In my childhood one of the things that I remember was the significant amount of order in the household.  On Mondays certain things happened, on Tuesdays certain things happened, on Wednesdays certain things happened.  I knew what we were going to have for tea on the Thursday it was gammon and mash night, on the Friday it was chicken and chips.

On Saturday morning we went swimming and we had fish and chips for lunch.  Saturday evening was either babysitter night, or Mum and Dad entertained.

Because for my parents, schedules and routines were everything.  My mother and father ran that house and our lives like clockwork.  They loved things to be totally orderly and logical, the way that the homemade strawberry jam was in the jar marked strawberry jam.  Where the biscuits were in the tin marked ‘Biscuits.‘   Where the glasses in the cupboards all knew their places, and the knives and forks were all lined up perfectly in the drawer.

This life of order and routine indicates a part of my parents ‘mask’ or personality trait.  (Personality comes from the Latin persona, which means mask).

I contrast their particular mask with that of my ex’s parents. I remember their house with piles of clothes everywhere, every surface covered in heaps of paper.  The previous months weekend projects still in evidence throughout the house. My ex used to find her clothes for the day in a pile on the spare bed or on her bedroom floor!

Back in my childhood home, everything had its place, and if you didn’t put something back, then it would get spotted straight away and stand out a mile!

I seem to have incorporated the tidiness trait from my parents into my mask and my friends are always joking about me having everything in little boxes.


The make-up of our mask comes partly from our genes and partly from experiences that we have had. Our individual masks determine the internal programmes that we run in order to live our lives, the decisions that we make and inevitably what we like and what we do not like. In NLP terms this mask is made up of our Meta-programs.  Just like the values that we form, our Meta-programs are layered in there by our experiences of childhood unless or until some major event comes along to help us re-order those Meta-programs.

So, whether your wineglass is half full or half empty, whether you see life through rose tinted spectacles or not.  Whether you are out there in ‘la la land’ in the abstract or whether you like the finer detail, whether you like to be lovingly told that you are doing a fabulous job, or whether you just know, these are all Meta-programs.

As I say, Meta-programs come from our experiences way back in the past, and they are a way of describing and predicting our behaviour. They are not a box, they are not a right or wrong, good or bad. Each pattern is a continuum from one extreme to the other. There are very many ways of typologising human behaviour.  Meta-programs are another way of typing human behaviour, a way of predicting behaviour, a way of motivating behaviour.

The difference between Meta-programs and any other is that it is a completely flexible way of understanding and predicting behaviour.

What would it be like, if the next time that you walk into a performance review meeting, a personal development review, whatever you call it, and you could actually fairly well assess before the meeting whether someone was going to be moving towards their goals or away from what they don’t want? Whether they like detail or a larger chunk size? Whether they like to be stroked or they just knew that they were doing a good job? Is that something that you would be interested in?

Would it help you to understand and empathise with people better if you could understand why they didn’t put their clothes away, and why they left the house in a mess? It certainly would have helped me in my previous relationship!

This is what we call Meta-programs. Meta-programs indicate our mask and are patterns that we run at an unconscious level, we all do them, we can’t not.  They are represented in our language.  They are represented in our gesture, they are represented in the way that we act, and the way that we behave.

There are some very simple questions that you can ask someone, the responses to which will absolutely tell you whether a person is the right match, or wrong match for your organisation in a work setting.

We can also use them instead of involved and complex testing, to make informal decisions at a frequently changing level about how to motivate individuals as they change over time.  They are the basis of our seeking of information, of our processing of information. They are the basis of how we assist others to be motivated to perform, to excel.  So, they are a  very important category of information in terms of how we can utilise our skills when working with other people.

Learn more about what comprises our ‘mask’ and the questions that you can ask in order to establish the make-up of other people’s ‘masks.’  Meta-programs are an NLP Master Practitioner subject, they are vital knowledge for coaches and anyone else involved in working with others. We talk about Meta-programs in depth in our various NLP training courses and also in our Management training courses.