The Neuro-Semantic Model
With this list of variables that make up Neuro-Semantics, I am now able to describe the model itself. I will do so in a progressive way beginning with the elements of the model that are most obvious, overt, and explicit and move on to those that are more hidden, implicit, and unconscious.
Premise 1: Neuro-Semantics begins with neuro-semantic states. Almost any and every consideration about yourself or another person, or even a group as an organization of people, begins with state. You begin by considering a person’s behaviors, linguistics, or emotions because these are expressions of state. They are the outward and external expressions of a person (or group of persons). And they come from a state— a mind-body-emotional state.
State, a key word in Neuro-Semantics and NLP, because it is the grounding experience. Whatever is going on in the mind, if it is real, if it is substantial, then it shows up in the person’s mind-body-emotion state. This neuro-semantic and neuro-linguistic state is a systemic process of all of the person’s thinking, framing, remembering, imaging, anticipating, hoping, fearing, believing, and so on. And while we can linguistically sort out some things as “mental” and some as “emotional,” this artificial separating is only linguistic. In reality, mind-body, mental-emotional go together as a system. State is a holistic or systemic term that captures the fullness of the experience more accurately.
Now regarding state, you and I and everybody and every group are always in a state. The question is not whether we are in a state, but what state are you in, how intense is the state, how pure, how mixed, how useful or unuseful, how resourceful or unresourceful, how much are you in control of the state or how much does the state have you?
In fact, exploring state with such questions explores the very territory that is covered by the Emotional Intelligence model (EQ). The EQ model uses a more dichotomous term (“emotion”) and seeks to enable people to develop emotional awareness, monitoring, management, and use in relating. We do this in Neuro-Semantics explicitly by exploring what state, how intense, what triggers it, what intensifies or reduces it, how to anchor it, qualify it, and then use it for navigating the world.
Using the foundations of NLP, in Neuro-Semantics we recognize that you can access a state through memory (“Imagine a time when...”), imagination (“What would it be like if...”), or modeling (“Do you know anyone who experiences this...”). This gives us two royal roads into state— thinking and acting. By recalling and imagining you can get yourself into a state. You can also adopt the physiology characteristic of a state and in that way act your way into state. Both provide “emotional management” tools so that you can have the state rather than the state having you.
Anchoring a state, another NLP contribution, adapts Pavlov’s discoveries that are used in Behaviorism, as a user-friendly way to work methodically with a state. By linking sensory-based trigger to a state, you can link that trigger (a sight, sound, smell, word, gesture, movement, etc.) to the state and thereby be able to elicit, increase, decrease, or alter the state so that it can work more effectively to enable a person to be more resourceful in responding to life’s challenges.1
Premise 2: Neuro-Semantics ground neuro-semantic states. In working with human experiences, you not only have to identify the state that it comes from and the expressions that comes out of that state, you need to ground that state so that you can explore its depths and transform it. Grounding a state is critical because states, as processes, are forever moving, changing, and altering. You can and do shift states quickly and rapidly and unless you ground it, the very experience that you want to enrich, alter, transform, or use can disappear.
A state, as a process, is a process of thinking, framing, believing, emoting, speaking, acting, moving, etc. It is not a thing. It is not static. And as a system, anyone who enters that system by the very act of making contact with it changes it. There is no naive observer position. Every act of observation, noticing, witnessing, speaking, communicating, inter-acting, etc. influences and affects the mind-body-emotion system of the state. Hence the reason to ground the state.
Now grounding a state is an anchoring process. And with primary states, a sensory-based anchor is generally sufficient to ground it. Not so, however, with higher or meta-states. For those, the grounding process involves more.
Primary states refers to states that are thinking-framing-emoting responses to something or some person in the world. You are making a thinking-and-feeling response to something “out there.” The referent is real, actual, and physical. A higher or meta-state refers to a state in which you are offering a thinking-framing-emoting response to a previous state. Now you are thinking-and-emoting about a thought, a feeling, a response. You are self-reflexively in response to yourself. It is your second thought-feeling to a first thought-feeling.
In a primary state you might think-and-feel fear about a barking dog, closed space, high cliff, snake, etc. In a meta-state, you are thinking-and-feeling shame about your fear, orfear of your fear, or anger at your fear, or curiosity about your fear, or even pride of your fear. In the higher state about a state, your focus is not on a thing, person, or event “out there.” You are now focused on what’s occurring “within” yourself. And this self-reflexive process is an infinite process so that you will also respond to your meta-response: depressed about your fear of your fear. And, in fact, with each response, you can respond yet again and do so without end. You can always step back to respond with another state to the previous state or states.2
To ground a meta-state, you have to repeat back and get a confirmation from the person about his or her thinking-feeling states. And doing that feeding-back and confirming begins to hold the meta-state in place in the person’s mind so that you can then work with the meta-stating structure. Knowing that none of this is a “thing,” that none of this is externally real, and that you as a visitor are influencing and inviting change by your very presence heightens your understanding of the importance of the grounding process.
Premise 3: Neuro-Semantics invites a mindfulness by accessing of your self-reflexive consciousness. The reason for the grounding is so that you can hold the experience stable as you explore it. Without the grounding, the experience itself easily morphs into other experiences and the person can start a negative downward spiraling that will make things worse. I’m speaking here of working with another person because it is far easier at first to work with another person, or have someone else work with you, than to do this with yourself.
There’s a reason: Your self-reflexive consciousness. If your neuro-semantic stateswere only composed of one layer and you could just think of one thing at a time, it would be pretty easy to stay focused, not get side-tracked, and not get into spin. But minds are not so simple. You do not just think or just feel. You think-feel about your thinking-and-feeling and do so in a nano-second, layer upon layer. You do not just process information and make an internal movie with your thoughts of what you see, hear, sense, smell, taste, and say. You reflect upon whatever you experience and do so repeatedly.
It is your self-reflexive consciousness that is your greatest glory and deepest agony. With it you can ascend to the highest visions and values and dreams possible and feel an ecstasy and delight in just thinking-emoting about something. And with it also you can create internal nightmares that distance you from reality, distort the messages you send to your body, and that drive you insane so that you become a danger to yourself and others.
The Meta-States Model in Neuro-Semantics is the model that enables you to appreciate, understand, and work with your reflexivity. This dynamic, systemic process distinguishes you from all of the animals and makes our kind of consciousness so special, so incredibly powerful, so sacred, and so dangerous. Without the ability to recognize and manage the reflexivity, you can get yourself into a spin that can diminish you as a human being and even make you a candidate for suicide. The way you respond to your responses can become so toxic, so perditious, and so morbid that you become your own worst enemy as you just sit and “think.”3
Yet your reflexivity is precisely the mechanism that also enables you to transcend and include your previous states. Within the reflexivity process is your power of transcendence—you can transcend any current reality. You can transcend and escape, you can transcend and build masterful resources into yourself and your states, you can transcend what is and begin to create what can be, you can transcend difficulties and problems and invent incredible solutions that only are available to those who can access the unimaginable potentials of human beings.
It is your self-reflexive consciousness that lies at the heart of all “spiritual” states and that expands consciousness so that you are not limited merely to the past, to what has been, but you can imagine new possibilities and then reverse engineer unimaginable solutions. It is this reflexivity that lies at the heart of science, human improvement, the dreams and visions and values that make all of us “religious” at heart. No wonder it is imperative that we take charge of this reflexivity and learn to manage it effectively!
L. Michael Hall, Ph.D.