The Dilts Pyramid as a Coaching Tool

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diltsMy recent post about Technologies of the Self got me thinking about Robert Dilts' hierarchical model of 'neurological levels'. I mentioned this in passing in my post on neurolinguistic programming back in the autumn as something I've been thinking about blogging about for ages. Well, the time has come, because I think it offers quite a useful way to think about these 'technologies' from a practical perspective, rather than the theoretical context Foucault was working in.

First what this is. The Dilts pyramid is a model of personal change. It consists of a series of levels, each of which is constituted from, while also constraining, the one below. Hence, your capabilities define which behaviours you are able to engage in, but are also made up from your behaviours to date. And you only gain new capabilities by engaging in new behaviours.

Now, like many aspects of NLP, this model has been subject to considerable critique. In particular, it seems to me that the designation that this refers to 'neurological' levels is under-substantiated at best. Neurology has come a long way since 1990, after all.

The general response within the NLP literature itself seems to be to critique various aspects of the model at a theoretical level, and then say: but it's still quite a useful way to think about this. (Examples of such responses are here, here and here.)

So, my instinct is to see this as a model that has been inferred inductively from experience of working with human beings, and as such can offer some useful ways to think about how people learn and how people change.

I find the model useful in two main ways. First, it offers a structure to diagnose what it is holding someone back. Is it simply technique, a physical bad habit (behaviour), or is it their beliefs about how to practise? Or is it that they like to think of themselves as good at this kind of thing and so won't accept emotionally that they need to unlearn and relearn fundamental aspects of their craft?

Second, it reminds me that, whilst discussion and explanation may be the most direct routes to address what's going on in someone's head, it's not a real change unless it is also manifest in behaviour. Doing things differently is both the route to and the result of higher-level change. A kinder heart shows in being nicer to others; a more integrated sense of phrase shows in a more seamless legato.

Now, some critiques of the model from within the NLP literature take issue with the hierarchical structure, either in detail or in total. Are beliefs higher or lower level than identity? for example, or should the whole be seen as a network rather than a pyramid? Now, those of us versed in Schenkerian analysis are quite comfortable with a degree of tangling up in our hierarchies, so I'm not too bothered if the elements sometimes seem to jiggle about a bit.

But I think the original notion that some of the elements run deeper, and have a more pervasive influence than others in our sense of self and ways of being in the world is a useful aspect of the model. And this is partly why I find the pyramid a good short-hand diagram for Foucault's Technologies of the Self. For these are all about working on our souls and our moral habits as much as our actions.

Dilts and his ilk essentially bring a set of project-management tools to the project of the self.

Many Practitioner programmes are generic or therapeutic in context.You will learn all the skills and necessary techniques for the practitioner qualification with the added benefit of discovering how these apply to learning. Most importantly your will learn with humour and laughter, easily and enjoyably and learn how to pass your enjoyment to others.
Sumeet Kant Kaul

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