Dilts’ Logical Levels: The NLP Cheat Code to the Life You Want

Filed under: NLP Techniques

Never heard of Dilts’ Logical Levels? 

Let’s fix that so you can avoid missing out on what is, in our opinion, one of the most important models we can use to change our lives. You’re going to love this. Let’s dive in.

Do you have the life that you want? If not (and most of us do not), there is a good chance that you are stuck in some way. Maybe you’re stuck feeling that life isn’t fair, and that you never catch a break. Maybe you are stuck hanging around the wrong crowd. You could be stuck because you lack a critical skill, or have limiting beliefs. You could even be stuck because you use the wrong language to identify who you are.

World-famous NLP trainer Robert Dilts came up with a blueprint to help fix these problems. It’s called Dilts’ Logical Levels, and it can help you get unstuck. 

Dilts’ Logical Levels Is a Hierarchy

The model has 6 “levels” and it’s a hierarchy, which just means that every level takes in all the levels below it. We’ll explain this soon, but for now here are the six levels starting from the bottom, and working our way up. 

If you’ve ever sat down with a child to build a tower out of wooden blocks, then you understand the power of a solid foundation. And in this model, we have to do a bit of upside down thinking. The foundation is actually the top part of the hierarchy (mission and identity). These layers take in everything below them, so if you form a solid foundation (your personal mission and identity), this will control everything else.

But let’s reverse engineer the whole thing by starting at the bottom and working our way up. We’ll do this together, and by the end of this post you’ll have a solid understanding of how to actually apply this model to make your life better, and happier.

Level 1: Environment 

Our environment is the space we are located in, our surroundings. Think of all the places we move through on a daily basis, our yard, the workplace, our transportation, the devices we use, our homes, and anywhere we may stop along the way, even people we interact with. A simple way Mike Mandel describes the environment is that it includes “everything that isn’t YOU.”

If you hate your job, or the people at your workplace, that’s your environment. The same goes for your neighbors, your government, your friends, and all the other things people complain about. 

It’s really easy for people to get stuck here. When you hear people saying that “it’s not fair” or “it’s not my fault”, they are usually blaming the environment. 

When someone blames their environment, they see life as something that is happening to them rather than something they are in control of. They are at effect rather than at cause. The easy way to remember what these phrases mean is to remember that a cause leads to an effect. You want to be at cause so that you benefit from the desired effect of that cause.

How can you change your environment? Let’s look to the next level in Dilts’ Logical Levels … your behavior.

Level 2: Behavior 

The level immediately above environment is behavior. Your environment may shape what you touch and easily access but your behavior isn’t simply a reaction to our environment. Oh no … your behavior is usually the cause of your environment.

Let’s pretend you aren’t happy with your environment because the people you hang around with don’t seem to care much about you. You’re an afterthought. Or maybe you have a job and your boss under-appreciates your hard work. It’s easy to blame others, but that still leaves you feeling stuck. You’re still at effect rather than at cause. Blaming someone else doesn’t fix anything.

But you know what does fix things? Changing your behaviour! You could change the way you behave to command more respect in the current situation, or you could behave radically different by finding a new crowd, or new job. 

Changing your behavior, or adding a new behavior will automatically shift your environment (or how you feel about that environment). Can we get a high-five for some instant gratification?

Hang on a second … what do you do when you’re stuck not knowing how to change your behavior? That’s where skills and capabilities come into play.

Level 3: Skills and Capabilities

The third level, skills and capabilities, shape behavior and environment and this level is defined by Dilts as “how we have learned to do the things we do.” He continues to explain that our abilities are stored in our memories both as past experiences and also in our bodies that carry out the tasks (behaviors) in the space we occupy (environment).

It might be easier to think of “capabilities” as just “abilities”. The things that we are able to do will completely control our behavior. That makes sense, right? If we aren’t able to do something then we can’t put those abilities into action (behavior).

Let’s pretend you’re back in grade school and this one kid is bullying you. You’re stealing money from your mom’s purse so you can pay him off every month. You really don’t want to be beaten up. 

Your environment is one that includes this bully. Your behavior is to steal money to avoid being harmed, and you don’t feel so great about it. You’re stuck. 

What happens when you learn basic self-defense and assertiveness? You might never need to touch that bullying kid. But your new capabilities will give you a new, confident and assertive way of behaving. He will loser power over you, and your experience of the environment will have changed!

When you add a new skill or capability it automatically shifts your behavior AND environment. 

Level 4: Beliefs 

Your beliefs are things that you hold to be true. They may actually be true, or they may not. If you think your house is worth a million dollars even if the neighboring houses sold for much less, you probably won’t sell for true market value. If you believe you deserve to reward yourself with ice cream each evening, you’ll apply your capability to go grocery shopping and behave in alignment with your belief.

If a child believes he’s weak and unable to stand up for himself, he’ll behave in a way allows himself to be bullied. 

If you believe that your life “is what it is”, you’ll probably just let things happen and never take control of anything. 

What if you designed empowering beliefs instead? Chris Thompson took on two beliefs that radically transformed his life. First, he believes that he can learn anything (within reason). This causes him to take action and always be learning. Second, he believes that he never quits!  When you believe you won’t quit, you KEEP taking action until you get what you want. Do you think it might be useful to take on a belief like that?

When you take on new beliefs, you’re certain to develop new capabilities, which lead to new behaviors. Inevitably, this changes how you experience your environment.

Having trouble with your beliefs? Try asking yourself these two belief-buster questions.

  1. How did you come to believe that?
  2. How do you know it’s true?

Those two questions are magical. Feel free to use them on yourself or on others. And now let’s discuss how you can make a simple identity shift, which radically changes your beliefs!

Level 5: Identity

How do you identify? 

No, we don’t mean your pronouns. Instead, we mean how do you label yourself? Are you a health fanatic or “big boned”?  Are you self-sufficient, or “a victim”? Are you a take-charge kind of person or “a loser”? 

These are all just labels!

Identity is defined by Mike Mandel and Chris Thompson as “who we perceive ourselves to be, and is typically expressed with “I am” statements.”

Think back to the schoolyard bully example above. The bully may self-identify with, “I am strong, I am unstoppable, I am cool, I am in charge, I am powerful.” Where the bullied child might self-identify with statements like, “I’m weak. I am a wimp. I’m a loser.”

Press pause as we sprinkle a little hope to this story. What if the bullied child had been taught self-defense?  Then they may have statements such as, “I can handle this. I’ve got this. I am strong and capable.”

Now that you realize how important, “I am…” statements can be, I wonder how you will change your own self-talk?

Pro tip: Sometimes people label their behaviors as identities. You are not “a smoker”. You smoke. You are not “a fat person”. You are currently not behaving as required to be a fit person. You are not “a loser”, you just haven’t yet acquired the skills you need to win.

Challenge your identity statements. If they are not supporting the life that you want just throw them in the garbage and replace them with something more useful.

Your identity statements will directly affect your beliefs. A smoker won’t believe he can just change his smoking habit. A “big boned” person won’t believe he can change his food choices to alter his body shape. But now that you know better, you can throw away garbage labels!

Level 6: Mission

Our mission is our “bigger purpose” or what’s most important to us in life. It covers religious or spiritual concepts and will drive everything else in your life. 

If we reconnect with our bully one last time, we may introduce a teacher who is a part of a religion with a mission to heal both the bully and the bullied. Having that as a higher identity or mission would certainly shape how the story plays out at all levels below here. 

We don’t have a lot of conscious control over our “mission”, so we won’t go further than to identify this highest level in Dilts’ Logical Levels.

How To Apply Dilts’ Logical Levels in Your Life

Here’s how to do it. Write out the titles of the levels and fill in the identity level with an “I am” statement that captures what you want. Next, move down the levels with the assumption that your identity statement is already true. 

Here is an example of a person who wants to have more energy. (remember, that even though it starts with the environment, we actually started at the top and moved down!)

Environment

The place I am in where I will be energetic, spreading that freely and with enthusiasm. 

Behavior

I hold the door for strangers.

I smile first and intend it to bring joy/comfort/connection.

I step outside in the morning as soon as I am downstairs.

I enjoy my food and morning routines.

I jump to see if I can touch the ceiling.

I run up the stairs and enjoy any strain I feel as a sign I am getting stronger.

I use music and movement to regulate my mood

I laugh everyday

I sing everyday

I am active everyday

Skills and Capabilities

It is easy for me to wake up with energy and a smile.

I know how to make good moments in my day both for myself and others.

I know how to smile and generate a feeling of happiness no matter my environment.

I know how to look forward with excitement and create fun.

I know how to stir up enthusiasm within other and for greater causes

Values and Beliefs

This is important to me because I believe I have a responsibility to make the world a better place. I value optimism especially in the face of challenges. I believe it is easy for me to be happy and have energy so it is my duty to share that with a smile, with a laugh, with a gesture, with a compliment, with a micro act of gratitude such as holding a door at every opportunity. I will create and find these opportunities because that is important to me. I believe in spreading energy and happiness wherever I go. Energy is always available to me

Identity  

I have energy. I love life!  Standing up and moving around fills me with joy and excitement. Today is going to be great. It is easy for me to wake up in the morning because the day is new. I wonder what great things will happen for me?  I wonder what great things I will support others to see and do?  I wonder how I will make my family and friends laugh?  I wonder what I will create that I don’t know about yet?

Mission

To stay true to myself and make the world a better place through my thoughts, speech, and action.

Bonus Example

This person who wants to move past insomnia and into restful sleep.

Environment

Wherever I am when I am sleeping. This is not important as I can adjust easily in any setting. 

Behavior

I go to bed regularly during the week and choose what time I go to sleep on the weekends. I use my blue light filter on my devices. I tell myself when to roll over and go to sleep. I go to sleep. 

Skills and Capabilities

I am good at sleeping. I am good at making and following rules for myself surrounding sleep. I enjoy relaxing as I prepare for sleep. I know methods to relax my mind and body but I also don’t need them because I can decide to go to sleep and that works.

Values and Beliefs

It is easy for me to sleep. I am comfortable whenever I decide it is time to sleep. I enjoy going to sleep. I get the rest I need. I realize when I need more sleep and adjust accordingly. I can sleep anywhere on anything. If I wake up during the night, I have no trouble realizing I am awake and deciding to close my eyes and return to sleep. Going to sleep is easy. Staying asleep is easy. Sleep is good to restore my health and mental resources. 

Identity

I have healthy sleep habits.

Mission

To stay true to myself and make the world a better place through my thoughts, speech, and action.

Dilts’ Logical Levels Wrap-up

Cheat code obtained!  Yes, you still have to write it out, or speak it out loud. But isn’t that a price worth paying for an incredible life?

Just start with the identity you want to have and cascade down defining all the other levels in terms of your new identity. It will immediately become clear what action steps have been eluding you, what new skill you may like to add, or maybe you understand just how much control you have over your environment by jumping in at the other levels. 

What’s Next?

If you want to feel better and design a better life then we make sure to check out our Personal Growth Membership. This is our flagship program for personal change. You’ll become a powerful communicator and develop influential powers beyond what you realized was possible. You’ll change your life for the better, and it costs less than a family pizza dinner.

Video: NLP Logical Levels and How To Use Them