The way we behave and communicate is determined by our mental filters. Each human responds to external stimuli differently and that makes us who we are. This has a great effect on what types of preferences we have, how we work, how we talk and how we get motivated. Since each human is unique, they also need a personalized strategy in order to succeed in life.

Before you embark on setting out your own strategy for success in life, you should first understand who you are, why you function the way you do and why you make the choices that you make. This will be the basis. You should then try to come up with what you want to achieve in life and where you want to be in the future. After you have these two points, then you need to link them and perform a gap analysis, looking at what is missing right now and what is preventing you from achieving your long-term vision.

There are different sets of tools that can help you do this. One set of tools comes from neuro-linguistic programming (NLP), a branch of psychology developed by Richard Bandler and John Grinder in the 1970s in the US. They based their studies of human behavior on a hypothesis of a connection between the neurological processes of the brain, language and behavioral patterns that were learned through experience. These in their opinion are not set, but can be changed in order to achieve the things that you want to achieve in life.

The different tools that come out of NLP can not only be used to analyze yourself, but can also be used to analyze the people around you and help you understand them and communicate better with them.

One way of analyzing yourself and your behaviors is through the analysis of meta-programs. Meta-programs are mental processes that guide and direct other mental processes (hence the word “meta”). These meta-programs are one of the filters that determine how we process information, behave and communicate. Other filters include values, beliefs, attitudes,decisions and memories.

These mental filters then affect how we take in information through our senses and then delete, distort and generalize things. In this post I will focus on explaining what are meta-programs and how they work. I will try to get into the other filters in some later posts.

Meta-programs have a huge impact on how you do things and how you respond to things. They impact and determine your habits, motivation, perseverance, as well as many outside factors, such as your opinion of others.

Meta-programs filter our perception. They filter perception without regard to the specific content. They can be used in two basic ways: to guide personal change, and also in order to communicate with others. By learning about meta-programs you can better understand yourself, your behavior, as well as the behavior of others. They can also be used to predict the behavior and actions of yourself, as well as of the people around you.

Meta-programs determine how we behave, but they can also be changed. So in no way are they static. Also as they depend on the context, you can use one meta-program in one context, while using its opposite in another context. Each person is a combination of these meta-programs and so a person’s behavior and communication is usually not dependent on a single meta-program, but instead on a combination of them.

The premise that these meta-programs are not static, but can in fact be changed is very good news. Whenever you have a problem and ask for advice on how to solve it, you often hear people advise you: “just be yourself”. That is often not very good advice. If you keep on being yourself, then you will continue on having that problem. That is because some of the internal frames that we have, can prevent us from achieving what we want to achieve.

Instead the way you should move forward, is to see what you want to change and change it. You can use the concept of meta-programs in order to do that. You can change your own meta-programs. If you find that one of your internal meta-programs is limiting you in some way, you can adopt a course of action to change that meta-program. However first you need to find out which meta-programs are the ones driving you.

There are several main meta-programs (some people have come up with lists of over 60 or more meta-programs):

1) toward or away
2) options or procedures
3) in-time or through-time or between-time
4) passive or active
5) internal or external frame of reference
6) optimist or pessimist
7) centered on yourself or centered on others
8) specific or global
9) perception (emotion) or logic
10) sameness or differences
11) independent or cooperative
12) introvert or extrovert

Meta-programs are at the origin of your motivation and also your internal mental processes. People are combinations of different meta-programs, with very few people falling on the extremes of the spectrum. Keep in mind that there are no good or bad schemas of meta-programs, so the only way to judge the utility of the schema is to base it on your particular circumstances and the context.

You should look at the different meta-program matches as a continuum, let’s say from 0 to 10, with people falling somewhere on that continuum. People can also function on different parts of the continuum based on circumstances, for example in their private life they might function on one side of the continuum, while in their work life they might function on the other side of the continuum.

So let’s go ahead and have a closer look at some of these different meta-programs.

1) toward or away

This is the meta-program that determines fundamental motivation. The attention and focus of people is directed either towards what they want or away from what they don’t want. The basic driving factors in these meta-programs are gaining pleasure or avoiding pain. These two things could also be rephrased as desire versus fear. The difference in the mindset can be illustrated by two examples:

I want to run the 100m sprint in under 11 seconds.” This is an example of a towards statement. A person with this type of mindset has a goal they are striving towards.

I don’t want to be skinny.” This is an example of an away statement. The person with this type of mindset doesn’t want to be something.

A person on the “toward” side of the continuum usually expresses himself with what they want. That person is usually more dynamic and easily comes up with goals and objectives, however their problem is often that they don’t really look at risks. With them, there is the danger of jumping from one goal or objective to another, without having actually accomplished the first one. So a person like this can often become engaged in too many initiatives at one time, which can lead to the risk of not finishing them.

A person on the “away” side of the continuum usually expresses himself with what they don’t want. They have a difficulty in coming up with clear goals and objectives. They have a tendency not to take risks and this can lead to losing many opportunities. They place a high priority on security and are good at analyzing risks and things to avoid. However, these type of people can also be sometimes prone to negativistic type of thinking, where things become “impossible” to accomplish in their view. This can lead them to complain a lot and avoid doing things to improve themselves.

As stated above, there is no value judgment for meta-programs and none of these things is good or bad. Each has its own positives and negatives, which means everything depends on the context. So in one context it might be good to have a toward type of thinking, while in other contexts it might be good to have an away type of thinking.

In the context of self-improvement, you can see that having the “toward” mindset is more prone to being actionable and trying to improve. This type of mindset helps with setting goals and finding precise things you want to accomplish. When setting goals, one of the main principles for setting good goals is for the goals not to be negative, but instead actionable. So having: “I don’t want to be skinny” is not a good goal, because it is a negative type of goal. Instead here you need to set actionable, positive goals. So in the context of setting goals and actually achieving them, you should adopt a “towards” type of mindset.

2) options or procedures

Think about how you behave: do you like choices or do you like to follow a predetermined procedure? There are people who prefer picking from a wide variety of choices, while others can get confused by choices and instead prefer a predetermined procedure or way of doing things. An options person often likes to think about things, while a procedures person likes to follow.

A person who swings more towards the option side of the continuum likes choice and picking things. They like to try different things, for example the choice between different things on the menu. However on the other hand, this can lead them to often reassess their choices and go back and forth, leading to indecisiveness. This can often mean that they take too long to take decisions.

For a person on the options side, there is usually no right way of doing things. They can figure out different ways of coming to the same conclusion, or even several conclusions. One positive result of this is that they can usually be very innovative. They don’t really like rules and if there are rules, they often try to break them. One danger here, is that an options person can start a project, but often will end up not finishing it, instead moving onto something which at that moment appears more bright and shiny.

On the other hand, for people who prefer to follow procedures, there is often one right way of doing things and they try to follow it. For them, there is also usually just one right solution. They often pick routines and stick to them.

People on the procedures side like to follow certain schemas and procedures in order to be efficient and productive. For them, there is often a sequence of steps that need to be done in order to complete a task. If they are confronted with too many options, they can become confused and can feel lost when there is no clear procedure or process that they can use. They are good at executing tasks which have to be accomplished in a precise or predetermined order.

Oftentimes they are not too creative and need organization and clear procedures. They are good at administration, but with the risk of becoming too bureaucratic and obstructive. With them, there is often the risk of the procedure becoming more important than the task to be accomplished.

In terms of fitness routines, the people with an options meta-program might prefer to create their own routines by combining different exercises and often switching these routines up. On the other hand, a person with a procedures meta-program would prefer finding an already existing routine and then sticking to it.

Are you a rule breaker and can you often come up with different ways of doing things, or are you a person who sticks to routines and prefers the one and only way of doing things? You can even be both, and depending on the context, preferring to be a bit more creative and free flowing in certain areas of your life, while being rigid and strictly by the book in others.

Hopefully you learned something useful and can start applying it to your own life. I will analyze more of these meta-programs in Part 2. In the meantime look at the meta-programs described above and see on which side of the continuum you fit in and in which contexts you use which meta-programs. Then try to determine whether you want to keep using that particular meta-program in that particular context or if you want to change. If you think that you would benefit from a change in meta-programs, then craft a course of action on how to go about it! 🙂

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One thought on “Personality Types: Why Are You The Way You Are? Part 1”

  1. You can always comment here, if you have any personal experience with changing your meta-programs and how you went about it (of course maybe you changed them without having known what the word meta-program actually is 🙂 ). It’s always helpful for people to hear personal examples, so shoot away!

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