by Rachel Hott, PhD

Modeling: Acquiring New Skills: From Zero to Sixty
The first premise of the developers of NLP was to ask the question, “How?” This is the beginning of the modeling process that occurred when they interviewed Virginia Satir, Fritz Perls and Milton Erickson. Since 1975 NLP trainers have continued the tradition of modeling best practices in education, health, business, etc.

At the NLP Center of New York in both our NLP Practitioner/Coach and Master Practitioner/Coach certification training we have modeling modules. In our Practitioner/Coach certification we teach strategy elicitation. This is where our students begin to learn the first steps in modeling. In our Master Practitioner/Coach certification training we assign our students the task to model someone outside of the NLP Center. I chose to model a former student, who prefers to remain anonymous, so I will refer to him as B. B had graduated from all our course offerings which include: NLP Practitioner, Master Practitioner, Hypnosis Levels 1 and 2 and Core Transformation. I had recently seen him and he told me that he was learning about dog training.

Since we own two dogs, I thought I would like to model someone who has the ability to train dogs. However when B and I began speaking I realized that training dogs was a skill he learned and it was not necessarily “an ability.” B and I discussed this and I explained that if he told me how to be a good dog trainer he would be telling me what he learned about dog training, but it would be a conscious strategy, rather than something that is unconscious. When modeling you want to model an ability that is unconscious. He realized that what was truly an ability was his ability to acquire new skills. He was good at it, but he did not know “how” he did it. Dog training would be an example of how he acquired new skills. Bingo we were ready to model.

Basically when B acquires new skills he becomes interested in something when he doesn’t know anything about it. He said, “I go from 0 to 60.” In regards to dog training, he did not believe he could foster a dog, and then became curious about what would that take for him to have that skill. Another example was buying a home and not knowing anything about contracting. He said, “ I couldn’t even change a light bulb.” Now years later friends ask him about purchasing homes and contracting issues. The same situation happened with cooking. He didn’t know how to boil water and now he is very comfortable with complicated recipes.

A lot of B.’s motivation to acquire new skills came from his childhood. He was an immigrant and his early education experiences were negative. The teachers thought he was retarded when he didn’t understand or speak English. He remembers thinking, “I just don’t get it.” He added that there was a feeling that if he didn’t understand something, it didn’t feel right until he knew it perfectly.

He really wants to understand how things work. He finds it exciting to discover a new place or a new thing. He said, “It feels like an adventure. Most people don’t understand that there is not a choice to do the same thing everyday. I am looking for some new angle. There is something about the thing that captures my attention. At first I was scared of the idea of fostering a dog. but then I became obsessed and started to read every book, article, research and take tons of classes. I love getting immersed in a subject. I really want to know something really well.”

I asked him to explain his capabilities in more detail and he said, “When researching I have an ability to hold many things in my mind and handle them, and get to structure and meaning. I am obsessed with the difference that makes the difference. I am really interested in the framework and yet I have a problem with the framework.” Along with the research he will take classes to get more understanding of the frameworks that he is unsure about.

Another piece of his motivation to acquire new skills is his belief that he does not know enough and he is comparing himself to others who know more. He says, that this comparison motivates him even more. He sees himself as a pit bull, attached to being perfect, “a pit bull inside of me that finds a piece of meat. What motivates me is the pit bull inside me that is getting to the meat, the mastery. That is what I am enjoying.”

I asked him how does he know when he has fully acquired the new skill. This is a problem, because he doesn’t know when to stop researching. He said, “I don’t really stop. I constantly want to learn more. Somehow there is a feeling if I master it the world will be okay. Maybe this new thing; dog training, cooking, will be mastered and then I will feel peace.”

Throughout this process of his research he has a feeling curiosity, obsession, excitement, hopefulness and optimism. No wonder he doesn’t want to stop.

Summary of the model to acquire new skills;

1. Think of something that you may be interested in, but do not know anything about.
2. Attach to the feelings of curiosity, obsession, excitement, hopefulness and optimism.
3. Take the desire to want to understand something in detail, feel compelled to want to get close to perfection with your new learning.
4. Continue feeling compelled and compare yourself to someone who already has this skill.
5. Feel the desire to achieve mastery and perfection burning inside. Continue to read, take classes and practice.
6. End when you feel peaceful.