough learning via our “Hack Your Brain With NLP” course.