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Brian’s Blog

This blog has posts and news from various areas that I am interested in including storytelling, music, NLP, hypnosis, research, education, and other bits and pieces.

Scared by his Shadow

This is a great little Taoist story which relates to the concept of Wu Wei or “non-action”. I first heard a version of the story on an audio book version of The Tao of Pooh by Benjamin Hoff, a wonderful book that is well worth checking out.

There was a man who was so scared by the sight of his own shadow and so worried by his own footsteps, that he decided to try to get rid of them.

So he got up and ran and tried to leave his shadow and his footprints behind.

But every time he put his foot down, he found that there was another step, and his shadow kept up with him without any difficulty at all, no matter how fast he ran.

He thought he was failing because he wasn’t running fast enough. So he ran faster and faster, without stopping, until he finally fell down dead.

The man had failed to understand something like simple. You see, if you just step into the shade, your shadow will vanish, and if you sit down and stay still, there will be no more footsteps.

The Weather Forecaster

Once upon a time there was a king who wanted to go fishing. He called the royal weather forecaster and inquired as to the weather forecast for the next few hours. The weatherman assured him that there was no chance of rain in the coming days.

So the king went fishing with his wife, the queen. On the way he met a farmer on his donkey.
Continue Reading…

Storytelling in Business

One of my favourite hypnotists and storytellers is the New York based Doug O’Brien. He has a beautiful voice and a great way with words. He is also a musician and that may be one of his secrets. In one of his recent newsletters, he gave a great list of quotes about stories in business. Thanks Doug!

1.  “People think that stories are shaped by people. In fact it’s the other way around …”
Terry Pratchett, novelist

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The Trump Addiction

This is not a completely serious post, yet it is a little serious 😉

I have recognised a new addiction within myself – the Trump addiction – and it appears that I am not alone. Donald Trump is not only the top news item in the world. It is also way ahead of any other news item that is read or searched for on Google. Each morning, I find myself almost hoping that there is a new Trump-ism for me to read. An outrageous tweet is best. It can provoke half the country (and delight Trump’s base) or strongly criticize a large section of society (e.g. the Media, the Judiciary).
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Motivation is not constant

There is an interesting piece of research that shows just how much motivation varies even over a short period of time. Dr Julia Dietrich of Friedrich Schiller University investigated students’ motivations in 10 lessons. In each lesson, they recorded their level of motivation at that particular moment using smart phones (or paper).

Continue Reading…

Indra and the Monster

There is a wonderful story in one of the Upanishads about the god Indra. Now, it happened at this time that a great monster had enclosed all the waters of the earth, so there was a terrible drought, and the world was in a very bad condition. It took Indra quite a while to realize that he had a box of thunderbolts and that all he had to do was drop a thunderbolt on the monster and blow him up. When he did that, the waters flowed, and the world was refreshed, and Indra said, “What a great boy am I.”

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The Zeiganik Effect and Stress Management

Bluma Wulfovna Zeigarnik was a Soviet psychologist and involved in the Vygotsky Circle. I’ve always been interested in the social learning theories of Vygotsky, and his work was quite influential on language teaching for a while way back. So I was interested when Zeigarnik’s work arose in the context of a hypnosis training that I was taking under the instructorship of Dr. Richard Harte in the United States. I was reminded of the Zeigarnik effect recently when Dr. Harte sadly passed away.

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The Age of Learning

We have reached an amazing point with technology where for the first time in history, anyone who really wants to learn pretty much anything has the resources to do so. Recently, I’ve been improving my piano skills with a wonderful course from Udemy. I had never even heard of Udemy until about a month ago when a friend mentioned the site to me, and now I am enrolled in several courses, having a whole lot of fun learning useful stuff.

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Preparing for Saint Patricks Day

I got back into playing Irish music for the first time in ages last night. I did a show at the Shamrock Irish pub in Fushimi. Thanks to Frank for the photograph. Lovely crowd and it’s nice to play for an audience who are fairly familiar with the genre. Last year, music was all about Jukebox Paradise and rock and roll. This year, I’m looking forward to playing a bit more Irish music and getting back to my roots.

Farewell to Dr. Richard Harte, NGH Hypnosis Trainer

I just heard the sad news that Dr. Richard Harte has passed away from a heart attack. I have fond memories of Dr. Harte training us in our Train the Trainer course at the NGH (National Guild of Hypnotists) near Boston two years ago. Dr. Harte was one of the most experienced hypnotists and psychologists that I ever had the honour of meeting, and his lessons were a great mix of technique, stories of his own experiences, and fun adventures. We had a lovely evening at the NGH convention where I pulled out my little mini travel ukelele and Dr. Harte got way into singing along with all the songs. Continue Reading…

Review: Say Goodnight to Insomnia

Between a hectic schedule at the end of last year and jetlag through a trip to Europe, I managed to throw my sleeping patterns off. I found that I was lying awake for a long time before falling asleep (sleep-onset insomnia) and then often waking up several times in the time and being unable to get back to sleep. So while I was in Ireland I was happy to pick up a book at a secondhand store called Say Goodnight to Insomnia by Gregg D. Jacobs.

It’s a fairly old book which was published in 1998 but the useful advice and research that he gives are as valid as ever. It seems to have been republished in 2009 and that is the cover image shown above. It does not appear to be a new edition. Continue Reading…

ANLP Publications

The Association for NLP is one of the more active NLP associations. Most NLP associations around the world struggle to put out a regular publication. ANLP has them all beaten by miles in this regard because it manages to regularly produce not just one, but three regular publications.

Check out their site for more details. I have given a screenshot of the three publications and their descriptions below.

I have just had an article on the use of language patterns in education accepted for publication in Acuity and I was very impressed by the professionalism of their editing and peer reviews. This is something that we could definitely do more of in the field of NLP.

I signed up as a member of ANLP and am looking forward to reading all three publications.

The Golden Windows

There was a little boy who would look across the sprawling meadows outside his house every morning and see in the distance a house with golden windows. He would stare and revel in the radiant beams streaming his way from far away.

He asked his father one day if they could visit the house with the golden windows. The father obliged, and they started to walk.

They walked and walked until they approached the house. The young lad stood perplexed. He saw no windows of gold.

But a little girl inside saw them staring at her home and came out to ask if they were looking for something. “Yes.” replied the boy, “I wanted to see the house with the golden windows that I see every morning.”

“Oh, you’ve come to the wrong place.” she said quickly.

“If you wait here a little until sunset, I will show you the house with the golden windows that I see every evening.”

She then pointed to the house in the distance – the home of the little boy.

I Play the Music

“If you sit down and listen
I’ll play you a song
But I’d probably play anyway
I play the music
I play the music”

These are the first few lines of the song, I Play the Music. I wrote the song with my good friend Mark Renburke when we were playing together in an Irish band called The Rising Pints. We were playing lots of gigs in crowded bars. Sometimes people listened closely – sometimes people didn’t seem to listen at all. But you know, we played the music, yes we played the music – that’s what we did. For some people in the pubs, we were the focal point of the evening. For others, we were just a background for the fun and talking. And that’s fine, too. Because the music doesn’t always have to be at the center. Sometimes, the music is just the background that makes the rest of our life so much richer. Continue Reading…

Come Home Again

jukeboxparadiseflierIn the show, Jukebox Paradise, Deloris Keller sings the song Come Home Again. In the story, this song was a big hit during World War II and far away in the thick of the action, a wounded soldier named Fred is listening to the radio and the sound of her voice. It is this song, coming from so far away, that gives Fred the will to survive and to eventually come back home and build a new life.

The obvious meaning of the lyrics of Come Home Again is as an encouragement to the boys in the war reminding them that there is a life after the war, no matter how dark everything seems at the moment. People back at home haven’t forgotten them. They are still loved and remembered and the people back at home are still with them in their thoughts and hearts.

“My, it’s been so hard for you
You’ve been so long away
I’m not even sure how long it’s been
But I miss you every day
When you think you can’t go on
Just whisper on my name
I’ll be there, no matter where
I love you all the same.”

Continue Reading…

Coindrop62 at Aichi Vision 2016

Aichi Vision is a great music and arts festival which is held in Tsurumai Park each year just at the end of summer. Tsurumai Park is probably best known at the moment as a scared place for pokemon and hundreds of zombie-like people can be still seen wandering around at 2am looking for pokemon. I believe that it has something to do with the shape of the central fountain as seen from above, but others more familiar with the world of pokemon may correct me at their leisure. I downloaded the app and caught a pokemon before deleting it (the app, not the captured pokemon). Then in Dublin, a friend persuaded me to re-download it and catch a Dublin pokemon. I can confirm that Dublin pokemon were equally uninteresting to me as Nagoya pokemon. I may be missing a vital poke-gene. Continue Reading…

“Today is the First Day” from Jukebox Paradise

Today is the First DayThis year, one of my big areas of focus is our rock and roll musical, Jukebox Paradise, produced by KPB Theatre. This is a musical theatre production that has been in my head since 1989 and it is finally coming to the stage at the end of November 2016 in Nagoya. Please contact me to get your tickets. The script was written by Gary Beaubouef and it is directed by Steve Pottinger. Below is a quick description that Sarah and I wrote up for the program: Continue Reading…

Joy of Soy

The other day, I was reading an interesting recipe that involved soy yogurt. I was about to pass on because soy yogurt struck me as one of those hard-to-get ingredients. There is always at least one of them in every recipe in the cookbooks that my sister gives me. That, of course, is because our average Japanese supermarket is designed to fulfill the needs of Japanese cookbooks rather than Western cookbooks. Fair enough.

So I was giving up on the recipe when it occurred to me that Continue Reading…

She Never Said Can’t

There is a story about a Romanian girl who was born with no legs . . .  and was left at the hospital by her parents.
A couple from middle America adopted her and instilled in her love and one prohibition:  Never say the word can’t!
Since they adopted her as an new born infant, that message was buried deeply within her and it reverberated throughout the rest of her life.
Her name is Jennifer Bricker and she became a champion gymnast.  That’s right, a gymnast.
Continue Reading…

New book: 100 Days of Creativity


Sarah and I have just published a new e-book designed to trigger and support creativity. You can download the book on the Amazon Kindle store.

This book arose out of our own efforts to stay creative over a long period of time and I can say with certainty that it works.

This book is based on a very simple concept. Each day, the book offers you a few triggers to get your creative juices going. And then it sends you off with the message “Now go and be creative”, because that is where you really should be putting your time and energy and passion.

There are little milestones along the way as you achieve the important 4 days, 10 days, 21 days and so on. The book is designed to help you create a new habit of creativity (pun intended!). As Aristotle said, “We are what we repeatedly do, therefore excellence is not an act, but a habit.”

We enjoyed making it and using it and hope that it will be useful to other writers, songwriters, drama folk, poets, business folk or anyone else that wants to be consistently creative over a long period of time.

Here is the description of the book (and the other books that will be coming out in the same series).

Welcome to the 100 Days of Creativity series of books designed to support your creativity. This series is titled 100 Days of Creativity because we believe that great things begin to come about when people are consistently using their creativity over a sustained period of time. Like other physical and mental skills, creativity is a muscle, and the more you use it, the better you get at it.

Every creative effort has to start somewhere. If you look at any finished novel or play or story or song, it was initially triggered by something that the creator saw or heard or felt.

This book gives you 100 days of triggers to fire up your creativity. Each day, the book gives you three thought-provoking or inspirational quotes that will help you to foster the habit of being creative every single day.

Download the book on the Amazon Kindle store.

PANSIG Conference


This weekend, I’m presenting at the JALT PanSig conference in Nago, Okinawa. The theme of the conference is Innovations in Education. And we definitely need some innovations in education throughout the world. I’ve been reading and enjoying Ken Robinson’s book, Creative Schools: The Grassroots Revolution That’s Transforming Education. It’s a great book by a well-informed writer who is also blessed with a sense of humour. Compared to some writing about education, this one is like watching Comedy Central. Hopefully, we will be sharing lots of ideas at the conference which follow along the same lines as Robinson’s suggestions.

Both of the PanSig presentations that I’m involved in are based on on-going research and teaching that I’ve been carrying out with various people over the last few years. Both are quite influenced by NLP. Both projects are also bringing more personalization and creativity into the classroom, two characteristics that I increasingly view as essential to real learning as I get older.

On Saturday at 1pm, I’ll be presenting with Ben Backwell about our course for helping university students to set and achieve goals. Then, on Saturday at 3pm, Sarah Mulvey and I will be doing a poster presentation on helping students to use more sensory language in their writing and speaking.


Generative Skills

Generative-model-1-e1314984752853Not all skills are created equal. I’m a big fan of continuing to learn and continuing to learn new skills. Recently, however, I’ve been frequently noticing the fairly-obvious fact that some skills open up more possibilities than other skills.

For example, learning a language is what I would call a “generative skill”–the type of skill that opens up many possibilities. Continue Reading…

Thinking about Words #1 – Financial Security

Today I was thinking about financial security and recognized that somehow I felt a little uncomfortable with the term. This surprised me because logically it makes a lot of sense to me and obviously everyone can benefit from financial security in all kinds of ways.

However, every time I said ‘financial security’ to myself, I felt a slight twinge of stress in my shoulders and over the years I have learned that this kind of message from our somatic mind, or body or unconscious or whatever you want to call it, is generally worth listening to.

So I started playing with some metaphors and images in my mind and the word ‘security’ immediately brought up the image of a castle protected by a moat, a great gate and knights patrolling. The archers are always ready to launch a long-distance volley of deadly arrows on anyone approaching who looks dangerous. Inside, the king of the castle and the land, is living in ‘security’, protected by the water and walls and strong men. Continue Reading…

Upcoming Music Events


On Sunday, we have the next music rehearsal for the Jukebox Paradise musical. It is still about 5 months until showtime, and it is great to see people really getting into their roles both as actors and singers. This is going to be a great show.

Coindrop62_April24In other music news, the band for the Jukebox Paradise musical, Coindrop62, will be playing at Shooters in Fushimi this Sunday evening (April 24th) from 8pm. We will do some a bunch of fun rock and roll tunes. I am not playing any instrument for a change, so I can focus on my role as the singer for a change! Visit the Facebook event page.

On the following Saturday (April 30th), Sarah Mulvey and I will be joined by the formidable duo, Aya Kawakami and Takashi Terada, for a show at Coat of Arms in Marunochi. It’s going to be a great night. You can check out the details on the Facebook event page.






As some people have pointed out, I haven’t been playing much Irish music recently. I’ll get back to it (it is my roots after all!), so in the meantime check out one of the CDs from my old band, The Rising Pints.


Toyota International Association – Introducing Ireland

IMG_20160417_125923Yesterday, I did an introduction to Ireland event at Toyota International Association. I’ve been doing this kind of event for over 20 years now and it is still fun to share some information and some music about Ireland. Over the years, I’ve probably presented this kind of material to a few thousand people, and hopefully at least some of them have made it to the shores of the Emerald Isle. Continue Reading…

What do we mean by ‘thinking’?

Currently I’m working on a textbook called Tools for Thinking. It’s based on a series of activities that I’ve been using with my third year Japanese university students for the last few years. As well as being a language skills textbook, it also aims to provide practice in a range of critical thinking skills which can be applied to real-world personal and professional situations. Continue Reading…

GOAL Textbook – 2nd Edition

Last year, I wrote a textbook with Ben Backwell called GOAL – Identify and Achieve Your Life Goals. We have been very happy with the feedback from teachers and students. However, as a tool for learning English, we felt that the book could be improved. So we have been hard at work.

And now after several months of rewriting, we are proud to present the 2nd edition of GOAL.

160309 GOAL Textbook Cover

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Tao Te Ching

That which is incomplete will be made complete,
that which is crooked will straighten,
that which is empty will be filled,
that which is worn out will be renewed.
He who has little can only gain, but gain too much and the way will be lost.

Recently, I’ve been reading a chapter of Tao Te Ching each morning. Fascinating little book and once in a while a section really jumps out at me. The section above is one of those. Taoism recognizes that balance exists in everything and the lines above give some good examples.



The Drought

Once, in a faraway country there was a drought. There had been no rain for days. No rain for weeks. No rain for months. And the land was dry, dry. And hard and cracked and brown and dusty. And the sun beat down relentlessly. And the heat was unbearable. Like living in an oven. Impossible to breathe. And everywhere the dust. On the ground. In the air. On your skin. In your eyes. In your throat. Suffocating dust.

And the plants were dying. Changing from green through yellow to brown, they withered and died. And the animals were starving: the cattle, the sheep, the pigs, the goats – getting thinner and thinner and thinner … and dying. And the people were starving too, for there was nothing to eat. And the drought went on and on and on.

So one day; all the men went into the temple to pray for rain. In the sweltering heat they got down on their knees on the hard, dusty ground and they prayed and they prayed and they prayed for rain. But still there was no rain.

And so another day, all the women went into the temple to pray for rain. In the sweltering heat they got down on their knees on the hard dusty ground and they prayed and they prayed and they prayed for rain. But still there was no rain.

And then one day, a little girl went up the steps to the temple. She was about nine and she was wearing a dirty yellow dress that was torn. Her feet were bare and her legs and arms were dusty. Her long hair was tangled and in a mess. There was dirt on her face. And up she went up the steps of the temple, to pray for rain. But do you know what she had with her? She had with her an umbrella. Not a posh umbrella. A scruffy old broken umbrella. But an umbrella just the same. And she skipped into the temple and got down on her knees and put her umbrella on the ground beside her and she prayed and she prayed and she prayed for rain.

And do you know what? When she came out of the temple, it was raining.

To Do lists and Productivity

For years, probably about 12 years now, I have been a big fan of Dave Allen’s Getting Things Done (GTD) methodology. When I read the original book, I was impressed by the idea of getting every thing out of my head and into a space where it could be stored and dealt with appropriately. Between music and research and teaching and training and client work, I tend to have way too much stuff going on any particular time and GTD has been enormously helpful to me in getting that stuff out of my head yet still knowing that it is available and going to be eventually acted upon. Continue Reading…

Less training in 2016

In 2016, I’ll be doing less NLP and hypnosis training. 2015 was a great year where we completed the full NLP 20 day practitioner certification course. From 2017, we will be doing more training again, but for 2016, I’ll be focusing on research to complete several books that are in the pipeline. It’s also the year of Jukebox Paradise, a musical that has been in my head for over 20 years and that will finally be staged in November 2016. Looking forward to a great year and then getting back to more training in 2017.

The Snake

Some cowherd boys used to tend their cows in a meadow where a terrible poisonous snake lived. Everyone was on the alert for fear of it.

One day a brahmachari was going along the meadow. The boys ran to him and said; ‘Revered sir, please don’t go that way. A venomous snake lives over there.’ ‘What of it, my good children?’ said the brahmachari. ‘I am not afraid of the snake. I know some mantras.’ So saying, he continued on his way along the meadow. But the cowherd boys, being afraid, did not accompany him.

In the mean time the snake moved swiftly toward him with upraised hood. As soon as it came near, he recited a mantra, and the snake lay at his feet like an earthworm. The brahmachari said: ‘Look here. Why do you go about doing harm? Come, I will give you a holy word. By repeating it you will learn to love God. Ultimately you will realize Him and so get rid of your violent nature.’

Saying this, he taught the snake a holy word and initiated him into spiritual life. The snake bowed before the teacher and said, ‘Revered sir, how shall I practise spiritual discipline?’ ‘Repeat that sacred word’, said the teacher, ‘and do no harm to anybody.’ As he was about to depart, the brahmachari said, ‘I shall see you again.’

“Some days passed and the cowherd boys noticed that the snake would not bite. They threw stones at it. Still it showed no anger; it behaved as if it were an earthworm. One day one of the boys came close to it, caught it by the tail, and, whirling it round and round, dashed it again and again on the ground and threw it away. The snake vomited blood and became unconscious. It was stunned. It could not move. So, thinking it dead, the boys went their way.

Late at night the snake regained consciousness. Slowly and with great difficulty it dragged itself into its hole; its bones were broken and it could scarcely move. Many days passed. The snake became a mere skeleton covered with a skin. Now and then, at night, it would come out in search of food. For fear of the boys it would not leave its hole during the day-time. Since receiving the sacred word from the teacher, it had given up doing harm to others. It maintained its life on dirt, leaves, or the fruit that dropped from the trees.

About a year later the brahmachari came that way again and asked after the snake. The cowherd boys told him that it was dead. But he couldn’t believe them. He knew that the snake would not die before attaining the fruit of the holy word with which it had been initiated.

He found his way to the place and, searching here and there, called it by the name he had given it. Hearing the teacher’s voice, it came out of its hole and bowed before him with great reverence. ‘How are you?’ asked the brahmachari. ‘I am well, sir’, replied the snake. ‘But’, the teacher asked, ‘why are you so thin?’ The snake replied: ‘Revered sir, you ordered me not to harm anybody. So I have been living only on leaves and fruit. Perhaps that has made me thinner.’

The snake had developed the quality of sattva; it could not be angry with anyone. It had totally forgotten that the cowherd boys had almost killed it.

The brahmachari said: ‘It can’t be mere want of food that has reduced you to this state. There must be some other reason. Think a little.’ Then the snake remembered that the boys had dashed it against the ground. It said: ‘Yes, revered sir, now I remember. The boys one day dashed me violently against the ground. They are ignorant, after all. They didn’t realize what a great change had come over my mind. How could they know I wouldn’t bite or harm anyone?’

The brahmachari exclaimed: ‘What a shame! You are such a fool! You don’t know how to protect yourself. I asked you not to bite, but I didn’t forbid you to hiss. Why didn’t you scare them by hissing?’

Starting 2016 with Music

Sarah and I did our first gig of 2016 last night at Coat of Arms. January is always a quiet month as people hunker down in their dens to avoid the cold weather, and of course to try to rescue their finances and health after Christmas and the new year celebrations! So, thanks to all the folks who came out last night and made it such a fun night for us.

We have been practicing some new songs and polishing up some old versions with more harmony and fun guitar stuff. For the last few years, I’ve been primarily using DADGAD as my guitar tuning. Recently, I’ve been experimenting a bit more with open G and other strange combinations. Great sound on my old trusty Lowden guitar.

We are playing tonight with the Tomo Shagger band at Shooters, Fushimi. Then next Friday, we are heading up to Tokyo to play at the opening of an art exhibition.

And on Sunday, rehearsals are going to finally begin for Jukebox Paradise. We have a marvellous cast assembled and it’s going to be great working with everyone to produce a wonderful musical in November.

Change in website name

Happy new year to all. I hope that 2016 will be a great year for everyone. As usual, the beginning of the year provides a useful milestone to set goals or to decide what you want more of or less of in your life.

One of the things that I want more of in my life is simplicity, so I have decided to simplify some of my websites.

Since 2010, I have been providing my NLP & Hypnosis training under the name of Standing in Spirit. It is still a fine name with strong personal associations for myself. However, it has proven to be a little difficult for many Japanese people to remember. So for the sake of simplicity, I’ll be providing my training under the rather more transparent name of “Brian Cullen Training.”

Exploring L2 Creativity book

I finally got around to publishing my PhD thesis as an e-book in the Amazon store. You can purchase a copy here. Considering that it took 6 years to write, the price of about $9 seems fairly cheap. And it is a surprisingly good read.

The topic of research is non-native-speakers songwriters who are writing in English and the 450 pages of the thesis examine this fun and complex process in lots of different ways.

Don’t expect Dan Brown, but as academic research goes, this is probably one of the most readable tomes that you will ever come across. Continue Reading…

Jukebox Paradise Auditions – Day 2

Wow, there is so much talent in Nagoya. We were expecting some people to be good in the auditions for Jukebox Paradise today, and they were indeed very good. What we hadn’t quite expected was for the amazing talent that has emerged. Great singing, great reading of monologues and scripts.

We have one more day of auditions next Sunday and we won’t decide the roles until everyone has auditioned. In the meantime, we are having a lot of fun thinking about possibilities before we have to make the difficult decisions of who is going to work best for each role and with the whole team to make the musical as great as possible.

What we are sure of is that it is shaping up to be a very international cast – lots of talented people from many countries.


Billboard_Top_Rock'n'Roll_Hits_1962Remember 1962? Nope, I wasn’t born either, but it’s not too late to enjoy it.

The musical, Jukebox Paradise, is situated in Hawaii in 1962, and all the songs are written in the style of that era. So if you don’t remember all the hits of 1962, you can check out the list below. The information is from this super website.

Do you remember these songs: The Loco-Motion, The Twist, Duke of Earl, Twistin’ the Night Away, Can’t Help Falling in Love, Baby It’s You, Where Have All the Flowers Gone, If I Had a Hammer, Surfin’ Safari.

Wooooh, 1962 was quite a year!

Continue Reading…

Auditions for Jukebox Paradise Musical

12063611_10153632284360539_895045246377698635_nTomorrow is an exciting day – the first day of auditions for Jukebox Paradise, a rock and roll musical that started out in my head more than 20 years ago. We are going to stage the show for the very first time in November 2016.

If you’d like to be part of a really fun show with great music, we’d love to see you at the auditions on November 8th, 15th, or 22nd. Please read the details below. And please share the information with anyone that you think might be interested.

Continue Reading…

Christmas Show at Plastic Factory

Sarah and I looking are forward to playing at Plastic Factory again for a lovely Christmas show. We will sharing a stage with Aya Kawakami and Takashi Terada.

Here is the description from the Facebook Event page.

Brian Cullen and Sarah Mulvey, Aya Kawakami, and Takashi Terada, and special guests will be bringing you a beautiful candle-lit Christmas evening of songs and stories at Plastic Factory. This isn’t a KFC or Mariah Carey kind of Christmas. And we want YOU to be part of the story-telling. Between music sets, please grab a chair and a mic, and share your own Christmas memory. Being far away from family overseas can make this time of year difficult for some; let’s spread some cheer, and get into the true spirit of the season – sharing music and stories with friends. See you there!

1,500 yen (including one drink)


First Online Self-Hypnosis Course Completed!

self-hypnosis-300x225I did my first online training over the last three weeks by running a self-hypnosis course using a web-meeting system called AnyMeeting. Naturally, we had glitches along the way in the form of audio problems and other connectivity issues. Still, the power of modern technology
never fails to amaze me. It is now possible to learn pretty much anything that you want as long as you have a decent Internet connection.

Continue Reading…

NLP Festival 2015

If you haven’t heard about the NLP Festival 2015 yet, please check out the webpage. It’s going to be a really great event full of fun and learning. We have Martin Gustaffson, a master trainer of NLP, coming in from Sweden. There will be lessons in Self-hypnosis, workshops on state management, marketing NLP skills and more. And of course, on Saturday night, we will have the big social event with music, dancing, crystal bowls, and trancing. See you in Nagoya at the end of October.

Interview with Richard Davies

Thanks to Richard Davies for interviewing me for his web program. It was a really fun interview in which we tried to define NLP and returned to the old Robert Dilts definition of “the study of the structure of Subjective Experience”. We also addressed the question of why NLP is not therapy, and how it can be used as a therapeutic tool. Lots of fun stuff here.

Haiwatha and the Sticks

A long long time ago, in North America, there lived a great leader called Haiwatha. He was a powerful man, but he had a terrible problem. His country and the next country were at war. Haiwatha had killed many of his enemy but he had also suffered greatly. Haiwatha had lost his parents and his pregnant wife. And Haiwatha was tired of war. He wanted peace. But he knew that his enemy would not accept a peace agreement. And so he had a big problem.

What do you do when you have a big problem in your life?

Haiwatha decided to go deep into Nature, because in a mysterious way, sometimes Nature can give us the answer to our problems. So he crossed the fields, he swam the mighty river, and climbed deep into the mountains. Haiwatha spent many days in the mountains, thinking about how he could make peace in his country.

One cold morning, Haiwatha wanted to make a fire. So he went and picked up wooden sticks. As he picked up the sticks, he looked at the pieces of wood and suddenly realized how he could bring peace to his country.

Carrying the sticks, Haiawatha ran down the mountain, swam the mighty river, walked through the fields and walked into his enemy’s village. This of course was a very dangerous thing to do because his enemy could kill him easily.

The leader of the village came to Haiwatha and Haiwatha said, “let’s have peace, let’s stop fighting, let’s end the war.”

The leader looked at Haiwatha and said, “No there shall be no peace. You have killed my people, you have killed my family and we want revenge.”

Haiwatha expected this answer, and he took one thin stick from the group of sticks. And he said to his enemy, “I will accept war but only if you can break this one thin stick.”

Haiwatha laughed because he was a powerful man and he could easily break the stick. And he raised the stick above his head. Just before his enemy broke the stick, Haiwatha said, “Wait.”

And Haiwatha picked up the large group of sticks, and he carefully put that one thin stick into the middle of the group. Haiwatha said, “Now try to break the stick.”

And now because the thin stick was protected by the group of sticks, his enemy could not break that one stick, no matter how hard he tried.

Haiwatha said, “We are like sticks because when we are divided we are easily broken. But when we come together, we are powerful. Let’s at least try to work for peace.”

And his enemy saw the wisdom of Haiwatha’s words, and this was the beginning of the peace journey.

The moral of the story is, we people of the 21st century are also like sticks. When we gather our role models around us like sticks, we become more powerful, too.”

Conlan and Conan Against the Raid


Once upon a time in a land far away, there was a magnificent kingdom ruled by a magnanimous king. The fields bore fruits and vegetables that were ripe, sweet, and juicy. The forests had many trees of multiple varieties. The other natural resources were plentiful, making this kingdom rich and prosperous, and its people so very content and happy that none bothered to venture beyond its borders.

However, one day a messenger arrived from the neighboring kingdom to the north.

“Your majesty, I bring terrible news. Raiders from the frozen lands far to the north have marched south; destroying all of the other kingdoms, and robbing their lands of their riches. Only your secret vault remains, with the treasure yet intact you promised to loan us. My king sent me here to give you back the key, but you must hurry and send only your bravest knights to retrieve it.”

So the king immediately called his subjects together and made an announcement.

“To the brave knights and any others who bring back this treasure, I will give one-half – to be divided into equal shares among those who carry it to me.”

Two dozen men shouted, “I will go!” and gathered their arms and other supplies to make ready for the arduous journey.

The road north was most treacherous in this kingdom, for it was closest to the headwaters of the river they followed that connected all of the kingdoms in this part of the world. At the base of the mountain range whose long, towering peaks created the border between the southernmost kingdoms, a tunnel had been dug; for the river was too treacherous to float upon, and the cliffs too steep and rocky for a trail. Halfway through the mile-long passageway, the only knight who had ever traveled through it spoke.

“Something is amiss. We should see the light at the other end at this point!”

True enough, when they got to the end, a huge boulder blocked the path. As hard as all of them together tried, they could not budge the enormous rock.

“It is an impossible task!” most cried. “A sure sign from God to turn back!” said the others.

So with heads hung low, the knights from the southernmost kingdom retreated.

Among these men strode a young scribe, small for his years but with the heart of a lion. His name was Conlan. His skill using all weaponry was remarkable, but overlooked due to his size. As he neared the light at beginning of the tunnel, a weird feeling developed in his gut. He recognized it was telling him to remain. Conlan was also a clever young man, so he turned to his knight and said, “Sir Knight, I beg your pardon for I wish to stay here until the raiders from the north return; whereupon I will rush back to you to carry the warning of their arrival.” Being a fairly intelligent man. Sir Knight understood the logic of the plan, and granted Conlan’s wish. He also slipped Conlan the keys to the vault, “just in case.”

As soon as the others had walked out of sight, a strange wizened man trudged out of the forest and walked-up to Conlan. He said his name was Conan.

“Your companions left too soon,” Conan said. “They didn’t try enough ways to remove the rock. They are all quitters.”

“How many ways are ‘enough’?” aped Conlan, angry at the way Conan spoke of his fellows.

“As many as it takes to succeed!” answered Conan.

Then Conan told Conlan several things he knew he didn’t know Conlan didn’t know. He told the scribe that the raiders had stopped raiding as soon as the first snow had fallen. They had won so much treasure that they knew they couldn’t get back to their homeland carrying both their ill-gotten gain and their armory, so they had decided to dig a great pit and hide all their weapons in it until they would return early next summer. The giant boulder at the end of the tunnel covered the pit. Conan also told Conlan he knew a way to remove the huge rock.

“These cracks run deep into the heart of this boulder,” Conan told Conlan as they inspected the rock. “If we can trap enough water inside, the freeze that will soon come should expand the frozen water enough to split this rock into many smaller pieces. Small enough to easily remove them.”

And it came to pass that Conan’s plan worked to perfection, and he and Conlan removed the debris and brought-up the raider’s weapons: which were superior to their kingdom’s in all ways. The weapons were stored in several large carts, so the scribe and old man emptied one and headed for the vault.

The kingdom went wild with excitement when Conlan returned with the weapons and treasure. He rightfully claimed his share, then introduced Conan.

“Forgive me, your Highness, but I must dampen the mood of this celebration. There will be time to celebrate later, but now is the time to prepare for the raiders’ return. For if you fail to plan, you are planning to fall into destruction!” warned Conan.

So the wise king gathered his forces and plotted different strategies for the raiders’ return. And it came to pass that early the next summer when the raiders revisited they were ambushed as soon as they entered the tunnel, and forced to surrender without a fight.

When the good king confronted the raiders, he spoke these words:

“I can appreciate your need for the riches you have taken from our neighbors, for I have heard many tales of the harshness of your barren land. Therefore, I shall give you two choices. You may remain and join my kingdom and work-off your share of what your people have stolen: or, you may return to your lands and keep what you have already taken, but only after you sign a treaty that states you must never return to any of our kingdoms with hostile intent.”

Most of the raiders signed the treaty and returned to their homeland. The king gave his half of the treasure to the neighboring for them to use to rebuild. Conlan also gave a large portion of his share, but not until he married a pretty girl and built a nice home.

And Conan returned to the forest by the tunnel, and contemplated things he didn’t know he didn’t know he didn’t know until the end of his days. Which was actually another beginning.


Learning is Like a River

Sometimes, it can be hard to learn something new because it all seems to go so slowly in the beginning. Naturally it takes time to build connections in the brain and all we really need to do is to spend more time on the activity that we want to learn.

Just like water running down a mountain – it doesn’t begin as a mighty river. Instead, it builds up over time, from the first drops of rain struggling to find their way down a mountainside and then gradually forming a gentle flowing stream to becoming a bigger, faster running river.

And as those drops of water come together and begin to flow, our learning can begin to flow and become easier and easier over time until it becomes completely natural and a beautiful thing to watch. 

A Decision

One night, I was playing guitar and singing in an Irish pub in Japan and a young woman walked in. I knew that I knew her from somewhere, and she clearly recognized me. At the break, she came up and asked me in excellent English that difficult question, “Do you remember me?”
I had to admit that I remembered her face but couldn’t remember where we had met.

She told me that I had been her English teacher 8 years previously in high school, and then it all came back to me. Yes, I remembered her. I remembered her whole class because it was my least favourite class of all my time teaching in high school. I remembered that horrible feeling just walking towards the classroom before either of their two weekly lessons.

And I also remember making a promise to myself at that time that I would try harder in those classes than any other classes. So before every single class, I stood outside for a moment and reminded myself of that decision.  At the end of the year, I was so happy to say goodbye to them. I still didn’t like that group of students, but I had tried.
The young woman in the Irish pub remembered those lessons, too.
“There were some bad students in that class, but you tried so hard in every lesson to teach us that you really made me interested in English. Because of that, I decided to go to the United States to study nursing. Your class really inspired me. It changed my life.”
We never know when our little efforts and little words can change a person’s life and bring happiness in ways that we could never have imagined.

The Wind and the Sun

A dispute arose between the Wind and the Sun about who was the stronger of the two. They decided to settle the issue by seeing who could get a passing traveler to take off his cloak first. The Wind blew with all his might, but the harder the Wind blew, the tighter the traveller grasped his cloak and wrapped it around himself. Then the Sun shined it’s soft, kind rays, and as the traveller felt more of the genial warmth, he finally removed his cloak. The Sun was declared the winner.

Review: Heart of the Mind

Title: Heart of the Mind

Authors: Connirae Andreas and Steve Andreas

Published: 1989

For me, this is one of the classic NLP books, a beautifully written and very accessible book that explains so many of the key processes in NLP. It is full of real-life examples, and probably most importantly it has many transcripts of actual client sessions and the kind of change language that is assumed but not actually used in many NLP books.

Continue Reading…

Five Monkeys

Start with a cage containing five monkeys.

Inside the cage, hang a banana on a string and place a set of stairs under it. Before long, a monkey will go to the stairs and start to climb towards the banana. As soon as he touches the stairs, spray all of the other monkeys with cold water.

After a while, another monkey makes an attempt with the same result – all the other monkeys are sprayed with cold water. Pretty soon, when another monkey tries to climb the stairs, the other monkeys will try to prevent it.

Now, put away the cold water. Remove one monkey from the cage and replace it with a new one. The new monkey sees the banana and wants to climb the stairs. To his surprise and horror, all of the other monkeys attack him.

After another attempt and attack, he knows that if he tries to climb the stairs, he will be assaulted.

Next, remove another of the original five monkeys and replace it with a new one. The newcomer goes to the stairs and is attacked. The previous newcomer takes part in the punishment with enthusiasm! Likewise, replace a third original monkey with a new one, then a fourth, then the fifth. Every time the newest monkey takes to the stairs, he is attacked.

Most of the monkeys that are beating him have no idea why they were not permitted to climb the stairs or why they are participating in the beating of the newest monkey.

After replacing all the original monkeys, none of the remaining monkeys have ever been sprayed with cold water. Nevertheless, no monkey ever again approaches the stairs to try for the banana. Why not? Because as far as they know that’s the way it’s always been done round here.

Matchers and Mismatchers in the Classroom

When you have free time, do you like to enjoy doing things that you have always done or do you prefer to try out new things?

How about going on holidays? Do you like to visit the same place year after year or do you like to visit new places and experience different things?

Or learning – do you like to learn in the same way or do you prefer to us new technology to learn?

If you strongly prefer to have and do the same things that you have always have and done, then NLP would call you a Matcher. If you strongly prefer to have and do different things, then NLP would call you a Mismatcher.

Another way of describing this is to talk about Sameness and Difference. A Matcher looks for the same things as usual. A Mismatcher looks for different things.

Of course, most people are somewhere in between. So you might be mainly looking for the same and also looking for something a little new at the same time. Or you might be mainly looking for new things, but want a little bit of the familiar in there, too.

As you begin to think about this distinction, you will probably notice that each of your students tends toward Matcher or Mismtcher. Neither is better or worse in any way. They are just different ways of looking at the world, and both can be useful in different situations.

Once you start to notice this distinction, you can begin to tailor your classroom language to achieve the best results.

For Matcher: “This is very similar to what we learned last week, so you will probably find it easy to learn today’s topic.”

For Mismatcher: “Much of today’s topic is completely new, and I think you will find it interesting to learn it.”

Eyes Up for Better Presentations

As teachers, many of us are helping our students to make presentations. Whether it is a simple show-and-tell in a kids’ class or an advanced presentation of fluid dynamics by an aerodynamics PhD candidate, some of the basic principles are exactly the same. I know very well because I have taught in both of these situations and beneath the very different content and language level is the basic need for good  human interaction.

And besides helping your students make better presentations, it is also useful thinking about how you can make your own presentations better. After all, as a teacher you are actually presentations every single day that you walk into a classroom and stand in front of your students.

When I was doing an NLP course in California at NLPU a few years ago, we had a guest trainer called Michael Colgrass. Michael is a successful composer as well as a trainer, so he knows a few things about dealing with an audience.

Michael Colgrass teaches people how to walk on to a stage using what he calls the “Eyes Up” technique. It’s very simple. Keep your eyes up as you are walking on to the stage and keep looking at the audience.

But it begins before you ever walk onto the stage.

Your presentation begins the moment that your name is called or the moment that you stand up to walk towards the front of the room, or perhaps earlier. That is the moment when people begin to watch you.

After this moment, the space in the room is your space. The time for the presentation is your time. And as you walk to the stage, you need to be aware that people’s eyes are already on you and that they are already judging your performance in the presentation.

So how do you prepare for all this attention. A key factor is to be in a good state, i.e. confident and ready. One good way to do that is simply to take a few deep breaths. Some presenters have a little mantra that they say to themselves to get ready, e.g. “I am ready…they are going to love me, I am ready…they are going to love me.” Some people like to stretch. It doesn’t really matter what your routine is–the point is that it should be a routine, something that you practice and can then reliably do in order to enter that state of confidence and readiness before that magic moment when you stand up.

And after standing up, what’s next? You walk towards that stage or the front of the room, with your body erect and your head held high. Of course, you should be “eyes up”, noticing the people around you and staying in your good state.

If there are steps to the stage, be sure that you have already visualized and figured out how you are going to climb them while still keeping your eyes up.

And then once you are on the stage, walk to the center, and make the space into your space. For the length of the presentation, it is your space!

When you begin, make eye contact with the whole room. Make sure that you look at everyone or at least at each section of the room. Strong eye contact at the beginning can make a connection that can strengthen your whole presentation as well as giving both you and the audience the confidence that you can do a great job.

You will probably use notes or slides or similar throughout  your presentation. That is fine–in that case, you probably won’t have your eyes on the audience the whole time.

But do remember to check back in with them. Words are important, but there are few things that can make a connection in communication as strongly as the human eyes.

The content of your presentation is important, and I’m sure that you spend lots of time preparing it to make sure that it is as good as possible. Language, however, can be regarded as either transactional or interactional. Transactional language is used to communicate information. Interactional language is used to strengthen or change the social relationships between people in a group. A presentation is both transactional and interactional.

So, of course your content is important (transactional language), but it is also vital to remember that you are presenting yourself (interactional language) and your image in front of the audience is extremely important.

Ghandi said “My life is my message.” By this, he meant that his whole life and way of presenting himself to the world was congruent with the content that he was conveying.

In your presentations or when you are helping your students make better presentations, aim for congruence. Think about your use of words, gestures, voice, eyes, use of space, and visuals. They are all important in helping you to really connect to your audience.

And if you want to hear the important message of this article one more time: Eyes Up!


Generalizations, Distortions, and Deletions

We do not experience the world directly (even all the stuff in our classrooms!).

Instead, everything that we see, hear, or feel comes into our neurology and our experience through our senses.
Our eyes, ears, nose, mouth, skin and other parts of our body convey the information from the outside worlds to our brains.

And of course, taking in all of this information is impossible.
There is simply too much of it for us to absorb.
So our neurology naturally has some mechanisms to figure out which information to take in, depending on what seems to be important at any moment in time.

In NLP, we call these mechanisms: generalization, deletion, and distortion, and we use them whenever we experience any external event.
In other words, we are always using these three processes in an attempt to make sense of all the stuff that the world and our students throw at us!

Let’s look at a few practical classroom examples of each of these processes and begin to consider how they can sometimes limit us.

Let’s say that you are teaching young kids and that you have learned that all young kids like to learn through singing songs. This is a pretty good generalization and will be useful for teaching most kids. Suppose, however, there is a kid who really hates singing and refuses to sing. Now, in your map of the world, your generalization of “all kids like to sing” is quite likely to make you view this kid as resistant. You are applying your generalization (which is useful in most cases) to a situation where it is not actually true (and thus not so useful). For this kid at least, your generalization is actually limiting his or her ability to learn.

Deletion occurs when we fail to notice something happening, in other words we ‘delete’ it from our experience even though it is happening in the real world. For example, have you ever had a ‘problem student’ who talks ‘all the time’. Chances are that the student is actually doing some good things, too, yet you fail to notice them (delete them) because you are not expecting to see them. In the classroom described above, we probably ‘delete’, i.e. Fil to notice, the non-singer’s ability to learn in other ways besides singing.

Distortion occurs when we notice something and change its meaning based on our previous experiences and map of the world. For example, we distort the meaning of the kid who doesn’t want to sing. He doesn’t sing because he doesn’t like singing. However, the teacher distorts it to mean ‘he is a resistant student’.

When we start looking at our classrooms and noticing things more carefully, we find that so much of the actual experience is being generalized, deleted, and distorted in order to match our current maps of the world. In many cases, this may be limiting our students’ learning.

As you begin to notice your classes more closely, what examples of generalization, deletion, and distortion can you share?


kingLong long ago, in a country far away from here, the King was sitting at his morning meditation when he received some news that disturbed him greatly and shook him out of his normal calm state. The messenger, who had brought the news from the far edges of the kingdom reported that a dragon had been seen again for the first time in many many years. Could it really be that a dragon would come again?

The King decided to take the time to visit his most-trusted advisor and teacher, the Wizard, who lived in an old house that stood on a cliff between the palace and the dark forest.

Now, one of the reasons that the King liked to visit the Wizard at his house rather than summoning him to the palace was because the Wizard had two beautiful windows in his living room –windows that seemed to face out upon every aspect of the world and bring sights and sounds, messages and deeds – from the world of today, the world of yesterday, and the world of tomorrow.



“They say that there is a dragon coming,” said the King.

“A dragon, indeed? It has been many long years since I have seen a dragon. Do you remember the dragon coming when you were just a boy,” asked the Wizard to the King.

“Oh yes”, said the King, “I remember watching the dragon come. It was so long ago – I was still so young and unwise in the ways of the world. I was immature like those trees that stand outside were just barely planted. Yet now although the trees stand tall, and I stand tall, I am still scared by the return of this dragon.”

“Come, come”, said the Wizard, let us go to my hall and notice what we can learn from the two windows that face out upon the world.”

They stood for a while in the center of the hall, peacefully enjoying the silence and the light of the late afternoon as it cast shadows through the two windows.

Each window was divided into three parts. The top and bottom parts of each window were a rich white colour. But the middle part of the windows were black with a gorgeous blue circle at the center.

amazing-eyes1Then from the center of the hall, the King looked up to his left through the top of the window on the left wall and saw the high mountains in the distance beyond the forest.
“Oh yes, I remember well,” as he continued to look up to his left, “I saw the dragon come and when he got enraged, I watched his breath turn to fire, and I stared at him burn those old houses to the ground. I looked at the flames and prayed that I would never see such a sight again.”

Then the King turned his attention to the center of the window on the left wall and he listened to the sounds of the world, as if he was listening to the past.
“Oh yes, I remember – I can hear the roars of that dragon coming back to me now. As I stand here now, I can listen again to the people screaming in fear at the dragon, but there was a sound, so clear and audible – that came to my ears even more directly than that screaming–it was the young dragon’s strange strange song. For there is nothing in this world that I have heard that is quite like the sound of dragonsong.”

After a few moments of silence, the King looked down left at the bottom of the window, and as he stood there, he seemed pensive and lost in thought. 
“I tell myself now, as I have always told myself, the dragon will come again. ”


After a few moments, the Wizard said, “and what do you see happening when that dragon comes again?”

The King looked up right to the window on the right wall and as he gazed up, his whole face took on a dreamy look as if he were seeing something not visible to other men.

“I see what has not been seen before. I see that future time when the dragon will come again. I watch it flying back into our land, bigger and stronger than it has ever been.”

He looked across at the beautiful center of the window.

“I imagine the sound of the dragon – who is older now. I imagine that I can hear the loud screams and the roars of the dragon. And I can hear that strange strange dragonsong again. For there is nothing in this world quite like the sound of dragonsong. Yet I know that it will sound different, for just like a child and a man, the voice will change over the years. And I imagine listening to that changed dragonsong.”

The King looked down right, and as he did he looked down right scared.

“I feel scared. Yes, deep down right … in my body, I feel tight and cold and hard … I feel scared.”

The Wizard smiled at the King and said, “Yes, I understood. You feel scared. And it is only natural for you to feel scared of what you do not understand and believe that you cannot control. You believe that the dragon will come again and destroy the houses of the people. You believe that you have no choice, but to fight the dragon. Yet there are always choices. Sometimes we just haven’t awoken to those choices yet and are following the paths that we learned to follow when we were children.”

“For the dragon is a magical creature and I know much about magic, how it is structured and used to change. Would you be interested in knowing that you can transform your communication with that dragon?”

The King nodded, a little unsure of what this was all about, but open-minded enough to realize that the Wizard might be able to help.

“Yes, of course,” continued the Wizard, “you are interested in learning to transform your communication with the dragon …with yourself and others … in mind, I mean. And you can … learn how to do that now.”

The Wizard walked to where the King had been standing and looked up left at the top of the window at the left of the hall.

“I remember seeing an older dragon – a beautiful beast – she came in peace. I watched her fly so slowly here – an enormous great red dragon with eyes of green and a wingspan half as wide as your palace.”

He lowered his eyes and looked at the beautiful center of the window and said in a soft voice, “And I heard her beautiful song–Dragonsong–and there is nothing in the world quite like dragonsong. It is a sound that can bring fear or anger or joy or love or hope. All of the emotions of the world can be expressed in the highest way in dragonsong. Yet when I heard the song of that great dragon, it was the sound of healing and love passing out into the world from a magical place.”

The Wizard looked down to the bottom of the window on his left and the King could see that he was whispering to himself. Then the Wizard said aloud, “When I saw her beauty and heard the magnificence of that song, I said to myself ‘this is a wondrous creature indeed and I wish to communicate with this creature. And although all around me, the people of the city panicked and wanted to attack the dragon, I begged them to give me a chance to try to communicate with the dragon.”

“And I did, you know, I really began to communicate with the dragon. For me, it was easiest to really begin to notice the sounds within the beautiful dragon song. The sounds came together in strange harmonies and counterpoints and each note resounded through my very soul.”

“And then I started to feel the dragon song vibrating in the air – and my whole body was vibrant with the energy of that dragon song, and I felt myself begin to move – and to dance to the beauty of that dragonsong.”

“It was only when I really allowed myself to hear the dragon and to feel its presence that I could truly see the dragon as it really is. For the dragon is a magical creature and it does not appear the same to all. When you look upon the dragon with fear or anger, you will see the sharp teeth and the fierce claws. But when you look upon the dragon with love, understanding, and openness, you can begin to see the beautiful eyes of the dragon gazing at you in an attempt to really reach you – and see the dragon’s heart beating in its chest and to see the healing energy that it sends out to all who are ready to accept it. And you can begin to understand that at the highest level, and with the highest possible intention, the dragonsong is a song of love.”

The King asked, “So why do we and the dragon fight and cause each other pain and destruction?”

The Wizard looked a little sad and replied, “sometimes we fail to understand the positive intention of each other’s communication. Sometimes one or other of us is carrying so much anger, fear, and pain inside that we forget how to really communicate.”

“And will the dragon come again?”, asked the king.

“Oh yes, I believe the dragon will come again” as he turned to face the right side of the room and look out the top part of the window on the right wall. “I can almost see it already – a glorious grown dragon with shining green magical eyes.”

He looked at the beautiful center of the window and continued, “I imagine hearing its beautiful dragonsong and nothing in this world sounds as beautiful as that mature dragon’s song.”

He looked out the bottom window on the right and he said “And I feel good – I feel that it is right for this dragon to come.”

He came back to the left side of the room and turned to the King and said, “Look out the top window See yourself again as you were as a small boy – immature. Face the middle window and hear again the screams of the people and realize that they were shouts of anger. When you remember listening to that dragonsong again, notice the sadness in the dragonsong. Now move down to the lower window and say to yourself, “I have grown and the dragon has grown.”

He guided the King over to the right side of the room and said, “now look out that top window and see what you have never seen before–imagine the dragon coming again, older, more mature, bringing peace and love. Look out the middle window and imagine hearing the beauty of a true mature dragonsong.”

“Your transforming communication with yourself and with the dragon changes the dragon and it also changes you. The dragon notices everything, and so do you – sometimes in the past you and the dragon just forgot to notice the good things. Just like you, the dragon is a mirror – it projects what it perceives. If you project fear and anger, the dragon will bring you those things. If you project openness and love, the dragon will bring you those things. Sometimes it will take a little time for us to release and dissolve any pain or anger that was stored up inside, now is the time to begin to release and dissolve, release and dissolve any pain or anger that was there … and begin to truly hear the dragonsong.”

“So look out the bottom of that window right now and feel so so good inside – letting those feelings grow – transforming words – communication throughout your whole life – realizing that you really have so much to learn from the beautiful dragonsong.”

The King walked around the room for a few minutes absorbing the words and message of the wizard. Finally, he turned and asked the Wizard, “

“Will this grown dragon be as you can imagine seeing and hearing – and so bring us fear and anger, or will it be as imagine seeing and hearing it –and so bring us joy, love, and learning?”

The Wizard smiled and said,

“Dragons are magical beasts. The strongest magic in the world is the power of the human mind – and when the human mind can learn to respect and begin to understand the true beauty of dragonsong, then you really can … transform communication.”

The Library

Once upon a time, a long long time ago, there was a teacher, a teacher who loved to teach and who loved to learn and to help people to learn and change. And one day on his day off, he decided to take a walk.

He lived in the north of the city and he decided to take a walk down south, at just the appropriate speed, to walk right through the city and to come to the old city in the south … deep into areas that he had visited years ago, but hadn’t returned to them in a long long time because the north of the city seemed so interesting and it engaged so much of his attention. And as he was slowly walking deeper through the streets in the south, some of which he was walking for the first time, he came to an old old building with classical architecture and he saw the sign, and it said ‘Library of the Ages’, so he decided to … go inside … that’s right, he decided to go inside to learn something, because it’s good to learn, isn’t it? And when you go inside a library, you can start to become curious about what you might learn.

And it was a long long time ago before Google and the Internet and all of that stuff, so if you wanted to learn you had to … go into the library. And even now, with the world of Google, it’s still sometimes good to learn things the old-fashioned way and to keep the knowledge in your own head. Because when you have the knowledge in your own head, that means that you can begin to make connections… begin to make connections between old knowledge and new knowledge that you might not yet even understand, connections that might surprise you, or you mightn’t be surprised immediately, or you might just surprise yourself much later and whatever you choose, that’s ok. Because making connections between old memories and new resources in the library is so important for learning and for change.

And when the teacher went inside the library, he was surprised because the inside of the library was so much bigger than it had looked from the outside. There was so much to learn, so many resources that he hadn’t really known about … inside the library. And he was glad that he had decided to go inside to learn as much as possible. The teacher noticed that the library was quite different … and if you asked him how it was different, he might just reply … you need to go inside yourself to really begin to understand what I mean.

There were so many books inside, and all of those wonderful resources were arranged on shelves in rooms along a long hallway. This long long hall inside the library was fairly dim-lit as libraries tend to be, with that characteristic smell of books, and that musty taste on the air, and on each side of the hall there were rooms.

So he started walking down the hall and he walked into a room on his left and he looked around and all the books were shiny and new. He looked at a few of the titles and he thought that he recognised them. They all seemed quite familiar, so the teacher thought “I know all this”, and he went out of that room because he was looking for something much older … and he walked a little bit deeper into the library, deeper down that hall.

Then he noticed another room that stood out for some reason and he went into that room and saw that all the books were a little bit older, just a little bit more creased and dog-worn, and the smell was just that little bit different because books really do smell differently as they get older, don’t they. And he looked at a few of the books and he recognised some of them, and others he sort of recognised, as if they were things or books that he had once read and known but couldn’t quite remember anymore.

And he went out of that room and started to walk deeper into the library, down that long hall, until he came quite deep, a long way deep into the library, and realised that in each room that he had passed, the books were getting older and older, dustier and dustier, and that smell of old books was getting stronger and stronger. And the teacher thought, “is it strange to have a library that is organised chronologically, organised by time, so as you go deeper into the library, further along the hall, you find yourself seeing older and older books, further back in time.” It seems an interesting way to organise a library, and perhaps it’s the most useful way, and perhaps there are other ways to organise a library, for example by having to decide which books are most important and useful and relevant now and then figuring out how to make the most important books prominent in some way.

But we’re not librarians, and the teacher was in that library, not the library of our imagination, so he is the one who will decide how this story proceeds, and we can just stay in our own stories. And that teacher decided to go into a room that wasn’t quite at the very depth of the hall, but was very deep, so he went inside the room, and he looked around, and at random he pulled one of the books off the shelves. He opened it up and it was a children’s book and when he looked around the room, he noticed that all of the books in that room were children’s books and all quite dusty as if no-one had looked at or enjoyed some of these books in a long long time.

He began to look at the book and it was full of lovely pictures for children, and he read on the first page the sentence, “Once upon a time, there was a teacher”, and he thought to himself, “that’s funny, you’re a teacher, wouldn’t it be funny if this book is all about you?”

So he looked at the book and he was looking at one of the pages, and there was a very small cute picture in the corner of a kids party. It was a small picture in black and white – just a simple sketch but evocative and memorable in some way. There was a little child there and the child was playing with friends and in front of the child was a birthday cake and in the background there was an old record player playing music. The teacher looked at the picture in the book and he smiled because it was funny. It reminded him of something and he wasn’t quite sure what it reminded him of.

Until suddenly there was a voice behind him that said “it’s good to remember the good times, isn’t it?”

He twirled around quickly and saw standing before him an older woman who was obviously a librarian. You know librarians. They have that look about them–they are always watching out, seeing things that other people don’t notice, and they know so much about books and how to learn.

“Yes,” said the teacher. “it does remind me of some good times, actually. It reminds me of a birthday party long long ago when I was just a kid, maybe just 7 years old. I had pretty much forgotten about it until now. It was a lovely party.”

As the teacher began to remember the party, other pictures started coming to mind and he began to remember the sounds of the party – the music playing and the people’s voices.”

The librarian looked at him and said, “Yes, sometimes a picture can really help a person to imagine that you’re right back at that time, seeing that scene out of your own eyes.”

And the teacher began to hear the words that people were saying and he could even smell the food and taste the amazing chocolate birthday cake. It was just wonderful. He could hear the music playing in that old record player.

And as he remembered back, the librarian helped him to remember in even more detail by asking simple questions like, “and is that picture that you see big, and is it vivid?” and “what would happen if you changed that picture into a movie?”

And as he remembered this happy memory, he just felt wonderful, more and more wonderful as he was able to  make that happier memory even better.

When he went home, he kept thinking about it and just felt great. And when he awoke the next day, he decided to go back to the library again. Because it was still his day off – teachers have lots of days off, you know. In fact, this was his summer vacation.

So once again, he walked deep down into the centre of the old city in the south, and once again, he decided to go inside. And he walked down, down down deep inside the library, even deeper until he came to that same room and when he saw the room, he was able to go inside and he went back to the same book, and he went back to the same page in that book and he noticed something really surprising.

Because the book was not what he remembered. The page looked different, quite different. When he had seen it the last time, there was just a small picture in black and white – just a simple sketch – he was almost sure of it. Yet today, it had become a big picture and was in full vivid colour. And the perspective had changed somehow because the child wasn’t in the picture. It was if the whole happy scene was been seen out of the child’s own eyes. And as he looked at it, the whole picture became alive and it was almost as if he was back in that event again. He could hear that music and feel so good.

He was also thinking to himself–this is not possible, is it? How could the pages in the book have changed? He thought, “I’m just imagining this”, and then he heard a noise behind him and there stood the librarian and she looked at him and she said, “You’re only imagining it, are you? Well, libraries are good places for imagining things, you know, and your mind is a powerful thing when you … learn to use it.” And she wandered off.

He was left alone again, wondering what did she mean when she said “your mind is a powerful thing when you learn to use it.” He walked out of the room, still feeling great and starting to become curious about what else might happen in this strange and wonderful place. He walked a long way back up along the long hallway up towards the door of the library. And as he passed one door, he felt a strong impulse to go inside that room. So he did go inside that room and it was full of books, books that looked a little newer than the children’s book that he had seen, yet still quite dusty as if no-one had read them or cleaned them out in a long time.

At random, yet somehow knowing what he was going to find, he chose a book from one of the shelves and again, the picture and the words in the book reminded him very much of something that had happened in his own life. For the pictures were much too bright and big and vivid for his taste … the angry face of a beautiful young woman. And in words too harsh was described a breakup of a teacher from his fiancé. Just like in his own life, when a few short years ago it seemed, yet it was really quite a bit longer than that. He couldn’t ever seem to forget it and he couldn’t seem to move beyond that time.

And he thought to himself, “I just wish I could tear that whole chapter out of the book.” because each time that he thought of his own memory, it brought him such pain and heartache, even though it was a long long time ago.

And he didn’t realise that he had said these words out loud, yet there again, behind him stood the librarian and she said, “you can’t tear out a chapter from a book. That chapter is part of the book. And each book in the library is useful in certain ways.”

He looked around and said, “but this chapter reminds me of something so sad – every time I remember it, it just brings back the horrible words and feelings and I just wish that I could tear it out.”

And the librarian looked at him and said, “well, you can’t tear it out, but your mind is a powerful thing when you .. learn to use it… perhaps you understand already that the only one who can really help you to learn and to change is … you. And you know how to change it … now … don’t you… when you … really begin to use the resources of the library?”

And the teacher began to look at the book and he noticed that the terrible picture of that horrible time was a big and bright picture with vivid colours, and he could see the angry angry face of the woman just before she walked away for the last time … as if he were looking out of his own eyes … and he could hear the words of their quarrel sounding in his head again … and he felt so terrible.”

And the teacher thought to himself, “you changed the other picture somehow, didn’t you? Perhaps somehow you can change this picture, too.”

“Well,” said the librarian. “Perhaps you might like to compare it with the picture on the opposite page.”

The teacher looked at the picture on the opposite page and it reminded him of another incident in his own life around the same time that he had almost forgotten about–a dispute that had seemed important at the time, yet it seemed ok to forget about it quickly. And that picture was very different – it was smaller and in black and white and down in the corner of the page. And what was particularly interesting was that he could see himself in the picture, or at least someone who looked remarkably like him.

“It’s completely different,” he said.

“That’s right,” said the librarian. It is quite a different representation, isn’t it, and maybe that’s the difference that made the difference. So if you like, just go ahead now and close your eyes and imagine that picture that has made you unhappy until now is different. Because when you close your eyes… yes just like that… perhaps you don’t need to look out of your own eyes – instead you can imagine seeing yourself in that picture, and notice how the feelings begin to change … now … and if you change that picture from full colour into black and white, just let the colours melt away … and shrink it right down … so small that it only occupies a small unimportant location in the corner of the page … and let those sounds, those words that were with the picture … make them slower and quieter until they just float away peacefully … make them distant as if they are coming from a long long way away.”

And the teacher did all of that, and he opened his eyes, not daring to look at the book for a long time. And when he did look at the book, he couldn’t even remember what the page had looked like before or whether it really had changed or not, but he realised that his feelings had totally changed. He realised that that event was over, and it was time for him to put it in the past and to just move forward. But he learned something even more important–he learned that some things can not be destroyed or taken away, but they can be changed by learning to perceive them in a different way.

And as he left the library, he asked at the front desk if he could speak to the old librarian who had helped him. The young lady looked at him strangely and said, “I’m sorry, Sir, there is no-one who works here who looks like that.

The teacher said, “but that’s not possible – I saw her just a few minutes ago.”

The young librarian smiled at him and said, “It’s funny, isn’t it? People can get so lost in their thoughts here that some things are possible in the library that you might not have thought were possible … but what I love is that when you go out into the real world, the real world outside may be the same, but when you learn from the resources in the library, you change, and your perception of that outside world will never be the same. It’s as if you can create a new map for the world with the resources of the library. The library is such a wonderful place to learn and change. And I always look at each person as they pass and think, ‘I wonder what you will learn today.'”


As a quick search on Amazon or Google will reveal, there are hundreds of books about NLP. If you’re interested in learning about quite a lot of them that I have read, you can check out the reviews that we have written. But more likely, you are looking for a book that can introduce you to NLP in an effective and easy-to-understand way, so I’ll only mention one below for the moment. The links are to Amazon Japan, but you can probably find them in many other bookstores.

  1. NLP Workbook by Joseph O’Connor. There is also a Japanese translation of this book. What I love about this book is its great mixture of theory and practice. You will learn about many of the core ideas of NLP, but then you will be expected to put them into practice in the many activities that make up the book. This is indeed a ‘workbook’ and not just a ‘book’.
  2. Neuro-linguistic Programming for Dummies by Kate Burton and Romilla Ready. As with all of the books in the “Dummies” series, it isn’t really for Dummies! It is a well-written introductory book that will prepare you well for live NLP training.

At some point, I’ll probably add a few more recommendations! If you want to learn more, check out the reviews or better still, come along to a NLP training workshop at Standing in Spirit.

Feel free to get in touch and I will also try to answer your questions when possible.

What is NLP?

Neurolinguistic Programming (NLP) is a way of thinking about people and behavior rooted in curiosity and compassion that has created a set of tools for understanding how people think, behave and communicate. It provides a methodology for learning and sharing how people, especially experts, act and think to accomplish specific goals and results.

NLP Wiki

The most powerful tool in the world is the human brain, but most people don’t know how to use this amazing tool effectively. NLP is like the user’s manual for the brain. It allows us to use our brains in the most useful ways to achieve powerful outcomes in our personal and professional lives.

Fundamentally, NLP is the modelling of excellence. When you look around, you can see some people who really excel at what they are doing. Whether it is business, education, sport, social interaction, public speaking, or any other realm of life. NLP allows us to model these successful people to find out how they are doing what they are doing so that we can do it ourselves or teach it to other people. NLP is all about identifying and adopting the difference that makes the difference.

NLP even allows a person to model himself or herself. For example, you can remember a situation where you achieved success. NLP will show you how to enter back into that state in order to achieve the goals that you really want in your life. By understanding how your mind works, you can change it so that it is always working for you and improving your life and the lives of those around you. As well as being a way to model excellence in any field, NLP can also be understood as the underlying attitude of curiosity and the trail of useful techniques that result from this modelling.

If we look at the word more closely, NLP stands for Neuro-Linguistic Programming. This name contains three important words that are useful for describing human experience:




The neurological system regulates how our bodies function. Language determines how we interface and communicate with other people. Our programming determines the kinds of models of the world we create. So NLP describes the  interaction between mind (neuro) and language (linguistic) and how this interaction affects our body and behavior (programming).

One of the co-founders of NLP, Richard Bandler, coined this definition for the Oxford English Dictionary.

Neuro-Linguistic Programming is a model of interpersonal communication chiefly concerned with the relationship between successful patterns of behaviour and the subjective experiences (esp. patterns of thought) underlying them. … and a system of alternative therapy based on this which seeks to educate people in self-awareness and effective communication, and to change their patterns of mental and emotional behaviour.

The other co-founder of NLP focuses much more on the modelling aspect of this technology:

There are people who are recognized as being particularly adept in their performance. NLP is the bridge between being jealous of these people and admiring them… it gives a third way … a set of strategies to unconsciously assimilate precisely the differences that make the difference between this genius and an average performer…. It is an accelerated learning strategy, a mapping of tacit to explicit knowledge … a program that allows you to explore one extreme of human behaviour – namely excellence.

(Transcribed from YouTube video of John Grinder).

In essence, all of NLP is founded on two fundamental presuppositions:

1. The Map is Not the Territory.

As human beings, we can never know reality. We can only know our perceptions of reality. We experience and respond to the world around us based on our ‘neuro-linguistic’ maps of reality – not reality itself.

2. Life and ‘Mind’ are Systemic Processes.

The processes that take place within a human being and between human beings and their environment are systemic. Our bodies, our societies, and our universe form an ecology of systems and all of these systems interact  and mutually influence each other. When we want to change one part of our life, it is important to consider the ecology – what effect will it have on other parts of our life or on the people and world around us?

In the belief system of NLP it is not possible for human beings to know objective reality. There is no one ‘right’ or ‘correct’ map of the world. The people who are most effective in this world are the ones who have a map of the world that allows them to perceive the greatest number of available choices and perspectives.

NLP is a way of enriching the choices that you have and perceive. One of the co-developers of NLP, Robert Dilts, says: “Excellence comes from having many choices. Wisdom comes from having multiple perspectives.”

On this website, you can find details of NLP coaching for personal or professional life. You can also find out how to train in NLP so that you can incorporate these valuable skills and create a life that is richer in every way.

Most people who hear about NLP ask them themselves questions like:

These are excellent questions. NLP is all about the “How” word, and when you ask it, it is already clear that you are actively searching for something that will help you to be more effective.

NLP is the modelling of human excellence and aims to help people to do things more effectively. The co-founders of neuro-come linguistic Programming (NLP), Richard Bandler and linguist John Grinder, claimed that NLP would “help people to have better, fuller, and richer lives.” When I first came upon NLP many years ago, I was very skeptical about this claims. And I believe that you should be skeptical, too, until you can experience yourself what NLP can achieve.  Based upon my work with clients and participants at workshops, I now agree very strongly that NLP is a remarkable way to make lasting changes in your life – to become the very best that you can truly be in your personal and working life. Standing in Spirit offers you experienced and licensed NLP master practitioners, coaches, and trainers of NLP who will work with you to help you to achieve your desired outcomes in the quickest and most effective ways.

Getting Started

If you want to achieve something in your personal or business life, NLP can help you to do it. Top performers in every field of life use the techniques of NLP. Get in touch to discuss your issues further, answer any questions you might have, give you a realistic estimate of the number of coaching sessions you may require, and begin to improve the quality of your working and personal life. Read more at the links below.

Or contact us to answer any other questions that you have.

An Introduction to NLP for Teachers

My teaching has changed completely since I learned NLP, and I believe that NLP has a huge amount to offer teachers–to help you really make your classes as good as they can be. This page links to many resources for teachers all over this website and around the Internet. You should also sign up for the Tips for Teachers newsletter if you haven’t already done so.

Teachers all over the world have found NLP to be useful in many ways. If you are new to NLP, you might like to check out the “What is NLP?” page. Or if you are curious to find out how NLP can really help you,  other teachers are already using NLP to …

  • Motivate learners and get them curious to learn more
  • Use language carefully to get the results that you want
  • Create rapport quickly with groups of learners
  • Understand and utilize different learning styles
  • Model the strategies of good learners and good teachers
  • Help students with ‘learning problems” including ADD and Hikikomori
  • Manage your own state and motivate yourself before every lesson
  • Create a rich learning environment
  • Use powerful language patterns to teach at both a conscious and an unconscious level
  • Model the skills and strategies of successful teachers and learners
  • Have more fun than you had thought possible becoming the teacher that you are destined to be


The very best way to really understand how to use the powerful techniques and ideas of NLP in your classroom is to come along to a workshop. Our introductory workshop at Standing in Spirit is a two-day intensive workshop (Strategies for Success) that will help you to become the best teacher that you can be. You will also learn to apply NLP to other areas of your life and you may be surprised at how quickly these techniques can improve your communication and effectiveness in every area of your life. Or if you’d like us to set up a workshop at your school or in your area, please contact us!


 (NLP-Related Lessons & Lesson Ideas Coming Soon)

  • Facilitating Fluency Through Skill Transfer
  • Developing an ideal L2-Self with NLP

Storytelling and Metaphors

FAB4 Conference Presentation – Storytelling and the Brain

On July 6, I presented at the FAB4 conference in Nagoya. Actually, I was program chair for the conference this year and I’m happy to say that the whole event was a great success. Feedback from participants has been very positive. FAB4 is the fourth conference by FAB (the rather cool if strange name means First Annual Brain Conference). The theme of the conference is neuroELT – helping language teachers to learn from the fields of psychology and neuroscience. More details are available at the FAB website.

Some of the participants (and folks on Facebook who watched the video) were interested in getting a copy of the slides, so I’ve created a pdf file.

FAB4 – StorytellingandtheBrain (Slideshow)

Update: And here is the handout

StorytellingtheBrain (Handout including some key books and references)

I’ll write up the content as a paper when I get around to it. Funny – that just reminded me of an old round dish that my mother used to love. It was called a Round Tuit. There was a little message on it saying something like “For years people have been putting things off and tuits have been quite difficult to find. Now however, you have finally got a Round Tuit and everything will move forward easily.”

Ah better still – here’s an image of one. Gotta love Google images.

Circle of Excellence

The Circle of Excellence is a great way to manage your own state when you are teaching. It is based on the NLP idea of anchoring. You have probably heard of the story of Pavlov’s dogs. When he rang a bell, he would feed the dogs, and the dogs would salivate. When he had trained the dogs, just ringing the bell would cause the dogs to salivate. In NLP terms, he had created an anchor (the bell) which produced the response (salivation).

Now, I’m not suggesting that you start to salivate every time the bell for class goes. Instead, what you want to do is anchor resourceful states in your circle of excellence. When you have practiced this lots of times, then just by imagining stepping into your circle, you can easily enter those resourceful states.

For example, supposing you decide that you want to feel confident in the classroom. Then you can add the state of confidence to your circle. Other useful states for teaching could be openness, energetic, calmness, whatever you believe will help you to be in the best state.

Before you do the Circle of Excellence process, choose three states that you would like to always have in your classroom.

1. _________  2. _________ 3. _________

The Circle of Excellence Process

  1. Imagine a circle in front of you about one meter in diameter.
  2. Remember a time when you felt completely [State].
  3. What did you see, hear, and feel at that time?
  4. When you are sure that you are completely in that state, step into the circle.
  5. Break state.
  6. Repeat with other states that you want to add to the circle.
  7. Test your circle. Make it stronger!
  8. Pick up your circle and put it into your pocket! Use it and keep it well recharged!

Remember that this is not magic – it is simply anchoring resources to an imaginary circle. I promise you that it will work, just in the same way as it worked for Pavlov’s dogs, but you need to practice. If you practice your circle of excellence for a few minutes each day for a week or so, you will soon be able to use it to be in the perfect state for every class! The more you use your circle, the better it will become.

As always, enjoy using NLP, enjoy your teaching, and let us know how you get on.

©Copyright 2012 by Dr. Brian Cullen

15 Ideas for Using Metaphors and Stories in Class

The metaphor database at Standing in Spirit provides hundreds of stories and metaphors that you can use in your EFL classes. You can of course use them as listening practice or to teach particular language patterns or vocabulary. One of the other useful ways to use these stories is to introduce your students to concepts and ideas that will motivate them and help them to learn more effectively. This  article suggests how 15 of the stories in the database could be used. I have chosen 15 ideas because that is the number of weeks that we have in one semester at our school. These are not intended as lesson plans – simply little ideas that will spark your own creativity. Please share your ideas, too! Oops, I seem to have gone above 15 – there are just too many good things to do with stories and metaphors 🙂

1. Imagine that you could speak English.

Encourage students to consider the possibilities which would open them to them if they could speak English well.

  • How would it feel if you were able to speak English really well?
  • What opportunities and possibilities are open to really good speakers of English?

Suggested Metaphor(s): The General

2. Take responsibility for your own learning

Class time is very limited. I meet my students once a week for 90 minutes. Apart from their English study, they have many other classes. As teachers, we do what we can to help our students learn English, but ultimately a person must take responsibility for their own learning. Some words like “sell” have a natural and required opposite word like “buy”. Even when “Teaching” occurs, that does not necessarily mean that “Learning” takes place! Suggested Metaphor(s): Balls and Cats, The Blue Butterfly

3. There are many ways to learn English

Some students successfully learn English through watching movies. Some achieve it through studying for a TOEIC or TOEFL test. Others learn by listening and singing along to their favourite songs. There are many ways to learn English, and all students can benefit from trying out different ways of learning. Suggested Metaphor(s): Blind Men and an Elephant

4. Set Learning Goals

Having students set learning goals can be very helpful in keeping motivated and tracking progress. There is also a great sense of achievement when the goal is achieved, or at least feedback if it isn’t reached! There are many possible goals. Making a numerical goal of some form is often useful because it can be clearly measured.  Possible numerical targets include getting 700 in the TOEIC test, holding five conversations of at least 10 minutes, reading 10,000 words of English in the semester, or writing two academic essays. Suggested Metaphor(s): Caps

5. Look on Difficulties or Problems as ‘Challenges’

In Japan, we often hear our EFL students say “Eigo ha muzukashii”, i.e. “English is difficult.” And of course, learning a language can be difficult. We can remind our students of other things that they have learned in their lives, such as a sport or a musical instrument and let them notice how rewarding it ultimately can be to overcome a difficulty. Suggested Metaphor(s): The Obstacle in the Road

6. Pay Attention and Notice Things

We want our students to pay attention and to focus on their learning. That will really help them to improve. I like to use this particular story because it talks about how to get good results in tests, and students always pay attention to that! Suggested Metaphor(s): Exam Questions

7. Manage Your Own Feelings

Students have a life outside the classroom (and I am very glad that they do!) and sometimes they bring in feelings and issues that negatively affect their learning. It is good for their learning of English (and for their whole lives) to remind them each person is in control of their own emotions and feelings. In NLP, we use the word ‘State’ to mean the total physical and mental condition that a person is in. A good state facilitates good learning. Suggested Metaphor(s): Two Wolves Inside 

8. Try Something Different

Sometimes students get stuck in their learning and can’t seem to progress forward. Sometimes students come to me and say, “no matter how many times I can’t listen, I never understand” or “I’ll never be able to write a proper essay in English.”  As Einstein is supposed to have said, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing again and again, and yet expecting a different result. Sometimes, the very best approach to a problem is to do something completely different. Suggested metaphor(s): The Calf

9. You Get What You Work For

There is no royal road to learning. The way to learn English is pretty clear – study it and use it! There’s going to be lots of difficulties (and fun) along the way, but you will get back whatever you put into it. Suggested metaphor(s): The Carpenter

10. See Your Own Improvement

There is so much standardized testing that students are always comparing themselves with other students. Even in cases when a student has improved greatly, she may not recognize this because her peers have improved, too. While standardized testing can be useful in some cases, it is also useful to look back and consider how much you have improved since one year ago or two years ago. I like the story “Choosing the Emperor” because it reminds us that learning and progress is something that we must do as individuals. Of course, working in a group can help, but ultimately learning is a personal endeavour. Suggested metaphor(s): Choosing the Emperor 

11. You Already Have the Resources You Need

Some keen students keep buying new books or DVDs or whatever materials are being promoted in the latest fad. Realistically, the Internet has made resources available for learning English to anyone with a decent Internet connection: Free materials on websites, free dictionaries, free quizzes, free lessons, free telephone calls on Skype … all the resources are now available. The resources are out there, and the teacher can introduce them to students, but the person who needs to learn from them can only be each individual student. Suggested metaphor(s): Treasure

12. You are not your (Past) Behaviour

Some students have been told things like, “you will never be good at English”, or they have acquired this belief by failing a test or getting a bad score. It is useful to separate Identity from Behaviour. Sure, in the past a student may have failed a test (Behaviour), but that does not mean that the student is a failure (Identity). The student may be a Japanese person (Identity), but that does not mean that they cannot speak English (Behaviour). Suggested metaphor(s): Writing Teacher

13. The Impossible can Become Possible

When a student is a low level of fluency in English, it may seem impossible to ever reach a high level and this can be very discouraging. This kind of limiting belief  is very common. Using stories and introducing role models of people who have walked the same learning path can be very useful. Suggested metaphor(s): The Four Minute Mile 

14. One Step at a Time

Pretty much anything can be learned if we break it down into little chunks and take it one step at a time. Suggested metaphor(s): Mountain Climbing, Eating an ElephantThe Starfish

15. Relax in Tests

Tests make people nervous. Unfortunately, in most cases, being nervous is actually bad for your performance. Suggested metaphor(s): The Archer

16. Identify what is Important to You

Get students to think about their own values – what is important to them in their lives and how does English relate to that? For example, some students will recognize that English is helpful for getting a good job. Others will connect English to their hobbies such as travel, music, or soccer. Some students really want to talk to people from other countries. Identifying values can really help to direct learning in the best directions. Suggested metaphor(s): The Fisherman and the Businessman

17. Keep Trying

Learning can be a long old road – keep trying, keep moving forward, stay open! Suggested metaphor(s): The Rose

Brian’s Selection of Classroom Stories

The story website has moved to
The links below may or may not still work, so please do a search on the new site if you can’t find anything.

This website has a collection of almost 200 stories for teachers and trainers. On this page, I’ve included some of my favourites – especially the ones that can be spun out into a 5 or 10 minute story. While some of the stories are quite short and can just be used illustrate a point, many of them can be told in a much longer narrative style. These provide great listening practice and a way to really engage students.

As they are written, some of the stories may appear quite short. Use your imagination and creativity to expand them and to add interesting details. I often use the split-story technique to tell the stories. In other words, I start the story and break off at a place where students are really wondering what is going to happen next. Then I go onto another activity. If you do this, be sure to finish the story at the end of class or the students may not allow you to leave!

And as always, if you have any more great stories for teaching, please share!

  1. The General
  2. The Obstacle in Our Path
  3. Exam Questions
  4. Two Wolves Within
  5. The Carpenter
  6. The Blue Butterfly
  7. Rich and Poor
  8. Treasure
  9. The Four Minute Mile
  10. The Hospital Room
  11. How Much do You Make an Hour?
  12. Sir Lancelot and The Essential Question 
  13. Mountain Climbing
  14. The Fisherman and the Businessman
  15. The Cinderella Communication Complex
  16. Krishna
  17. Starfish
  18. The Rose
  19. The Egg
  20. The Key
  21. Good or Bad?
  22. Taming an Elephant
  23. That’s Right
  24. The Drum
  25. The Axe
  26. Knowledge
  27. The Farmer
  28. Centipede
  29. Two Monks
  30. Buddha and the Heckler
  31. Iceskating
  32. Harvard Students
  33. The Beggar and the Judge
  34.  Words of wisdom from the Hodja
  35. Educating the Donkey
  36. The Bear
  37. The boy who banged a drum
  38. Always Be a Deaf Frog 
  39. The Giving Tree
  40. The Cracked Pot
  41. The Car Dealer
  42. The Mousetrap
  43. The Mule
  44. The Jigsaw
  45. Life Is Like a Cup of Coffee
  46. Two frogs in the milk
  47. A turn of the screw
  48. The Eagle’s Egg
  49. The carrot, the egg, and the coffee bean
  50. The Seeker of Truth
  51. A Meeting of Minds
  52. Heaven and Hell
  53. Dandelions
  54. The Two Drops of Oil
  55. The Traveller
  56. The Desert
  57. Gandhi and the Boy
  58. The Watermelon
  59. Is it full?
  60.  Rose
  61. Death Valley
  62. School is Boring
  63. Beth Gellert
  64. Buddha and the Gift
  65. The Bear and the Factory
  66. The Christmas Ham

NLP Tips for Storytelling in the Classroom


Brian Cullen, Nagoya Institute of Technology
Sarah Mulvey, Nagoya City University
Brad Deacon, Nanzan University

Storytelling has many benefits in the EFL classroom and other learning contexts including providing listening practice, aiding in vocabulary acquisition, and motivating students. In this paper, we will introduce some tips from the field of NLP to help you make storytelling into an even better learning experience in your classroom or learning context.

The field of neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) developed in the 1970s when Richard Bandler and John Grinder decided to study and model the communication patterns of expert communicators including family therapist, Virginia Satir, and hypnotherapist, Milton Erickson. Both of these people were famous for their ability to communicate effectively in ways that would help a client change and learn. One of the ways that they achieved this was to use stories in their communication in order to help their clients to learn to look at the world and at problematic situations in new ways. Bandler and Grinder went on to codify the language patterns of these expert communicators and others in a way that could be understood easily. More importantly, the results of their modelling means that teachers like you can also learn to use these language patterns and techniques in the storytelling in your classrooms.

In this paper, we introduce just a few of the many tricks and techniques that NLP has modelled from these experts of storytelling. At the end of each section, we have added a few tasks for the reader. We invite you to enjoy trying out these tasks and we hope that they will help you to bring these useful NLP tips effectively into the stories of your own classroom, creating an even better learning environment for your students.

Tip #1: Spatial anchors

Perhaps one of the simplest and most important things that you can do in the classroom is to create a special location for your storytelling. It is likely you already use special locations or areas of your classroom to some degree, but you may not have thought about it consciously yet. For example, you might stand behind the teacher desk when you take the roll. Or you might have particular areas on the blackboard or whiteboard where you write things like homework or class activities. Many teachers have a space on the left hand side of the board for classroom activities and space on the right hand side of the blackboard for homework. Why do we do this? We choose and use specific areas so that students become aware of these areas and know to look in these areas for the list of classroom activities or the homework.

In NLP, we call this use of a standard location a spatial anchor, and this simple concept can be very powerful in preparing students to easily enter the state of curiosity that is best for listening to a story. In our own classrooms, we maintain a special area that we use for storytelling and we only enter that area when we are going to tell a story. When we finish the story, we make sure that we have stepped out of that area again.

In a classroom, you can emphasize this storytelling area physically, for example by setting a chair on the left hand side of the teachers desk at the front of the classroom. Always make sure that you keep this spatial anchor completely clean. In other words, if you are doing any other activity such as taking the roll or teaching vocabulary to students, make sure that you are in another area of the classroom.

Now if we were to ask my students about the spatial anchors, maybe some or even most of them probably would have no conscious awareness of how we use the positions in the classroom, but at an unconscious level they are certainly aware. This unconscious awareness is particularly obvious to us when we use the storytelling spatial anchor in the classroom. After we have used it several times, then each time then we step into the position we can see students start to lean forward slightly and become more curious about what story is going to be told.

Think about it:

  1. What positions do you already use in your classroom for particular activities?
  2. What positions would you like to set up for your storytelling?
  3. Draw a map of your classroom and show the spatial anchors that you would like to use.

Tip #2: Enriching Maps of the World with Stories

One of the fundamental concepts of NLP states that the map is not the territory. In other words, the mental maps that we have to represent the world are not actually the same as the world itself. People don’t interact with the world directly but rather interact with their maps of the world. Some of these maps are more useful than others. For example, a student who has a mental map with the belief that “learning English is difficult because I am Japanese” is likely to learn less effectively than another student who has the belief “English is easy to learn because there are so many fun resources on the Internet”. Of course, we can try to get students to consciously change their beliefs and mental maps, but sometimes it is easier to change a belief or install a new belief at an unconscious level using a story.

Stories are of course often used as teaching tools. Many stories that are told to children are actually moral lessons in disguise. For example, recently I had the students in one of my classes bring in stories to read to other students. One of them brought the classic children’s story, The Goose Who Laid the Golden Egg. I have retold it briefly below:

Once upon a time, there was a man who had a goose that wouldn’t lay any eggs. Then one day, to his great surprise, he found a big golden coloured egg beside the goose. It was as heavy as lead, and at first he thought that it was a stone. Then he realized that it was an egg of pure gold! The next day, the goose laid another golden egg, and then another on the next day, and so it continued every day. The man sold the golden eggs and became very wealthy. As he grew more wealthy, he began to become more greedy. One day, he thought to himself, “why do I have to wait each day for the goose to lay the golden egg? Inside the goose, there must be a huge store of gold.” So the man got a sharp knife and killed the goose. He opened up its belly and he got a big surprise when he looked inside. Because inside, there was nothing there at all.

The student then went on to explain the ‘moral’ or ‘meaning’ of the story, saying that “the meaning of the story is that you should think carefully before carrying out any serious actions.” In our classrooms, there are many ‘morals’ or messages that we may want to convey to our students.

Think about it:

  1. What is a message you would like to send to the students in your class?
  2. What is a story that can be used to convey the message in a fun metaphorical way?

Tip #3: Teaching Patterns through Stories

Isomorphism! This complicated sounding word is simply another way of saying that one thing can be equivalent to another. In NLP, we would say that one map is equivalent to another map. The patterns that we want our students to learn may have an isomorphic equivalent in a story, or we can construct a story that provides an isomorphic equivalent. In the story of the Golden Goose, the man and the goose are unlikely to actually exist in the real world, but isomorphism allows us to relate these ideas to a parallel situation in our own lives. The underlying pattern or deep structure of the story is the same.

Stories are a great way of teaching patterns and ideas without explicitly teaching them. For example, through a story a problem can be solved. While solving the problem in the story may not actually change anything in the real world, if we design a story properly, we can use it to teach a problem-solving strategy. In the story of the Golden Goose above, we were teaching students not to rush into serious things. This kind of negative advice can be very useful. We can also use stories to teach students positive steps on how to achieve something. Here is a little story that I constructed to teach a particular pattern.

Taro really wanted to speak English better because he realized that many companies in Japan now require a good level of English, and everyone wants a good job, don’t they? So Taro started to think about other things that he could do well.

He is really good at baseball, so he started remembering how he learned to play baseball. He really admired the people on the top baseball team in the school and he imagined himself playing there on that field with the whole school watching him. Those players were great role models for him and he dreamed of being like them.

But of course, Taro knew that dreaming and imagining is not enough. You’ve got to take action, don’t you? So every day after school, he used to go to a particular place and practice with a group of his friends. And when he practiced, it was fun – it didn’t seem like work at all – he just felt excited. Sometimes, he got tired through practice but he just kept on going because he really wanted to be good.

As he practiced, he became more and more interested in baseball and he began to notice things related to baseball everywhere that he looked. It took quite some time, but eventually Taro was able to learn all the necessary skills and use them in the baseball games.

Eventually, all of his hard practice paid off and he was selected for the top baseball team in the school. Now, it was him that the whole school was watching and admiring.

Imagine that – he had become a role model for other people!

In this story, the goal was to model a good pattern for learning English by telling the story of Taro remembering the steps he took when he was learning baseball. For your students, it doesn’t have to be baseball, of course. It can be anything that your students have already learned successfully. Some of your students have learned how to play a sport very well. Others have become highly skilled at a musical instrument or tea ceremony or some other skill that took a lot of effort.

We can use stories like these to draw students’ attention to the fact that they already have successful learning experiences. At an unconscious level, these stories will also help students to revitalize the learning processes that they have used in the past. In this way, we are teaching or reteaching patterns of success through our storytelling.

Think about it:

  1. What is a pattern or behaviour that you would you like your students to develop?
  2. What are the steps of the pattern?
  3. What is a story that you could use to teach this pattern?

Tip #4: Visual, Auditory and Kinesthetic Language (VAK)

When we use language, we are actually creating images in other people’s heads. It’s almost magical. Through a few well chosen words, we can create vivid images, sounds, and feelings within our students’ minds. If you are interested in learning more about the neuroscience behind storytelling, and how humans are really storytelling animals, you can check out a presentation at:

Or if you would prefer to jump into understanding and creating that magic, take a few moments to notice the differences between these two descriptions of the same event.

Description 1
John went into the room. He sat down and looked around. He was scared.

Description 2

John looked down at the discoloured carpet on the corridor floor behind him, took a deep breath and then, pushing the cold metal door open, he walked slowly and nervously into the small room. There were three gray office chairs in the center of the room. He chose the one nearest the door, sat down and looked around. The gray walls and low ceiling of the room, combined with the constant irritating hum of the ancient air conditioner unit, added to the heaviness of the air. He felt a drop of cold sweat on his neck. He was scared.

These descriptions create very different results in the mind of the listener. The second description makes much better use of Visual (V), Auditory (A), and Kinesthetic (K) words. Modern neuroscience research shows that we understand visual words by activating the visual cortex in our brain. For example, when we hear the words “discoloured carpet”, we comprehend that word by using the visual cortex in our brain to create an internal mental picture of a discoloured carpet. Similarly, auditory words such as “hum” activate the auditory cortex and kinesthetic words such as “heaviness” and “felt a drop of cold sweat” activate the sensorimotor cortex as we listen and try to create meaning out of the words.
Using rich imagery in our stories is not just poetic and more interesting stylistically. The use of VAK language in description 2 actually activates the listeners’ brains at a much deeper level. By using this kind of language, we are engaging the students’ attention and neurological resources at a much deeper level.

Think about it:

  1. What is a story that you have used with your students in the past, or a story that you would like to use?
  2. What words can you use to make the pictures more real for your students?
  3. What words can you use to make the sounds clearer for your students?
  4. What words can you use to help your students feel the actions of the characters in the story and to feel the objects in the story?

Tip #5: Split Stories

Do you remember those old television programs like The Six Million Dollar Man that used to finish each episode with a crisis or dramatic situation, ending with the inevitable “To be continued …”? Well, maybe you aren’t old enough, but we can see the same technique being used today in more subtle ways. Even on social networking sites like Facebook, the constant news feed is using the same kind of technique. Why do you think television program makers and website designers use this technique? The answer is that they want us to feel a heightened sense of curiosity, and as teachers that is exactly the same thing that we want to see in our students. It is when students are really curious that they are ready to learn.

Split stories are a common technique used in NLP. They came out of the work of the hypnotherapist, Milton Erickson. Erickson used to tell a story to his clients and then switch effortlessly into another story, then finally returning to finish the original story. In the split story technique, you begin telling a story and stop at an important moment in the story. You can then step out of your storytelling position (remember tip #1), look back and point at your storytelling location where you were standing or sitting a few moments before, and say “you’re probably curious about what happens next in the story, and it’s good to be curious when you’re learning English, so keeping that curiosity, let’s move on to the next activity, and we’ll come back to the story later.”

Split stories can be particularly useful when you want the students to unconsciously come up with their own answers to a problem or question. For example, in the story about the Golden Goose, we could stop before the man killed the goose and say something like, “and what do you think happened in a situation like this when the person didn’t think seriously about the consequences of his actions?”

Think about it:

  1. What is a story that you could use as a split story?
  2. When could you break the story in order to maximize student curiosity?

Tip #6: Making Suggestions Through the Words of a Character in the Story

Another common technique from NLP is to make suggestions by saying them as someone else’s words. In a therapy situation, the therapist might use this NLP technique by saying something like, “I heard of one person who overcame depression by saying to themselves everyday, ‘you can do a little exercise and think of a little thing that you are grateful for.’ Although the therapist has not said the words directly to the client, the effect can be the same.

In our classrooms, we can use the characters in the stories that we tell as a wonderful way of getting suggestions across to our students without actually saying it to them directly. For example, we can get a character within a story to say the words that we want our students to hear and accept. For example, if I were to say to you that my NLP trainer told me that Richard Bandler had told him that stories are absolutely wonderful… you would still receive the main message that stories are absolutely wonderful, although I didn’t actually say it to you, did I? In NLP, this is called an embedded quote because the suggestion is embedded in at least one level of quotation. Here is an example that you might use in a story:

And the queen said to the knight, “in order to succeed on your quest, you must work hard every single day. Just a few minutes can be enough, yet you must work hard every single day.” When the knight nodded, the queen added, “yes, you already understand, don’t you, so you will work hard every single day.”

You can emphasize an embedded suggestion like this in several ways including:

  • making a particular gesture when you say the important words
  • pausing before the suggestion
  • changing the tone or speed of your voice when you say the suggestion

In NLP, we call this analogue marking because it marks out that particular part of the sentence as being important in some way. Your students probably won’t even notice consciously, but at an unconscious level, the analogue marking makes it more likely that they will accept the greater importance of those words.

Think about it:

  1. Now that you have learned how to embed suggestions in a story, you might like to use that ability to get your students to believe things that will support them in their learning. What would you like your students to believe? What suggestions would you like to give your students?
  2. What story could you incorporate these suggestions into?
  3. How can you incorporate these beliefs and suggestions into your stories so that students are exposed to these facilitating beliefs many times and can eventually accept them and adjust their behaviour appropriately?
  4. Practice by recording yourself on audio or video telling a story. Now tell the same story again making deliberate use of analogue marking with your voice to mark out the important points.

As you can see, NLP has a lot to offer teachers. In this short article, we have introduced just a few of the techniques that you can use in your storytelling to motivate your students, help them take on beliefs that support their learning, and help them to learn both the content of your course and the skill of how to learn.


You can find out more about NLP for teachers at:

The Same Gifts Again

Once upon a time there was a little boy who loved Xmas morning.

That very day he got up early and peaked under the tree. Slowly peeling the scotch tape he was very curious to fined out what was under the wrap. You can imagine his disappointment when he found his previous year gift wrapped.

When the parents got up he asked with a sobbing voice. Why did you do this? Why did you give me last years gifts?
Because you have not used them yet!

Use them, and next year not only you will get new one, but you will get twice as many.

GOAL Textbook for EFL Students

Ben Backwell and I just completed a new textbook aimed at teaching goal-setting skills to university students in Japan. We are very happy with the way the book has turned out. It takes students on a semester-long journey starting with their dreams, changing these into actionable goals, and achieving each step through action plans.  Along the way, students learn great skills like creating good habits, state management, and much more.

The book is due back from the printer next week, so I will be posting more details at that point.


I was talking to a friend, Dave, on Facebook and he said that he wanted to get a creativity boost. So I invited him for a coffee and we started talking about NLP and life and music and all that good stuff.

And of course, one of the best ways to get the creative juices going is to just jump into something new. In NLP, we might talk about the OPERATE stage of the TOTE model. You’ve got to do something!

So I threw two songs at him, and Dave reminded me of just how experienced a musician he is by learning them in about 2 seconds and then adding in keyboard and bass lines that are lots of fun.

It’s obviously a rough demo, and if you weren’t clued into that, you can listen to my comments to Dave as he is overdubbing the bass part. “Nice, yes, I like that …” – that isn’t actually part of the lyrics 🙂

I wrote the song a few years ago when I was going through a bad patch with pollen allergies and I was running the NLP allergy relief process on myself about three times a day. Nice process and it definitely gives relief. I never have managed to fully clear the pollen allergy. I’d say that I have reduced them about 90% though, and that is a mighty fine thing.

Anyway, as usual my unconscious mind got bored and decided to play, so it wrapped up the process into this song. Because of course, the “allergy relief” process isn’t just about relieving allergies. It is a great way of learning anything in a dissociated manner.

In the song lyrics, first you watch Superman, and then Superman flies right inside of you, bringing his thoughts and strength and beliefs and so much more. I didn’t actually get the words right in this demo … just enjoy it until I get around to the next step of the recording.

And if you’d like to stay posted, sign up for updates in the little form on the left of this page.

Keep the Channel Open

When I was doing the master trainer course at NLPU in California this summer, one of the last things that the amazing Judith DeLozier said to us was “Keep the Channel Open”. And you know, of course, she is totally right. It is so easy to be open for a few days, or for a course, or for a vacation. What unfortunately happens to so many of us is that we slip back into a semi-open or closer-to-closed mode when we return to our normal lives, whatever “normal” may mean.

It’s not actually Judith’s line. I believe that it comes from Martha Graham who says it all beautifully in this quotation.

There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium, and be lost. The world will not have it.
It is not your business to determine how good it is, nor how valuable, nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours, clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep open and aware directly to the urge that motivates you.

Keep the channel open.

The line, “Keep the channel open” kept repeating again and again in my head, at first in a conscious attempt to keep connected to the beautiful feeling of actually being open, and then later unconsciously, going around and around in loops, so that I would wake to the sound of my own internal voice saying, “keep the channel open.”

A bit obsessive of course, and my own unconscious mind had more sense than to keep running that loop, so it wrapped it up in this song instead.

Along the way, Matthew Hegstrom turned up in my house one evening and sang along with me on the demo that has turned into the current recording. Then Erik Imai had a free night away from the business of Toyota Corporation and added some crazy fun percussion. He wanted a crystal sound, so I handed him a fork and our prized Waterford crystal glass. The Waterford survived the ideal, but ironically, it was the cheap glasses that sounded better, and even better sounding were the tarnished silver cups from India that I picked up at a dump in Ireland. He also added in the remarkably difficult-to-spell Cajone and a pair of bongos that came from a second-hand shop called Hard-Off in Japan. Then Phil stepped in from England to add some nutty 1968 jangly guitar that comes straight from psychadelia. The mad guitar at the end is also thanks to Phil who seems to have really let himself off the leash for this paradoxically soothing ending.

And of course, it’s just a demo – like life. The vocals need to be redone, the bass is off-rhythm, the keyboard is a bit  … Anyway …

… we had fun – and we hope you have fun listening to the current incarnation of “Keep the Channel Open.”

Eventually, we’ll make it all sound perfect and wonderful and put it out on CD or vinyl or SD card or smoking banana skin or whatever the new format happens to be when that day arrives. In the meantime, just enjoy the song!

The Parts Song – Wot, wot, do wot, do what, do what?

This song started out as a very cute little mandolin ditty that I started in Japan and then Lynn Timpany added an extra verse in New Zealand.

The idea behind the song is to transform the classical NLP process, Parts Integration, into a song that people will enjoy listening to without realizing that they are going through a deep psychological change 🙂

Along the way, the song also went through its own deep change and ended up being transformed from that mandolin ditty into a rocking blues driven by the cool guitar of Robert Hewer. I also somehow became reborn as a Southern Preacher and the song begins with me calling on everyone to rise to see the altar.

Interesting how our minds work – there are certainly more than a few parts in there!

And while parts integration is one of my very favourite NLP processes, I don’t see it as always necessary to integrate parts unless they are actually causing a conflict! I have known NLP practitioners who can spy parts at a distance of 100 meters and area already rushing into an integration. That kind of compulsive integration seems to me to be a little, hmm … compulsive 🙂

Integrating all those parts might actually do away with some of the fun of life and certainly some of its creativity. After all, creativity can be regarded as the ability to draw ideas from two very diverse fields in order to create something new. And having different parts is a natural way to have two different perspectives.

Metaphors We Live By

There is a famous cognitive linguistics book by George Lakoff and Mark Johnson called Metaphors We Live By. It is both amazingly useful and also amazingly difficult to actually read. I managed to get through it twice over the years and it began to make a whole lot more sense the second time.

To summarize very simply, we understand the world in terms of metaphor. Of course, I recommend you to read at least a short summary or if you are into torturing yourself with academic prose (as I perversely am a lot of the time), go and get the original at Amazon.

And so, back to the song which was obviously inspired by the book, although it is far more poetic and sounds much better than it 😉

Here is the chorus:

Metaphors we live by
The stories of our lives
All the dreams we’re sharing
And so much more inside
The pictures and the feelings
The soundtrack that we play
The words we say inside us
We make it up each day

The verses that are sung here are improvised archtypical stories (random non-serious example: girl meets prince, prince meets dragon, dragon meets nasty sharp sword …!)

I was pleasantly surprised at how well the stories just poured out of me while I was singing/chanting. Obviously all the hypnosis work I have done over the years with clients and myself has paid off creatively, too!

I have also performed the song live quite a bit. I generally invite several members of the audience up to tell a story each. I keep the music going and after their (hopefully shortish and in-rhythm) story finishes, we all go into the chorus. It works beautifully and we all have fun. Everyone gets the song stuck in their heads for months afterwards which I think is marvellous 😉

The song is clearly very NLP-influenced as well as the original influence of the book. And yes, I do believe that “we make it up each day.” We create the stories and metaphors that bring meaning to our own lives. Let’s make them good stories!

My Friend John – Demo

I started this song in Japan and finished it in Santa Cruz. For anyone familiar with Ericksonian hypnosis patterns, you are likely to notice more than a couple here!The reason is that I wrote it while I was practicing a bunch of these patterns. In particular, on the long airplane flight from Japan to California, I spent about 10 hours playing with hypnosis practice cards and realizing that they are a fun tool for songwriting, too.

The embedded suggestion is quite simple in this song – SMILE! And of course, when I play this one live, there are a lot of smiling faces by the time the song is finished. This song always goes across very well, and I hope to get a really good recording of it one of these days.


Look Up Right – Improvisation on New Behaviour Generator

This is an attempt at creating a song to represent the New Behaviour Generator. It is pretty much an improvisation based around the rather cute phrase, “Look Up Right (now)”.

I’m biased of course, but I think this is a cute play on words which utilizes the NLP idea of looking up right to stimulate visual construct.

In this video, I’m looking remarkably tranced out. I remember it as being a beautiful day with the sun shining in gently through the tall windows of our two-floor apartment in Shinsakae. The light had a lovely quality that morning.

The song obviously doesn’t work in its current form, but it does suggest possibilities for the New Behaviour Generator. In more general terms, it suggests the idea of songs based around this combination of talking/singing around a drone on guitar or keyboard. This could lead to a naturally hypnotic effect.

Hero's Journey – Original Demo

This is a rough video of the original demo of the Hero’s Journey song. I wrote it shortly after coming back from California, maybe in 2010. During the trainer’s training course at NLPU in Santa Cruz, the work of Joseph Campbell and the potential role of the Hero’s Journey metaphor in changework had struck me as useful.

I like to internalize and memorize any model that I am using, so as usual I tried to come up with a mnemonic that would help me remember the 8 steps of the Hero’s Journey.

  1. The Calling
  2. Accept (or reject) the Calling
  3. Cross the Threshold
  4. Find a Teacher
  5. Fight Your Demons
  6. Transform Your Demons
  7. Complete the Task
  8. The Homecoming

In fact, depending on where you look, there can be less or more steps, but this is the way that I learned it and when I couldn’t figure out a mnemonic, a song popped into my head instead.

Over the last 4 years, I have recorded various newer versions of this song and will hopefully do a follow-up post and share one fairly soon.

Here are the lyrics below and they are pretty much the same as I still sing today.

Hero’s Journey
©2010 Copyright by Brian Cullen
I have heard a calling
Is it time to go
I accept that calling
Yes, it’s time to go
I have crossed the threshold
Though my heart is full of fear
And I have found a teacher
To guide me on from here

I shall fight my demons
Onwards through the night
Transforming my demons
From Darkness into Light
I shall walk this journey
Until the work is done
‘Till the road curves homewards
To share the change that’s come

Do you hear a calling
Is it time to go
Do you accept that calling
Yes, it’s time to go
Will you cross the threshold
Though your heart is full of fear
And you will find a teacher
To guide you on from here

You shall fight your demons
Onwards through the night
Transforming your demons
From Darkness into Light
Your shall walk this journey
Until the work is done
‘Till the road curves homewards
To share the change that’s come


The Stuck Bus

A bus is stuck under a low bridge after the driver makes a mistake and takes the wrong turning.

No one is hurt but all the efforts of the fire fighters to pull the bus out are to no avail, it is firmly stuck. To try more could damage the bridge.

A young girl rides up on her bike to watch and says quietly to the Fire Chief “Why don’t you just let the tyres down?”

The Near Collision

He steered his motorboat upstream with the sun glinting on the water ahead of him. As his boat rounded a bend in the river he saw another craft moving steadily towards him.

Unable to see the pilot because of the sun shining on the window he sounded his horn briefly to give notice of his presence. There was no change of direction and he cursed the amateurs who rented boats on this river stretch.

A long blast on his horn and a wave of his hand gave vent to his annoyance but instead of swerving away the bow of the other boat turned towards him and seemed intent of causing a collision.

Swearing loudly at the pilot he wrenched his wheel to avoid the other craft and turned to give what he felt was an appropriate sign in the circumstances to the person who had nearly sunk both of them.

The other craft passed close and he could see there was on one at the helm. He’d been cursing a vessel that had slipped its moorings.

The Calf

My first well-remembered intentional use of the double bind occurred in early boyhood.

One winter day, with the weather below zero, my father led a calf out of the barn to the water trough. After the calf had satisfied its thirst, they turned back to the barn, but at the doorway the calf stubbornly braced its feet, and despite my father’s desperate pulling on the halter, he could not budge the animal.

I was outside playing in the snow and, observing the impasse, began laughing heartily. My father challenged me to pull the calf into the barn.

Recognizing the situation as one of unreasoning stubborn resistance on the part of the calf, I decided to let the calf have full opportunity to resist, since that was what it apparently wished to do. Accordingly I presented the calf with a double bind by seizing it by the tail and pulling it away from the barn, while my father continued to pull it inward.

The calf promptly chose to resist the weaker of the two forces and dragged me into the barn.

The Watermelon

Many years ago in the hills of Patagonia there was a village. Its inhabitants were starving. They lived in fear of a dragon that they had seen in their fields and they would not go to harvest their crops. One day a traveler came to the village and asked for food. They explained that there was none because they were afraid of the dragon. The traveler was brave and offered to slay the dragon. When he arrived at the fields he couldn’t see a dragon, only a large watermelon. So he returned to the village and said, “You have nothing to fear; there is no dragon, only a large watermelon.” The villagers were angry at his refusal to understand their fear and hacked the traveler to pieces. Some weeks later another traveler came to the village. Again, when he asked for food he was told about the dragon. He too was brave and offered to kill the dragon. The villagers were relieved and delighted. When he arrived at the fields he also saw the giant watermelon and returned to the village to tell the villagers that they were mistaken about the dragon—they need have no fear of a giant watermelon. They hacked him to pieces. More time passed and the villagers were becoming desperate. One day a third traveler appeared. He could see how desperate they were and asked what the problem was. They told him and he promised he would slay the dragon so that they could go to the fields to harvest their crops. When he got to the field he too saw the giant watermelon. He reflected for a moment, then he drew his sword, leaped into the field, and hacked the watermelon to pieces. He returned to the villagers and told them he had killed their dragon. They were overjoyed. The traveler stayed in the village for many months, long enough to teach the villagers the difference between dragons and watermelons.

The Orange

Two children are fighting over an orange.

The mother takes on the role of a judge. She splits the orange in half and gives one half to each child. Both children start crying.

Now, the mother takes on the role of a mediator and asks each child why they wanted the orange. It turns out that one child wants to make orange juice and the other child needs the orange peel in order to make a cake.

Now the mother realizes that a solution could be found only by considering what satisfies each party.

The Two Seeds

There were once two seeds living in a soil bed who both had the potential to grow into beautiful flowers. One day the first seed said to his friend, “I am going to push through this earth and grow into the most beautiful flower that I can be. Many people will be able to enjoy my beauty, and I will be happy to know that I have made a difference in this world.” The second seed thought about what his friend had said and then replied, “Well, don’t you know how hard of a struggle it will be to push through the dirt to get to the surface? And once you enter the world the sun is very hot and will scorch you. The rain will fall hard upon you too. No, I think it is much better to stay here and be safe.”
The first seed decided that the risk to enter the world was worth the struggle. So he pushed hard to reach the surface. And while it took some time, and wasn’t easy, he eventually broke through and discovered the sunlight. The sun was certainly hot at times and the rain pounded down upon him as well. But the sun and rain also helped him to eventually become the beautiful flower that he was destined to be. Many people admired his beauty and he smiled brightly on the outside and the inside too knowing that he was making a difference in the world.
The second seed, however, stayed safely in the ground content to remain beneath the surface for fear of the struggle and pain that he had imagined. Suddenly, a hungry bird landed on the ground. He dug beneath the soil, discovered the seed lying within the ground, and ate him for lunch.
It goes without saying that those of us who fail to risk and grow get ‘swallowed’ up by life… .


As you watch a plant grow, it would start from just a stem and growing leaves as it gets older. It doesn’t know what flower it will be all at once, but all the information for the plant is in the seed, so the plant will always know what to do, but only one leaf at a time.

Computers Talking

What do we have here?

Two computers who won’t talk to each other, yet they are side by side. 2 1/2 inches separate them. One has a file that is needed by the other, but ne’er the twain shall meet, right?
If it wasn’t for the fact that one file needs to pass from one to the other, it wouldn’t even matter just where they are in time in space – what links them, and makes that distance appear, is a common task that requires both to communicate.

But hey! There’s help at hand. Both are connected to the Internet. So we can send our file to the third party server. Which lives in California, on this occasion, and happens to be 5456 miles (8781 km) (4741 nautical miles) from where the two computers are sitting near London, 2 1/2 inches apart from each other.

So the file travels 5456 miles (8781 km) (4741 nautical miles) as one computer uploads it to the server, and then 5456 miles (8781 km) (4741 nautical miles) back again as the second computer downloads it from the third party location.

Now, the task has been accomplished; the journey is at an end.

And the moral of the tail?

In this case, the shortest distance between two points which were 2 1/2 inches apart, turned out to be 10,912 MILES.

And that is either a useful neurological NLP metaphor, or just simply, the story of my life …

The Frog in the Water

It is said that if you put a frog in cold water and gradually heat the water the frog will stay in the container and boiled to death. If you put a frog into hot water straight away it will jump straight out. The reason given is that the frog cannot detect the slow change in the temperature. (I’ve never tested this.)
If you take a few minutes right now to look at some aspects of your life, relationship, health, finances are there situations that have taken you over so slowly that you haven’t noticed the process. If you had no personal history and had the shock of suddenly arriving in the life you now lead what are the situations you are in that you would welcome and what are the ones you would jump away from.

The Carpenter

The carpenter, who has always had a great reputation, decides to retire. Boss asks him to build one more house. Reluctantly, he does.
Heart not in it, does sloppy job cos he wants to finish. Goes to boss, I’m done! Great. Let’s go see the house. They do. Boss says, “To thank you for all these years of great work, we’d like to give you this house. Here are the keys”. i.e. always do your best.

Don’t Do It Then

A woman goes to see the Doctor, lifts up her right arm and says, “Every time I do that it hurts”. The Doctor replies “So don’t do it then” (Tommy Cooper)

Achieving All Your Goals

He had finally achieved all his goals, not surprising, he had devoted almost all his time to them.

He had the job and the income he wanted, the level of fitness he desired and an apartment in the best part of town.

It had all been worthtwhile, the personal sacrifices, the postponement of pleasure. At last he could look forward to enjoying life.

He was so busy looking forward he did not see the truck that hit him from behind.

The Farmer

His name was Fleming, and he was a poor Scottish farmer.

One day, while trying to make a living for his family, he heard a cry
for help coming from a nearby  bog.

He dropped his tools and ran to the bog.There, mired to his waist in
black muck, was a terrified boy, screaming and struggling to free

Farmer Fleming saved the lad from what could have been a slow and
terrifying death.

The next  day, a fancy carriage pulled up to the  Scotsman’s sparse
surroundings. An elegantly dressed nobleman stepped out and introduced
himself as the father of the boy Farmer Fleming had saved.

“I want to repay you,” said  the nobleman. “You saved my son’s life.”

”No,  I can’t accept payment for what I did,” the Scottish farmer
replied waving off the offer.

At that moment,  the farmer’s own son came to the door of the family hovel.

“Is that your son?'”the nobleman asked.

“Yes,” the farmer replied proudly.

“I’ll make you a deal. Let me provide him with the level  of
education my own son will enjoy. If the lad is  anything like his
father, he’ll no doubt grow to be a  man we both will be proud of”.

And that he did.  Farmer Fleming’s son attended the very best schools
and in time, graduated from St. Mary’s Hospital Medical School in
London ,  and went on to become known throughout the world as the
noted Sir Alexander Fleming,  the discoverer of Penicillin.

Years  afterward, the same nobleman’s son who was saved from the bog
was stricken with pneumonia. What saved his life this time?
Penicillin.  And the name of the nobleman?  Lord Randolph Churchill
…  His son’s name?  Sir Winston Churchill.

Tug of War with a Monster

Imagine you’re in a tug of war with some huge anxiety (depression etc) monster. You’ve got one end of the rope, and the monster has the other end. In between you, there’s a huge bottomless pit. You’re pulling backward as hard as you can, but the monster keeps on pulling you ever closer to the pit. What’s the best thing to do in that situation?

Pulling harder comes naturally, but the harder you pull, the harder the monster pulls. You’re stuck. What do you need to do?

Dropping the rope means the monster’s still there, but you’re no longer tied up in a struggle with it. Now you can do something more useful.

Hoe-ing a field of potatoes

Now how do you do a hard piece of work?

Bert and Lance planted a garden in Michigan for me, and I paid for the garden produce the same price I paid at the vegetable stand . . .

That’s how they got their spending money— they WORKED for it. I had a potato patch. Thirty rows —LONG rows—you know how potatoes are planted, they’re planted in hills . . . one potato, one potato, one potato . . . and you hoe the dirt UP around the base of the plant, and the potato will form underground. Thirty long rows, and to HOE them is a great big job.

How can you get two little boys to hoe a great big field?

You have them hoe row by row and the field is STILL as big …

Have them hoe a diagonal line, from here to here, and hoe a diagonal line here and across and down the middle and kept cutting that field down into little pieces, and making more and more designs, and it’s FUN to make designs.

They transferred hard work into play.

The Repairman

There is an old story of a boilermaker who was hired to fix a huge steamship boiler system that was not working well. After listening to the engineer’s description of the problems and asking a few questions, he went to the boiler room. He looked at the maze of twisting pipes, listened to the thump of the boiler and the hiss of escaping steam for a few minutes, and felt some pipes with his hands. Then he hummed softly to himself, reached into his overalls and took out a small hammer, and tapped a bright red valve, once. Immediately the entire system began working perfectly, and the boilermaker went home. When the steamship owner received a bill for $1,000 he complained that the boilermaker had only been in the engine room for fifteen minutes, and requested an itemized bill. This is what the boilermaker sent him:

For tapping with hammer: $ .50
For knowing where to tap: 999.50
Total: $1,000.00