Mastery, New Coding and Systemic NLP

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Published in NLP World, Vol 2, No. 1, Mar 1995

Transcript of a presentation to The Central London NLP Group, 19 April 1993
(edited and formatted by James Lawley)

Thank you for taking time out of your busy lives to be here tonight. What this group is doing here really does remind me of how NLP started in the first place. There are not very many places I’ve been in the world where the community spirit of NLP is creating what you are creating here. And that is a really wonderful thing and you all do yourselves proud. It makes me want to cry because this is what I want to see happening.

I was asked to write something for a brochure and I want to read it to you, “The discipline known as NLP began before it had a name with an interdisciplinary community of people. [Richard Bandler, John Grinder, Leslie Cameron, Mary Beth Megus, David Gordon, Robert Dilts, and myself, to name but a few.] We were motivated by a shared curiosity about how we know, about how we learn, how we communicate, and how we change. And how we can influence the process of change in a well-formed, ecological way. The patterns of NLP were not imparted to us, but unfolded in our learning.”

I want you to be aware of just how special what you are doing is. That you can get together on a regular basis and unfold knowledge in this group. Because it really is about unfolding knowledge in a group of people coming from different models of the world. So, bravo to you. I will carry this around the world and let them know what you are doing here.

In the beginning

I want to tell you a little bit about myself. My background is in religious studies and anthropology. I got involved in NLP about the time the book, The Structure of Magic was just a manuscript. My friend, John Grinder, brought it to me, and said, “Read this, and tell me what you think.” And I read the book, and I said, “You know, this is a really nice thing for people to hang their experience on. This could really help people to make sense of things that happen to them in the world that they don’t have any way to express. It’s a really nice structure”. It was that particular setting, called the University of Santa Cruz, which really allowed us to do what we were doing. The Dean of the University at that time had a vision: to create a context where interdisciplinary ideas and different models of the world could come together in a creative way to produce new possibilities.

What I want to talk about tonight is the idea of mastery in NLP, especially with respect to New Code NLP. “New Coding” is what I call it. It is another description and actually has about seven different pieces to it. I also want to touch on the development of Systemic NLP.

Old Coding

There was the first description of NLP, Old Coding as I call it, which unfolded out of the disciplines of linguistics, Gestalt Therapy, and systems theory. This yielded the language patterns (The Meta Model) and their connection with the deep structure of experience which in turn yielded the ideas of Representational Systems and submodalities, strategies, separating intent from behavior, and all the permutations we can do with these codings in order to create technology; call it six-step reframing, change personal history, anchoring, or visual/kinesthetic disassociation.

And a lot came out of the answer to one question: “How do you know?” The epistemological question. People would say, “Oh, I’m going to the show tonight.” And we would ask, “How do you know?” We began to notice that they made eye movements, and we would wonder what was going on. And they would say, “Well, I can see myself going to the show.” And we found out that they really do see something. We started connecting together the patterns of physiology, of language and of internal state. Once you understand the level of what patterns are involved, you can create your own patterns.

People would go out with just the meta model and start meta modeling the hell out of people. They couldn’t understand why they were losing all their friends! They were viewing NLP as technology, as a procedure which I call a ritual. There is no wisdom in a piece of technology. Wisdom has to be in the carrier of that information. John Grinder and myself thought, “How are we going to get people to start thinking about where is the wisdom?” and that is how Turtles All The Way Down: Prerequisites to Personal Genius got written in 1984.

New Coding

The second description, or New coding, developed from different roots; John Grinder’s and my own understanding of NLP, Gregory Bateson’s work with information theory and biology, the books of Carlos Castaneda about the Yacqui Way, and our African experience of drumming, dancing, singing and story-telling in the Congo. So we took these ideas, and we asked, “How can we give another description of what already has been specified in this other code?” And we came up with a series of about seven elements.

(1) State

One description is state. Just looking at the idea of state alone. What is the state that you would develop to model excellence in the world? We asked, what are the pieces that go into developing a quality state for modeling, and what are the things we can do to have a choice about our state, and to manage our state on the problem side, as well as the evolutionary and generative side for ourselves?

That was the first piece. And then we went out and began to look at people who had done interesting modeling projects, like Carlos Castaneda. What they had in common was using what I call the ‘nerk-nerk’ state. A state of ‘not knowing’ — when you don’t know… yet. You’re gathering information in the system. You have intuitions about it but you don’t know what it is that you know. As soon as you have an intuition, someplace in there knows something; it just has not come into consciousness. The pattern has not presented itself yet. But if you wait, and the pattern continues to happen, it will. This connects with Gregory Bateson’s idea that there are always two ways of knowing. There’s knowing in the unit of mind, and then there is knowing cognitively what we know. There is also understanding the relationship between those two.

In modeling mastery, certain patterns began to emerge. One being the idea of state management, that a person has tools to maintain the qualities in their breathing, physiology, representation and beliefs that support the outcome of demonstrating mastery or excellence in the world. For example, as you sit there, place tension in your shoulders, sit off balance; allow your shoulders to press towards your ears. A typical stress state. How is your breathing? Is this a comfortable state? Do you find the physiology useful for learning? Where is your attention? What beliefs about learning do you maintain in this state? Now change position, move a little, maybe stand up and sit down again. Find a balanced comfortable position. Go through the body and release any excess tension, breathe and repeat the questions above. Which state is more conducive to learning?

Another pattern we discovered is how to have the highest quality contact with the model. It requires a state where a person drops the filters of internal dialogue, foveal vision and excess tension. This is a very clear state, sometimes referred to as the uptime trance. It is a state in which we have interfaced our attention with the model where patterns are to be placed in our neurology and later extracted for the purpose of building a transferable code. A modeling state is quiet, without internal dialogue, uses peripheral vision, not foveal vision.

(2) Conscious-Unconscious relationship

What else did those people do? Well, they had a really interesting quality relationship between conscious and unconscious. What we call first attention and second attention. Whatever that small piece is that we call consciousness, that feeds back into the larger unit, affects the quality of the relationship. These people said they were continuing to find ways to enhance and develop the quality of that relationship. With the understanding that you never “get there”, that it is an ongoing process, an evolution which enhances as time goes by.

How many people have done something called a “second-position shift”? Most of the group. Do you remember the first time you did it compared to the last time? Is the quality much different? Would you say that each time you do it, it goes up in quality? Well, that is what I’m talking about. So what kind of mechanisms do you have that continually develop this relationship? How many people meditate? How many people pray? How many people do self-hypnosis? How many people do something that requires that the whole unit of mind act in a one hundred percent and honest way, as Gregory Bateson would say?

Gregory also recognized that masters of anything have a highly developed quality relationship between their conscious and unconscious resources. In his words, a master knows when to use the tight thinking of the cognitive conscious mind, and when to use the loose thinking of the more creative unconscious mind. Take Milton Erickson’s metaphor of the horse and the rider. The horse being our unconscious mind and the rider being our conscious mind. Of course all of us who have ridden a horse know what happens when the rider wants to go in one direction and the horse another. Neither one easily reaches their destination and it requires a lot of time and uses up a lot of energy. So that was the second part of mastery and the New Coding.

(3) Balance between practice and spontaneity

The third idea was, how do I balance between practice and spontaneity? Which is also very much connected with conscious and unconscious relationship. NLP is about having outcomes. So do you have a time when your outcome is not to have an outcome? Or if I go down south of the border to Mexico, they would say, “Judy, it’s very important to go to the Land of Not Doing.” Do you have that understanding in your life, to say “Yes, I learn these rituals called NLP. I learn these techniques, learn these tools, I come places like this and I practice them. I learn, I unfold in the world”? And there comes a point when it is so deep in your behavior that you let it all go and act completely spontaneously. At this moment there is no self reflection: “Now, I wonder if their eyes are going to go up to the right, I wonder if they’re going to go down to the left.” There is only the systemic loop.

I like the Aikido metaphor: you are on the mat and you practice and you practice, and when you go to meet an opponent you are not going to stop and talk to yourself. You are not even going to decide beforehand what maneuver to use. You really can’t know until you interface with the opponent, because this is a dance with the outside world.

(4) Perceptual positions

Number four is perceptual positions. Gregory said, “It takes two to know one”. And we said, “We’ll go for three.” At the same time we got together with Robert Dilts, and he told us “I did this interesting thing the other day. I had somebody with a phobia. I asked them to take the perceptual position of the thing they were afraid of, and the most amazing thing happened: that snake was really scared too.” So, we were both on to the same thing. And then we began to think about the fact that, well, there is my position, there is your position, and then there is a third or neutral position, where it is only information.

I have found that for some of us, this is the difficult one. We would go there, and we didn’t want to say, “Well, it’s only information.” We wanted to say, “God, how stupid. I can’t believe I did that.” This is making sense of a pattern at another level. I can now see a bigger part of the world and understand it from a different position than when I was caught in first position or even when I occupied a second. From third position I can see the dance.

Characterological adjectives

How many know about “characterological adjectives”? Think of someone you have a difficult time communicating with; a situation that is certainly not a creative or productive interaction. It is not a love-based communication. It doesn’t bring out the best in you. You feel stuck in some way. Got anybody like that?

Now imagine this is a movie theater. See the person up there on the screen behaving the way they behave, and give me a word to describe their behavior.

“Self-absorbed.” “Aggressive.”

OK. So this is a descriptor. Given all those bits of information of how this person is behaving, this is the way you would describe them. So now take a big, deep breath and see yourself up there in the loop with this person. Now you are in third position. It’s only information. And now, there you are, behaving the way you behave. What are the words you would use to describe your behavior?


So they are self-absorbed, and you are withdrawn.


They are aggressive and you are defensive. Makes sense. If we put the Batesonian filter on it we are getting the difference between symmetrical escalating relationships and one that is complementary. You begin to see your part in the dance. They wouldn’t have any fun doing it by themselves and neither would you. This is what systems are about: getting a big enough piece of the interaction so that you can step back and say, “Oh, now I understand how I’m dancing with this person” and realise what choices you have of getting out of the dance. From this position you can ask, “What, when I step back in there with this information, can make a difference to the quality of that interaction?” Knowing that if one part of the system begins to move, the whole system is going to move.

Those perceptual positions then began to trigger off a whole set of other possibilities and it began to connect back to the meta model. Take the cause-effect pattern. When I think of how a pattern demonstrates itself in my life, I begin to understand the part I play, the part they play, and if I go to blame, or where I feel blamed, I realize it is a cause-effect relationship.


There is another way of using perceptual positions that is really fun to do if we think about it in terms of creativity. Think of a piece of art that has really moved you in your life. It wasn’t just something you looked at and said, “Oh, that’s cool.” Rather a piece of art that you felt deep inside your soul. This is being in the position of appreciating that art from the perceptual position of the viewer, or hearing a piece of music, or watching a dance.

Now take the position of the artist who created it. When you occupy that perceptual position, begin to use the implicit muscle movements of the painter, the sculptor or the composer in order to access similar kinds of neurology in yourself. It is there, it is just that you haven’t activated it in yourself in a long time.

Take the pygmy in the forest who has never been outside and seen the horizon. He is built to see horizons but he has never been in an environment that stimulates the nerves in the eyes in order to understand that difference. Things that are far away from him look really tiny, so he thinks they are bugs when they are really buffaloes!

Going to second position is a way in which we can start to stimulate that neurology within ourselves. Then you can stand back and ask, “What are the differences between being a perceiver of this art and being the creator?” And, “Gee, do I have different beliefs when I’m there compared to when I’m here? Do I have different beliefs about my ability to be creative?” I bet you do.

So the idea of perceptual positions is that out of this dance of multiple perspectives, wisdom may begin to unfold. To really consider the movement from my personal map to an understanding of your personal map and then to an objective position of the relationship gives us a basis of wisdom.

(5) Attention

The fifth description has to do with attention. How I use my attention, where I put my attention and how I get it back. This happens in very small ways and it also happens in larger ways that serve as a metaphor. As soon as I focus my attention on one place, large amounts of the world are deleted somewhere else and this connects to the meta model pattern called deletion. Am I fixing my attention so tightly, even when I am doing NLP, that I am fixated on eye movements and missing a whole lot of other information? If I get so focused on someone’s necklace that I don’t notice the beautiful color of her eyes, I am doing a disservice to her. Then if I make a hallucination about this woman based on the necklace I could land on the Island of Conclusion and spend a lot of time trying to get off!

What happens if you move your attention to listening to the sound of the birds while you are interacting with a person? Does it drive your attention in a different way? Does it inform your behavior in a way that is more creative? Does it make a difference? If your attention is in a certain representational system, with certain submodalities, what happens if you change just one aspect? You can change something very small, or very big. For example, here I am communicating with somebody, and I become… a woman from Honduras. Does it make a difference?

Have you read the story of ‘The Phantom Tollbooth’? The part that I liked is about the race of people who, when they are born, float around at the height that they are going to be when they are fully grown. They then grow down to the ground. And that is so that they never have to change their perspective.

If we use characterological adjectives again, we can apply the idea of attention to discover how it might be driving the relational loop. For example, while in the interaction, I can notice where my attention is fixed, i.e. on a voice tone, a gesture, a facial expression, an internal sensation. I may discover how fixing my attention on some small aspect of the interaction is driving my state to a value judgment that may make the interaction uncreative, difficult or problematic. The idea is to discover where I fix my attention, to move it to some other aspect of the interaction and, of course, to notice if the quality of the interaction changes in a positive direction.

This is another way of looking at the system; sometimes I want to chunk it down into small pieces, and sometimes I want to look at the big picture. Along that continuum of possibility there are places where I can begin to influence the system in a positive direction, with the least amount of effort for myself and the other person.

(6) Filters

My mother used to say to me, “Judy, if you walk through life with a hammer in your hand, you’re going to see a lot of nails.” She was teaching me about filters. If you sort the world in a certain way, that is what you are going to see, and if you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got. Did you ever play ‘Slug Bug?’ The family would go out driving and the game was for the first person who saw a Volkswagen to shout “Slug bug”. Of course, as soon as you put on the filter to sort for Volkswagens, they were everywhere.

We are designed to filter information. A big filter could be a belief. Something becomes believable to me because I sort the information in a certain way. If I am sorting for just certain information, I am going to connect that with my deeper experience and think, “Ah ha, I’m right. I believe this now.” So not only is it important to look at belief systems and filters, it is also important to look at disbelief systems.

If I maintain a certain filter and I do not have a way of moving my attention outside of that filter, then it is very easy to have the deeper experiences that are going to build a belief based on just that one filter. What mechanisms and processes do you have that allow you to move your attention around, to create opportunity, to ask, “What else is out there?” Because it is the differences that are going to be what makes the difference.

In parts of the United States there is not much distinction between discomfort and difference. I grew up in Oklahoma where the attitude was, “There’s a difference. Shoot it.” You got your membership to the National Rifle Shooter’s Association at the same time you got your driver’s license. These were really wonderful people but there was not a lot of moving around of those filters and accepting of difference. And the world is changing now.

We can talk about filtering philosophically: “Am I really seeing what is in the world or am I seeing what is happening in the back of my brain?” But it is more useful to ask, “What are the filters that we can potentially let go of?” Then we find the edges of our map that allow us to know there is more territory on the other side. Most of us think of what is on the other side of that edge as uncomfortable, as opposed to merely different. Take the difference between a person having stage fright and a person really being frightened. There are certain physiological signals for both experiences. There are certain parts that are the same and there are other parts that are very different. Being able to find those small disparities in those states is a beginning of dropping certain filters.

Am I seeing this person as directly as I can, or do I already have a set of filters, of hallucinations, about this person? As Don Juan’s Castaneda said, every baby is born a sorcerer, every baby is born in the nerk-nerk state, not knowing… completely open to all possibilities. And then comes foveal vision and language. Those two big filters begin to get fixed. That fixing is a relationship between language, the external world and what happens internally as the child builds that deeper structure. If the rules in that deeper structure have relationships like cause-effect, nominalization, huge deletions, over-generalizations, then there are natural consequences for the child.

How many people speak more than one language? Do you feel different when you speak that other language? This is one way that you adopt certain filters. Politics is another, so is religion, male/female, and animate/inanimate. Just because I can’t see this chair moving does not mean that it is not moving. It is just that I do not have the apparatus to notice.

You can’t know what you can’t know, but knowing that, you can begin to build a belief that operates at another level. If I know that I don’t know, then what kind of things can I do to move my filters so that I can discover the edges of my map? We used to say, everything that you have never seen looks the same. In Winnie the Pooh, there is this great line, “The more Piglet looked, the more Pooh wasn’t there.” It’s a question of knowing that and then saying, “What sorts of arrangements can I make in my life to move myself to the edge so the surrounding unknown becomes available?”

(7) Multiple descriptions

The last description is descriptions themselves. Multiple descriptions of the world, as opposed to just perceptual positions. Take this whole thing called NLP; how many other ways can I describe this? Where could I go to get another description? Myself, having studied anthropology, I like to go to another culture, because I have this intuition. I have this intuition that we’re all members of the same species. I say intuition because I am still questioning New Yorkers! Could be divergent evolution! There are places where we are the same. And there are places where we are different. What makes us the same is that we are members of the same species. We occupy the same form, we have language, we have the same neurology. We have different ways of carving it up, different ways of talking about it, and in different parts of the world we pay attention to different things.

Active dreaming exercise

I’m going to give you a little exercise to allow you to experience New Coding. It comes from the native Americans and is called active dreaming. It is like dreaming when you are awake and is a way of solving problems and of having a good time. It uses the modelling state, focus of attention, filters and triple description to gather information from the larger unit of mind.

i. First set an intention or take on a filter. Say you have a big decision coming up, or you have a problem you want to solve. This is what you are asking the larger unit of mind to filter information about.

ii. The second thing is to go into a state of not knowing, or the nerk-nerk state. It has the following characteristics: No internal dialogue; peripheral rather than foveal vision; and no excess tension. Going through the system and checking for tension is really good, I call this ‘cleaning’ quality states. The idea is to go through and check: Is there tension in the system and does it need to be there? Because when you start to ‘try’ you feel your shoulders going up, your attention starts to constrict, and the harder you try the more it constricts. Not everything has to be relaxed. You might want a little tension – it lets you know you are alive – but not too much.

iii. Then take a walk in this state. You are open to whatever happens and ready to notice when the outside world offers you a symbol. I find it usually takes five to ten minutes for a symbol to pop into my awareness. The symbol may be visual, auditory, or that you step in a mud puddle! You are just available to it. There are two ways to think about this. The western way would say that the unconscious mind just grabbed a symbol of importance. The native American would say that the universe just offered you a gift. Both beautiful perspectives, but different perspectives. Remember to walk with grace and ease.

iv. Assume the symbol is relevant to your original intention, decision or problem. Then, become the symbol. Go to second position with the symbol. Ask yourself, “If I am the symbol, what characteristics would I have?” For instance, if a particular tree very clearly popped into my awareness, this is my symbol. If I was that tree, what are my characteristics as that tree? I could be firmly planted, flexible on top, have birds build their nests in me with little animals coming to visit.

v. Then go to third position, as an observer, a witness. And from third position, notice the relationship between the information carried in the symbol and your intention. How does the intention and the symbolic information connect? How does my thinking change with this new information? Perhaps I discover ways to become more flexible with respect to my intent; perhaps I change my perception of time and that will be the key that makes a difference.

For me, the outcome for this exercise is to discover information. I want to use my consciousness to set the intent because that is where the problem is perceived. It presupposes that the lines are open to the larger unit of mind. Also it is a vehicle to continue to deepen the connection between conscious and unconscious.

Systemic NLP

We can create further descriptions by taking Old Coding and New Coding and asking how are they the same, how are they different and how do they interact with each other? What we get are the underpinnings for Systemic NLP. And I think a really big part of what is happening globally is connected to when pictures of the earth started to come back from outer space. We could actually see the whole world, a perspective we have never had before. We know that there are boundaries and countries down there, frontiers you have to go through, but from up here, they are not there. There is just one big, continuous place. And that is when we began to get other things spontaneously happening in science – like chaos theory, like fractal geometry, and all those other things that are happening in physics.

When you have a way to move yourself, change filters, notice when you are in a loop with another person, recognize you’re using characterological adjectives; when you are in there, when you are communicating with that person, where is your attention? And if you move it somewhere else does it make a difference? That is the only point. When these descriptions start to interact, you get Systemic NLP, which is just starting to develop.

When I go right back to the beginning, NLP is systemic anyway. “Systemic” means this whole unit of mind. But then when I start to code it, it becomes not so systemic. Right? Because coding is never this whole unit of mind, it is only what consciousness can pull out and say, “Well, this will represent this, and this will represent that.”

Coding. That is the paradox. As soon as we code something, is it systemic anymore? At what level do we have to go to in our thinking to maintain the systemic nature of it? For me, there is not any new meaning we discover, rather it is something that we have sort of forgotten and need to recover.

The question is then, how do we put it back in the body? We look at how the system emerges naturally. We look at how the system punctuates itself naturally. We look at how it goes out of bounds and then re-balances itself naturally. That is holistic, that is systemic. And I think this really is the next challenge for NLP.


Richard Bandler and John Grinder, The Structure of Magic I and II, Science and Behaviour Books, Inc., Palo Alto, California, 1975 and 1976.

Gregory Bateson, Mind and Nature: A Necessary Unity, New York: E. P. Dutton, 1979.

Judith DeLozier and John Grinder, Turtles All the Way Down: Prerequisites to Personal Genius, 1077 Smith Grade, Bonny Doon, California, 95060: Grinder, DeLozier & Associates 1987.

© Judith DeLozier, 1995

Judith DeLozier is one of the co-founders of NLP and co-developer of New Code NLP. She has co-authored: NLP Volume 1; Patterns of Hypnotic Techniques of Milton H. Erickson, M.D. Volume 2; Turtles all the Way Down; and Leaves Before the Wind. Judith is an internationally renowned trainer who combines NLP with her interest in culture, creativity and dance. She can be contacted at NLP University,

The Central London NLP Group was an independent NLP Practice and Support Group that met every Tuesday for over 15 years. It was founded in 1991 by James Lawley, Penny Tompkins, Sandra Ridolfi and John Goldman. For an article about its origin and history see:


Print Friendly, PDF & Email
body * { color: inherit !important; }