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What is Modeling?

All throughout our lives, we have modeled behaviors. We model others on a daily basis, be it their style of dressing or their confidence while interacting with others. This process is not unique to humans only; primates like monkeys can also model behaviors and can be amusingly good at it sometimes! Humans, however, have an obsessive compulsive behaviour for modeling. If we ever like someone else’s hairstyle or a piece of furniture, we almost always tend to wish that for ourselves. The modeler, i.e the one who is modeling the behavior, may or may not be consciously aware of this process that takes place more or less constantly.

‘A man is known by the company he keeps’,

is only reinforced by the concept of modeling since we tend to learn or imbibe other’s attitudes, beliefs and values and this can happen at an unconscious level. It can be said that our ‘net worth’ or the value of our lives is dependent upon our ‘network’ i.e the people we mostly surround ourselves with.


The role of modeling in behavior change -

Albert Bandura, known for his social learning theory, has emphasised on observational learning as an important area in Psychology and behavior science. It also aims at exploring observational learning literature to understand the role of modeling in behavior change. The modeling of behavior that we do consciously or unconsciously works in four steps. In order to replicate a behavior, one must pay attention to the model. For example, in order to teach a toddler how to hold a crayon, it is necessary that he or she pays attention to the model. After that, it is necessary for the modeler to retain what they observed for them to reproduce it when need be. The child must remember how the model had held the pencil in order to do it on their own. The last step is that of motivation i.e the modeler must be motivated to reproduce the behavior in his or her environment. The toddler should have a sense of interest strong enough to pick up the crayon and scribble on a piece of paper lying in front of him or her. If these four steps are achieved, the toddler can successfully model the behavior and hold a crayon.

Modeling in NLP

NLP Modeling is the process of recreating, replicating excellence.”

It is a more intentional and systematic approach towards modeling that helps one learn new strategies. In NLP training, there are two components to NLP modeling- implicit and explicit. Implicit means the underlying processes and beliefs that guide a person’s behaviour and explicit is the outward enforcement of that behaviour. The moving of a leaf is apparent to the eye but the wind that causes the movement is the implicit which is essentially the driving force and therefore, cannot be ignored. A father, once, gave ₹10 each to two of his sons. One of them bought a chocolate, divided it into 10 pieces and sold each piece for ₹2 while the other son purchased a small expensive chocolate worth all his money and ate it immediately. Two sons, raised in the same environment, came back with different results. The innate implicit drive, to handle money in this case, simply cannot be ignored. To be able to successfully model a behaviour, it is important to take into account both the aspects. As we have now established that modeling is something commonly used by all of us, even unconsciously at times, what makes it important enough to discuss in NLP?

Advantages of Modeling


Before we process to understand the advantages of modeling behaviors, we must first realise how it is different from ‘copying’.

Modeling is a more systemic approach

which involves understanding someone’s behavior and taking it in and adding our own essence to it as we enforce it. On the other hand, copying is essentially duplicating someone else’s work as it is. This difference must be noted as what works for the other person may not necessarily work for you, or suit you. It is important to understand your own aptitude, interests and beliefs before enforcing someone else’s behaviour. A very apt example of modeling is that of Chinese food in India. We borrowed the Chinese concept but our food is nothing like theirs! It suits the tastes and preferences of the Indian population at large as it reflects our culture and practices. So, how can modeling benefit us? Firstly, it can help us improve ourselves in whichever aspect we would like. If someone else has excelled at a certain task, let’s play at public speaking, we can model them to improve our ability in the same. This would involve learning both, their oratory skills as well as social confidence. Secondly, if we are stuck in life, be it a serious problem at work or at a simple Sudoku, it always helps to consider another approach. When we model someone else’s behaviour, whose behavior has shown successful results, it is only convenient for us to model their approach and go beyond where we were stuck. The other benefit is that of learning something new and thereby challenging your neurology to explore unfamiliar arenas. Modeling is simply an easier approach to problem-solving as it works on picking up tested ways and behaving accordingly.

How do we Model?


Our model has to be a ‘genius’ in the aspect which we are interested in learning. This is where we can talk about unconscious competence, the ability to do a task without thinking such as driving a car or playing cricket. The one who produces excellence while being unconsciously competent is who we call a genius. It is not possible for this genius to teach this competence to you since it is not at a conscious level but what can be done is that the skill can be understood and passed on to another and this is where the role of an NLP modeler comes in. A genius won’t know what their strategy is either, so the NLP modeler carefully observes the model and tries to break down their approach. Indian Americans are known for winning Spelling Bee competitions year after year leaving everyone surprised. This has something to do with the spelling strategy that Indian origin children adopt wherein they visualise the spellings. The cultural context must be noted here as Indian languages are proven to be faster [more words spoken in a minute] as compared to the English language. The identification of the spelling strategy can now help others model this and improve their abilities. The NLP modeler can identify a modeler, download or inculcate the skill in himself or herself by learning the model and then demonstrate it. Our mirror neurons in the brain get activated when we observe the model and that is how we can learn the behaviour.

Framework for successful Modeling


The structured model of modeling given by John Grinder includes five steps that make the underlying framework for successful modeling. The first step is that of picking the one who has an unconscious competence in a certain area that we are interested in modeling. After identifying the genius, it is important that there is an unconscious assimilation patterning that goes on with practice in the parallel context. There should be constant back and forth between these two processes that form the core of this model. An unconscious attempt at finding the coding must be finally followed by testing the new behavior that was learnt. If the code is found while testing it, it can be said that the process of modeling has been successful. There are two prerequisites to this model that should be kept in mind throughout. The first one being that there should be an interest in acquiring the skill, only then will the learning strategy be truly inculcated or imbibed in the modeler. Secondly, there should be an established relation between the model and the modeler for a better understanding throughout the process. These are personal elements required as the NLP modeler is supposed to personally observe the model’s work before they can model it or learn it themselves and then pass it on. John Grinder and Richard Bandler decided to model Milton Erikson, a highly accomplished American Psychiatrist and hypnotist. It took ten months to understand his underlying patterns that were unconsciously stimulated with the use of feedback. They successfully managed to decode his hypnotic technique. Fritz Perls and Virginia Satir are two other geniuses in the field of therapy who were modeled by Grinder and Bandler.

What sets NLP modeling apart from analytical modeling is the suspension of any intent to understand and unconscious assimilation without filtering on the input side. This criteria can be used to replicate the competencies, skill sets and elicit from clients in parallel contents as the source i.e the genius. It is also important to reduce unnecessary things and develop the coding to such an extent that you can pass them on to others. In, NLP Practitioner course modeling can be used for self-improvement in almost all arenas of life and can help us hone the skills required for our goal-directed behaviors.


This article on 'Modeling' has been contributed by Rishika Shah, a psychology major at the St.Xavier’s College, Mumbai. She is part of the Global Internship Research Program (GIRP), which is under the leadership and guidance of Anil Thomas. GIRP is an Umang Foundation Trust initiative to encourage young adults across our globe to showcase their research skills in psychology and to present it in creative content expression.

She is the Editor for the Uncommon Sense, an official college magazine.


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