Breakthroughs and Meltthroughs*

by Steve Andreas

© 2003


         The field of NLP is not really a “field” at all, but much more like a jungle, with here and there a little clearing where someone is tilling and defending a small plot and raising a crop. It is now a bit over 25 years since the beginnings of NLP, and that is about where physics was in the early 1800’s, with a few investigators scattered here and there, occasionally communicating with each other and sharing ideas and the results of experiments. It took roughly another 100 years for physics to reach some kind of maturity, in which there was sufficient agreement among those working in the field on what constitutes appropriate methodology for testing and validating ideas. That agreement on assumptions and criteria for testing observations allowed it to become a cooperative effort,  independent of any particular authority or personality. The Nobel prize-winning physicist Richard Feynman describes physics (in the early 1960s) as follows:

” We have a way of checking whether an idea is correct or not that has nothing to do with where it came from. We simply test it against observation. So in science we are not interested in where an idea comes from.

” There is no authority who decides what is a good idea. We have lost the need to go to an authority to find out whether an idea is true or not. We can read an authority and let him suggest something; we can try it out and find out if is true or not. If it is not true, so much the worse–so the ‘authorities’ lose some their ‘authority.’

” The relations among scientists were at first very argumentative, as they are among most people. This was true in the early days of physics, for example. But in physics today, the relations are extremely good. A scientific argument is likely to involve a great deal of laughter and uncertainty on both sides, with both sides thinking up experiments and offering to bet on the outcome. In physics there are so many accumulated observations that it is almost impossible to think of a new idea which is different from all the ideas that have been thought of before, and yet that agrees with all the observations that have already been made. And so if you get anything new from anyone, anywhere, you welcome it, and you do not argue about why the other person says it is so.

” Most people find it surprising that in science there is no interest in the background of the author of an idea, or in his motive in expounding it. You listen, and if it sounds like a thing worth trying, a thing that could be tried, is different, and is not obviously contrary to something observed before, it gets exciting and worthwhile. You do not have to worry about how long he has studied, or why he wants you to listen to him. In that sense it makes no difference where the ideas come from. Their real origin is unknown; we call it the imagination of the human brain, the creative imagination.

” Many sciences have not developed this far, and the situation is the way it was in the early days of physics, when there was a lot of arguing because there were not so many observations. I bring this up because it is interesting that human relationships, if there is an independent way of judging truth, can become unargumentative.” (6) pp. 21-22

         If NLP is to mature into a field, we need to communicate more between those isolated little plots in the jungle, and take a closer look at what is being raised in each of them. Not to search for truth with a capital T–physicists gave that up long ago–but to find out what works dependably, and think about how it works, so that we can continually improve what we do. We also need to follow the lead of physics and separate this search from the personalities involved in the search–shifting our attention from “Who’s right,” to “What’s right.”

         Grinder and Bostic’s book, Whispering in the Wind, invited readers to engage in a “professional high quality public dialogue among the practitioners of NLP,” and it was in that spirit that I recently wrote an extensive review (3) commending and sometimes amplifying parts of the book, while questioning and criticizing other sections, and offering alternative understandings. Sadly, neither the authors nor anyone else has stepped forth to continue this kind of dialogue that is essential if our jungle is to become a cooperative effort to refine and develop a field out of what we do.

Surmounting Heroic Challenges

         I am writing this long overdue article partly in response to Richard Bolstad’s fine article, “Providing heroic challenges on Trainings” (5). As usual, Richard is clear and detailed, and does an excellent job of demystifying heroic challenges by helping us understand much of the simple physics underlying them.

         My wife Connirae and I have used ropes course challenges in trainings, and we can verify how useful such challenges can be, especially for some people. One young Native American woman who had started serious drinking when she was 12 had a truly life-changing response to succeeding at these physical challenges. However, for a former army signal corpsman who had climbed trees to string telephone lines under enemy fire, it was something of a “snooze,” since he had already faced far more difficult challenges.

         The cooperation required by many ropes challenges is also a very valuable living metaphor for many people who have not previously experienced that, due to our society’s (and NLP’s) imbalance in emphasizing individual achievement over cooperative effort.

         In the first section of Bolstad’s article, “The science behind the magic,” he writes about a martial arts test that he experienced, in which the point of a sword was placed against his larynx just above his sternum and “while holding my breath, I then leaned forward so that my entire weight was resting on the sword.”

         He states, “Like most of these tests, the one I endured was largely based on a physiological fact that most students will not know. In this case, the fact is that the cartilage surrounding the trachea is quite hard.” I would like to add a little more to this “science behind the magic.”

         During a delightful visit to my home a few years ago, when Richard demonstrated his position during this test, he was leaning at about 30 degrees from the vertical. Since Richard is a bit over 6′ tall, I’d guess that his larynx is about 5′ from the floor. Since his weight is 190#, using simple geometry and the Pythagorean theorem, we find that at an angle of 30 degrees, a scale under Richard’s feet would register a weight of about 164#. Does that mean that the sword is only bearing 26#? (190#-164#) No, depending on the angle of the sword, it would bear about  85#–still pretty impressive, but a good deal less than half of Richard’s “entire weight.”

         Richard also writes that “The tip was sharp (he had first demonstrated this by cutting paper with it).” It is almost impossible to cut paper with the extreme tip of a sword, if for no other reason than because of the difficulty of keeping the tip exactly in the plane of the paper–either you miss the paper entirely, or you cut it with the blade behind the tip. I would be willing to bet that the tip of that sword was not nearly as sharp as it appeared.

         I have examined the swords that sword-swallowers use, and both tip and blade edge are quite dull. They often sink the sword into a block of wood as an apparent demonstration of how sharp it is, but even a very dull blade of a heavy sword will stick quite nicely into the end grain of a block of wood. Magicians often use such “demonstrations” to impress and distract people from actually examining their props.

         Granted, this is still a very impressive stunt, and not to be tried lightly, but not quite so amazing as it appears. To know whether this is anything more than a cute stunt we need it a controlled experiment in which some of the people who are tested have had the “iron shirt” Chi Kung training that Richard had, while others have not–though it might be hard to find willing subjects!


         Firewalks are also very impressive, partly because they are always done at night, so that the glowing coals look very bright to dark-adapted eyes. The same coals appear much less impressive and threatening in daylight, because you see very little glow, mostly only a light covering of gray ash.

         A few years ago, my three sons decided that they wanted to do a firewalk. They had heard their uncle talk about doing his own firewalk with friends, and they asked me what I knew about it. Then, unsupervised, they built a big fire, spread the coals and spontaneously walked on them in a way that I thought showed an unusual degree of common sense. They first stood on the side of the 12′ path of coals, and took one step onto the coals and across to bare earth.

         Then they faced the coals at a slight angle, and took two steps (one with each foot) to reach safety. Then they took three steps, continuing until they were walking the entire length of coals.

         By doing it in this way, they created a series of graded risks, with opportunities for feedback. Take one step, and notice the result, take another, and notice the result, etc. This breaks the challenge down into much smaller steps, effectively transforming it into an analog function that changes over a range, with opportunities for feedback at each increase in risk.

         In contrast, every other firewalk I have seen, or read about, presents people with a digital, all-or-none choice: walk the entire length or not. This is also true of the challenge of breaking a board with a karate chop, which Richard describes so well. You can’t do it half-way, it is either all or none. Of course this task could also easily be transformed into an analog one by starting with very thin boards, and then gradually increasing the thickness of the board.

Digital vs. Analog Functions

         Milton Erickson often transformed a digital limitation into an analog series that the client could vary over a range until it was no longer a limitation. One man  had a compulsion to pee through a metal or wooden tube that was 8-10 inches long, which prevented him from joining the army. Erickson had him purchase a bamboo tube that was 12 inches long, and then gradually shorten it by 1/4,” 1/2,” or even an inch, until he realized that he always peed through a tube–his penis.

         A digital, all-or-none challenge provides a lot of drama. The high arousal, emotional state of fear, and then surviving the fear can definitely create lasting learning. People often do learn to move beyond the limitations of what they think think they can do. 

         However, we know that many people often learn utterly ridiculous and severely limiting beliefs in such highly focused experiences of great fear, narrow focus, and arousal. My favorite example of this is a woman who had a phobia of not seeing her feet. When she was seven years old, in a moment of extreme fear, she happened to be looking at her feet, which were hidden by 10 inches of muddy water. When someone is in a state of intense arousal during a heroic challenge, we don’t know how or where they are attending, either externally or internally. What is to prevent them from learning something very different than what is intended?

         In the adrenalin rush of a heroic challenge, and the highly-focused attention that results, someone is quite likely to learn something else that is potentially quite harmful and even dangerous. They may conclude that they have to make changes digitally, by taking a big leap of faith, rather than by chunking down a risk into an analog series and testing the results of their exploration at each step.

         They may also chunk very large, and conclude from a small success that they can now do anything. As Mark Twain’s Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, said after striking a match, “Look, a common twig. Think what I could do to a tree!” Participants are often even told to chunk very large in this way. For instance, Bolstad writes, “I remind them that their success is evidence that they can ‘do anything they decide to do.’ ” As a result, some people develop somewhat grandiose ideas of what is possible for them, flipping from one limiting belief, “I can do nothing,” to an equally extreme limiting belief, “I can do anything.”

         After a firewalk, one man declared that now he knew that he could be at ground zero of a nuclear explosion and not be hurt. Hopefully he will not have a chance to test that new belief, but it may lead him to take a lot of other risks that he is equally unprepared for. Another firewalk “graduate” was so convinced of his abilities that he went home and signed a year lease on 10,000 square feet of office space to use for self-development seminars (which never happened).

Lack of Congruence in Digital “Breakthroughs”

         These are only a couple of examples that point to the complete lack of congruence in many “breakthrough” experiences. I assume that every belief–no matter how limiting, archaic, or unlikely it is–has a positive function. Protection from some kind of harm is a very common function, one that is certainly present when contemplating the challenge of a firewalk or leaning on a sword! Whenever someone “breaks through” or “overcomes” a limitation, that means that no respect whatsoever is given to its positive functions, or other reasons for the limitation. It is simply “broken through” or demolished, just as an invading army conquers all opposition.

         While some people’s limiting beliefs may be purely imaginary, others are very real, and usually there is at least some degree of reality or validity. If we hold to the fundamental NLP idea of entering the other person’s map of the world, then we also need to respect their limiting beliefs, no matter how extreme, ridiculous, or harmful they might appear to someone else.

Analog Changes Permit Congruence

         When a limiting belief is respected and gently explored, NLP has many ways to gather information about its concerns or objections, and its positive outcomes. We can contextualize it, explore its historical origins, utilize its positive outcome to reframe it, educate it, chunk it down, update it, or teach additional behavioral resources and skills, etc., etc.

         When and if we decide to challenge it experientially, we can do it in a way that is analog and carefully contextualized, gradually going from an easier task to more difficult ones, and make use of feedback to adjust each succeeding task to make it more relevant and effective. When a limiting belief has been softened in this way, the person gradually becomes capable of a richer and wider range of behavior, without falling into the trap of thinking that s/he can do anything, anywhere, anytime, with anyone.


         In contrast to a “breakthrough,” this kind of process can be described as a meltthrough, in which someone’s personal congruence has been so thoroughly respected that there is no longer a belief or objection to be “broken through.”

         A breakthrough is much less likely to last, because the belief that has been ignored and shoved aside tends to reassert itself, particularly when the new belief, “I can do anything,” bumps its nose against the unyielding (and sometimes rough and painful) surface of real events.

         As John McWhirter has often pointed out, every change involves both development and safety. Many people think of this as an either/or choice: “Either I can have development or safety, but not both.” This kind of assumption often underlies the use of a “breakthrough” experience. In contrast, a meltthrough respects both the person’s wish to be more than they are and their legitimate concerns about what they might lose if they changed.

         Safety and development are both valid needs. They exist simultaneously, and both can be analog functions, varying over a range.  A meltthrough respects both our needs for safety and for development: “How can I change in the direction that I want, while at the same time keeping a degree of safety?” My sons’ exploration of firewalking respected and satisfied both their curiosity about going beyond the boundaries of what they thought they could do, and their concerns about safety, by  gathering information first, and then exploring in a step-by-step analog way.

         Digital breakthrough experiences have been the focus of many change methods, in many contexts, over a very long period of time. Such breakthroughs are not limited to the heroic challenges that Bolstad describes so well; the same pattern of “breaking through” concerns and objections can be found in many other methods that don’t involve physical challenges. I would like to explore one other such method that has the same kinds of limitations and dangers that I have described.

“Meta-Yes and Meta-No”

         Briefly, in this process by Michael Hall the client is asked to access a very strong representation of saying a firm “No” to something. Then s/he is asked to say this “No” to a limiting belief, loudly, intensely, and repeatedly, in what is referred to as a “neurological No.”

         The client is then asked to access a very strong representation of saying a firm and congruent “Yes” to something. Then s/he is asked to say this “Yes” to a new more enhancing belief, loudly, intensely, and repeatedly, a “neurological Yes.”

Eliciting the Meta-No

Hall describes how to elicit a Meta-No:

” 1. Get a good strong representation of saying ‘No!’ to something. Think about something that every fiber of your being can say a definite and unquestionable ‘No!’ to. Recall several examples so that you can fully get this resourceful disconfirming state. ‘Would you push a little child in front of an oncoming bus?’ ‘No, I wouldn’t.’ ‘No, I don’t believe you; you would!’ ‘No I would not!’ ‘Yes you would. You would do it for the thrill.’ ‘No, damn it, I would not!’ When you get the person to that place, anchor it!” (7) p. 164.

When you say a No loudly, intensely, and repeatedly, there is an inherent incongruence that becomes obvious when you ask the question, “Why do you have to say it so loudly?” This is not a new observation. As Shakespeare wrote over 400 years ago, “The lady protests too much, methinks.” When you really believe something solidly, it is so much a part of you that there is no need to shout it, you just say it. I once saw a filmed interview with C. G. Jung, in which the interviewer asked Jung if he believed in God. Jung replied in a soft, deep, slow voice, “Oh no, . . . I don’t believe; . . . I know.”

         Hall says, “Even stronger than the neurological no (or yes) is the matter-of-fact no (or yes),” and that the neurological no (or yes), repeated loudly and intensely, will eventually result in a matter-of-fact no (or yes). To summarize, the client is asked to utter an incongruent No (or Yes) until it becomes a congruent one. When and if this happens, it is only by overwhelming the initial incongruence. The “neurological No” is an incongruent No.

         Congruence is what is often referred to as “ecology.” However, as John McWhirter has pointed out, it is better described as congruence. Even when someone is congruent about a change, that may not fit with the larger ecology of spouse, children, co-workers, larger social group, etc. To test for ecology, we would have to ask all of these other people whether or not the change fits well for them. Usually we are not able to do this, so we are limited to asking the person if it fits for all parts of them. Even if we ask them to imagine how others would respond to the change, that is only checking with the person’s own representation of these other people, not the others themselves, so we are still checking for internal congruence, not the larger ecology.

The Meta-No/Yes is Used Out of Context.

         The Meta-No/Yes is Used Out of Context. The Meta-No (and Yes) is elicited in a particular context (e.g. pushing a child in front of a bus). That No is a response to the person’s values as they exist in that context. Then the Meta-No is applied to the limiting belief, which exists in a different context, with different values operating. While there may be some overlap between the values expressed in the two contexts, they are likely to be at least somewhat different, and may be very, very different indeed. For instance, the values existing in the experience of “not pushing a child in front of a bus” are certainly very different than the values involved in “giving up a regular job.” So the Meta-No is in response to values that may be entirely irrelevant to the context of the belief it is applied to! Put another way, the Meta-No is in response to values in one context; when applied to a different context, it ignores the values that are expressed in that context, and this is another source of incongruence.

Digital Alternative.

         Just as in a heroic physical challenge, in the Meta-Yes/Meta-No process, the client is asked to make a digital, all-or-none shift from the old belief to the new one. It is either “Yes” or “No” and no compromise or integration of the old and new beliefs is even contemplated, much less attempted. As Hall writes: 

“And how many more times do you need to utter this disconfirmation to that old belief to really blow it out of the water and allow it to have no place in your mind” (7, p. 165).

         “Blow it out of the water” and “have no place in your mind” are statements that use violent terminology, and do not demonstrate respect of the old belief, or any of the positive intentions or consequences of that old belief. A lack of congruence is inherent to either/or alternative methods. In the following two descriptions of the technique there are further statements in regard to the limiting belief (4, p. 3;  8, p. 65):

“Meta-model the limiting belief to assist in deframing it, loosening it up, and preparing for the belief change. Find out how it has not served them well, how it has messed things up, etc. As you notice how they represent the belief, pace its positive intentions.”

         Almost all of this instruction is about realizing how the old belief has been limiting, and “pace its positive intentions” is short of respecting and acknowledging those positive intentions, and integrating them into the creation of the new enhancing belief.

In another description of this step, Hall writes:

“Check the ecology and realism of the limiting belief. How does this belief limit you? How does it get in your way? How does it sabotage your success, happiness, resourcefulness, etc. What would you get if you did not have this belief interfering as it does? Meta-modeling the limiting belief in this way will assist you in deframing it, loosening it up, and preparing for the belief change. Find out how it has not served them well, how it has messed things up, etc. Notice how they represent the belief, and pace its positive intentions” (7, p. 164).

         Although this is described as a check for “ecology,” again it is all about weakening and destroying the old limiting belief, ending with the same inadequate instruction to “pace its positive intentions.”

         When it comes to the new enhancing belief, there is the following instruction (8, p. 65) “What specifically will the person think and say in the new belief? Write out the language of it. Get several versions and make sure that the person finds the expression of it compelling.” Here again there is no testing or checking for congruence at all, only a test for how compelling it is.

Primary and Secondary Experience.

         There is an additional problem with only exploring what the person will “think and say.” For most people, “think and say” means auditory digital words, which Bandler and Grinder pointed out long ago is “secondary experience” in contrast to the primary experience of images, feelings and auditory sounds, based on sensory experience.

         With the exception of articles, like “a” and “an,” etc. and proper nouns, like “Bill” or “Omaha,” words indicate categories of experience. In order to have a category, you have to have some experiences to put into the category, and the category also has to have an effective submodality structure to hold the different experiences together as a group. Both the content experiences and the structure of the belief determine how well it will function. I have written extensively about this in great detail elsewhere (2).

         Since the new belief in this process is purely verbal, there is no exploration of the underlying experiential content basis for the belief, nor is there any exploration of the underlying submodality structure of the belief. While some people are resourceful enough to use appropriate content and structure, I don’t like to assume that they will; I like to be sure. Without a solid structure and content, a new belief is “just words,” or what some people call an “intellectual” belief that will have no real impact on their experience, and will not last.

An Example.

         Let’s take a look at what Hall and Bodenhamer say about a client who Bodenhamer took through this process. The client originally “had struggled with the limiting and toxic belief, ‘I always alienate and drive away friends’ ” (7, p.161). After using the Meta-Yes/No process with him, the authors wrote:  

“Recalling the experience of last weekend, he said, ‘These guys really love me. They really love me. They don’t believe I’m a jerk and arrogant. They really love me. . . . Instead of hearing myself saying ‘I am a jerk,’ I hear myself saying these guys really love me” (7, p.163).

         That statement clearly indicates a very large chunk, digital, shift from “Everyone hates me” to “Everyone loves me.” That may be a more pleasant belief–at least for a while–but it is just as universal and all-or-none, and equally limiting. In the old belief, he was deaf to authentic expressions of caring. Now he will be equally deaf to any expression of dislike! In the real world, some of his friends may be truly caring, others may be more casual, and a few may not like him, at least at times.

         A much more useful belief would be something like, “I can make friends,” or “I am a likable person,” and to be sure that the belief is represented in primary experience, and includes a number of feedback mechanisms for noticing whether or not others’ responses are congruent with that belief. Including counterexamples to the belief within the structure of the belief is one powerful way to insure feedback, and I have discussed this and other structural feedback mechanisms quite thoroughly elsewhere (2).

Reaching Congruence.

         Despite the digital Yes/No alternative that is the basis of this method, it could be made into a useful method:

         If there were respectful and careful elicitation of the values and positive intentions of the limiting belief, inviting and utilizing the person’s unconscious mind to the fullest,

         If these concerns were then used to modify and contextualize the new enhancing belief,

         If this new belief were then thoroughly tested for both its advantages and disadvantages, to be sure that it did not interfere significantly with any other outcomes that the person has,

         If all this exploration and testing were done in the person’s primary experience of images, sounds and feelings–examples of memories of past experience and representations of future experiences–not just words.

         However, if you do this kind of thorough checking and testing, a very interesting thing happens: then there is absolutely no need to go though the meta-yes, meta-no process. If you do your work well, the person will do their own Meta-Yes and No automatically, based on all their relevant needs and values. This technique seems effective when congruence checks are inadequate, while if the congruence checks are done adequately, the technique is no longer necessary.  

A Videotaped Example.

         The foregoing has been largely based on written descriptions of the Meta-Yes/Meta-No process. However, I have seen a videotape of Hall using it with a woman who wanted to quit her regular job and work independently instead. The advantages of a regular job that would be lost–like a secure and regular paycheck, were not explored, nor were the possible problems or difficulties that she would face in free-lance work–such as having to sell her services repeatedly through some kind of publicity, how to survive financially during start-up and other lean times, establishing and managing her own office, overhead expenses, etc. It was simply “No” to the old, and “Yes” to the new.

         I have changed what I do a number of times in my life–for example, from chemist, to college instructor, to Gestalt Therapist, to NLP trainer and researcher. I have not had a regular job working for someone else since 1970, and I love the independence and freedom that I have enjoyed. However, I can also tell you from over 30 years of experience of developing three small businesses, that there is sometimes a considerable price for that wonderful independence and freedom. I think it is wise to explore that price before jumping out of the frying pan and into the fire (a very digital shift). My advice has always been to “Keep your day job while you find out if following your dream will pay the rent” (an analog shift).

A Positive Example

         In this article I have criticized the work of others, and described in detail what I believe is a much better way to work. I would like to go beyond that to offer a detailed and concrete example of the meltthrough way of working with limitations that I advocate. There is a complete transcript online (1) of a videotaped session with a young woman (with no prior knowledge of NLP) who found herself with a “lot of anger” “exploding” at “stupid things,” who wanted to be more calm and resourceful. I spent about 50 minutes with her, respecting her needs, outcomes, concerns and objections, helping her reach forgiveness with an ex-boyfriend, testing her response repeatedly with a detailed future-pace, gradually working toward her outcome. If you take the time to read the transcript (or watch the the video, which provides additional nonverbal information) you will also see that I make several mistakes along the way–and correct them, as we work together toward a congruent and satisfactory outcome.

         If you take the time to read the transcript, I would like you to then imagine that I had simply asked her to say “No” to the old response of getting angry, and “Yes” to a new response of being calm, and to consider how inadequate that would have been in terms of her complex needs.

         Meltthrough work is not only much more respectful and ecological for the person changing, it is also much easier for the change agent. When you respect all parts of the person, they all become resourceful allies, supporting and driving the change process from within, as you and the client problem-solve together to find solutions that are congruent and that will last. Then there is no need for the dramatic heroic challenge or breakthrough, which is always disrespectful, unecological, and ineffective, often harmful, and sometimes even dangerous.

*published in Anchor  Point, Volume 18, N0. 2. pp.25-43


1. Andreas, Steve. “Diffusing Reflexive Anger” (forgiveness) Phoenix AZ, Zeig/Tucker/Theisen, 1999 (A complete verbatim transcript of this session can be found online at: )

2. Andreas, Steve. Transforming Your Self: Becoming who you want to be. Moab, UT Real People Press, 2002

3. Andreas, Steve. Book Review: Whispering in the Wind, by John Grinder and Carmen Bostic St.Clair. Anchor Point, Vol. 17, No. 3 March, 2003, p. 3

4. Bodenhamer, Bobby G. “The Meta-Yes and No pattern.” Neuro-sematics web site, 2003

5. Bolstad, Richard. “Providing heroic challenges on Trainings.” Anchor Point, Vol. 17, No. 6, June-July 2003, pp. 9-20

6. Feynman, Richard, The Meaning of it All, Reading, MA Perseus books, 1998  

7. Hall, L. Michael, and Bodenhamer, Bobby G. The Structure of Excellence. Grand Junction, CO Action Printing, 1999

8. Hall, L. Michael. Meta-money: wealth building excellence. The society of neuro-semantics, Grand Junction CO 1999

(Steve Andreas sent his article to both Richard Bolstad and Michael Hall in advance of publication, in order to give them an opportunity to comment.)

A response to “Breakthroughs and Meltthroughs” by Steve Andreas

From Dr. Richard Bolstad

         What a pleasure to read Steve’s article which both extends and critiques my comments on breakthrough experiences. Those who read my article will know that I enjoy the ability of NLP to question the emperor’s new clothes, and Steve continues that process with my story about falling on a sword.

         One of the main themes of Steve’s article is that breakthrough experiences are digital and analog transitions may be more respectful of ecology as well as simply safer. He correctly challenges my use of the universal quantifier “anything” in my statement “I remind them that their success is evidence that they can do anything they decide to do.” Clearly, I do not want my students to overcommit their finances, or to stand in the way of a nuclear explosion. There is also, I agree, something rather disrespectful about the terminology of “breaking through” a limitation, if we accept that limitations were put there for a reason.

         The actual process is more like seeing the limitation disappear in front of one’s eyes, or–as Steve’s metaphor suggests–feeling it melt away. The metaphorical learning from the board-break or a ropes course is perhaps that many of our worst fears are based on perceptual mistakes. Your hand can go safely through a board, and you can walk safely a considerable distance from the ground. You can also often find a career that you love, and create a relationship that is worth living in. In each case. it is important to preserve ecology. Sometimes, that means acting decisively and totally enough to be sure of success.

         At the same time, I think there is some degree of wishful thinking in the idea that all change can be done slowly or gently. One cannot leap across a chasm a small step at a time, and it is my experience that the real world has chasms, just as a ropes course does. We do not do our students a service by trying to cover that up by finding ways that all their experiences are gradual. This may be a metaprogram difference between Steve and I. As a nurse, I have watched people facing life-or-death challenges where it seems to me that they need to make a clear, unequivocal decision, rather than do a little better than they have done. Let me give you a personal example:

         When I ran my first two NLP Practitioner trainings and NLP weekends, I was employed teaching in a state tertiary institution. I had a stable income guaranteed, and was “transitioning” to private work, by running NLP seminars on my holidays and weekends. The first trainings worked like clockwork. Many of my friends and colleagues from round New Zealand enrolled, and my very first course was actually booked out. Then I ran a weekend that didn’t attract so many people. In fact, I got about eight enrollments, so I canceled it in disgust. That was a bit puzzling.

         I had another weekend coming up though, and this one was to be videotaped by a professional video company. It was costing me a few thousand dollars, but I figured that all the best trainers had videos out, and it might be a great way to get well known. On the Thursday evening before that weekend, it finally dawned on me that I had six people enrolled, that the course had to go ahead because I’d paid for the video, and that essentially I was in trouble. For the first time, I really needed a training to work!

         That night I didn’t sleep at all–not because I was worrying; but because I was working. I thought again about who might be interested in attending this particular weekend. I listed all the possible ways to get people onto a weekend training one day away. I worked out what advertising would be needed, and who could help distribute it. I produced the adverts by hand. I left home with the adverts and began distributing them at 5.00 am on Friday. Twenty-eight hours later the training began, and it was full.

         That was the first time I actually took my business seriously. I stopped “transitioning,” stopped rehearsing, and treated it as real. I had learned that my slow, careful approach was not ecological. Of course, as Steve might point out, I still kept my day job, so in his sense I was still melting through. But there is no way I would describe that day psychologically as a melting through. It is in this sense that I hold to the value of the board-break as a metaphor.

A Response to “Breakthroughs and Meltthroughs” by Steve Andreas

From  L. Michael Hall, Ph.D.

1. In reading over the Breakthroughs and Meltthroughs article above and its critiques, I am concerned with what I perceive as numerous misrepresentations. I am left to assume due to the number of these that Mr. Andreas wants to find fault with Meta-States. I do not believe that he understands to (sic) overall context of Neuro-Semantics and its consistent emphasis on ecology, balance and systems checks that dominate the trainings where concepts like this are covered. Steve has never attended a Neuro Semantic training and this explains the lack of understand (sic) of the overall context of Neuro-Semantics and its pervasive influence (sic) on ecology, balance, mindfulness, and systems checks.

2. The Meta-State Belief Change pattern is misrepresented inasmuch it is assumed (erroneously so) that the ecology is not emphasized before we begin, we “check the ecology” of a limiting belief to make sure it is not (sic) toxic and not (sic) sabotaging.  “All the ecology is in the preparation step” is instructed in regard to this pattern.  “So make sure you choose a really great belief, one that is well-formed, balanced, and ecological.”

3. In recent trainings during 2003 in San Francisco (NLP of California), Paris (PNL Repere Center), England (John Seymour Associates), Johannesburg (Institute of Neuro-Semantics, Africa), etc. the very first thing done with this pattern is to emphasize the importance of ecology in the preparation step. This includes asking about positive intentions, meta-modeling the belief, exploring what the person means, the states that it creates, and so on.

4. From the review, he does not seem to know or realize that the Meta-Yes pattern for changing a belief is presented after we describe and discuss the meta-levels of a belief and how that differs from a mere thought. This is based on the Bateson and Korzybski distinctions about “logical levels or types” which I have written extensively about in NLP: Going Meta (2002) and in numerous articles on the Neuro-Semantic website

5. The pattern doesn’t start until we have had a conversation with a person that meta-models the limiting belief and that finds the right words for an enhancing belief, we access two primary states of confirmation and disconfirmation.  These are expressed and summarized in the words, “Yes” and “No” respectfully. (sic) That a video may exist where it appears sufficient time was not spent doing that with a given person does not mean that ecology is not emphasized. “An exception does not make a rule.”

6. There are many kinds of negation. I wrote an entire chapter on eight kinds of negations in The Structure of Excellence: Unmasking the Meta-Levels of “Sub-Modalities” (1999). The negation of “making up your mind” to stubbornly refuse something is the kind of “no” or negation that the pattern works with. And in this pattern, there is a digital shift of either/or processing that we’re working with. This is similar to the digital shift of either/or processing in Steve’s “Thresholding Pattern,” when a person goes over threshold, something snaps.

7. Without an understanding of meta-stating, of the reflexivity that exists within Meta-States, and of the levels of states, I am not surprised that the process is mis-understood, and mis-perceived thoroughly.

8. Additionally, the “incongruent no” as it is referred to, or the yes that Andreas criticizes is not “incongruent” in the way we actually work the pattern. It does not represent the hundreds of people who I encounter every year. From a presuppositional point of view, that he labels it in this way does not make it so.

9. When the Meta-No or the Meta-Yes is referred to as being used “out of context,” it again shows that it is not understand (sic) in regards to the basic meta-stating process. It is in that process that we take a thought, feeling, or physiology of a state, or a piece of that state, access it, amplify it, and then apply it into a different context. This is the heart of the meta-stating process, something we all do anyway, and what we do with intentionality, ecology, congruency, and mindfulness in Meta-States. Again, merely announcing that I “take it out of context” does not make it so.

10. The assertion that the process is digital is another misunderstanding. It is an analog process. We ask people to increasingly experience the state, to experience it more and more. That’s an analog process, not a digital one.

11. Further, the critique that we do not “respect” the intentionality of the old limiting belief shows a lack of understanding of the process, an attempt to understand the process from a very limited source and using one very old tape. This does not represent an honest seeking first to understand before critiquing.

12. Andreas inserts his understandings of words into my words and then criticizes that interpretation. “Thinking and saying” for me (and I emphasize “for me”) includes the VAK of the movie playing in the mind. That Steve doesn’t interpret it that way is perfectly fine. That he projects his meanings into my words and then criticizes his interpretations of my words saying things like “since Hall’s process is entirely verbal” is not acceptable. That conclusion is his, not mine and as a matter of fact, does not accurately represent me.

This is the end of the Anchor Point article and responses.

I had originally submitted a response to Bolstad and Hall’s responses which the editor decided not to publish. When I requested an opportunity to respond in a subsequent issue, the editor refused. Below is my response to Bolstad and Hall.- S.A.

Steve Andreas Responds:

         The two responses to my article beautifully exemplify and confirm many of the major points that I made in my article.

         Bolstad’s response is a“both/and” response, directed toward what I had written, agreeing with some sections, disagreeing with others, and giving specific contextualized examples and reasons for his views. This is the kind of respectful exchange that exemplifies a cooperative search for a broader and deeper understanding, and it is the kind of dialogue that I said was desperately needed and lacking in NLP.

         In contrast, Hall’s response is a digital, either/or response–he is right and I am wrong. The only argument that he provides to explain this difference of opinion is that what he really does is very different from what he has written in three different  books that I referred to, and what I observed in a videotaped demonstration. I have since found essentially the same description of the “Meta-Yes/Meta-No” pattern in three more of Hall’s books.

         Hall states that I have “never attended a Neuro Semantic training,” as if that were a reason to dismiss my comments about his writing and a videotaped demonstration. In fact I have watched videotapes of an entire weekend training by Hall (which included the Meta-Yes/Meta-No demonstration that I referred to). I have also attended a demonstration by Hall of his “Mind to Muscle” pattern (which was equally underwhelming).

         However, since all my comments were about his written descriptions (and a videotaped demonstration), what he says or does elsewhere is totally irrelevant. If Hall will provide me with a videotape of what he really does, I will be happy to find the time to review it.

         Writing that what he really does in seminars is very different from what he has written in six different books is a very curious argument, one that casts a long, dark shadow over all his writing!

         In addition, there are some serious contradictions in what he has written in response. In Paragraph (P) 2 he writes, “before we begin, we check the ecology of a limiting belief to make sure it is not (sic) toxic and not (sic) sabotaging.” Presumably Hall meant to describe what he does with a new empowering belief, rather than a limiting belief. This could be dismissed as a simple error, but for other, much more significant contradictions.

         In P 6, Hall writes, “And in this pattern, there is a digital shift of either/or processing that we’re working with.” However, in P 10 he writes, “The assertion that the process is digital is another misunderstanding. It is an analog process.”

         Either it is an analog process or it is not, but Hall does not notice this contradiction. There are five other indications that Hall does not read and review what he has written, indicated by a (sic) in P 1, 5, & 9.

         In P 9, Hall writes, “When the Meta-No or the Meta-Yes is referred to as being used “out of context,” it again shows that it is not understand (sic) in regards to the basic meta-stating process.” However, in the next sentence, he writes, “It is in that process that we take a thought, feeling, or physiology of a state, or a piece of that state, access it, amplify it, and then apply it into a different context,” which certainly is a description of using the Meta-No out of its original context.

         It can be useful to transfer an analog resource experience from one context to another, as in the “change personal history” pattern (but only if it is done with careful attention to ecology/congruence). It is very different to attempt to do this with a digital Meta-Yes or No, which is at a higher logical level, as Hall indicates by using the word “Meta-.” However, in P 5, he describes these states as “primary,” while as “Meta” states, they have to be secondary.

         Taken together, these errors and contradictions indicate that Hall simply does not carefully read and review what he has written, something that is characteristic of much of his other writing as well. (As a further irony, Hall teaches workshops in “Prolific Writing.”) It is interesting to speculate to what extent this lack of feedback also applies to his spoken words.

         For yet another extensive example of Hall’s confusion and lack of attention to detail, read my critique of of his article on the “kinesthetic swish” at:

         In P 2 Hall writes, “All (emphasis mine) the ecology is in the preparation step, is instructed in regard to this pattern.” I have already commented in my article that Hall’s written descriptions of this first step are severely lacking in ecology, and this was also true in the videotaped example that I reviewed. The client demonstrated a lot of hesitation in both movement and speech as well as other nonverbal incongruities, which is inherent in the use of the “neurological No” (and Yes), as I have already written.

         In addition, ecology/congruence is not something that can be done in one beginning step and then ignored. Like rapport, it must be continually checked and maintained throughout a process, and the best check is incongruity in the client’s nonverbal behavior.

         In P 6, Hall mentions two other topics: “the meta-levels of a belief, and how that differs from a mere thought,” and “eight kinds of negations,” but since Hall doesn’t say anything about how these topics are relevant to any part of my article, it is impossible to respond to them intelligently.

         In the same P 6, Hall writes of “the digital shift of either/or processing in Steve’s Thresholding pattern.” There are several different threshold patterns, but none of them are mine; Probably Hall is referring to Richard Bandler’s “Last Straw Threshold Pattern.” (1, ch. 6)  Threshold patterns are indeed digital, and because of this they must be used with great care and caution.

         In P 4, Hall mentions “the Bateson and Korzybski distinctions about logical levels or types.” Although he again does not say how that is relevant to any part of my article, I would like to comment on it. The “Theory of Types” was introduced by Whitehead and Russell (4) almost a hundred years ago, and has been used more recently by Bateson, Dilts, Hall, and others as a foundation for understanding human communication. G. Spencer Brown proved this theory unnecessary, to Russell’s satisfaction in 1967, well over 35 years ago, yet many still use this outdated theory as a basis for their conclusions.

         “The theory was, he (Russell) said, the most arbitrary thing he and Whitehead had ever had to do, not really a theory but a stopgap, and he was glad to have lived long enough to see the matter resolved.”(3)

         Russell’s pleasure at having a key theory of his corrected is a beautiful example of the scientific attitude that puts truth first, and ego last.

         Hall’s response consists almost entirely of negations of what I wrote (I count 30 of them), rather than positive alternative statements. In P 5, there is a sentence with three negations: “That a video may exist where it appears sufficient time was not spent doing that with a given person does not mean that we do not emphasize ecology.” For those who are familiar with the importance of positive outcomes and statements, it will be obvious that this statement is meaningless, since it doesn’t say what it does mean, only what it doesn’t.

         Finally, most of Hall’s responses are not directed at the substance of what I wrote, but are directed toward me, personally, and my “misunderstanding” in particular. Hall repeatedly refers to my “misrepresentations,” (P 1, 2) “(not) understand,” and “lack of understand” (sic) (P 1) “does not seem to know or realize,” (P 4) “Without an understanding,” P7 ” mis-understood, and mis-perceived thoroughly,” (P 7) “it is not understand,” (sic) (P 9) “another misunderstanding,” and (P 10) “lack of understanding.” (P11) It is as if he thinks that if he repeats this allegation often enough it will become true, even without any supporting evidence.

         It is one thing to disagree with what someone writes; it is quite another to accuse someone of “misrepresentation,” diverting attention from the real issues. While Hall accuses me of misrepresenting, mis-understanding, and mis-perceiving his work, he doesn’t present specific counter-arguments or alternative understandings which could be the basis of a productive discussion. 

         In P 1 Hall also attacks my motives, “Mr Andreas wants to find fault with Meta-States.” I do not “want to find fault” with anyone; I want to advance understanding in the field of NLP. This accusation is a further diversion from the real issues.

         In P 11 Hall goes on to write, “This does not represent an honest seeking first to understand before critiquing.” When someone disagrees with me, I can ask for more information, so that we can come to some kind of mutual understanding, but when someone calls me dishonest, that is totally beyond any legitimate discussion of issues.

         To summarize, Hall accuses me of misrepresentation, wanting to find fault, and dishonesty. Over 2,000 years ago the Romans described in detail quite a variety of fallacious arguments; one of the most well-known is Argumentum ad Hominem,  “argument directed at the man,” which is described in detail on the following link:


         I sent this link to Hall in a previous email communication in regard to my original article, but apparently he did not find it compelling.

         Personal attacks are exactly the kind of irrelevant argument that distracts from the serious practical and theoretical issues facing NLP, and prevents the exploration and resolution of the differences in understanding that different people have.

         I repeat my plea for an open, vigorous, and respectful dialogue about the theory and practice of NLP, separate from personalities, so that the “field” can take its first awkward steps toward becoming a respected branch of science.


1. Andreas, Steve; and Andreas, Connirae, Change Your Mind-and Keep the Change. Moab, UT Real People Press, 1987

2. Anonymous, “Logic and Fallacies” web site URL:

3. Brown, G. Spencer, Laws of Form, London, George Allen & Unwin, 1969 (preface, pp. viii-xi)

4. Whitehead, Alfred North; and Russell, Bertrand. Principia Mathematica, Cambridge, England, Cambridge at the University Press, 1910-13