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Early strategies

When working with strategies in NLP it's important to break the strategy down into appropriately sized and organised chunks.

Most strategies operate below the level of awareness and people perform what can sometimes be quite complex sequences of behaviour without any conscious recognition that they are doing so.

To begin to understand why this is so let's consider some of the strategies which you yourself employ just to understand the words on this page.

When you were a baby you didn't even know what words were, let alone how to speak or read them. Your main method of communication was your in-built ability to cry in order to let the world know when you were unhappy with something.

Air from your lungs passed over vocal chords resulting in a noise designed by nature to elicit the immediate attention of your care givers.

In many ways that first strategy - cry until attention is received / needs are met was the seed of subsequent strategies for communication.

Gradually you became more aware of your surroundings and of other people. You began to listen to the sounds other people made and to pay close attention to the shapes and movements of their mouths as they made these sounds. You began to practise making other sounds with your own mouth, developing strategies for using particular configurations of lips, teeth and tongue to make particular sounds. You learned how you could vary your breathing and change other aspects of the sounds you were making such as the loudness, speed and pitch.

You began to understand that particular groups of sounds put together in particular combinations were associated with things around you, and developed strategies for putting the sounds together in the correct sequences (words) and associating them with the correct objects, and for retrieving from memory and vocalising those words when presented with the connected object at some later time.

You came to recognise that other people (usually bigger than you) would present an object to you and repeat the word associated with the object and you could then use all the strategies you'd developed so far to speak that word, remember it and to remember the object that was linked to that word. Gradually over time you learned to do these things with greater speed and precision, building up your vocabulary all the time. By age 18-24 months you probably had around two hundred words in your vocabulary.

You spent two years of your life developing some of the strategies required to communicate verbally and linguistically with another human being. Now, take a few quiet moments to consider the following question.

Cast your mind back to the last conversation you had with another human being. As you go back to that time now step into your body, see what you saw at the time, hear the sounds around you and feel the feelings of being right there having that conversation. Notice the expressions on the face of the person you're having that conversation with. Here's the question - while you are having that conversation now, how much conscious awareness do you have of using the strategies you spent two years learning?

The likelihood is that in the normal flow of conversation, even though you're still running the strategies described above, you have no conscious awareness of them whatsoever.

Those strategies have become so integrated into your neurology that they've dropped below the level of awareness and you execute them with the unconscious competence referred to in the four stages of competence.

If you're not convinced, next time you have a conversation with another person try to think consciously about how you're going to use your lips, teeth, tongue, breathing etc. to make each of the individual sounds required to speak the words you're going to use to respond to that person.

Can you do that, and maintain the conversation at a regular speed and keep abreast of what the conversation is about? Probably not as it's been shown that the maximum number of chunks of information that a human being can pay attention to consciously at any one time is seven, plus or minus 2. Which is why it's a good thing that the human brain is capable of processing a whole bunch of stuff, like running our behavioural strategies at the unconscious level.

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