Why Can’t You? Challenge Your Assumptions

It’s important to challenge your assumptions. I’m going to give you a high-level overview of a couple of useful, interconnected conversational change strategies from NLP or neuro-linguistic programming: the meta model, and modal operators.

The Meta Model

People over-complicate the meta model. All you really need to remember is that the meta model asks simple questions that challenge assumptions and stories in our language patterns. The meta model makes people consciously aware of their assumptions, stories and beliefs so that they can begin to change them.

The meta model asks open-ended questions which are questions that don’t have a yes or no answer. These questions will naturally lead to other, deeper and better questions. This will help you dig down into your stories and excuses.

This process is often done by a coach, or some other helping practitioner because it can be difficult to be aware of your own language patterns. However, if you become aware of a phrase or some other language pattern or belief that you hold, you can do this for yourself.

Developing awareness is critical to your personal growth and development. Read this post for more information on how to develop your awareness.

An Example of the Meta Model in Action

People, myself included, often tell themselves stories about the world, and their life circumstances. Sometimes these stories reflect assumptions, limiting beliefs and excuses That stop us from achieving our potential.

This is 100% normal. People create meanings in their minds all the time. It’s how we operate.

Directly challenging these stories can be jarring, and can cause resistance. See the example below.

A – I don’t have time.

B – Of course you have time. You have the same hours in a day as everyone else.

Honestly, you’ve probably heard something like this before. With the meta model, we proceed a little differently, and that interrupts the expected pattern which makes your brain pay more attention. Please see the following example:

I don’t have time.

Questions You Could Ask

  • How do you know you don’t have time?
  • Who says you don’t have time?
  • You never have time?
  • What stops you from having time?
  • What would it mean if you had more time?You only need more time? Nothing else?
  • How could you get more time?

As you can see, the meta model is quite simple in practice. Don’t mind-fuck it, or over-complicate it. You don’t need fancy labels for each of the different types of statements or responses. All you truly need to do is to notice assumptions, and ask a gentle questions that probe for more information.

Where a direct challenge can create resistance, this technique does not. It just pushes the mind in a slightly new direction to allow us to consciously accept responsibility for the stories we’ve created in our minds. Then, and only then, can we start changing them.

Next we’re going to look more closely at model operators. Those are the rules you impose on yourself.

Modal Operators

This strategy also diminishes resistance because it does not directly challenge how a person is feeling. This is an aspect of the meta model that focuses on opening up possibilities when people shut themselves down with self-imposed rules and limiting beliefs. Please see the example below.

A – I can’t quit my job.

B – I understand you feel like you can’t quit your job right now. So tell me, what can you do?

First we agree with how the feeling, without judgement or denial. Then, we ask a soft question that reflects the statement and opens possibilities. Let’s try another example.

A – I’m not allowed to say that.

B – I understand you feel that you’re not allowed to say that. And tell me, if you were allowed, what would you do?


B – I understand you feel like you’re not allowed to say that. Tell me, what are you allowed to say?

Take a look at the cool chart below for some at-a-glance ideas. I got this chart from an EFT/TFT tapping course I’m taking on Udemy.

Modal Operators

The Next Steps

Perhaps you’re beginning to think of situations where you could apply these models? I encourage you to pay attention to conversations you have with people over the next few days. See if you can notice yourself or others making assumptions. Start practicing what you’re learning here. Particularly on yourself as you notice yourself making assumptions.

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