NLP Modelling – A Practical Guide

Group russian doll on white background.

To follow the path, look to the master, follow the master, walk with the master, see through the master, become the master.

Hsin Hsin Ming


NLP is the study of excellence. Its aim is to find out how successful people do what they do so that we can come up with the same outcomes. “Success” here means the highest possible achievement level in their careers, art, communication or any other area of human endeavour where there are degrees of excellence.

Put simply, what NLP wants to know is how a person becomes what he becomes. What are his beliefs and behaviors that define him. This information helps us achieve higher degrees of proficiency, gives us more options in life and ultimately more freedom. Freedom ultimately means having the power to choose.

In the “olden” days, people sought to become apprentices with certain masters. They wanted to learn a craft and become great at something. Spiritual seekers sought a guru (before it was commercially viable to become one) as a passing bridge between this world and the spiritual one. That is precisely what modeling is. Your own personal Charon, between your current world and the one you have your sights on…

But before we get to the how of modelling, let’s look at the why first.

The Why

If you don’t need something, your use for that thing is limited.

This means that if you just learn a method or technique, you won’t ever get to use it because there’s no need, no why driving your decision and so you will just forget it or, at worst, learn something that is never used.

So the first step is to find out what exactly why (do) you want the skills, competencies or qualities of a specific person.

A question that should help clarify your why would be…

What is your desired outcome? What do you want to achieve?

( Take a minute or two and think about this before you continue. It’s important that you learn and do things with a purpose in mind )

After you’ve answered the why, you will be able to move on to the whom – or the person you need to model.

Choosing the right model

The right model is someone that you ideally admire and respect. It’s someone who is already “there”. In “Introducing NLP”, O’Connor & Seymour recall that Alexander the Great took the legendary hero Achilles as his model and Thomas a Kempis, writer of “The Imitation of Christ” an even loftier one. Stravinsky borrowed from Mozart and Ray Charles from Nat King Cole.

“I ate and breathed and slept and did everything Nat Cole”

-Ray Charles

By immersing yourself in every kind of media (books, film, television, interviews, etc.) that your model appears in, you will see how you can access the same kinds of states and resources that he has.

One thing to keep in mind is that by knowing “how” to do something doesn’t mean that you’re going to become a “clone” of that person.

All the aforementioned people may have modeled other great people but they still remained uniquely themselves.

You cannot just erase years of neurological conditioning that have made you who you are.

That’s just not possible.

You will still remain “you”.

The triadic concept of thesis, antithesis and synthesis applies everywhere, including personality.

Thesis being the current you.

Antithesis being the model.

Synthesis being the result of you adopting the model and coming up something completely new.

When you’re doing modeling, you’re not becoming a “clone”.

All that is happening is that it you’re unlocking your true potential faster through being conscious of what you’re doing until you’re doing it unconsciously.

NLP modelling helps you get to the place you want to go in the shortest time possible.

The Process

The NLP modelling process is actually simple.

Simple yet it has many details.

To model another person you need to get in a room with them, ask them a couple of questions and record the whole thing (video, audio) in order to review it later. This last step is important because we can miss things consciously that our model is doing unconsciously, usually very fast or almost unnoticeable if you don’t know what to look for.

Minus the recording part, you have probably been doing this process already, unconsciously, with people you like and admire.

If there is a genuine like for other people, you are already modeling them whenever you ask questions about them, how they do their work and what are their motivations.

To get a little bit more specific, here is what you need to know.

When modeling, we want to know three things about the model:

  1. Their belief(s)
  2. Their physiology
  3. Their strategy(s)

For example, to write this post, I need to believe that I can and that it is worth doing. I need a strategy to write it (having a previous knowledge of the subject, images, sounds and associated feelings) and I need to feel relaxed enough to have my fingers stroll across the keyboard while sipping on some coffee to keep me in an optimal state of productivity throughout the whole thing.

Of course this is only a basic view of the model. For a more complete view of why & how I do what I do, you should see what I did before, during and after I began writing. This can also mean the time that I spent not writing. Relaxing, researching and doing things that are completely unrelated to what I’ll be writing about. In addition to this, you might have specific questions about the process like

  • What is the setting that I choose to write in? Am I at work or at home? In a park or in a library?
  • What motivates me to write?
  • When do I know that I’m done and that I’m not just running into an recursive “loop of perfectionism” that makes me delay hitting the “Publish” button?
  • What other details about the work might influence the outcome? Do I listen to some music while I’m writing? Do I burn some incense to get a pleasant “vibe” going? Do I shut out my phone and other distractions?
  • What other triggers could help me achieve a state of flow?

These questions are called TOTE elicitation questions.

TOTE stands for…

  1. Test – testing the comparison with my current model and my preferred model and noting what’s missing.
  2. Operate – acting in accordance to my interpretation of the preferred model
  3. Test – apply the comparison again to see how far or close we are from the preferred model. If we aren’t there yet, we repeat step two but we adjust the ingredients accordingly (belief or behavior). If we have reached the preferred model we go on to the next step where we…
  4. Exit – stopping the loop when we have obtained exact evidence that tells us that we have achieved our goal.

So when modelling using the TOTE process, we are essentially repeating a set of steps, continuing to auto-correct until we achieve our desired outcome. If it’s a complex skill that I’m modelling, there might be additional models for each individual subcomponent just like a set of Russian dolls.

Babies learn to walk like adults do by operating and testing endlessly until they walk like their model (usually the parents). In between, they fail many times until they get it right. In the rare cases of babies that were abandoned and raised in the wild by animals, we often see them walk on all fours, exactly like animals – their closest models. They haven’t failed to learn how to walk. They learned how to walk exactly like their models.

When someone gives us directions to a place, we run them through our own imagination to see if everything is right.

This is an informal way of modelling.

On the other end there are high-end modelling sessions that business consultants employ with large organizations in order to train executives, managers and other staff that has to be present throughout the organization. In those kinds of settings, the process is straightforward and has a clear time frame set for extracting the model. A sample modelling package of this kind could be:

  1. Evaluating the organization through interviews and establishing which skills and competencies are most worth modelling, who the top performers are and how many people need to be trained with this model. Typically it is three top performers that are contrasted with three average performers. This way it is possible to see the differences and to come up with an action plan.
  2. Spend a couple of days with each role model, observing their actions in different contexts. Again, recording these actions allows you to go over and see what details you have missed from first go and gives you an accurate base to start identifying their beliefs, physiology, strategies, states, metaprograms and so on. Also interview their colleagues to see how others describe them. The same process is repeated with the “control” role models. In order to preserve rapport and not make people feel shitty, we don’t usually tell people that they are the “control”.
  3. Give yourself enough time to map out the model, noticing what is missing. At this stage you might want to have a second co-modeller take a look over your analysis for a fresh perspective.
  4. Go back and test to see the patterns that you have observed, filling in the gaps of what is missing by more detailed observation and asking more questions. This step may have to be repeated a number of times.
  5. Compile a full report which should include the original brief, the methodology used and the model that was extracted. A complete model will include things such as identity (who am I?), beliefs (what do I believe?), capabilities (what can I do? what am I good at?) and specific external and internal behavior (what words do I use? what do I think, feel and do?).
  6. Final step is to design a training program with the aim of having your trainees achieve the same outcomes as the models do. Run the training program and use the feedback to refine it. Train other people to run this program. Exit.

It will take about 20 days to get through steps 1 to 5, and half as long for the final step. This type of modelling is very successful with organizations that need to have the same role replicated across many positions.

What else?

We aren’t done with modelling by far. This is a skill that can be improved further and further. What I gave you in this article is enough for you to go out there and do it on your own. But to find out what you need to do next, you will have to get the basic info and then run a TOTE loop for each individual skill. Each skill can involve other skills and competencies and it’s a real task to find out how someone’s neurology is set up.

You will start to see that with high performers, some things will differ and others will be similar.

A good model is constructed by following the reductive approach. You need to find out the basics of how a certain person achieves their specific outcome. So instead of adding things up from zero, take the complete model and start removing things, testing along to see if you get the same result.

When you got down to the bare essentials and there is nothing else to remove without affecting the result, you have obtained the model

Another skill that you need to be proficient with is putting yourself in the other person’s shoes or what is known as second position.

This is because sometimes highly competent people discover that they don’t really know how to explain how they do what they do. They are already operating at the level of unconscious competence. So in order for you to formulate a model, you must have the ability to empathize with the other person, putting yourself in the other’s shoes, thinking, feeling and acting like they do, even if it’s only in the imagination at first.

It’s not enough to ask questions. You also have to take the replies you get and run them through your imagination, seeing if everything fits and asking further questions where it doesn’t.


This is a simple way to model a person in order to obtain their same skills and competencies. Do the research and then start testing with the info that you have on your model. Through testing and tweaking you will find the secret to how someone is so successful. All that is left is for you to follow the steps and implement it.

That’s it.

Was this helpful? Let us know who you would like to model or who you have already modeled in your life in the comments below.

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