NLP, Thought Viruses, and Memes

NLP Memes and Thought Viruses

`Memes’ are the smallest units of cultural meaning. A meme is a unit that
carries cultural ideas, behaviors, or styles from one person to another in a
culture. Memes carry cultural ideas, symbols, and practices that are
transmitted from one mind to another through writing, language, gestures,
rituals, or other means that can be imitated. Memes are thought to function
like `genes’ in that they self-replicate, mutate, and respond to pressures.

The word `meme’ goes back to the Greek and simply means to imitate or mimic.
The term was coined by evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins in his book, The
Selfish Gene, to describe how ideas spread across cultures. Examples include:
catchy melodies, phrases, fashions, and technologies including arch building.  For example, arches in European architecture were made a particular way for centuries.  Although early versions of the arch date back as early as 1850BC in what is now Israel, and back to 200 AD in Teotihuacan, just north of modern day Mexico City, when the Romans discovered the full potential of the arch, arch building transformed quickly and show in bridges, gates, aqueducts, and large vaulted buildings.

Where Have You Heard About Memes Before

You have probably heard of `memes’ before now.  A few years ago the concept of
‘memes’ was made popular by internet website marketers.  You wanted `sticky
website pages’ that attracted people.  What made them sticky was memes.  Memes helped webpages become easy to navigate, and created ideas that, in turn, captured attention and imagination. These memes were  ideas that people would talk about and blog about and spread into culture.  Brand names are memes. Coca-Cola, Nike is a meme for buying a tennis shoe and it’s slogan ‘Just Do It!’ is an other meme.

Malcolm Gladwell’s book The Tipping Point told stories about how products reached a point of no return like a scale that has finally tipped. For example, Hush Puppies shoes had fallen out of popularity until a young man in New York bought a pair, liked them, and began to get his friends to buy them.  Soon the brand had reached a `tipping point.’  The fashion was the meme, and it caught on; at least for a while.  Remember mini-skirts?  And what about bell-bottom pants ?  Apparently memes can lie dormant for periods of time and resurface.

Map Is Not The Territory Meme

When I have a coaching client, I want to map the territory, so to speak, of the limiting behavior that has prevented success in some area of a client’s life. I am looking for existing `memes’ that could be expressed as a `belief.’ Once I have a good map of the person (territory represented) the map is generally predictive. If we run scenarios out into the future, the problem behavior will
generally cause more and more suffering and possibly destructive behavior.

As my client becomes conscious of the cost of the old behavior, I ask him or her to access new choices that could be used in place of the old ones.  The client manufactures a new `meme’ or positive `thought virus.’  The more pictures one makes of the future that incorporate the new meme, the more his or her mind begins to sort for the many ways in which the meme will express itself.

Here’s a great meme to consider. “What a mind focuses on is what it creates.”  People who are focused on what they don’t want anymore are still focused on the old behavior.  So, what do they create?  More of the same, of course. As soon as a well-designed and placed meme begins to replicate in various contexts in a person’s brain and nervous system, the more the new wanted behavior becomes habitual and is automatic.

The new meme in this scenario is simply the goal that has been set, or as NLP Practitioners prefer to call it, the ‘outcome’ set.  The more representations made in a person’s mind the more definition there is around the new desirable behavior.  When my client sees herself in the new future in vivid detail the more `sticky’ the neurological glue for creating the pathways through the brain and nervous system that are necessary to achieve and maintain the result or desired outcome.

Could It Be That Simple

In a way, it really is just that simple. I hear the question or more often see the look on a clients face that says, “Really, and just because we thought about it in just this order, I am going to suddenly behave differently.”  I am clear by this time in a session that the meme is already set and working.

My answer is usually, “I wonder?  Well if you are like most of my clients, you can check right now and notice that when you think the old way of doing things, you notice you don’t have the same feeling about it anymore.”  That’s really interesting.  “So, keep checking.  An hour from now you’ll check and find that the feeling is still really different and few hours after that, check again and find that the feeling is different now.

Then, you’ll find yourself in a situation where you know that you would have had the old reaction to it before, but now the event occurs and you simply have more you choices about your behavior.”  Notice that I am cementing the `meme’ with my suggestions about the future and the more my client experiences feeling differently about things, the more the new behavior is in place and the more the meme will be maintained over time.  Amazingly, the experience is generally permanent.  Slightly different belief memes are seeded to support maintenance and
permanence.

Chances are that you have made some connections in your mind about the value of using memes as you have been reading this short article.  That is the purpose of the meme.  Sometimes connections are predicable and sometimes an individual will make wholly other connections than what you expected when you designed your communication with a person you have been communicating with.  In structuring ‘memes,’ just remember that “the meaning of your communication is the response you receive.”  Your intention is not the message.  Make sure to communicate in a way that makes sure what you said is what got heard.

Metaphors Can Carry Memes

Milton Erickson was a medical doctor who got very interested in hypnosis and basically took the study and application of hypnosis out of the dark ages with his approach to being ‘artfully vague’ in giving suggestions.  He would tell stories designed to cause a patient to make connections, but he left it up the patient to make the connection on his or her own over whatever period of time necessary for the thought virus to work.  The meaning of his stories was not always immediately perceived.  Some patients reported ‘getting it’ months later.  Others just noticed that they started to behave differently and could not understand consciously why the change had occurred.  In smoking cessation, for example, man reported that after an hour of stories, he was walking out of Erickson’s office and was already down the hall when he realized that they had forgotten to talk about his smoking problem. But, in a few days he said he notice himself smoking less, and at about 3 weeks realized he had not smoked at all in a few days.  The meme or suggestion worked easily and behind the scenes in the man’s unconscious mind.  How’s that for an elegant solution and use of memes?

Let’s install some more memes to support the memes you are already experiencing. “What you vividly imagine, is as if it had been the actual experience.”  Research has been done around this concept.  There are specialized neurological cells called `mirror cells’ in our nervous systems that predispose us to imitating experience.  A boy outside the glass window throws a baseball.  The boy hooked up to electrodes to his head is sitting still inside the room lights up almost exactly the same as pathways through the brain as the boy physically experiencing throwing the ball.

In a famous study of urban elementary school students by Predebon and Decker (1992), subjects showed dramatic improvement in basketball free throw shooting compared to a ‘non-imagery group’ of students, when they practiced a mental ‘imagery routine prior to testing at the free throw line.  In the imagery routine group students vividly imagined shooting perfect free throws. Researcher found that the more color, clarity, and realness that was imagined, the better the
performance. What was vividly imagined translated to real-time ability. Also notice that using the High Impact Technique of the research findings above will affect how strongly I am presenting to you works and replicates.

So, what memes do you want to propagate into your mind today and into the minds of people in your family, in your immediate community, and about your business?  I am committed, for example to infecting the world with a meme shared by others in the NLP community; the possibility of building a culture in my world to which people want to belong.  Won’t you please help spread the infection?

By Bill Thomason