Meta Programs: How to Adjust Your Thinking for Better Results

When you identify the things that drive your behavior, you can find the aspects that hold you back.

The term meta program comes from Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP). Meta, meaning over or above, indicates that these programs in our mind rule over factors like decision making and perceptions. In that way, they run in the background of our minds to influence what we do and believe. They act as filters that shape our reality. The implications of this are far reaching.

Context, Conflict and Change

In many ways our meta programming is similar to different forms of personality typing (from Myers-Briggs to astrology and many more). But NLP makes a few key distinctions. One is the idea that meta programs are largely contextual. That means you can operate off of one program in a certain situation and another in a different situation. Where people run into problems is when a meta program is driving all of their behavior and they have no flexibility to operate differently. In certain contexts this can cause problems. The differences in meta programs between two or more people can be one of the biggest sources of conflict in relationships or business. It is apparent when two people can’t understand how another person thinks a particular way.

Another key distinction is that we’re not stuck with these programs. They can be changed. More often then not, people choose not to change, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be done. Changing a meta program can be as simple as bringing awareness to it and opting to see through a different perspective. This can be easy if you already have experience with different ways of looking at things. But if you don’t have this ability, seeing different perspectives can be tremendously difficult. It can feel like your brain just isn’t wired to think that way, and you can’t even understand how other people might do it.

As this website is focused on fitness I’m going to take a couple meta programs (out of the sixty-plus that exist according to NLP) to explore within that context:

Motivation Direction

This is a big one. There are two sides to it, but that doesn’t mean you’re one or the other, as a full continuum lies between. You can be all on one side, skewed towards it, or somewhere near the middle.

Towards: A person that has a towards motivation direction moves towards things that they want. They are the goal setters (and achievers). They focus on what they want. In the context of fitness this may mean they want to achieve a goal of running a marathon, lifting a certain weight, or competing and winning.

Away From: A person with an away from motivation moves away from the things they don’t want. A larger percentage of the population (estimated at roughly 70%) operates more from this direction than from towards. They focus on what they don’t want. In the context of fitness, they’ll be driven to not be fat, not to not be out of shape, or not to be weak.

Most people exercise with away from motivations for health and looking good (because its more about not feeling or looking bad, than about feeling and looking good). But the people who are the fittest are all towards driven. They often think in terms of performance goals.

If you fall into the away from camp, realize that the situation must become bad enough before you actually do something about it. Many people never even think about exercising until they look at themselves in disgust in the mirror one day. All the people that preach “positive thinking” don’t realize that a negative motivation like this can be the greatest way to propel people forward. Of course, you don’t want to become stuck there, but it can be a useful starting place.

Take a look at your motivations right now and see whether you are moving towards something you want or away from something you don’t want.

Decision Factors

Another meta program has to do with change or the lack of it. Again you can be far off to one side or somewhere in the middle.

Sameness: A person acting out of sameness does not like change. He will also perceive the relationships between two or more things in terms of what is the same between them. In the context of training, this means he will be happy to stick to a routine for a long time. Even when he does change, those changes will be small. A person who is very sameness oriented wouldn’t have a problem doing the same workout over and over again. This can be great in that it involves consistency, but it can be a problem if it turns to stagnation. The problem becomes that in doing the same workout over and over, there is no progress to trigger the body to adapt and change.

Differences: On the flip side, you have a person who likes change. She perceives the differences between the relationships of two or more things. She may also be what is called a mis-matcher, in that she will always go in an opposite way to what is said, because she must be different. A difference-oriented person may have a problem staying consistent with training. She’ll be likely to get caught up in “shiny object syndrome,” moving from bodyweight exercises one week, to kettlebells the next, then to powerlifting or something else. While she needs to learn to stick with things for a period of time to get results, she will also need to satisfy her need for change. It could be just one exercise done at the end that is new and different for fun. It could also mean radical changes to the routine every once in awhile.

Being somewhere in the middle, slightly skewed towards sameness, would probably give you the best results from training.

Take a look at your motivation in this regard. Do you gravitate toward sameness? Or are you looking for new and different?

As mentioned, there are a lot of other meta programs that can drive what you do in the gym and the rest of your life. By knowing how your mind works, you can better see when and where you need to make changes. When you identify the frames that drive your behavior, then you can find those that hold you back and better utilize those that get you results.

What have you learned about your motivations from this article? Share your thoughts to the comments below.

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