Can you ‘recode’ your brain with NLP? 

NLP is a talking therapy which can help build confidence and reduce anxiety

NLP is a talking therapy which can help build confidence and reduce anxiety - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

If you’d told Tracy Ward a few decades ago she’d be helping people navigate their emotional problems, she’d have been shocked. 

Climbing the corporate ladder in accounting, the now-counsellor spent 30 years working in financial transformation, systems and processes. 

“But I knew, maybe around 10 to 12 years ago, it wasn’t what I wanted to do forever,” she says. When the opportunity for voluntary redundancy came up, Tracy jumped at the chance to go from transforming things in the business world, to reshaping her own life.  

“My husband had been made redundant the previous year. And when our office closed, I didn’t know what to do next. It was that time to think differently. To do something different. I was looking at a coach for coaching, to find out more (my husband was at the time training as a tennis coach) and saw a free weekend course that looked interesting. I kept looking at it, then eventually clicked the button and it said ‘congratulations, you’ve booked on an NLP course’. I thought ‘no no’. I didn't know what NLP [neuro-linguistic programming] was! 

“But it was free so I went anyway, and it just blew me away really. The way I describe it is it took all the pieces of life for me, and created a picture I could understand.  

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“It wasn’t all new, but it helped me put everything together. I was so excited I wanted to do more. To be honest, my husband thought I’d been brainwashed at first, but as an accountant I tend to be cautious. I booked the next level as a practitioner, then became a master practitioner and went on to train as a trainer.” 

From that first, accidental booking, Tracy has gone on to enable others to share and teach the NLP technique. 

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What is NLP? 

“The way I describe NLP is it’s like a user manual for the brain. Once you know how the mind works, you can service it regularly and keep it running. When you need to give it extra va va voom, you’ll know how to tune it up. It’s a toolbox of strategies and techniques to help you do that,” says Tracy. 

“In simple terms, our whole neurological system is connected. So are our thoughts and physiology. Then there’s language. Every time we speak, our thoughts are coming through and we may not always realise what we’re giving away unwittingly. When you start to understand different language patterns, you can read so much more into what other people are saying. 

“NLP helps to programme our behaviours. So, as an example, when we get up in the morning we will naturally put our left or right leg down first. We may put on our left sock or our right sock first. If we try to switch the order from right to left it will feel strange until we practise it and get better at it. We run these kinds of programmes every single day throughout everything we do – from getting dressed to making a cup of tea. And if we do something new, our approach to it will generally be the same.  

“If we want to achieve something we haven’t done before, or say ‘this approach isn’t working for me’, we need to do things differently. Once we understand more about our own programming and unconscious behaviours then we can think about how we can change.” 

NLP coach Tracy Ward  

NLP coach Tracy Ward - Credit: Sarah Holmes

Who can NLP help? 

“A lot of my clients have a similar story to myself. They’ve had a professional role and are reaching the point where they recognise it’s not about chasing the dollar or going up the career ladder anymore. They want a balance and don’t know how to achieve it.  

“Quite often it’s professional women in that situation. It’s also business owners who feel a bit stuck, thinking ‘am I good enough?’ Then there are managers finding it hard to connect with their team. I tend to work with them one to one, as well as in groups to build personal development. I’m a keen golfer too and work with professionals in that arena. We run sessions specifically to help with mindset on the golf course.” 

What issues can it address? 

“It’s very good for giving clarity. Helping people think about what they want to achieve and how to get there. Then it’s about building capability. So you take the stress and anxiety and, with clarity, start to understand what’s driving those feelings. 

“So you could be anxious about giving a talk, going to an interview or meeting new people. A question I would ask is ‘what would you like to have happen?’. 

“Building capability lets you think about what resources or skills you need to be able to go and have that conversation with someone. Then we can help work on those, so every thought is coded in our mind. We can work to adapt the coding a little bit. It won’t change us, or our memories, but it changes how we interpret things. Amy Cuddy talks about ‘fake it ‘til you make it’. If you act confident and act on the skills you need, those behaviours will become second nature. 

“Confidence can also be helped through NLP by getting rid of limiting beliefs. There are different ways we can change those because, at the end of the day, a belief is just that – a belief. They’re thoughts. They don’t have to be true. If someone’s feeling anxious about going to meet somebody, that feeling of ‘I’m not good enough’ or ‘I don’t deserve their time’ can come into play. We work to change those thoughts. Once you know what you want out of a situation, that can improve your confidence hugely. And once you learn about yourself, what drives those triggers, and how to overcome them – that's when you’ll build resilience and know how to manage your feelings.” 

To find out more, or to join one of Tracy’s beginner courses, go to 

Closeup on medical mask and hand disinfectant and stressed woman in background in temporary home off

If you're suffering from stress, anxiety or self-doubt, could NLP help you get back on track? - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Three NLP techniques to try now 

1. This is an easy one. Think about a little problem you’ve had today. Something minor. Like ‘there was no milk in the fridge this morning’, or ‘the kids wouldn’t get their clothes on’. Feel that frustration. Now stand up, gaze to the ceiling and smile. Try to think about that negative feeling again. It shouldn’t be so easy. Every thought you have creates a feeling you demonstrate impulsively. So if you’re grumpy your shoulders might slouch. If you’re happy you’ll grin. Once we change our reaction, we can make a difference. So we started off sitting down and went to stand. We grinned. We moved our eyes upwards. Your eyes move to different places depending on how you’re accessing your thoughts. So they will tend to go down to the right if you’re frustrated. As soon as you lift your eyes up you’re disconnecting from that feeling. Changing the way you stand and act can have a huge impact on your thoughts. 

2. We’re good at criticising ourselves. ‘I should have said this’, ‘I should have done that’. ‘What if?’ These words and the word ‘try’ imply we won’t succeed. So instead, stand up, step away from your chair, look at where you were sat, and observe from a third person’s point of view. Disassociate yourself. Instead of ‘I’, assess the situation as ‘Tracy did this’, ‘Tracy could have done that’. You need to separate yourself from your own internal critique. 

3. Our experience of the world comes through our senses – from sight to touch, taste and smell. Sometimes we will filter so we don’t always see or hear everything that’s going on. We tune out. And sometimes we’ll distort situations, or generalise them. When we generalise things that aren’t helpful, that will come out in our language - ‘I’ll never be able to explain myself’, ‘I’m always late’, ‘I always make a hash of this’. These things may be in the majority true, but not always. So when we think this way, we’re creating the problem. If I’m coaching someone and they say ‘every time’, I pick up on that language and say ‘is it really every time? Tell me about a time when that didn’t happen’. That forces a challenge. Forces us to think differently. You might think ‘I’m not good at my job’. But who says that to you? Who told you that? Is it the case every single day? Probably not.  

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