Planning future success stories by exploring past narratives

I was invited to participate in a workshop of self-exploration by one of the contacts (psychologist and coach Kelly Scott-James) that I have made during my research process. The workshop was based on concepts and exercises used in neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) and the objective was to explore personal aspirations, obstacles, and feelings.

NLP builds on cognitive psychology and deals more with the ‘how’ rather than the ‘why’. It is essentially about exploring our narrative identity and ‘telling ourselves better stories‘; shaping and adding strength to your personal narratives by turning worries into opportunities and realising our own potential. NLP explores the complexity of a person’s inner world and builds on the idea that the basic tools we use to process the world (sight, sound, touch etc.) are the same but the way these tools are used is highly individual (Grayson, J and Proctor, B., 2000). NLP sees the world in systems of individuals, relationships, and societies that form an ecology of systems and subsystems that interact with and influence each other (Grayson, J and Proctor, B., 2000). Furthermore, NLP believes there is no failure, only feedback – failure happens when something is completed and life itself is a process and not a completed event (Grayson, J and Proctor, B., 2000) – which happens to be exactly the same concept action research is built on – and although sometimes perhaps a dangerously black and white view, it is unarguably a healthy approach to some aspects of life. 

I cannot confidently say I fully agree with the philosophy of NLP and that I know enough about it yet to form a comprehensive opinion, however, there are clearly several aspects that offer a sustainable way of approaching our personal narratives and place within the world.

During yesterday’s workshop we did brief NLP-based exercises in a small focus group of three. We started by choosing an individual objective and then worked on visualising the journey and identifying the obstacles that we have or may encounter. We did a series of self-reflective exercises that eventually lead to a stepping stone activity designed to mentally prepare us for the objective/s we chose for ourselves. I organically ended up choosing my own research process and a PhD as the aim. At the end of the day I had a visual, physical, and emotional manifestation of what the journey could be like. During the afternoon we all realised we have reached similar aspirations before and already possess the tools we need for the journeys we want to do, which can be a highly empowering realisation.

Overall it was an inspiring and empowering afternoon for me both on a personal level and for my current research process. When I received the invite I became intrigued by NLP and the experience of analysing my personal narrative and how it would impact me emotionally, partly because it links to my current research (self-reflective storytelling and affective well-being). The interactivity of the workshop made things seem much more tangible and created a space for exploring narratives linked to a certain topic and how it fits into the ‘bigger picture’. I can see potential in pushing a process like this into even more creative territory by involving different artistic media and combining aspects of NLP with art therapy and DIY culture – a thought that strongly links to my existing research.


Grayson, J. and Proctor, B (2000) 'Neuro-Linguistic Programming' in Palmer, S. (ed.) Introduction to counselling and psychotherapy. London: Sage Publications, pp. 159-171


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