NLP Presuppositions Part 1

I first encountered the amazing field of NLP in my early twenties. I did a search for NLP and stuttering and came across Dr Bobby Bodenhamer, who would later become my NLP trainer.

NLP is set of tools people can use to model and replicate states of success. It can also be used to model unhelpful states and develop new and empowering ones as replacements.

Underlying the set of tools is a number of ‘statements’, beliefs or assumptions that are taken as granted. These are applicable to any person, no matter what their current circumstances are.

In the NLP world, these are known as the ‘NLP Presuppositions’.

They are very powerful and in this first of a three part series of posts, I will share some of these and explain what they mean, and how you can use them to live an empowered life.

1. There is no failure, only feedback

This is the most well-known presupposition and in my opinion the most powerful. This attitude supports any activity you do in your life. By adopting it and living it, you give yourself permission to try out things, experiment and most importantly get things wrong.

Because when you get things wrong, you’re not failing. It’s just feedback you can use to change and adapt the approach you are using, in order to continue improving and developing competence and excellence.

2. Our map is not the territory; it is but a map, a symbolic representation of the territory.

This is another very famous NLP presupposition.

This presupposition is all about ‘things not being like they always seem’. For example, let’s say you and four other people go to Canada on holiday. Canada in this case, is the ‘territory’. The place you all went to is the same.

However, the experiences you would all have would be different to each other, and each of you would recollect different memories about your trips.

What this demonstrates is our ‘maps’ are never complete. We can never know everything about something. Our ‘maps’ may contain distorted information and yet other information we have deleted. Hence, we can develop the ability to challenge our ‘maps’ and change them if they are not serving us to better ones.

It also allows us to be respectful of other people’s views of the world, to create strong rapport with others and helps us in developing relationships.

3. We respond according to our map of the territory, not the territory

Reality only exists in our own mind. We respond to this ‘reality’. This reality is created by the experiences we have through our senses (our eyes, ears, feelings, taste and smell) and the way we talk to ourselves. And we have these experiences through filters of existing thoughts and beliefs we already have.

Let’s take the movie The Godfather as an example. The Godfather represents ‘territory’. You watch this movie and create a ‘map’ about it. Your ‘map’ is that the film is brilliant. However your friend also watches it. The ‘map’ he makes about it is that it is boring.

So, the next time you talk about the movie with each other, you both respond according to your own view or ‘map’ about The Godfather. You tell your friend how amazing it is. And he tells you it puts him to sleep.

This realisation is a very important one. By responding according to our ‘own maps’ of the ‘territory’, we become responsible for them. We longer need to believe or feel anyone or anything external to us, is the cause of our problems. We’re not responding to ‘what is out there’. We’re responding to our ‘maps’ of what is out there and these can be changed. We have the capacity to do this.

4. The meaning of communication is the response I get

Ever had a conversation with a person and the other person just wasn’t getting you?

I know I have.

Isn’t it frustrating? You tell yourself “I’ve explained my point of view and she still doesn’t get it. What is wrong with this person?”

This attitude is reversed right around when you appreciate and adopt the presupposition that the meaning of communication is the response I get.

If another person doesn’t understand you, or you’re not getting the response you want, rather than blaming the other person, you just change the way you are communicating. This might involve using a different tonality, or certain words or a facial expression, or most importantly, really appreciating the other person’s view of the world before sharing you own.

You become responsible for the way you communicate.

5. The element in any system with the most flexibility will exercise the greatest influence

A way of looking at this presupposition is a group of people, which represents the system. The system is made up of a number of elements. One of these is you.

Let’s say your company is being bought out by a bigger company. The means line management structures will change, some people may have to change their roles in the company and others may lose their jobs.

Most of those whose roles will change demonstrate massive resistance. Your role is also going to change. However, rather than getting down about it and creating inner turmoil, you see the opportunity in the role, as you have the flexibility to adapt and change, as the company itself is changing. While others only experience resentment, you experience a sense of being able to progress in the company.

6. People are not broken; they work perfectly well

I love this one.

What it means is, you may be experiencing a certain problem in your personal or professional life. A loved one you know may also be experiencing a problematic issue.

However, there isn’t anything majorly wrong with you or your loved one. All you’re doing is running ‘unhelpful maps’ in your mind really well.

For instance, if you are a person who stutters and just the thought of giving a presentation makes you get anxious and fearful, then what this means is, you’ve just learnt to create anxiety in this particular context in an expert way!

And if you’ve learnt to create anxiety in the context of presentations really well, then you can learn to create another more resourceful response.

How you can use these NLP Presuppositions to help you

So they you have it. I have explained some of the key NLP presuppositions in this first in a three part series of blog posts on this area.

I hope you can see the true power in them.

In order to help you internalise them, contemplate on them and consider how you can apply them to aspects of your life. Repeat each of them to yourself 10 times a day. Use them as daily affirmations, until you really begin to see the truth in them and believe in them for yourselves.

NLP ebooks

If you would like to learn more about NLP, two of my ebooks, Presentation Confidence – Stand Up and Be Heard and Job Interview Confidence – Replacing Anxiety with Self-Belief are available from

Photo Credit: Cantabrigensis

Editor’s Note: This article was first published on in November 2012.

  1. Wonderfully written Hiten!

    Though I’ve heard about NLP but don’t really know all the details, but I can well relate to the NLP presuppositions you shared here because they are so much part of our lives.

    I agree with all your points, and yes, failures should never be taken as failures but stepping stones to our success to get better. I like the #2 about mapping the territory where each one of us would have our own experiences based on what we undergo. And how each one responds to those will vary again.

    Similarly, #6 is a nice one too because that’s what happens to most people, yet they fight those fears and come out strong.

    Thanks so much for sharing these with all of us, and I agree, repeating them daily would make you start believing in them all the more. Also, congratulations on your new book doing so well! Keep it up. 🙂

    1. Hi Harleena,

      I’m really glad you liked the post and could relate to the NLP presuppositions. I really like number 2 as well. Just understanding how we all interpret the world in different ways helps us to really appreciate each other’s views of the world, and the differences, rather than expecting everyone to be the same and even getting offended when another’s views don’t match with ours.

      Number 6 is amazing. It is a core principle of NLP and why this model is so practical. It assumes there is nothing wrong with a person. It’s all about unhelpful ‘maps’ that have been playing over and over, which have become habitual. One has become really competent at creating unhelpful responses. The opposite can also happen.

      Many thanks for the words of congratulations on the book, Harleena. It is great friends and supporters like you who encourage me to keep going!

      Hope you’re having a good weekend! 🙂

  2. Hi Hiten,

    NLP Presuppositions are no doubt very powerful. I do like the first four that really help an individual to understand himself first and then it becomes so easy to communicate with the outside world.

    The more I read on NLP topics, the more I get enjoy!

    Thanks for sharing such a wonderful post.


    1. Hi Fayaz,

      It’s great to see you here!

      I’m so glad you liked the first 4 presuppositions. You are spot on. What these presuppositions do, is allow us to really understand how we, ourselves work and then this allows us to improve the way we communicate with others.

      This is another major benefit of the NLP toolbox. It improves our communication skills. We communicate with others in a more effective way as we take responsibility for the responses we get from other people. We learn to create huge amounts of trust with others and see the world through their eyes.

      It’s great you are enjoying NLP topics. It really is a fascinating field.

      Many thanks for commenting and for showing your support

  3. This is fascinating!! It reminds me of I AM statements, too. So powerful. The map idea is amazing! I love the idea talking so that another understands you. I’ve been doing this with my kids lately. If you talk their language they want to have the conversation. And I love #6, too!
    Thanks for teaching me something new Hiten!!

    1. Hi Betsy,

      You’re right, my friend. They are a bit like I AM statements. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we were all taught in school such statements and presuppositions, before learning anything else? What an empowering platform young people would have to learn further, develop and build their lives.

      The way you communicate with your kids sounds amazing. It really is the way to it. The most effective communication happens when you first meet people at the view (or ‘maps’) of the world.

      Your kids are lucky to have you as their mum!

      Thank you so much for leaving your comment and adding to the post.

  4. There is some Power here, Hiten. First came across some of these statements when I bought Tony Robbins’ book/CD Unlimited Power & then Awaken the Giant Within.
    be good to yourself

    1. Hi David,

      I agree they are definitely very powerful. Each of the statements are in fact total reversals or ‘reframes’ to what we are led to believe through society and our upbringing.

      I’ve also got Tony Robbin’s Unlimited Power in audio book format. He is one inspirational speaker.

      Thank you so much commenting and sharing your views on this topic, my friend.

  5. thank you for the detailed explanation Hieten
    most of the posts i found about that topic were short
    thank you

    1. Hi Farouk,

      I’m really glad you enjoyed the detail in this post. I appreciate you dropping by and leaving your comment.

  6. I have always been fascinated by NLP but have never really got into it. I like the presuppositions you’ve shared and am seriously tempted to better understand NLP. Thank you for sharing.

    1. Hi Corinne,

      Thank you so much for dropping by! It’s wonderful to see you here!

      It’s great to hear about your fascination with NLP. That makes two of us! I hope you do get into it some more. I believe everyone can benefit from learning and applying a little NLP in their lives.

  7. Hiten, I find this very fascinating. I’ll come back and read your future thoughts on NLP. I’m going though some changes at the moment and am really trying to find the ‘ME’ that’s in there.
    Of course, I live life to the best of my abilities and treat others well. However, I still think I can find more and do more. This is quite uplifting and interesting to me.

    1. Hi Anne,

      I was just about to visit your blog this afternoon and noticed you had commented on this post through an e-mail!

      It’s so nice to see you here, as always.

      Your comment was a delight to read, my friend. This is why I find you so inspirational. You’re always trying to be the best you can, looking at the world with a positive attitude, yet you always have goals for further improvement. And you share genuine experiences from your life. Thank you.

      I’m glad you found this post interesting.

  8. Hi Hiten,

    FIrst off a big THANK YOU for the mention! I do appreciate it! Very kind of you and quite a nice surprise.

    Enjoyed your post on NLP Presuppositions. I can relate and appreciate them all, but No. 1 – There is not failure, only feedback and No 6 – People are Not Broken; They work perfectly well spoke to me. Great reminders to not be so hard on ourselves and to understand that our world can be filtered because of the way our mind looks at things. It isn’t necessarily reality, but just the way we see it. So interesting and I’m looking forward to Part two & three. Congrats on your ebook!! Take care and thanks again.

    1. Hi Cathy,

      You are very welcome for the mention! The more people that know about the great work you do at your blog, on such an important area, the better!

      I’m so glad you liked the NLP Presuppositions. Number 1 really resonates with me too and number 6 even more. What I love so much about number 6, is it allows people to completely reframe their problems. So much of treatment is focused on labels for conditions, which other people give us, we say to ourselves, and all of sudden we become the problem(s) and it becomes locked. And then we look for all the evidence, which supports we have the problem(s).

      People are not broken; they work perfectly well gives hope to everyone, that their outdated and unhelpful reactions which they have become so good at doing, can be changed.

      Thanks so much for leaving your amazing comment, my friend!

    1. Hi Ghazala,

      I’m really glad you found the post fascinating and thanks very much for commenting! 🙂

  9. Hi Hiten,
    I love the idea of feedback and not failure because it takes away the fear associated with trying something new and taking chances. I also can totally relate to the communication gap. When we can learn to communicate with each other and get through, magic can happen. I know, easier said than done. 🙂

    Take care.

    1. Hi Justin,

      It’s great to see you here, mate!

      I agree as there is only feedback and no failure, I say we all just go on right away and give it go! By adopting this attitude and internalising it as a belief, as you say, we can take chances.

      I loved the point you made about communicating. So much of communication is on the superficial level, where we think we have heard and understood what other people are communicating with us, when in reality this can only really happen properly, when we hear out other people’s ‘maps’ objectively rather than projecting our own on them.

      Thanks for leaving your great comment!

  10. Hi Hiten

    Point 4 and Point 5 are the gems.
    I can relate to point 4 very well, When I use to take interviews I use to look for the answers which I want to hear not the one which the Interviewee knows or has the experience on. The more closer the answer was the greatest is the chance of the interviewee to get through and this is usually what happens in most of the cases I have gone through.

    Point 5:
    Here I beg to differ but not completely, flexibility in context of corporate culture can lead to greater satisfaction if the role can be mapped to Right person at the right place else Resentment from others.

    Thanks for sharing the great information.


    1. HI Hiten

      I must admit, I googled NLP to know the full form of that.



      1. Hi Sapna,

        Yes, it stands for Neuro-Linguistic Programming. I think it might have helped if I had included a little definition in the post.

    2. Hi Sapna,

      I’m really glad points 4 and 5 resonated with you!

      With point 4, I used to always get so frustrated when what I communicated to others just ‘wasn’t being heard’. It was only when I began to apply this principle that I fully began to take responsibility for the response I was getting from others. It really is a powerful principle and when one experiences it for themselves it is very empowering.

      Many thanks for sharing your experiences of point number 5 regarding the interview situation. In this particular situation the interviewee can do their research beforehand to find out more about what her/his interviewer(s) are going to be like through searching on the Internet.

      During the interview when the opportunity arises, the person can change their communication accordingly to press the interviewers ‘hot buttons’. Of course, this isn’t always possible as one might know beforehand who will be interviewing her/him.

      Indeed, I agree with your note about point number 5. The role that one is put into needs to be appropriate for that person else the person will be unhappy.

      Thank you very much for commenting, Sapna!

  11. Hello Dr,

    There is one thing which I would like to add which came up as a point of discussion during my NLP practitioner program with Ashok Subramanian.

    One of our participants named Shwetha said that its high time that we replace the word feedback with the word feedforward, because all the feeds actually is helping us to move forward and I loved the perspective.

    Liked all your points and what amazed me was the way in which you have explained it in simple layman’s language. There are many people who complicate NLP with Jargons, but you have given it a classical touch…

    Getting addicted to your blog Dr. Hiten 🙂 🙂

    1. Hi Rafi,

      I just loved your comment, my friend!

      What an amazing perspective Shwetha shared with your group. I just processed feedback and feed forward, and indeed, feed forward feels much better and more empowering! Wow, this is fantastic!

      I’m really glad you found the post easy to read. I was trying to make it as simple as I could. As you said, NLP does have a lot of jargon.

      I’m really happy you’re enjoying the blog! Thanks for adding so much more to this post, Rafi. 🙂

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