NLP Cognitive Filtering

NLP Cognitive Filtering

NLP Belief Systems Create Your personal Realty

You create your own reality through Cognitive Filtering

To understand how you view the world, you need to understand how Cognitive Filtering influences your reality. We all filter the world through our belief systems. These are unique to each person, although people from the same culture tend to have shared belief systems. The purpose of a belief system is to choose what to pay attention to, and therefore to know what not to pay attention to, without examining it first.

Our belief systems are the result of our environment, but they also to a large extent determine how we experience our environment. In a way, we actually create the world we live in, we create our reality, by first choosing what we want to notice, and then by assigning meaning to what we notice.

The purpose of NLP therapy is to enable the client to make changes in their behavior. Understanding how belief systems are created and how they influence your behavior is a key aspect of hypnotherapy.

NLP Meta Model

The NLP meta model is a a way of discovering and challenging another person's view of the world. When you listen to someone speaking you tend to interpret what they say through your own world-view. The meta-model focuses on key assumptions that the speaker is making.

The words you use indicate how you think. If you analyse a person's words you can get a deep insight into how they think. You can then reflect these words back to the speaker, and challenge them to justify what they said.

The most obvious indicators are words which show that the speaker is deleting information, generalising, and distorting their experience. Speakers also give away information about their emotional state by using the language patterns summarised in the Milton model.

Therapists who are familiar with these language patterns will note them in speech. The therapist will then challenge the speaker. For example, if a person says "everybody at work is out to get the other person". The therapist will challenge this by saying "everybody, absolutely everybody? There is not one person who you can trust?". Challenging the speaker like this opens the way to breaking down distortions and generalisations that are driving the speaker's behavior.

The meta-model is also useful in a business situation. You can take almost anything at the other person says and use the meta-model to pick apart the assumptions in it. For example, a politician might say "Indications are that despite the pressures we have had heaped upon us in the work department of late things will work out".

What 'indications'? This an unspecified noun. What 'pressures'? Heaped? Who is 'us'? 'things' How are 'things' going to do anything? Almost every word in this phrase is impersonalized or unsubstantiated. The whole phrase is meaningless. The meta model is a tool for getting to the real meaning underneath.

 Filter Type Filtering Action
DiscriminationOnly accepting things that fit existing ideas
DeletionDismissing evidence that doesn't fit
DistortionTwisting things until they do fit
GeneralizationPretending everything is the same


Whether you are happy or unhappy, successful or unsuccessful, is very largely an outcome of your thinking style. Your thinking style is a result  of your cognitive filtering, the process you use to understand the world around you. Changing your belief system effectively changes who you are. Cognitive filtering can be discovered by listening to what a person says. The mechanisms of cognitive filtering can be used in hypnotic suggestion to target the processes which are preventing change. 


The function of our brain is actually to forget things so as to not clutter up our awareness with stuff that is not important. You were not aware of the temperature of your left foot until you read this sentence, were you?

We are flooded with sensory information from our environment and from within our own mind. The mind has to consider this information, decide if it is immediately useful, and if not, to delete it. For a simple demonstration of the deletion effect, just close you eyes now, and try to recall five colours of things that you would see when your eyes were open. Most people get the colours hopelessly wrong when they try this. The objects and their colours are not important to survival so they are not monitored. This means that effectively, they are invisible - your mind deletes them.

The deletion occurs instantly and without conscious awareness. Unfortunately, if the mind believes something is true, and does not want to have that belief challenged, then any incoming information which does not fit that belief gets deleted. It is just discarded and never gets processed.

A woman can fall in love and live with a man who is inconsiderate and selfish, but since this is incompatible with her belief that this man was destined to be her soul mate, his behavior gets deleted. It just does not register: she doesn't just put up with it, she actually doesn't notice it. It is only when he finally gets too much that her mind allows the behaviour to be noticed. She finally sees what all her friends have been telling her since the beginning.

It is possible to use this facility in therapy by suggesting to the client that they can choose to delete and ignore things that are bothering them.


The brain has a tendency to expect any new information to match its existing beliefs. If the new information matches the beliefs then the information is processed normally. However, if the new information does not agree with the existing beliefs then it is either ignored (deleted) or it is distorted to fit the belief.

In therapy, a situation can be re-examined and restated so as to make it fit with the client's current beliefs. This is the basis of reframing.


Putting things into categories is a fundamental human trait. We tend to examine a thing once, decide that it goes into some particular category and then never really think about it again. Every time we encounter that thing again, we look to the category for information, and behave by reacting to the category, rather than the thing itself. This saves a lot of time and mental processing. Inevitably, it frequently leads to faulty thinking.

The problem is that once we have decided something belongs to a particular category, it takes on all the aspects of that category. It is always treated as being of that category. Even if it is in the wrong category. For example, some people will say that they don't like classical music. The moment they hear something that sounds like classical music they mentally turn off, and tell themselves they just don't like it, without really listening to it. They classify all classical music as 'something I don't like'. And because they never really listen to it, it never gets a chance to be re-classified. The same applies to other categories like 'TV realilty shows', or 'people who annoy me'.

Once a thing/person/idea has been sorted into a particular category it is very difficult to move it out of that category. This is because we never really look at it again properly. Before we can reclassify it, we have to notice it. A thing already classified has to be astonishingly different before it is different enough to be re-examined. If you see a man every day and he is gradually losing his hair, the realization that he is nearly bald comes as a surprise one day. On the other hand, if the same man walks in one day and has shaved his head completely bald, you would notice immediately.

This is known as the Threshold Effect. You do not notice a change until it exceeds some sort of threshold.

In therapy, in order to get people to change how they think about something, that something has to first be noticed. Teaching the client to become aware of small differences will allow the client to discriminate between situations so that it can be reframed as something else. When wording hypnotic suggestions the discrimination threshold can be used to make clients notice small changes and then to suggest that noticing these small changes means that the therapy is working, and that this small change is proof that a large change is happening.


The human mind learns by association. When coming across something new and unknown the mind tries to match it with something already known. The various elements that make up the new thing are compared to known elements and when sufficient elements are matched the new thing is accepted as being essentially the same as known thing. This prevents excessive time and mental effort being expended on minutely examining each new thing we encounter before deciding whether it is dangerous or not.

Imagine how long it might take if every different species of bird had to be examined in detail before accepting it as a bird. Instead we mentally construct a set of rules for distinguishing 'bird-things' from 'fish-things'. There are fish that fly and birds that swim but our brains are superb at creating rules to classify similar things and exclude things which differ in some significant detail. These rules are created automatically from only a few examples. A child does not need to see hundreds of different birds in order to come up with rules for what is a bird.

Unfortunately our brains apply the same rule-generating process to everything and in the search for speed our brain often exclude examples that should be included or includes things that are in fact different. Over-generalisation can be a major problem, for example, a woman who grew up in a dysfunctional household may form the belief that 'all men are violent' and behave as if this was always true. Inappropriate generalisations are at the core of many behavioural problems.


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