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"As if" is an extremely common Neuro-linguistic programming presupposition (technically often called a "frame" or context reframe), which draws upon Hans Vaihinger's 1911 paper Philosophie des Als Ob ('Philosophy of As If').
The intent of this frame is to make it easier for a person to explore possibilities and ideas internally, which would usually not be as available to them due to their limiting beliefs about themselves or others. The specific effect sought is to allow a person's limiting beliefs to be temporarily set aside for the purpose of exploring alternate possibilities, without having to threaten or challenge their existing conceptual world-view in the process.
Thus "as-if" is a commonly-used facilitator in NLP, to allow more rapid work and information gathering, without loss of quality, and a technique that may be used to reduce or avoid internal resistance. The limiting beliefs thus avoided can be returned to later if useful. Often the "as-if" frame alone is enough to encourage a person to start to imagine ways they could move beyond their present limits.
- I can't tell my partner how I feel
- But if you could, what would you want them to know?
- The client will typically at this point move away from "I can't", towards either discussing the heart of the problem (rather than just a blanket denial of their ability to solve it), or – more commonly – they will start to identify what they would wish to say and spontaneously begin to consider ways that it could be said. Either would be seen as a positive step towards the client learning to solve their own problem.
This can be done even more directly:
- I don't know anyone who could memorize this poem
- But if they could, how do you think they might do it?
- Well, I suppose they would.....
- Again the intent of an "as-if" frame is to move beyond a flat denial of capability and knowledge, and engage instead a creative approach to consider ways it might be achievable or the wider nature of the problem. This is often called a generative approach, as it encourages the client to brainstorm and generate new ideas without reference to possibly inappropriate prior assumptions of inability.
The "As-if" frame is also used to improve communication.
- It may not be true that meaning is in the eye of the recipient. It may be that the recipient is mistaken. But if you work on the basis that the recipient's understanding of what you say (and not yours) is the important one, it will guide you to communicate in a way that gets the actual message across and heard, even if linguistic gymnastics [ie flexibility] are needed to do so.
- This is summed up in the NLP saying, The meaning of your communication is the response you get. If you act as if what matters is what they perceive you said, not what you actually said, then it is likely [although not definite] your communications will become more effective.
A last example of the therapeutic use of an "as-if" frame encouraging someone to reconsider their view of reality is an anecdote in the book Trance-Formations':
- NLP practitioner: "The question isn't why do you drink. The real question is, what would you do if you didn't? (p.164)".
- The lady, an alcoholic, contacted the speaker some time later saying I think that is the most beautiful question in the world, later admitting she had in fact been intending suicide beforehand due to her alcoholism but instead now had not been able to stop thinking about this question.
Possible alternative NLP procedures
Alternative fallbacks if a client continues to feel unable to identify new ideas, might include a variety of methods including:
- The presupposition "What stops you?" [presuposes something specific is stopping them which can be identified and considered],
- Looking for role models "Who else might know?",
- Testing whether there is a generalized belief of impossibility "Could there be anyone who could do it?",
- Looking for secondary problems (things that mean it cannot safely be considered) "So what would happen if you did?",
- Search for counter-example "Has there ever been a time you could...?",
- Search for potential internal conflict "Is there a part of you that would have a problem doing that?"
- Search for additional positive motivational leverage "What else would you get if you could?"
- Open up the question to admit broader kinds of solution from other perceptual positions such as third parties "If your wife was here, what might she say you weren't seeing?"
- Reorienting the client to view the issue more from a future perspective, such as the double question "How would it feel if you could find a way?" followed by "And how might you get that?"
- Direct request to the client to overlook for a time, their denial, and consider making a small step instead "And if you could find a way to get there anyway, what might you have to do first?"
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