Using NLP in Your Practice, Part 1

Have you ever taken a step back, stumped at someone else’s success in the shadow of your failure, and wondered, “What does she have that I don’t?” Many wellness professionals have thought about the best way to pack a room or retain a client, and everyone has a unique perspective. More often than not, the theories focus on our methods: exercises, equipment, music and cuing. However, evidence suggests that while the basis of a great experience certainly does have something to do with what you teach, how you teach is equally important. It’s time to investigate what you don’t say and how your approach to designing programs, delivering cues and dealing with members can elevate you to superstar status in a matter of weeks, while creating unparalleled success for clients. In this first part of a two-part series we learn how to read “maps” and to focus on outcomes.

Neuro-Linguistic Programming™
The path to uncovering the secrets that separate the average from the excellent led Richard Bandler and John Grinder to develop a field of study known as Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP™). NLP can be loosely defined as a model that explores the unique nature of subjective human behavior and communication (Dilts et al. 1980) Here’s how the word breaks down:

  • Neuro: the nervous system, including our five senses;
  • Linguistic: both the verbal and the nonverbal symbols by which we code and transmit meaning; and
  • Programming: our ability to structure our neurological and linguistic systems to achieve results.

Simply put, NLP is the subjective study of language, communication and personal change (Dilts et al. 1980). It provides models of how our states of mind, presence and interactions—along with verbal and nonverbal communications—shape our capacities to achieve. When applied to fitness careers, it also helps reveal how we can positively influence every member in our quest to inspire others.

Reading Maps
Every human being lives in a unique reality. This simple statement forms a primary presupposition of NLP. Based on our unique upbringing, values, culture and life experiences, each of us has a unique map of the world, through which we filter information. Our unique reality leads us to experience and remember a situation differently from anyone else faced with the exact same circumstances. We each use external data to represent the outside world within our mind; “the map is not the territory” describes how our perception of reality is not reality itself, but rather our personal version of reality.

Now, what happens when you introduce your unique map to the unique maps of 30 people attending your yoga class? While several maps may be interconnected based on living locations, socioeconomic status, places in life, religion and so on, not one person in the room will enter, experience or leave the class in the exact same way. Is it any wonder why pleasing a group is such a challenge? Or why 10 people sing your praises at the end of class, 15 people say nothing and five write negative comment cards? It’s enough to drive you crazy . . . unless you walk into every situation armed with the knowledge that participants live in their unique realities, and one size will never fit all.

Individuals use their maps to “frame” behavior, skewing personal experience by filtering it in certain ways. Let’s explore how that can happen in a class or training session and how you can circumvent the filtering process. NLP offers five basic lessons that will help you create a safe, successful environment for members.

Lesson #1: Focus on Outcomes, Not Problems
Do you focus on clients’ diverse needs and unique resources, or do you hone in on problems that might arise? Orienting your teaching toward outcomes rather than problems is important. Create goals for each workout. Let these goals form your framework. Within this framework, provide multiple ways for clients to use their unique abilities to accomplish the overall goal versus the specific movements you have sequenced. Clearly communicate the goal of the entire workout, as well as the goal for each segment or exercise. Enable participants to manipulate one to two variables to accomplish the desired outcome. Provide a desired outcome that is within everyone’s reach, and then allow individuals to find their own way within a framework of solutions.

Lesson #2: Ask How and Give Choices
You invite self-discovery when you ask participants how they are receiving the experience both internally and externally. Most of us were taught to be direct in our delivery, whether one-on-one or in groups. We play follow the leader (“Up, up, down, down, . . . step-touch, . . . make it bigger . . . make sure your heels are on the step completely”). We supply options to suit different levels (beginner, intermediate or advanced), or we spend our time correcting exercises to help students achieve more. NLP suggests that adults must “own it to get it,” and we cannot possibly know how our plan is going to fit for an individual. Each participant must be given room to figure out how the class can work specifically for him or her.

Read the next issue of Inner IDEA Body-Mind-Spirit Review for the remaining lessons.

Shannon Fable, 2006 ACE Group Fitness Instructor of the Year, owns Sunshine Fitness Resources, a consulting service for fitness professionals, and is group fitness director at Lakeshore Athletic Club outside of Boulder, Colorado.

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