Yesterday I was lucky enough to interview Barbara Stepp, the world’s oldest NLP Master Trainer and DHE Master Trainer. For those who don’t know about NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming), it’s a system of personal improvement which basically teaches you to think more clearly and effectively by bringing your emotions under control and deliberately using them to inform your decisions.
It presupposes the existence of an “unconscious” in all humans, but not in the old-fashioned Freudian sense of being a mystic land of uncontrolled primal drives which are transformed into neuroses and psychoses as they come to the surface. In NLP, the unconscious is conceived more as an amazingly effective mechanism which regulates inputs to the conscious mind.
The point with NLP is that because the unconscious is by definition outside of our consciousness, we have never really been consciously taught to get the best out of it. That’s why so many people end up victims of their emotional states without even realising it. Undirected, the mechanism of the unconscious can send up undermining and disempowering emotions, just as much as affirmational and empowering ones. These emotions shape our expectations. NLP enables us to become masters of those emotions and hence of the decisions and actions we make and take in our lives. It teaches you to think on purpose.
There’s more to it than that. For example, those who do NLP, being concerned with emotional states, are interested in finding a
gateway between the conscious and unconscious mind. Such a state is hypnosis, that half-dreamlike state that enables the land of dreams and the waking mind to meet. Thanks to countless movies and tv shows, it sounds more mysterious than it is. The state of hypnosis is really very much like the state one moves through as one falls asleep, or that is achieved in meditations – or more prosaically, when someone really boring talks to you for too long. The eyes glaze over and you become absorbed in your own thoughts.
Barb’s story is often mentioned by Richard Bandler, the man who invented the term “NLP”. It is worth retelling briefly here. In the 1980s Barb attended a seminar being run by Richard in which he selected her from the audience as part of a demonstration of hypnotic age regression. He took her back to a younger time, and asked her unconscious to reset her body to that younger self. It was part of what Richard called his “Hypnotic Beauty Treatment”.
I have listened to the recording of that session, and it is a highly effective trance which left me feeling really “zingy” afterwards. With Barb it did far more.
What Richard didn’t know is that Barb had been told by her doctor to get her affairs in order. She had terminal cancer and was given 6 months to live.
Within weeks of the seminar, Barb returned to the hospital to have more tests done. The startled doctors now informed her that there was no cancer in her body at all. In those intervening weeks, she had got hold of a tape of the trance Richard had done on her, and had repeatedly used it on herself. At this time she had also undergone spontaneous remission.
It is always difficult in these cases to claim that such an event caused such a response. The scientists among your will by now be starting to hit the ceiling, and so I am making no claims here whatsoever. But what I can say is that Barb is certain that Richard’s intervention was key to her survival.
Barb is now nearly 72 years old, and is a wonderful presence to be with. Having been around for so long, and being so full of light and laughter, she has been given the title: NLP’s Fairy Godmother. The thing that really struck me about her is that she is continually looking to learn new things, and to have fun in life. Doctors have often said that survival rates among cancer patients for those with a positive attitude are much higher than those without it. Barb’s attitude to life is not only positive, it is pro-active in the extreme. She is a scuba diver, a mountaineer and a pilot. She got her pilot’s licence at the age of 65. She has a sparkle in her eye and is just a joy to be with because she is looking for fun in every single moment of her life.
If there is one thing that I took away from the interview to learn from, it was Barb’s attitude to life: “When I stop learning, then I will stop living”.
She assures me, she has no intention of doing either.