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Who is I? Who is me?

Utilising and Developing the Logical Levels Model

By Joe Cheal
Related articles (found at o Logical Levels and the Journey of Self o Organisational Logical Levels o Logical Levels 7S Matrix o Logical Level Loops of Learning o Whats the Meta?

Introduction When asking one of the Big Questions, Who am I?, there is a concept (among many others) in NLP that can be helpful in exploring such a question. The concept is known as the logical levels model and it was introduced to NLP by Robert Dilts (R1). He claims the model was inspired by Gregory Batesons (R2) work on Logical Types, which in turn was based on Bertrand Russell and Alfred Whiteheads Set Theory and Theory of Types (R3). Dilts (R4) presents the model as a pyramid style hierarchy (see Figure 1) where each level is a category or set that contains the level directly below (e.g. a capability or skill is a collection of behaviours). It could also be said that a higher level cannot develop without the immediate level below (e.g. a skill cannot develop without behaviours). A change at any level will impact on those above and below (in this sense, the model is systemic), although a higher level change tends to have more affect on the lower levels than vice versa. For those not familiar with the model, here is a quick overview. Environment is at the base and without an environment or context, Behaviours either cannot take place, or are meaningless. Capability can be considered a logical level up from behaviours because without behaviour, we cannot develop capability. Beliefs and Values are a bit of a jump from capability, although Logical Levels article by Joe Cheal

2007 GWiz Learning Partnership

perhaps it could be argued that we could not have beliefs without the capability of thinking. With Identity, perhaps we would not be able to develop a sense of self without our beliefs and values. Spirit is a bit of a question mark in the model, but it appears to mean our connection with others a collection of identities. Rather than asking the question of Who am I? simply from the level of Identity, it may be more enlightening to work through all the levels:
Level Spirit: Identity: Personal Identity Question How is who I am connected to the bigger picture, the human race what legacy am I creating? What is my sense of self? (When I ask Who am I? at this level, is it my ego playing selfreferential tricks?) How did I develop my beliefs and values and how might they help and hinder me being true to myself? How did I know to develop the particular skills and capabilities I have? How are my behaviours an expression of me? Who am I in different contexts and environments does this change or stay the same?

Beliefs and Values: Capability: Behaviours: Environment:

Where is the solution to a problem? As well as being a tool for exploration and diagnosis, one of the most striking and powerful uses of the logical levels model is in seeking solutions to problems. Although often quoted, Einsteins notion that a problem cannot be solved on the level in which it was created is a key to the power of Dilts model. If someone has a problem (or a less than desired state) and we are able to establish at what level that problem sits, a lasting solution will tend to be found on the level or two above. For example, if someone behaves inappropriately in a certain environment, we could change the environment but the problem is still there. We could suggest an alternative behaviour to the person but even if there is a short term change, the behaviour is likely to return if something hasnt changed in the persons capability. They need to know how to change, not just what to change. Alternatively, if someone has a problem developing a skill, they can practise and practise without effect. However, once they begin to gain confidence and belief in themselves, the skill is more likely to stick. In order to establish the level of a problem it is useful to understand some of the indicators or signs. Table 1 uses the logical levels framework to suggest some indicators that we might Logical Levels article by Joe Cheal 2007 GWiz Learning Partnership 2

hear in someones language to help us identify where the problem sits. The table also states some general problems that someone may experience if they are not connected to (or are misaligned with) the level above. When all the levels are supported by the level above, this means the levels are aligned. Table 1. Identifying the Logical Levels
Level Spirit For Whom? Identity Who? Beliefs/Values Why? Possible Language Indicators Vision, purpose in bigger picture, community, transmission, beyond self, global systems, interconnectedness, unconditional love Mission, roles, self, sum of parts, personality, purpose I am, me, ego Motivation, permission, meanings, willingness, desire, important, reinforcement, should, ought, must, generalisations, rules Mental maps, plans, strategies, states, memory, imagination, innovation, adaptation, skills, abilities, knowledge, thoughts, direction, can/cant Actions, reactions, responses, interactions, movements Do, activate, use, utilise, activate, implement ? If not supported by level directly above

Capability How? Behaviour What?

Environment Where/When?

Location, place, space, time, external conditions, surroundings, here, now, opportunities, constraints, see, hear, feel, taste, smell, sense

Individual, independent, alone, isolated, egoic, selfish, lack of connection Disassociated: Im not myself today, split parts, parts disintegration, conflicting priorities/values Can but dont want to, demotivated, bored, lack of drive Random behaviours, habits, repeating old behaviours even though they dont work, paralysis/freeze, procrastination, knee jerk reaction rather than response Empty environment, nothing happens or gets done

Inside/Outside Logical Levels Developing the Model A further development of the logical level model is to add a new dimension of internal and external. Internal is the latent inner workings, that which others do not see or hear and external is the manifest, that which is reveal to others. I introduced this distinction after a discussion about applying the logical levels to an organisation. There was confusion as to whether the environment of an organisation is the dcor, appearance of reception and restaurant etc. or whether it is the market place and/or the geographical site. Obviously, the internal described the inner environment and the external described the outside world.

Logical Levels article by Joe Cheal


2007 GWiz Learning Partnership

The internal/external dimension appears to map well onto individuals as well as organisations (see table 2). The inside/outside distinction is not meant to create a division or split in a person, simply different expressions of the same self. Table 2: Examples of the internal/external dimension of logical levels.
Level Spirit For Whom? Identity Who? Beliefs/Values Why? In Side (Internal eyes) Inner connectedness, my transmission across lifetimes Sense of who I am, self image, ego, my mission in life What I hold to be true and important Out Side (External Eyes) Family, community, transmission with others Mask, expression of self (eg. clothing, physical body) Expressions of beliefs/values (eg. written, spoken, facial expressions of acceptance or rejection) Demonstrating knowledge and skills, expression of thoughts, adapting to different situations Visible actions, reactions, responses, interactions, movements Location, place, space, time

Capability How?

States, memory, imagination, innovation, skills, abilities, knowledge, thinking, accessing cues Physiological functions, breathing

Behaviour What? Environment Where/When?

Sense of here and now, inside my head Internal environment

The inside/outside distinction can also be useful when using the logical levels as a modelling tool. We can model a persons external from first and third perceptual positions, and then we need the second perceptual position to model their internal (particularly if they are not there to ask them questions). For more information on logical levels and modelling, see Dilts Modeling with NLP (R5).

Map or metaphor? When the Logical Level model is criticised, it seems to be from the perspective that the model is being used as a map. This would imply that it is somehow true or that it is designed to be a clear representation of reality. Indeed, I would agree that if the model is being taken literally, it may not stand up to academic scrutiny. However, if the model is being used as more of a metaphor, then it is freed up to become a very useful and often enlightening tool for exploration. Of course, it could be argued that a Logical Levels article by Joe Cheal

2007 GWiz Learning Partnership

map is itself a metaphor, but it is designed to be as near to the truth as possible. The kind of metaphor I am suggesting is more abstract and is not claiming to represent the truth. It is simply a framework that promotes reflection, discussion and hence potentially new understanding.

Logical Levels or simply Aspects of Self? Before encountering the logical levels model, I used to use a simpler version with concentric circles called aspects of self (see figure 2). This model was used to demonstrate two things: 1) A person is more than just the sum of their thoughts, memories, experiences etc. 2) It is possible (and often crucial) to separate a person from their behaviour. This is useful, for example, when dealing with difficult people, where it is often more helpful to consider the behaviour difficult, rather than the person themselves. For those who do not see the logical levels models as a hierarchy, perhaps it could be illustrated as a series of concentric circles (see Figure 3), with Environment outside the circles and Spirit at the core as an interconnection with the spiritual realm. Although it could be argued that even this representation is hierarchical, it is intended simply to emphasise organising categories rather than levels. By looking at it this way, we could say that we are the stuff of spirit with an identity; we have beliefs and values and we use our skills and behaviours in the environment. Figure 2. Aspects of self

Figure 3. Logical Levels as a development of Aspects of self

Conclusions The logical levels model appears to have both friends and foes. On the one hand it can be a great device for explaining and exploring aspects of, for example: an individual, a team, a family or an organisation. And it can also provide a framework for developing concepts such Logical Levels article by Joe Cheal

2007 GWiz Learning Partnership

as leadership, coaching, strategies and relationships. However, others have criticised the model for not really being logical levels at all. For more information on the criticisms see Further Reading. It is less than easy to do the logical levels model justice within an article. I have not necessarily set out to defend the model, but to present some ideas in the hope of promoting further thought. If this article has encouraged a reader or two to explore the model further or to revisit it then it has achieved its purpose. For those who are less than enamoured with the model, consider the reframe of treating it as a metaphor rather than a map. I know from personal experience that it can be useful as a springboard for exploration. And to end with the original question in mind of Who am I?, I cannot top the phrase used by John Overdurf and Julie Silverthorn: Whatever you think you are, you are so much more than that!

About the Author Joe Cheal, from the GWiz Learning Partnership, has been working with NLP since 1993 and runs both Practitioner and Master Practitioner courses with his partner Melody. As well as being a licensed trainer of NLP, he holds a degree in philosophy and psychology, diplomas in Coaching and in Ericksonian Hypnosis, Psychotherapy and NLP. He is currently undertaking an MSC in Organisational Development and NLT. He uses the Logical Levels model in training courses, in executive coaching sessions and in consultancy work to help clients understand and work through their goals and issues on a personal, team and organisational level. For more information about the GWiz Learning Partnership and its courses, email or visit
References: R1) Robert Dilts (1990) Changing Belief Systems with NLP R2) Gregory Bateson (2000) Steps to an Ecology of Mind R3) Bertrand Russell and Alfred Whitehead Principia Mathematica R4) Robert Dilts (1996) Visionary Leadership Skills R5) Robert Dilts (1998) Modeling with NLP Further Information: For more detail about the Logical Levels, see: For a critique of logical levels, see: For more information about the Logical Levels of Organisations and the Logical Level Loops of Learning, see:

Logical Levels article by Joe Cheal


2007 GWiz Learning Partnership