Meta-Programs – Patterns of Motivations

Meta Programs

Meta-Programs are individual patterns through which we experience the world. There is so much information available that we simply cannot take it all in and so we choose what fits with our personal experience. For example, think of a glass full of water and imagine drinking half of it. Some people will say that the glass is now half full, some, half empty. Essentially, some people notice what is positively there, others what is missing, and both ways of looking at things are useful. Most people tend to favour one way or the other.

First notice by Richard Bandler and John Grinder through behavior and then Lesley Cameron Bandler organized them so we could do something with them.

There are many categories of meta-program and it is useful to spend some time thinking about your own language and view of the world. You will probably have preferred ways of doing things, or sometimes you may behave a certain way in a particular situation, and differently in another. The following categories are particularly relevant when considering what language to use to influence people. If you use the same or similar language you will be matching their Meta-Programs.

Couple of examples of would be:


  • Towards people are motivated to achieve goals – attain, obtain, have, get, achieve
  • Away From people are motivated to solve or avoid problems – avoid, get away from, solve, prevent

Towards Characteristics:

  • Has clear goals, is motivated to get or to have things, to achieve, to attain
  • Moves towards what they like/want
  • Prioritises things
  • Has trouble recognising what should be avoided
  • Often ignores negative consequences and fails to notice details going wrong
  • Motivated by incentives or “carrot”.

Towards Linguistic Indicators:

  • Talk about gaining, achieving, accomplishing, obtaining, having, getting. Tell you what they want
  • Talk about things, people or situations they want to include.

Away From Characteristics:

  • Easily recognises what should be avoided
  • Moves away from, steers clear, avoids, gets rid of things they don’t like or want
  • Motivated by threats or “stick”
  • Has a tendency to focus on problems and what can, has, or might, go wrong
  • Has trouble working with priorities
  • Has difficulty formulating objectives.

Away From Linguistic Indicators:

  • Talk about what they don’t want, and what they don’t want to happen
  • Talk about situations to be avoided, people and things to be exclude. Tell you what they will stay away from, get rid of, avoid.


  • Internal people set their own standards and decide for themselves – ‘I’m satisfied, I know when I have done a good job, only you can decide’
  • External people take external standards to decide whether they have done a good job – ‘I need feedback, so and so thinks, others will notice, my clients are pleased’.


Provide their own motivation from within and they decide on the quality of their work.

Internal Characteristics:

  • They often have difficulty in accepting negative feedback and will often question the opinion or judge the person giving the feedback
  • Tend to rely on their own criteria, evaluations, and judgements as validation and the source of authority and evidence come from the inside
  • Evaluate things on the basis of what they think is appropriate
  • Use their own feelings to know what they think is appropriate
  • Use their own feelings to know that they have done a good job
  • Evidence comes from the inside for verification and validation of how they have done and how they are doing
  • Decide that they have done a good job based on their own subjective criteria
  • Provide their own motivation
  • Are convinced when you appeal to things they already know through their own experience.

Internal Linguistic Indicators

  • • Tell you what they decide
  • • They will say that they just know it. “It feels right”. “I feel it inside”. “I decide”. “I feel satisfied about it”
  • • They resist when someone tries to tell them what is right for them or when someone tries to decide for them.


When people are using “External Reference” they rely on other people’s evaluations and judgements. The source of authority and evidence comes from external sources. They use external standards and feedback to develop their own opinions. Validation is sought from the outside, and via external approval.

External Characteristics:

  • Require direction from other people
  • Tend to draw conclusions based primarily on the other person’s reactions
  • Let other people make decisions about what to do and how to do it
  • Have to ask other people what they think of their work. They rely on others to tell them when they’ve done a good job (use the other person’s criteria)
  • Find out what they should do by asking other people
  • Conform to other people’s beliefs.

External Linguistic Indicators

  • They tell you that they know something because other people or outside information and/or external sources tell them
  • For example “someone has to tell me”. “My friends tell me”. “I get a reward”. “The facts speak for themselves”. “This is the way it is”
  • They may describe incoming information as if that information is a decision
  • They often respond to a suggestion, query or an idea as though it were an imperative, an order, or a decision.

This is just some of the meta- programs we can track, for more information it is recommended that you book onto one our NLP Practitioners.

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