Neuro Linguistic Programming in the Outdoors

Whether you are a hill walker, climber or mountaineer we all have times when our mind doesn’t quite seem to be on our side.

Neuro Linguistic Programming is all about getting the mind on your side when you need it most! Sometimes it is intuitive, but it is often when we need to control what’s going on the most that we are let down.

Have you ever found yourself in a situation in the mountains where things are becoming a little challenging? Perhaps you have been on top of a mountain and then suddenly the cloud comes in. You knew where you were, you were sure of it, but you’d been chatting away to the group for a while and it seemed like you’d walked further than you should have. Have you ever heard that little voice inside start to question whether you are right? Some of you will easily dismiss that voice, but if you’ve ever allowed that voice to get a little louder you will know that it does not do much for your performance or your ability to concentrate and actually navigate off the mountain.


NLP is about controlling these moments and turning them round to put you in the best possible mental state to do what you need to do. I call it Managing the Head Game.

How does NLP help?

NLP has developed techniques that can be used in many different situations to help you get the most out of your own capacity to think. Psychology and NLP are of course closely linked and there is increasing evidence to show how visualisation techniques and positive language skills can have a dramatic impact on performance in both the short and long term.

Managing the Head Game on Assessment

Many outdoor practitioners work towards assessments of various kinds and I know from personal experience that keeping the focus for five days while under assessment can be a nerve racking business. No one can be at their absolute peak for five days solid, can they? Maybe not for every minute, but you can for every minute that counts! Keeping the focus is about knowing what to focus on. Our conscious mind can process about seven pieces of information, give or take two. The unconscious part of our brain, however, is huge in comparison. We are running automated programmes all the time in our unconscious to achieve all sorts of goals. The unconscious mind is considered to be a goal seeking system, and one that you can communicate with through conscious thought. You have to programme your unconscious to pass the assessment! Now if this sounds a bit mumbo jumbo to you, then relax, because...

Most of us do this type of programming all the time.

“What you think about, you bring about”

This quote is a perfect example of how we can communicate with the unconscious. For example, imagine you are in the café after a long day on the hill with a mug of tea in front of you. You only have to think about picking up the mug in order to initiate a complex set of muscles in your arm to coordinate with visual information and delicate fine motor control in order to achieve the goal. If you’d had to process all that consciously it would have been impossible, but the unconscious part of your brain completed the task with seemingly little effort. Now think of a time when you were particularly worried about spilling your tea down your new jacket, and it seemed that the very act of thinking it, made it happen?! Well, that isn’t just Sod’s Law. It is about priming. The more you thinking about spilling your tea the more your unconscious hears ‘spill your tea’. The unconscious does not process negation, just the key points. You must tell yourself what you want to achieve, not what you do not want. “What you think about, you bring about”.

Stating goals in the positive gives your unconscious what it is supposed to be focusing on. So for example, “I am a Mountain Leader”, “I am great at navigating” “I can lead VS” are all very straight forward ways of programming the mind to achieve the goal you desire.


Amazingly you will often hear people say things like, “I really hope I pass because I can’t face doing a reassessment” or “as long as I only get deferred and don’t actually fail”. This kind of worst case scenario preparation unfortunately greatly increases the likelihood of it coming true. State what you want, not what you do not want. Even if your conscious mind does not believe it’s possible, you might be surprised at what you can actually achieve. This is not just positive thinking, it is focused programming of the brain to achieve a goal.

Mentally preparing your clients You can choose to be more subtle when working to influence others positively. Alluding to the outcomes or goals you have in mind rather than necessarily stating them can work better if you feel people are not ready for your suggestions. For example, if you are building your group up to a bigger day on the hill later in the week, which will require them to move faster than they have been, be particularly nimble on their feet and go a lot further than they have so far, then you could prime them for speed, nimbleness and endurance. You might do this by telling them stories throughout the week related to those objectives. So you may tell them about the mountain goats that you often see ably navigating steep terrain or point out a swift that flies past; discuss a friend who recently did a marathon or mention the jets that frequently fly through the mountains. Mention, discuss, recount anything that is connected to speed, nimbleness and endurance. You can even go for things that sound like those words. The brain will pick up on them. It’s not magic, it’s just psychology. Providing you have judged that the objective is within the physical capabilities of the group this technique can prime them to think in line with your objectives. It puts them in the right frame of mind and therefore can aid motivation and help reduce psychological barriers they may have about their physical ability.

Want to know more? NLP is about developing different ways to manage the mind and to engage effectively with others. So whether you are looking to develop rapport to ensure future business, engage and motivate challenging clients or manage your own and others anxiety to enhance performance, I hope you will have found something useful in this brief introduction into NLP for the outdoor practitioner. For more information, look out for Managing the Head Game workshops or try reading one of the numerous books on NLP that exist.

Written by Clare Mason Newset Training . Clare is running a workshop at the MTA Conference 2013

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