NLP Meta Programs: What Are They and How Do You Use Them?

NLP Metaprograms

Our behavior is primarily determined by our subconscious, about 95%. Without realizing it, our “programs” guide us through everyday life. From the moment we wake up in the morning to our evening rituals, we prefer familiar things to us. Meta-programs underlie these habits.

What is a Meta-Programs?

Meta programs are the mental shortcuts that drive your decisions, behaviors, actions, and interactions with others. They are the internal representations of your external experience of the environment. They determine how your brain pays attention to things. It is the meta programs that determine how you recognize patterns and how you subsequently respond to them.

You can think of meta-programs as software applications for the brain, where these software programs ensure several other programs’ execution. The meta-programs together can be compared to a computer’s operating system.

The software runs in the background and controls your thoughts, beliefs, values, memories, and reactions. So they are mental programs that lead our lives on an unconscious level. They determine how information is processed by deciding what to delete (close your eyes too), distort (see differently), and/or generalize.

These programs’ function is to organize, sort, and understand the information you get from the world around you. Without these “filters,” the world would be far too overwhelming, but with them, you can form your own beliefs, opinions, and perspectives on everything.

Mental filters

The meta-programs are our mental filters. They determine what information comes in and how it is interpreted. This filtering process helps to control our thinking processes. This means that everybody’s way of thinking and behavior is different.

Meta programs form throughout your life. It is essential to understand that certain programs in a specific context will not automatically perform the same in different contexts or situations. They are never 100% consistent and can change over time due to new experiences, insights, and circumstances. So they are adaptive.

Having meta-programs isn’t all that negative or positive. On the one hand, they help you organize your information. On the other hand, they sometimes turn against you. An example is when someone tells himself, “I can’t do that,” without considering whether that is really the case. Such reasoning could be based on a previous experience or a parent who has always said, “You can’t!”

Insights into meta-programs

It’s absolutely helpful to learn about your meta programs. For me, it was one of the biggest eye-openers when I followed my NLP courses years ago. It gives you a better understanding of how you think, how you reason, how you judge the world around you, and how you interact with others. You gain insight into your values, beliefs, habits, and behavior, but also into patterns of self-sabotage.

Because these programs run on a subconscious level, it is beneficial to have some help from someone else who makes you aware of your programs.

With insight into your meta-programs, you are able to change your communication with your environment, and you also learn to understand others better because you see they use different meta-programs than yourself. For that reason, with this awareness, you can improve your relationships with others. Because you understand them better, you can build a better match and enhance communication. Once you understand someone else’s motivation, you have the key to making a match and master the conversation in a positive direction.

When you have knowledge of communication patterns, you have a considerable advantage over people who don’t. They will have to bend over backward in a conversation to convince someone else, while you know that convincing only works if you are well attuned to your conversation partner. So you always have an advantage in a business setting. It gives you the opportunity to change, shift and transform behavior in positive ways.

How do you recognize meta-programs?

Recognizing meta-programs takes some practice. They are best recognized by the language patterns people use. To identify meta-programs, you must learn to listen in two ways:

1. as the person having the conversation with the other

2. as an observer observing the conversation

It may seem not very easy at first, but practice makes perfect! I had a hard time with it initially, but you can still learn it surprisingly quickly.

Types of meta-programs

There are numerous types of meta programs. The most common are:

Towards or “away from”: someone indicates that he prefers to “avoid “things/situations or “prefer not to do things”. The other way around, so someone indicates what he/she does want. The key question: does someone strive for pleasure, or does someone want to get away from pain/frustration?

Positive/negative: some people first see the negative characteristics of a new car (color, small trunk, and wide A-pillar). Others first see the beautiful roofline, the sporty rims, and the beautiful deep blue color.

The internal or external frame of reference: when someone finds it very important what other people think of him/her, we speak of an external frame of reference. If someone is readily inclined to express an opinion about someone else or is not easily convinced, then there is an internal frame of reference.

Focused on oneself or on others: some people are always there when there is something to be gained. They ask themselves, “What’s in it for me?” People who wonder what they can do for others are focused on others.

Similarity or difference: do you first see the similarities or the differences?

The possibility or necessity: ​​Some people tend to do things first because they are “necessary”, while others do things because they are possible.

There are dozens of other meta programs. Someone doesn’t always have to be in one extreme or the other. There are many gradations for each meta program.

Changing meta-programs with NLP

Changing meta-programs seems easy at first glance. In fact, you just need to start thinking differently. But be aware that these programs reside in your subconscious mind, and you are not even aware of most of them. Besides, they are deeply rooted in your system.

You also may experience some resistance to change internally because these programs make you feel comfortable and make sure you don’t have to worry. The patterns are often ingrained from an early age, and over the years, you have acquired beliefs that also support these patterns.

Changing these programs will make you feel uncomfortable since you are used to them. But keep in mind that getting out of your comfort zone makes you grow. It’s where the magic happens!

Why would you want to change a meta-program?

A meta program may not always serve you, and it can hold you back in achieving your goals. For example, you have a colleague who is a “Similarity-person”, while you always notice the differences first. You keep communicating with each other, and you have endless discussions. In order to maintain sustainable cooperation, it is necessary for both of you two to (slightly) adjust your perception to establish peace between the conflicting meta programs.

While modifying a program, you should realize that it can affect other internal thought processes as well. By being aware of your programs, you can decide when and where to adjust and change your plans.

How do you change meta-programs?

When changing your perception, i.e., how you interpret something, it’s best to follow the step-by-step plan below. For some people, it takes some practice. Other people even succeed in one go. It’s a shift in your perception. If you initially have difficulty changing your perception, the NLP technique Anchoring can provide support.

When changing meta-programs, you can sometimes encounter a lot of internal resistance. After all, it’s some belief (sometimes a deep-rooted one) that you want to change. As with any behavioral change, either the pain must be significant enough or clear what it will bring you. To do this, follow the steps below to change meta-programs effectively.

Step 1

Identify the meta program you want to change. You do not have to go from one extreme to the other because a middle way is often enough not to be immediately confronted with a strong opinion. It’s essential to map out the context. Under what circumstances are you inclined to think or reason like that? What are the benefits of changing this meta program? It must be clear what benefits this program has for you and what it “costs” you to give up this program.

Step 2

What will it be like to replace the meta-program? What’s in it for me? What will it be at the expense of? Are you willing to give this up? Under what circumstances does that benefit you? Again, map out the context, the advantages, and the disadvantages for yourself.

Step 3

When you decide to give up your old belief/perception, you are ready to apply step 3. To do this, you imagine yourself in the situation you use for the new meta program. Simulate step by step how the meta program gives you the advantages over the old meta program.

By associating yourself completely with the new situation that arises, see, hear, feel, smell, and taste what the unique situation is like and use all your senses for this. Above all, make sure you do this association with positive emotion – for example, gratitude, appreciation – so that you can get used to your desired situation.

How does this feel? Do you feel satisfaction or discomfort, or pain? If you experience the benefits, it’s a good step to change the program. Discomfort doesn’t have to mean sticking to the familiar because getting outside of your comfort zone will help you grow and get you the benefits you want.

Step 4

Associate yourself again with the desired situation. Immerse yourself completely. To intensify this experience, you can anchor the techniques and apply submodalities.

If you find it difficult to empathize, you can also take it to step by step through ‘metal rehearsal’, where you mentally process the steps necessary to achieve your goal. Top athletes and successful negotiators use this technique to achieve their goals.

In most cases, the mind – quite naturally – resists the change of the meta-program. This makes sense, as the mind has not otherwise been accustomed to using this program. When the benefits outweigh the drawbacks, it’s just a matter of getting used to your new perception. It’s all about conditioning yourself.

When there is an inner conflict about the new way of perception, with the help of reframing – another way of looking differently at the situation – the circumstances can become acceptable. This requires some ingenuity and flexibility of mind.

Step 5

In step 5, you make the decision to accept and install your new way of perception. For this to work, you must have the necessary commitment, motivation, and desire to continue with this new meta-program until you’ve incorporated it as a new habit.


Changing meta programs can be easily applied by some, but for others, it may take longer, depending on how deeply rooted the programs are. You can think of it as uprooting a tree: the deeper the roots of the beliefs and patterns are, the less easy the change will be. Nevertheless, it is a good workout for your mind anyway; on the one hand, to gain a better insight into your own thinking patterns, on the other hand, to gain a better understanding of people in your environment who have different meta-programs running than yourself.

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