Neurosemantics: Seven ‘Keys’ to Personal Change

by Bobby G. Bodenhamer, D.Min.

What common elements involving personal change have I learned from my clients during the last eleven years? If I were to ask those 600 plus clients whom I have had the privilege of working with, ‘What are the key elements involved in personal change?’ What would they say? What are some of the key components in Neuro-Linguistic Programming and Neuro-Semantics that once learned, allows a person to make some significant changes in his or her perception? What do you do inside your head in order to have a problem and what do you have to do inside your head in order to ‘fix’ your problem?

Seven Key Structural Elements Involved in Personal Change:

Those clients that made personal change accepted some basic beliefs that we have in Neuro-Semantics about just ‘how’ our brain works. Note the word ‘how.’ That word is important. We place prime importance on the mental processes that determine behavior. What kind of pictures, feelings, sounds and word meanings do we need inside our heads in order for us to do the problem? What kind of pictures, feelings, sounds and word meanings do we need to activate inside our heads in order to not to have the problem? By the way, we believe that brains aren’t broken; they just run sick thought patterns really well. Indeed, the brain doesn’t care whether or not we think ourselves sick or whether we think ourselves well. Our brain just does what we tell it to do. This is what this article is about. Those who change their thinking understand and accept the following beliefs:

1. The brain primarily processes information from the outside world through the five senses. We experience our world through what we see, hear, feel, smell and taste. Now, importantly to Neuro-Semantics, we believe that when we re-present our world on the screen of our consciousness, we utilize the same programs involved in the event of recall. When we recall something we have seen before, we will recall it with a picture (Visual). When we recall something we have heard before, we will recall it with remembered sounds (Auditory). The same is true for feelings (Kinesthetic), smells (Olfactory) and tastes (Gustatory). We call these the Representational Systems or VAK for short. We call these our ‘neurological mapping’.

Our brains not only do this with remembered experiences, we do the same with constructed (imaginary) experiences. I can ask you to imagine seeing yourself where you want to be one year from now. Your brain knows how to construct a picture of the desired you one year from now. And just as easily, your brain can construct an image of a perceived fearful event happening in the future. We call this anxiety.

Now, these experiences we re-present on the screen of our minds (images) often contain more than just one system. We can recall a picture and also have sounds with it as well as feelings. Furthermore, these images have finer qualities. Usually images that we hold as very important to us will be very close to our eyes visually. They will often be very bright and colorful to let us know this image is important.

2. The brain gives meaning to these images with words. So, I have pictures, feelings, sounds, smells and tastes in my mind, so what? Our brain doesn’t stop there, as a thinking class of life; the human brain has the marvelous ability of giving meaning to these images with words. These words are ‘about’ the images composed of pictures, sounds, feelings, smells and/or taste. We call this process the ‘Linguistic Mapping’ identified as ‘Frames of Reference’.

3. The brain doesn’t stop at just the first level of word meaning you gave to the image. Our brain keeps having thoughts (primarily with words) about thoughts. The brain does not stop at one thought, it continues having thoughts about thoughts and there is where the ‘magic’ lies. In Neuro-Semantics we realize that as important as Representation is, there is yet something more powerful and more magical – Reference. That’s how the brain works. It starts with a referent experience, the event. Something happens. Then we re-present it on the screen of our mind with the Representational System (VAKOG). But by reflexive awareness, we develop a thought and a feeling ABOUT it, now we have our first frame of reference. Our Frames of References govern our perception because they ‘set the frame.’

4. Repeating thoughts will create unconscious frames-of-mind that will direct our consciousness to whatever we are attending. These frames of mind operate inside our head totally outside of consciousness.’

Our brains do not stop at just one thought. It will keep on thinking thoughts about thoughts. These thoughts about thoughts when habituated (drop into the unconscious) become our Frames of Mind – our perceptual filters through which we view our world. These frames become like eyeglasses through which we view and experience our world. And that doesn’t end it. We develop frames-within-frames, each frame embedded in another frame.

These higher frames determine our neuro-semantic states that governs the way we think, feel, our health, skills, everything. All the while we are having thoughts about thoughts, these thoughts are interaction with our physiology through our central nervous system and out of that interaction comes what we call ‘states’ of being. And, out of our ‘states’ of being comes our behavior. Thus, ‘as a man thinketh, so is he’ (Proverbs 23:7).

These ‘repeated’ unconscious frames of mind become our blessing or our curse. In problem framing, we can have frames of mind that say, ‘I am worthless.’ ‘I can’t ever do anything right.’ ‘In order for me to have personal worth, I have to do for other people; I am not an OK person in myself.’ Etc. Such frames inevitably come from our earlier years and for that reason become quite unconscious and difficult to change on our own. However, they are changeable and they do change for they are just thoughts no matter how much they operate outside of consciousness. In ‘fixing’ ourselves, metaphorically we delete those old frames of mind and install new frames of mind that serve us. This is what Neuro-Semantics is all about.

The individuals who make personal changes accept that they have constructed these frames themselves with their internal representations and with the levels, however many, of the meanings that they have given these internal representations. In therapy, I constantly discover old memories of the person hearing dad or mom tell them that they are worthless or that dad or mom was absent in their lives and from that they developed a word meaning frame that ‘I must be worthless because dad and/or mom was not here for me.’ Etc. Important to personal change is to accept the reality that these frames are constructed and therefore can be de-constructed.

5. People that change believe and are aware that ‘The Map Is Not The Territory’ or ‘The Menu Is Not The Meal’ and they believe it is their map and their map alone that they operate out of. This is another way of saying that our perception is not reality. It is only our perception of it. However, because it is our perception (our Internal Representation and conceptual meanings) it is what we operate from. It doesn’t matter how accurately it maps (perceives) our present reality. We will operate from our perceptions as governed by our higher-level frames of mind. This means:

a) Those who change recognize the value of creating a map (perception) that accurately, as far as symbolically possible, maps the present moment. We are a ‘symbolic class of life.’ We do that with our Representational System (VAKOG) and Word meanings acting as ‘symbols’ from our experience of our world through our five senses. But, these are just symbols about our world. They are not the world. We get into trouble when we confuse the two and label our ‘symbols’ as being ‘real’ in the sense that they accurately map out our world. When we consciously or unconsciously operate from frames of mind that we learned in childhood, we certainly are not operating from a map that even comes close to accurately mapping out the adult world we now live in. This is the root of most problems if not all of them.

b) Those who change their thinking by recognizing that their map is not the territory will eliminate the problem of cause-effect in their lives. What do I mean? I mean that the individual who understands and accepts that our internal map/perception is not and cannot be the territory (the external world) will stop the foolishness of believing other people control his or her mind without his or her permission. No one can make you believe or feel anything you choose not to believe or feel.

C) They recognize that the words and images inside our heads are not ‘real’ in the sense that they are set in concrete – they are changeable. They are just ‘symbols’ of the external world. We have instruments that will detect the nerve cells and the neuro-transmitters that allow one nerve cell to communicate with another nerve cell. However, can a neuro-scientist go inside the brain and find/measure a picture, a sound, a feeling or a word? No, they are ‘abstractions’ of the mind. Hence our conceptual states are generated at the moment of thought and then they disappear until we think the thought again. Because the images and word meanings inside our head are not ‘real’ in the sense that they are set in concrete, they only have the reality we give them.

6. The awesome power of knowing the difference between associating and dissociating. The brain doesn’t know the difference between what we imagine as real and what we actually experience. As an example, imagine biting into a lemon and notice how your mouth waters. Or, recall a schoolteacher scratching on the black board and sense the cold chills. In recalling or imagining an experience, the brain tends to reproduce the same physiological response as with the real event. Suppose we consciously or unconsciously imagine ourselves as a little boy or little girl back in our dysfunctional family. Suppose we recall hearing and seeing a parent screaming at us. We hear them telling us how stupid they believe we are. How do you think you would feel even though you are now a grown adult and not a child? You would feel bad, wouldn’t you? That is what I mean by associating. Almost universally, I discover clients are having problems in adulthood due to their imagining themselves still children. They continue using their childhood experiences as their present frame of reference.

We call this ‘associating.’ You know if you are associating into a memory if when you recall it you do not see yourself in the picture. Let’s experiment. Recall a mildly painful memory. Get a picture of it. Now, in the picture note whether or not you see yourself or you just see the other people and environment in that picture. If you do not see yourself, mentally, you have associated back into that memory and you will tend to experience the same negative feelings you had when you experienced it.

Now, because the brain does not know the difference between what we represent by imagination or by current input, when we mentally place ourselves back into some painful memory, we will have negative feelings very similar to what we experienced during that event. If you see yourself in that picture as the younger you, we call that dissociating. When people say something like, ‘That doesn’t bother me anymore, I have distanced myself from it.’ They have in fact dissociated from the memory by seeing themselves in the picture and by pushing the picture away from their eyes so it is at a distance. This diminishes the feelings whereas associating into a memory tends to increase the feelings. When we consciously or unconsciously associate back into our past hurtful memories and operate from the mental frames (conceptual meanings) that we gave them, we are confusing the map with the territory. When we do this we are living our adult lives inside the painful experiences of childhood. The thinking we developed then served us then but it doesn’t serve us in adulthood.

7. People who change know how to apply higher meta-level states to lower level problems. As we have learned, our brains do not stop at just one thought. It will keep on thinking thoughts about thoughts. When we have a ‘thought about a thought’ the second thought will change the first thought and that is where the magic lies. In thinking and behaving the ability of the brain to have thoughts about thoughts is crucial. Here is the secret. When we have one thought and then entertain another thought “about” the original thought the original thought will change.

What in the world does that mean? It is simple. If we have an experience that scares us and from that experience we become afraid of our fear, what will happen? In this case the fear will intensify. Indeed, applying fear to fear leads to paranoia. What if instead of becoming fearful of our fear, we welcomed our fear? We apply the thought that this fear has value to us and we will welcome it? What will happen to the fear? It will modulate the fear where we can step outside of it and learn from it. Then, once we learn what we need to learn from the fear, we apply the thought of faith to our fear, what would happen? What happens to fear when faith is applied to it? Fear disappears in the face of strong faith.

Play with your brain. Get a thought of anger. Now, apply to your anger the thought of forgiveness. Take the same anger and apply the thought of love. What about taking your anger and applying the thought of calmness to it, what happens? Would you have ever guessed how easy you could change your states of mind by applying one thought to another thought?

Every time we take a thought and apply another thought to it, the original thought will modulate or change in some way. We call this Meta-Stating – applying one thought to another thought. And, herein lies the magic. Herein lies your ability to re-format and re-program your thinking. Those whom I have seen who have changed their thinking, inevitably have meta-stated their problem state with higher-level resource states. Instead of meta-stating themselves sick, they learned to meta-state themselves well. They left re-building a new set of higher-level mental frames that served them.

I encourage the reader to ‘process’ the materials found in this article. Access some personal problem and take that problem through all seven of the steps explained in this article. You may experience utter amazement at how that ‘problem’ becomes a lesser problem.

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