Reality Strategies

Criterial equivalences are closely related to a person's reality strategy. Reality strategies involve the sequence of mental tests and internal criteria an individual applies in order to evaluate whether or not a particular experience or event is "real" or "really happened." It is essentially the strategy by which we distinguish "fantasy" from "reality."

It is a common childhood experience to think that something really happened that was actually a dream or a fantasy. Even many adults are unsure whether or not a powerful experience they had as a child was real or imagined. Another common experience is when you have been absolutely certain you told someone something and they claim you didn't, and later you realized you rehearsed it in your mind but never actually talked about it with the person.

From the NLP perspective, we will never know exactly what reality is, because our brain doesn't really know the difference between imagined experience or remembered experience. The fact is, the same brain cells are used to represent both. There is no specific part of the brain that has been designated for "fantasy" and "reality." Because of that, we have to have a strategy that tells us that information received through the senses passes certain tests that imagined information does not.

Try a little experiment. Think of something that you could have done yesterday but know you didn't do. For example, perhaps you could have gone shopping yesterday, but you didn't. Then think of something you know you did do—like go to work or talk with a friend. Contrast the two in your mind—how do you determine that you didn't do one and did do the other? The difference can be subtle, but the qualities of your internal pictures, sounds and kinesthetic feelings will probably differ in some way. As you contrast your imagined experience with your real one, check your internal representations—are they located in the same place in your field of vision? Is one clearer than the other? Is one a movie and one a still picture? Are there differences in the qualities of your internal voices? What about the quality of feelings you have associated with those two experiences?

The quality of information that we have in our senses is somehow coded more precisely for the real experience than the imagined one, and that's what makes the difference. You have a "reality strategy" that lets you know the difference.

Many people have tried to change or "re-program" themselves by visualizing themselves being successful. For all the people who naturally use this as a strategy, it will work fine. For all the people that use a voice that says, "You can do it," this visual programming won't work. If I want to make something real for you, or convince you about something, I have got to make it fit your criteria for your reality strategy. I have to make it consistent with the required qualities of your internal pictures, sounds and feelings (i.e., submodalities.) So, if I assist you in changing your behavior in some way, I want to make sure that it is going to fit in with you as a person. By identifying your reality strategy, you can determine precisely how you need to represent a change in behavior in order to be convinced that it is something that is possible for you to accomplish.

In many ways, NLP is the study of how we create our maps of reality, what holds that reality or map in a stable form, how it is destabilized, and what makes a map effective or not. NLP assumes that there are different realities expressed in our different maps of the world.

The system or strategies of reality that we create, and how that system interacts to form our maps of reality, has been a focus in NLP since its inception. Reality strategies are the glue which hold our maps together - how we "know" something to be so. Consider the following example of eliciting a person's reality strategy with respect to her name:

Q: What is your name?

Q: How do you know your name is Lucy?

L: Well, that is what I have been called all my life.

Q: How do you know, as you sit here right now, that you have been called that "all your life?" Do you hear something?

L: Yes. I just hear a voice saying, "My name is Lucy."

Q: If you didn't have a voice saying your name is Lucy, how would you know your name is Lucy?

L: I see a banner in my mind's eye, the word "Lucy" is written on it.

Q: If you couldn't see this banner, or it was out of focus and you couldn't read the word, how would you know that your name is Lucy?

L: I would just know.

Q: If you saw many banners with different names on them, how would you know the one that says "Lucy" is your name?

L: Its a feeling.

This example illustrates some common features of a "reality strategy." The person "knows" Lucy is her real name because she has it "cross-referenced" in multiple representational systems. Ultimately, "Lucy" had a feeling that was associated with that name. If Lucy could make arrangements so that she would not experience or notice that feeling, it would be interesting to find out if Lucy would still know her name. If such an exercise is taken far enough, a person can even come to doubt something as fundamental as his or her own name.

When a person truly begins to get to the root of his or her reality strategy, it can become a bit disorienting, and even frightening; but it also opens up the doorway to new learnings and discoveries. As an example, there was an psychoanalyst, studying NLP, who was very interested in his reality strategy. He discovered that he had constant internal dialog. The psychoanalyst realized that he was verbally labeling all of his experience to himself. For example, he would walk into a room and internally say, "a picture," "a couch," "a fireplace," etc. When asked if he could silence the voice, he was reluctant to give it up because he was afraid he would lose contact with reality as he knew it. When asked if there was anything he could do which would allow him to comfortably let go of his internal voices, he said, "I need something to hold on to." He was instructed to hold a spoon and maintain contact with reality kinesthetically. By doing so, he was able to expand his reality strategy and literally open himself up to a new "non-verbal" way of experiencing reality.

To explore your own reality strategy, try out the following exercise.

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