The Flaw in the Scientific Research trying to invalidate Neuro Linguistic Programming

Published: January 28, 2017

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Edits since March 30th 2020 are in this color.

I noticed a room full of people  transfixed on a man who pulled out trick after trick. “Think of a number between 1 and 5”, he said and he guessed it right. The young lady had thought of 3. And then he asked another man in the group to quickly think of a number between 1 to 10, and he guesses it right, again it was 7. Did you know that 3 and 7 are the most popular answers. If you create the requisite urgency and induce a certain kind of state, most people will give you think of the same numbers.  I enjoyed watching him turn a simple routine into an entertaining event, but I was surprised when he said – ‘That was NLP’.

At another place, another time in my life I saw a coach engaging in a typical SMART goal setting routine with someone in the airplane.  He then got the coachee to become aware of his body. The coachee was mildly entertained. The coach had an artificial voice, that tried to sound serious and yet hypnotic. He said something like ‘You like me, want to make this come true’. The ‘like me’ sounded out of place and unnatural. He was trying to deliver of an NLP technique called embedded commands to be more likeable but instead came across as sheepish.

I saw a TV program, and I saw an alleged spiritual guru, use effective hypnosis. As he delivered his speech, I thought to myself, ‘hey I recognize this pattern’. I was amused when I traced the words he used, the sequences and the patterns back to an NLP trainer based in California. He was effectively using patterns of communication targeted towards specific outcomes disguised as divine intervention.

In the quest of learning the finest of NLP, and about certain specific topics in NLP, I traveled around the world meeting several groups of people, communities and trainers. And in these experiences, I have encountered extremes in terms of completion and effectiveness of what was demonstrated. Some people were extraordinary in some aspects whilst some others were utterly and shockingly ineffective, yet both called what they do ‘NLP’.

I remember one such event where people who called themselves ‘NLP Experts’ had gathered from around the world. I saw them do a couple of demonstration on volunteers, which was half-baked but they did were self-aware that it was not complete and that the potential effectiveness of the NLP pattern they were attempting to demonstrated was far greater than what they had managed to accomplish that demonstration. The client in the demo felt relaxed, but there was no indication of any real change that could show up in the real world contexts. And as I heard the presenters describe what they were doing, it felt like I had walked into a circus club. A lot of faff and very little depth. If you take a Ferrari, and even if you were the worst driver, you would still manage to get faster acceleration than a person on a horse cart. But that doesn’t mean you’ll reach your destination safe or quicker. 

When I left the room that night, I made a choice to walk out of random NLP communities, and instead when it comes to exploring NLP and it’s applications, only be in discussion and contact with the people who make a distinction with their own skills and in their contribution both in the field of NLP and to the world with its application. 

Now, think about the effectiveness and accuracy of research that tries to get empirical evidence on the effectiveness of NLP. If these researchers don’t know  how know to distinguish between the clowns and the genuine people who have real skills and acumen. And even more alarming is the fact, that this is common sense and we would assume researchers to be responsible in choosing specialists for empirical study.

The Tragic Ignaz Semmelweis Case:

This example was brought to my attention by John Grinder. The man who invented a method to save lives (which is now the accepted medical practise) died succumbing to injuries  being beaten by asylum guards! This is just one of many examples of biases in research and practitioners limiting scientific research and progress.

Following is an excerpt from Wikipedia.

Ignaz Philipp Semmelweis ( 1 July 1818 – 13 August 1865) was a Hungarian physician and scientist, now known as an early pioneer of antiseptic procedures. Described as the “saviour of mothers”, Semmelweis discovered that the incidence of puerperal fever (also known as “childbed fever”) could be drastically cut by the use of hand disinfection in obstetrical clinics.

Puerperal fever was common in mid-19th-century hospitals and often fatal. Semmelweis proposed the practice of washing hands with chlorinated lime solutions in 1847 while working in Vienna General Hospital’s First Obstetrical Clinic, where doctors’ wards had three times the mortality of midwives’ wards.

Despite various publications of results where hand washing reduced mortality to below 1%, Semmelweis’s observations conflicted with the established scientific and medical opinions of the time and his ideas were rejected by the medical community.

He could offer no acceptable scientific explanation for his findings, and some doctors were offended at the suggestion that they should wash their hands and mocked him for it.

In 1865, the increasingly outspoken Semmelweis supposedly suffered a nervous breakdown and was committed to an asylum by his colleagues. He died 14 days later after being beaten by the guards, from a gangrenous wound on his right hand which might have been caused by the beating.

Semmelweis’s practice earned widespread acceptance only years after his death, when Louis Pasteur confirmed the germ theory, and Joseph Lister, acting on the French microbiologist’s research, practised and operated using hygienic methods, with great success.

Although any sensible person can easily discern how it is silly to take anything any untrained person claims to be an NLP procedure, and sillier to use it as a method to validate if the entire field is effective. Shockingly it seems to be the basis of the incongruent conclusions in the research articles that are referenced in wikipedia, that has tried to critically classify NLP as a  pseudo-science.  This is not even the only flaw in those academic papers. There are several other flaws and in this article, I am going to illustrate some of the other glaring flaws in the biased researches, so that the intelligent reader can come to their own conclusions and have a way forward if interest to explore, learn and contribute to this amazing field. 

My name is Antano Solar John. My training has been to be an NLP Modeler from the co-creator of Neuro-Linguistic Programming, Dr. John Grinder. And in this article, I intend to expose some of the glaring flaws in the research that has been conducted to study the effectiveness of Neuro Linguistic Programming(NLP) by both the Pro NLP and the Anti-NLP groups.

Disclaimer:

I have the highest respect for the co-founder of NLP, John Grinder and I believe the work that he did with Richard Bandler as well as what he started with Judith Delozier and continues to do now along with Carmen Bostic St. Clair, represents the finest that is available as an approach to human communication and development.  I have even adapted the techniques laid out by John Grinder with his mentoring, to do what a common man considers, ‘the impossible’ for people in the areas of health, business and relationships.

However, I do not endorse NLP as you may read in the books today (that appear top on searches) or find on YouTube. Sometime back, I wore the hat of a person who is totally new to the field of NLP, someone who is trying to learn about NLP and I googled, Youtubed, browsed book stores, and what I discovered as NLP from that persona and the resources available, has nothing to do with what I have been trained on. The concepts you find in the popular, new age NLP books are a 180 degree different from the concepts and totally lacks depth that has originally been laid out by the people who developed the field. In fact, I think most of what it is today (as represented by popular writing and courses that have managed to become famous, some that even have university endorsements ), is a bunch of rubbish that seldom works as described. And the rest of it, I liken it to the most advanced technology left in the hands of a monkey with a few exceptions. (skilled people lacking the understanding of consequence). And that is not new in history, that when there is a quantum progress in any fundamental technology, it is always a select few who design useful applications and help in creating high level of standards for the use of the technology. And this applies to as well to Neuro Linguistic Programming 

The Basket Called ‘Everything’

John and Richard phrased the word NLP to label everything that they did that did not fit what everyone else was doing. NLP was not a science, not a field; it was merely a way of saying – I just discovered and created something cutting-edge, effective and it does not fit anything we have seen before. And that gave the early NLP community power to do some very effective work without having to be confined to conventional methods. The problem started when more than 1 million inhabitants decided to add things into this bucket at random without any moderation and verification of what works and what doesn’t.

Imagine, if every person on your street, starts teaching Martial Arts. And worse, if they attended a program on say Karate, and then not only attempts to teach it, but also comes up with what they call a more advanced formula to Karate. Would someone do that with Engineering or Medicine? These are all broad baskets like NLP. But the difference is that when it comes to these fields people (and specifically) researchers use their common sense to know which individual can be leveraged as a sample of a skilled specialist. Go check out the research papers submitted as proof for calling NLP as pseudo-science, not one of them, has even attempted to qualify if the person who was used for delivering the demonstration had the basic skills required. And are the techniques that this person is demonstrating actually a representation of the methods, techniques and tools that actually constitute what John Grinder calls as NLP. 

Non-Referring Noun

Linguistically ‘Neuro Linguistic Programming’ or ‘NLP’ is called a Non-Referring Noun. It means that the word refers to ‘Nothing Specific’. Consider the example of my neighbour with very limited exposure who had just moved in from a rural village, asking me – ‘Is foreign education good?’ One of her sister argues, ‘Foreign education is useless’. What does the phrase ‘foreign education’ here refer to? The details about which country, the degree, the college and for what purpose is completely missed out. A researcher who tries to prove whether ‘NLP works’ or whether ‘NLP does not work’ is at a process level engaging in the same madness as someone trying to decide generically if ‘Foreign education is good’.

Which NLP Concepts Work?

Instead of looking at NLP as a basket, if the researchers can validate – which concepts could work, I believe it can save lives. To give an illustration, there is this specific pattern called the Fast Phobia Cure that was documented about 50 years ago by John Grinder and Richard Bandler. Till date, I have seen this personally work on more than 1000 people, with over 90% success rate. 1000 successful cases between 2012 and 2018 by one single organization. I am sure, if a researcher is serious, he/she can find many more documented examples of the effectiveness of this procedure in the last 50 years. The results are black and white. The person either has the phobia after a 30 to 60 minutes session, or the person doesn’t.

Now, the fact that Fast Phobia cure has proven effective is not proof that everything that everyone claims to be NLP works. Instead, the researcher can only say that this particular procedure works and the axioms involved in the development of the Fast Phobia Cure method stands validated. And like wise, the researcher, can repeat the process for every single procedure, concept and methods of NLP to eliminate the stuff that empirically does not make sense and focus only the stuff that really works!

Fundamentals of Fast-Phobia Cure Pattern

  1. One can look at an unpleasant memory in their mind, but as long as they see themselves from a third person view, they will not feel the trauma that they may have otherwise felt
  2. The way we respond irrespective of our past is based on how we subjectively represent our memories and experiences at present.
  3. This internal representation determines our current internal response to a trigger
  4. It is possible to change the response to a trigger by changing how we are representing them
  5. We may not be aware of how we are representing these thoughts because they have become innate and natural process just like like walking. However, one can be lead to pay attention to these representations
  6. These representations are a combination of pictures, physical sensations, and auditory memory.
  7. It is possible to change the internal representation of these memories and thoughts quickly. And with enough repetition of the proper sequence of submodalities, they will stick. And hence changing the way we respond at present.

If the above concepts are true, then can the same process and fundamentals be used to help someone represent a bad memory differently so that they are not bothered about it and can look ahead for a better life? Absolutely! We have tested this too; the same procedure has helped men and women who have been sexually harassed to overcome their past and to look at the trauma differently, as a distant past, disassociated like a third person.

So, think about this millions of people are suffering from trauma and phobia that they can overcome in less 60 minutes. Scientific research up until now on NLP has not been on this procedure at all. Instead, it has been on too broad categories, and  most of it has been concentrated on a single topic called ‘Strategy Installation’. And that is so misleading because while there are hundreds of papers that claim NLP doesn’t work. Not one of them is on the specific effects of the Fast Phobia Cure pattern. And this is just one such procedure amongst many patterns developed and documented by John Grinder and Richard Bandler. There are many more extremely powerful patterns that can change quality of choices and living for people around the world. I have personally tested what is possible when these procedures are performed by well-skilled people, the powerful impact that it can have. And this is what I am pointing at, what if the researchers can get to specifics and NOT on concepts already established as pseudoscience. Instead focus on the elements that may have some merit but are not yet researched upon. This is coming true with mirror neurons, for example, neuroscience is proving the concepts of unconscious assimilation from mirror neurons 25 years after John Grinder said it. What a waste of time? What if we validated that aspect of NLP earlier.

And if someone is really interested, I am available for producing data, volunteer or even organize specialists on a large scale for the Fast Phobia Cure Pattern. Give me 10 people with a phobia or a Trauma that has limited each of them for many years and I will get at least 8 people out of it within an hour using the same process. And that by itself is over 400% higher success rate than anything established so far in other methods and at least 100 times faster. So, I throw this challenge to any serious researcher. I can do it in front of a camera, I can do with an audience I have not known before. And I am not even throwing a challenge of something new, I am challenging to prove the effectiveness of a 50 year old pattern. If something has worked again and again and again, over 1000 times, and there is not a single research paper on it while there are several research papers on the concepts that don’t work, disguised as NLP, is it a comment on NLP or the researchers who are trying to evaluate its effectiveness?

The Skill Challenge to the Reader:

Here you can find in this document the steps to the Fast Phobia Cure.  I welcome you try this on someone you know who has a mild phobia. Chances are unless you are properly trained, you are likely to produce no results, although I have shared not only the process but also the relevant concepts behind the pattern that makes it work. This is the second challenge and flaw in the research done to validate the effectiveness of Neuro Linguistic Programming. Skill matters, just because someone knows the process does not mean they have the sensory acuity, calibration, sufficient state choice and readiness to effectively produce results with these patterns. We understand this is true for any art form and skill development. However, the scientific papers so far written seems to have tolerated people with minimal or no NLP training skill to demonstrate the patterns when trying to prove or disprove if the concepts of NLP really work.

So, here is an example of one challenge that can repeat itself if an untrained professional attempts fast phobia cure – A  critical step in the in the Fast Phobia Cure is to look at the memory as a 3rd person (Disassociated) and change the representation repeatedly (visual or kinesthetic sub-modalities) while staying disassociated, and the risk is that when the person is trying that,  he/she may get into 1st position (Association) and feel the trauma all over again. And here in comes the need for skill and specialization. Consider this critical competence, the acuity to notice when someone is moving from 3rd position to 1st position BEFORE they complete the transition. That demands a high level of sensory acuity from the specialist. To pay attention to non-verbal cues like shifts in breathing, posture and skin color to pull back the subject before they get associated. We are talking here about being a fraction of a second ahead of the subject which also means that the specialist is on high-performance mode combined with the requisite skills. Hence, a great pattern like Fast Phobia would be a complete joke, waste of time and a traumatic process if the procedure is carried out by a person who is not skilled in these aspects.

And, who here is the authority that can certify and accurately credit an individual to have the skills necessary for doing Fast Phobia Cure? It turns out – ‘Nobody’. There is no organization in the world that I know of, including mine (I am not in that business, anyway), that has a certification that means – person X has the skills and competency to do a COMPLETE fast phobia cure SUCCESSFULLY and has the life experience and repeated exposure to adapt it to a challenging person outside of the seminar context. Most NLP Certification programs are self-development programs. They are not designed with the intent to make every person who gets a certificate a competent therapist/counsellor/coach/change-agent. But the person being certified, (I have seen this across the globe), assumes that with such a certificate they have been recognized to be skilled enough to help people without any further practice and internship. 

This is why you can find over a Million NLP Practitioners who can’t get a single success in curing phobias. Even though, it is one of the simplest and most practical concepts that just works every single time. And this is true with several unique and unparalleled methods in NLP that can produce transformation in minutes, and create change and help to overcome even decade long habits and challenges. 

Way Forward

The concepts that John Grinder has been working on along with Carmen Bostic St. Clair, ‘New Code’ is a powerful technology. And relatively speaking it is a 1-day old baby compared to regulated industries. Engineering has been in moderation for hundreds of years, the current form of medicine has been evolving over 1000 years. The concepts that John and Richard presented are just 50 years old. It is like a baby compared to the regulated industries. However, the potential is immense, the boundary conditions unknown. So, this article could be a call to researchers to invite them to closely look at what John Grinder is proposing, instead of disqualifying all the concepts because a couple of research failed on things he never endorsed. Come on, John and Richard effectively documented the effects of Mirror Neurons at least a decade before it was even discovered through Neuro Imaging. They did this by observing human behaviour as a black box. John even proposed that the role of mirror neurons was to aid in learning. And science is discovering that now and we have reputable papers that are being published on that subject.

And to the typical reader, I propose – these skills will take years to master.  I endorse that some of them present the finest practical tools in areas of influence, well-being and personal development. If you want to learn them – commit that time, like any technology and art – these skills that John and Richard demonstrate will take years to become yours. I, certainly welcome you to make that effort and persist in that journey. And for the others, you don’t have to become an engineer to drive a car. You don’t have to become a composer to enjoy music. And you certainly don’t have to learn all of this – to get the changes you want in your life – you just need to meet the right person and make a wise decision. And I hope that the day is not far when someone (Maybe me) or another research institute can fund a double blind test and I will be happy to send in my team of specialists who can demonstrate the Fast Phobia Cure (developed by John Grinder and Richard Bandler) to a large enough sample.

Footnote: Harini and I don’t conduct NLP practitioner certification programs. If you are interested in NLP certification, definitely only go to the founder and learn from Dr. John Grinder. What we have is access to skilled people to help you with your integrated life outcomes and achieve them in shorter timeframe. We use NLP for our implementation, while the core of our work is in the Diagnostics for each individual to help them with the business, health, family, legacy outcomes, all together simultaneously. We, however still continue to hold our Live events, and offer 15 minute reviews to our fast-track legacy members for helping them design their personal evolution trajectory. And a lot of one-on-one mentoring, coaching and in-person training (including some critical aspects of NLP) to our community of EIT Apprentice and EIT Fellows. 

With regards to NLP training, John Grinder trained trainers who are ITA recognized are supposed to have the best in class NLP Certification programs. It is the only institute that we know of that even has a proper and practical assessment of Trainer’s ability to implement the NLP Procedures to completion. However,  we do not have any personal reference to any ITA training other than the Trainer’s Training directly delivered by Dr. John Grinder and team. And we highly recommend that to anyone serious about NLP Certification.

Remember, while NLP procedures and methods are light years ahead of any personal development technology, in my opinion, the life experience and wisdom of the practitioner plays a significant role in the outcomes created by the agent of change. While a state shift in the context can be delivered by any individual with proper NLP training, I have always seen John Grinder behaviourally stack and deliver much much more than what the client even consciously recognises as an intended change in his/her life. Some may dismiss it as his unique style of doing things but I would like to look past that into the genius thinking behind what looks like a variation in style. John Grinder is a master of creating long term consequences by strategically mapping process impositions in the present which is unique for every individual. While, he has the skill to do this, and his application of NLP tools along with this insight leads to superior results, this process of instantaneously mapping long term consequences and working backwards to arrive at present day strategic adjustments and creation of choice is definitely not coded in Neuro Linguistic Programming. In that sense, there is an opportunity to complete the patterning. And John Grinder has already laid the foundation for the same in his book Turtles All the Way Down that he has co-authored with Judith Delozier. 

This is where our attention is. Building in the Life Experience that builds artistry in comprehensive and integrated diagnostics for our clients in compressed time. And while we are at it, we are open to any researcher, any organisation, who wants empirical data on NLP and help set the record right and give the respect due to the founders of such a revolutionary technology for personal change!


Examples of Harini helping People get over their specific phobia within 60 minutes. This is in reference to the Fast-Phobia cure procedure mentioned above and it is one of many powerful NLP Procedures that have produced innate and natural new choice of behaviours in situations where a person was stuck.

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The Antano Solar Voice  is one of the most cutting-edge blog and podcast in the world with fresh insights from validated life experience. The Solar Voice season 1 podcast has been ranked #3 in Apple iTunes News & Noteworthy. And the posts have been published in over a dozen publications including Business World, YourStory, Hindu Business Line, Economic Times and  many more. To listen to any of the past episodes for free, check out this page. And to read the past article, check out the blog page.

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