NLP Glossary

The knowledge base of NLP comprises information from many different sources. Some of the definitions such as those developed by Richard Bandler use simple language such as 'swish pattern', while other definitions, such as those from a more academic source, use more formal sounding definitions such as 'Complex Equivalence'. There are are also definitions of various NLP language patterns some of which are covered in more details in the section on the NLP Milton Model.

Within this NLP glossary, I have tried to include any phrase that you may come across in an NLP training or manual, along with any NLP language patterns that you are unlikely to have come across without any former training.


Accessing Cues

Specific unconscious actions, including physical movements, eye movements, breathing pattern changes, and gestures that indicate which modality is being accessed.


Related to Digital. In NLP, the word analogue is used to describe submodalities that have a continuous variability, rather than digital submodalities which are either 'on' or 'off. i.e. brightness is analogue; association is digital.

Analogue Marking

The process of using an action, gesture, or tone of voice to mark out specific words within a sentence. A hypnotist may raise their eyebrow or lower their voice to mark out embedded commands within their speech.


A sound, touch, smell, taste, or sight that brings up a specific memory or feeling.


The process of setting an anchor (usually on another person) connected to a specific memory and/or feeling so that it can be re-accessed later.

'As If' Frame

To act as if something is possible, or as if an event has happened, to enable someone to access resources that would be available were it true.


When someone visualizes a image as if they are seeing it through their own eyes. In contrast to disassociated.


The Sensory Modality related to the sense of hearing.



The specific physical actions through which we interact with our environment.

Behavioral Flexibility

The ability to adjust your behavior to get the outcome you want.


Generalization about the causes, meaning, and boundaries concerning our selves, our capabilities, and the world around us.


An NLP technique based around submodalities where the submodalities are exaggerated rather than reduced to lessen an effect. The swish pattern is described fully within the exercise on this site.

Break State

To purposefully interrupt a clients state during a series of interventions to ensure that each stage of an exercise is run through cleanly. Also used to move a client from a negative state.



The process of reading or tuning in to another person.


The ability to perform a specific behavior successfully.


Viewing an event by moving up or down levels. Moving up leads to a more abstract view, moving down to a more concrete view.

Complex Equivalence

A statement where someone links together two events as if they are related (usually cause and effect). i.e. He forgot my birthday. He doesn't love me.


The opposite of Incongruence. Congruence occurs when a persons behaviors, beliefs, strategies and values are in alignment.


Awareness of the current moment.


The details of an event, such as the what and where.

Content Reframing

Changing the meaning of an event. Often performed with the question - what else could this mean?


Defines the framework within which a particular event occurs.

Conversational Postulate

A question that is interpreted as a command. For instance 'Can you close the door' doesn't usually get the response 'yes', it provokes the action of closing the door. This is an element of hypnotic language from the Milton Model.


The values a person uses to make a decision, or what is most important to them.

Critical Submodality

The submodality that has the strongest effect when changed. i.e. During a visual swish, it may be noticed that changing the brightness has the strongest effect on the feelings associated with the memory.

Cross-Over Mirroring

Matching another's behavior indirectly. For instance, rather than matching their breathing, you could move your hand in time with their breathing.


Deep Structure

The sensory maps that define how people behave in different situations.


Information missing from an experience. Deletions are often targeted by practitioners during therapy sessions via the meta-model.


Related to Analogue. In NLP the word digital is used to describe submodalities that are either on or off, rather than analogue submodalities which are continuously variable. i.e. brightness is analogue, association is digital.


When someone visualizes a image as if they are watching themselves. In contrast to associated. Disassociation is one of the key elements of the NLP fast phobia cure.



In NLP ecology refers to the concept that a change should not have a negative effect on the individual, the people that are important to them, and other elements of their life. i.e. a change that has a positive effect on someone's motivation to work, may be unecological in respect to their family life.

Embedded Command

A command hidden in a normal conversation, but delivered so as to get the required response. Embedded commands are often marked out through analogue marking.


Outside of ourselves. All our behaviors take place within this context.


The process of gathering information, using used prior to performing an NLP Intervention.

Eye-Accessing Cues

Movements of the eyes that signify the kind of internal processing that is being performed. At its most basic eye-accessing cues can show whether a person is accessing an image, internal voice, sound, or feeling.


First Position

Visualizing a situation through your own eyes. See Second and Third Position.


Having more than one possible response to a situation.

Four tuple

Describing the structure of an experience using the four main representational systems (Visual, Auditory, Kinesthetic, Olfactory/Gustatory).

Future Pacing

Practicing/Visualizing a future event with a specific resource to enable a person to react using that resource when the future event occurs.



The way in which one specific experience is used to define a whole class of experiences for an individual. For instance once I have learnt to open one specific door, I do not learn how to open every other door - I generalize the experience to other doors.


The Sensory Modality related to the sense of taste.



The sense of who we are, including our behaviors, beliefs, and capabilities.


Incongruence occurs when someone's behaviors and goals are in conflict. Such as if someone is acting confident and outgoing, but internally they want to run away.


The process of embedding a new strategy, behavior, or belief using any NLP techniques.


The goal related to a specific behavior. In NLP, the intention of all behaviors is assumed to be positive.



The Sensory Modality related to all physical sensations.



When your rapport with someone is good, it is possible to change you behavior and have them follow. For instance, if you have matched their breathing and then change your breathing rate and they follow, that is leading.

Logical Levels

An internal hierarchy that decide a persons behavior. The higher logical levels tending to override the lower ones. These levels include identity, beliefs, capabilities, behavior, and environment.



See Pacing.


A model based around a series of questions to help guide a practitioner towards a clients model of the world and the events deep structure.


Programs by which a person makes decisions, sorts and filters what they pay attention to.


Using analogies such as stories to talk about a situation.

Milton Model

Often considered to be the opposite of the meta-model, the Milton model is as way of using purposefully vague language to lead a persons experience.


See Pacing.


Purposefully changing your behavior to break rapport.

Model of the World

Map of a persons experience.


The process of studying the way in which a person achieves a goal and uses a skill, so that the skill can be taught to others.


Neuro-linguistic Programming (NLP)

Defined as the study of subjective experience, NLP is a behavioral model that provides a series of tools and techniques through studying excellence. NLP was originally developed by Richard Bandler and John Grinder.

Negative Command

A command stated in the negative, that due to the way the unconscious mind processes negation with have the opposite effect. i.e. Don't think of green.

New Code NLP

A specific NLP methodology developed by John Grinder. See "What is New Code NLP?" for a description.


Used in hypnotic language this is the process of turning a verb into a noun.



The Sensory Modality related to the sense of smell.


A Goal that someone wishes to achieve. Outcomes should meet the Well-Formed Conditions.



Also known as mirroring.

Pacing is matching someone's behavior, breathing, posture and language to gain rapport.


A way of talking about different programs of behavior or strategies.

i.e. One part of a client wants to go out and meet someone, but another part is scared of being rejected, so the parts are in conflict.

Position / Perceptional Position

A specific point of view or perspective. In NLP there are three positions:

Phonological Ambiguity

Words that sound the same but have different meanings. For example - no and know, as in 'I think you've had this problem long enough - No/Know more'.


Words used to describe events. In NLP these are used to identify which representational system is being used. i.e. 'that sounds right to me' implies the auditory representational system.

Preferred Representational System

The representational system that someone relies on the most, or is their most developed.


Anything that must be assumed for a statement to make sense. For instance in the sentence 'The cat sat on the mat', we must assume that there is a cat, a mat, and it is possible for a cat to sit on a mat. In hypnosis, the hypnotist will often presuppose something necessary for the required change to occur. i.e. 'I don't know whether you're going to relax now or in a few moments' assumes that the client will relax.

Punctuation Ambiguity

Usually punctuation ambiguity occurs when two sentences are merged together. For instance the sentence 'I want you to remember a time when you could relax deeply now into a comfortable state of mind'.



A language pattern whereby a message is delivered as if another person said it (i.e. in quotes), thus distancing the speaker from the message.

e.g. Some people might say that that 'you're being selfish'.



Being in alignment with another person, promoting trust. This may be through body matching, breathing, or attitudes and beliefs.


An NLP process whereby the Positive Intention is separated from a behavior, so that the intention can be connected to a new behavior and therefore achieved in a new and ecological way without any negative effect.

Representational Systems

The five senses.

Representational System Primacy

See Preferred Representational System.

Requisite Variety

From Systems-theory, this is the idea that within any system, the element with the most flexibility of behavior will control the system.

Resource State

A state that is action-orientated and positive.


Second Position

The process of visualizing a situation from the point of view of the person who you are interacting with. See First, and Third Position.

Secondary Gain

When a negative behavior has a positive function.

For instance lacking the confidence to go out and meet people provides the positive function of avoiding being rejected. Richard Bandler mentions in one of his books the story of a women who would not lose weight because she was scared that if she lost weight men would be attracted to her and she did not trust herself not to cheat on her husband. The secondary gain of her staying overweight was that it kept her marriage safe.

Sensory Acuity

The ability to notice tiny differences in sensory inputs, usually referring to slight changes in a clients responses and how they access memories/states.

Sensory Modalities

The five senses though which we perceive the world around us.

Sensory-Based Description

Describing an event through the senses.


The physiology and neurology of a specific action or behavior.


The set of steps carried out to reach a particular outcome. In NLP this usually refers to the representational systems accessed used to reach the outcome.


Specific attributes related to individual Sensory Modalities. Within the Visual modality there are submodalities such as brightness and association. Within the auditory modality there are loudness, timbre etc.

Surface Structure

The words used to describe an event.

Swish Pattern

A simple submodality technique used to change how someone responds to a specific event. The swish pattern is described fully within the exercise on this site.


Synesthesia occurs when there is an overlap between sensory modalities, such as when a taste is experienced as having a particular color.

Syntactic Ambiguity

From the milton-model, a statement which is ambiguous as to the subject a verb or adjective applies to. For instance, in the statement 'They were charming men and women' - are they charming men and charming women, or charming men and non-charming women.


Third Position

Visualizing a situation as if viewing from the outside. See First, and Second Position.

Time line

The structure through which a person unconsciously organizes time. The timeline is usually visualized as a line with images placed along it.


Test-Operate-Test-Exit - this describes the feedback loop inherent in all decision making.

Transderivational Search

The process by which someone goes back through their memories to find a particular memory or state.


Changing words from one representational state to another.

Triple Description

Considering an event from first, second, and third position.



Thoughts not in conscious awareness.


A method whereby a specific strategy or behavior is matched, in order to influence the persons response.



See Criteria.


The Sensory Modality related to the sense of sight.


Well-Formed Condition

Well-formed conditions, are the conditions that must be met for a goal to have a successful outcome.

The goal must be:

  • Stated in the positive
  • Initiated and maintained by the individual
  • Evaluated using sensory based evidence
  • Specific as to who, where and when
  • Ecological for the individual, their family, friends, and business
  • Preserve the current positive state of the individual

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