Have you ever wondered what it would be like to see the world through someone else’s eyes? Or how you would feel if you could step out of your own shoes and observe yourself from a distance?
These are not just hypothetical questions, but actual exercises that can help you improve your self-awareness, empathy, objectivity, and problem-solving skills. They are called perceptual positions, and they are one of the most useful techniques in neurolinguistic programming (NLP).
In this post, you will learn:
- What perceptual positions are and how they work
- How to use perceptual positions to increase your self-confidence
- How to learn more NLP techniques for personal growth and development.
What are perceptual positions?
The way you view the world and the way someone else views the world is entirely different. Of course, everybody understands this simple concept, but not in the way we are about to explain it.
According to NLP, there are 3 different ways a person can perceive their reality. They are called perceptual positions.
Unknowingly, you jump in and out of each of the three positions throughout your day. The best part is that anyone is able to jump into these three positions whenever you want!
Each of the different perceptual positions has their own pro’s and con’s. By shifting between these positions, we can gain more self-awareness, empathy, objectivity, and insight into any situation or relationship.
While the 3 perceptual positions sound like you have to physically move somewhere, that’s quite the opposite. These individual positions are all inside of your mind and are the way you view reality.
With that said, let’s dive in!
Position 1 - The “I” Position (Ego)
This self position is where you are able to feel your emotions the most. When you are within the “I” position, you are fully encapsulating yourself within your body and viewing the world through your own eyes.
In other words, you are in your skin looking through your own eyes, and are aware that it is you who is experiencing reality in that moment.
When you are in this position, you are owning your emotions and taking responsibility for them.
If you are in 1st position, you’ll use “I” or “I am” statements quite a lot.
“When I am feeling X…”
“I like X…”
“I would enjoy X…”
In a therapeutic setting, having the client use “I” statements can help them fully embrace how they feel and take responsibility for their emotions. This can help them become clear on goals and take part in the process.
If someone is stuck in position 1, meaning it’s difficult for them to jump into other perceptual positions, you’ll know it for certain.
These types of people can seem narcissistic, where they constantly talk about themselves, make everything about them, and fail to consider other points of view.
Note: The technical term is “dickishness.” Also, as a bonus, the scientific name for someone stuck in position 1 is “dickus-knoggin-narcissus.”
In other words, being stuck in position 1 can kind of make you seem like a dick.
Position 2 - Empathy
Second position is all about others and is called the position of empathy.
We want to be clear though, empathy and sympathy are completely different.
Sympathy is when you feel sorry for someone else and is from a place of needing to comfort. Empathy though is embodying how the other person may be feeling as though we are them.
Simply put, empathy is about feeling the other person’s feelings.
Experienced therapists are naturally able to move into second position when working with clients. This gives them the resources needed to be able to mentally place themselves in their clients shoes and really consider how they must be feeling in their situation or circumstance.
Being empathetic can build strong rapport and connection with other people, especially when working with others therapeutically or in a coaching relationship.
Empathy = Caring
It isn’t all puppy dogs and rainbows though. Being stuck in position 2 can have some negative effects on your life.
If you are stuck in the position of empathy, you’ll make everything about other people. You probably experience feeling like a doormat or let people walk all over you.
Being in this position can be difficult to say “no” to other people because you are always gauging your response based on the emotional level of the other person.
In other words, if you are stuck in position 2, you are probably a really caring and compassionate person, which is also one of your biggest downfalls. You’ll do just about anything to make others happy, even if it means sacrificing your own feelings.
It’s great to dip in and out of second position, but allowing yourself to return to first position can help quickly remedy being stuck in empathy.
Position 3 - They and Them
Imagine having a camera somewhere above you, like a wall or maybe the corner of the ceiling. Imagine that camera is pointing down at you and looking at you reading this blogpost.Imagine you are now looking through the lens of that camera, watching yourself through the camera reading this blog post.
You have just successfully dissociated, which is exactly what position 3 is in neurolinguistic programming. The third position is about they and them.
When a person is dissociated or external, it’s difficult to feel or attach emotion. This is great because it allows a more objective view.
If you saw a few people sitting at a table having a conversation and they were complete strangers to you, then you wouldn’t have any specific feeling about them, would you? Position 3 allows you to look at a certain situation or circumstance in the same way you would look at two strangers sitting at a table.
The unfortunate thing though is if you spend a lot of time in third position you can appear cold and distant or uncaring.
How to use perceptual positions to boost your self-confidence
As we explained earlier in this blog post, one of the great benefits of using perceptual positions is that you can switch between them whenever you need to. This gives you more flexibility and choice in how you perceive yourself and others in different situations.
Most of the time, our true potential is limited by our own perception of ourselves and what we’re able to achieve. This happens when we get stuck in the first position and only see ourselves from our own perspective. You might have negative thoughts or beliefs about yourself that prevent you from achieving your goals or expressing your capabilities.
In the video extract below from our Brain Software Podcast, Mike and Chris discuss how moving into different perceptual positions can help you assess your confidence and capabilities.
By moving into the second and third positions, you can see yourself from different angles and realize what you are truly capable of. You can also get feedback and support from others who see you in a positive light.
For example, imagine that you have to give a presentation at work and you are feeling nervous and insecure. You might think that you are not good enough, that you will make mistakes, or that people will judge you harshly.
Now, try to switch to the second position and imagine that you are one of your colleagues or friends who is watching your presentation. How do they see you? What do they appreciate about you? What do they admire about your skills and knowledge? How do they encourage you to do your best?
Next, switch to the third position and imagine that you are a neutral observer who is watching the whole scene from a distance. How do you see yourself and the others? What do you notice about your body language, voice, and content? What do you notice about the reactions of the audience? How do you evaluate your performance objectively?
By doing this exercise, you might discover that you have more strengths and resources than you thought. You might also realize that the situation is not as scary or difficult as you imagined. You might feel more confident and prepared to face the challenge.
Now you know what perceptual positions are and how to use them to boost your self-confidence. You have learned how to switch between the first, second, and third positions to gain more insight, empathy, and objectivity in any situation.
But this is just the tip of the iceberg. There is so much more you can learn and do with NLP. NLP is a powerful tool for personal growth and development that can help you achieve your goals, overcome your challenges, and unleash your potential.
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