In this month’s blog, I’m sharing a number of foundational principles that will upgrade your life and enable you to achieve greater personal excellence…

What does it take to be in a place of personal excellence?  For me there are some principles that I find to be incredibly helpful, and these are the NLP presuppositions – so called, because when we presuppose them to be true, then we operate from a much more resourceful state.

#1 The map is not the territory

In other words, our interpretation of reality is like a map – it’s a representation that we’ve created from the information we receive through our senses.  There are millions of bits of information coming at us at any given point in time, so we filter and categorise that information in order to make it more manageable.  Some information is distorted, some is deleted, and the rest is processed through a set of filters such as our beliefs and our preferences.

The map that I create will not be the same as your map, but that doesn’t mean one of us is right and the other is wrong.  Knowing this leads us nicely into the next presupposition…

#2 Respect the other person’s map of the world

Our map of the world is basically how we see and interpret what’s going on around us, and no two people see and experience things in exactly the same way.  Our interpretation is informed by our values and beliefs, our preferences and our past experiences.  Knowing this enables us to be curious about the other person’s map – why are they reacting in this way to that event?  How can we communicate in a way that will resonate more with their map?  It also helps us to understand and adjust own maps so that we have a more useful model of our world.

#3 We have all the resources we need

…or we can create them.  Our resources can be internal to ourselves, such as our skills and capabilities, or they can be external, for example, through other people.  And one resource we all have is the ability to ask for help.

As a coach, it’s really important that I operate from this presupposition.  My clients are incredibly resourceful and it’s my job to help them tap into that.  People are not unresourceful but they can get themselves into unresourceful states.

#4 The meaning of your communication is the response you get

If you’re the kind of person who gets easily frustrated when someone doesn’t understand what you’re saying, then this presupposition is definitely for you!  It essentially means that your intention counts for nothing – it’s all about how your message is received.  If it’s not as you intended, then it’s down to you to change your communication rather than being puzzled or annoyed by the reaction of your audience.

#5 People are not their behaviour

Behaviour is something you do, not something you are.  Calling a child engaging in naughty behaviour a “naughty child” may be grammatically correct, but it’s putting their behaviour at an identity level, which has more of a permanence to it than the transitory nature of their actions.

Behaviour is much easier to change than identity, so be careful of the labels you may be attaching to yourself or to others!

By making this separation between the person and their behaviours, you can look past the behaviour to the person and work from there to resolve any issues.

#6 There’s no such thing as failure, only feedback

All outcomes are achievements in some way.  It’s said that Thomas Edison tried over a thousand different ways to make a lightbulb.  When asked what it felt like to fail a thousand times, Edison replied that he didn’t, the lightbulb was an invention with a thousand steps.

Seeing a “failed” attempt as an opportunity for feedback helps you to work out what to do differently next time.  It’s also a very liberating reframe if you’re the type of person who won’t start something because you fear you’ll fail.

#7 Every behaviour is motivated by a positive intention

This can be a bit of a stretch to accept, especially when we consider that some behaviours are utterly appalling by our own standards.  However, the positive intention is from the other person’s perspective – so their behaviour is meeting some kind of need that they have.

Appalling behaviours aside, what this means is that we can be more forgiving of ourselves when we realise a behaviour we now regret was, at the time, fulfilling a positive intention for us.  And we can be more understanding of the behaviour of others.  People are doing the best they can with the resources they have.

#8 Resistance is a sign of lack of rapport

Rapport is essentially a sense of connection.  When we are in rapport with someone, it means we have understanding and empathy and even a shared common purpose.  It doesn’t, however, mean that we have to agree!  Building rapport is done through skilful communication and it has the effect of reducing resistance.  A skilled communicator recognises that non-verbal communication forms a huge part of their message and will use all communication means available to them.  Presupposition #4 ties in very nicely with this one.

#9 You cannot not communicate

Every behaviour, even being silent, is a form of communication.  Humans begin communicating on an unconscious level as soon as they perceive one another.  This might seem like an odd one to include in my list of presuppositions, but it’s one that I’ve come to realise is very meaningful for someone like me…an introverted people-watcher!  In other words, I tend to hang back and observe situations as if I’m invisible, but clearly I’m not and I’m often surprised when people question the expression on my face (the one that I think is just neutral but it obviously isn’t!).

#10 You are in charge of your mind, and therefore your results (and I mine)

This one is all about personal responsibility and being “at cause”.  Whatever I do and however I feel is down to me – as soon as I start putting that onto other people, I am effectively giving my power away and living “at effect”.  According to Viktor Frankl, our last human freedom is to choose our own attitude and our own way, whatever the circumstances.  Conversely, this principle also reminds us that other people’s thoughts and actions are ultimately their choice.

#11 Flexibility is the key to success

My final presupposition is taken from the Law of Requisite Variety in Systems Thinking: the system or person with the most options and behavioural choices will control the system.  In other words, being able to see options and adapt your thinking and your behaviours will enable you to have more influence in any situation.

This can be beautifully illustrated with the following example.  When the world when into the pandemic lockdown a few years ago, two cake shop owners reacted differently.  One couldn’t see how their business could survive if everyone was stuck at home and so they shut down.  The other, realising that people would still want cakes, re-thought their business model and went online, making cakes at home and posting them out to customers.


The presuppositions shared above are the ones I learned on my NLP Practitioner training.  If you Google the subject, you will invariably find different versions.  There’s just one more that I would like to include in my list:

#12 Anything can be accomplished if the task is broken down into small enough steps

Progress is progress no matter how minimal!


If you would like some help in your own journey towards personal excellence, please get in touch.

As a Personal Excellence Coach, I believe everyone has the power to achieve greatness, and every business has the right to employ great people!

Every day is a chance to grow, to learn and to be better than yesterday.