Generalization, Deletion and Distortion – Your Brain’s 3 Favorite Shortcuts

Filed under: NLP Techniques

Did you know your brain makes decision shortcuts?

It’s true. The mind has a strange way of working sometimes. But it’s awesome to know how it operates so we can use that to our advantage.

In this blog post, we’ll look at:

  • The brain’s three main shortcuts: generalization, deletion and distortion.
  • The pros and cons of each shortcut, and the best ways to use them for our benefit.
  • How learning NLP and hypnosis helps us understand the mind, and help ourselves and others make changes.

The brain is by far the most complex system in the entire body. There is so much about it we comprehend very poorly, and so much we aren’t even close to understanding.

However, one thing we do know is the brain is capable of learning more than anything. The ability to draw knowledge from past experience enables it to save tons of energy that it can use for other tasks.

When required to go through one same process a second time, the brain will tend to repeat what it’s done before. After all, if it’s worked once, chances are it will work again.

The more it repeats, the more that pattern becomes ingrained in the physical structure of the brain itself, where neuro-pathways readily are built to ensure fast and efficient responses. 

You can check this for yourself right now. There are thousands of things you do every day without having to think about it. Once you’ve learned how to do it, it’s no effort to just repeat it unconsciously and automatically. 

Or do you have to re-learn how to walk every time you get up in the morning? When standing in front of a door in your house, do you have to think even for a second about how to open the door? Of course not.

Your brain took a shortcut. It referred to past experiences so it wouldn’t have to go through the trouble of thinking about it again. Just a few times was enough, and once you’ve learned the pattern, your brain just presses the “play” button when asked to. This may seem extraordinary, and it is indeed, but it’s also quite problematic. 

Between regulating bodily functions, and processing and storing tons of information, there’s truly no other way for the brain to perform all these tasks without the help of these shortcuts. That’s how it is wired to work, because it couldn't do so in any other way.

But when you think about it, even though the brain’s shortcuts work for most of the time, it doesn’t always. Every event in a person’s life is different, despite how many similarities. That means we need to be particularly mindful of those situations where the ingrained patterns don’t work. Because when that happens, there may be heavy consequences.

In the NLP model, we can categorize the brain’s shortcuts into 3 types: Generalization, Distortion and Deletion. Let’s define them, talk about their pros and cons and discuss the importance of being aware of them and how they apply in life

Five People Holding Hands In Front Of The Ocean


Generalization is the simplest one to define. We’ve pretty much explained it already. It consists of drawing conclusions about things based on other similar things we’ve seen or experienced in the past. In one word: prejudice.

This doesn’t just include societal prejudice. Generalization happens whenever you form an idea or opinion about something based not on actual knowledge and experience, but drawing from past learnings that may not apply to the situation at hand.

This causes you a number of problems. For starters, when you decide to generalize, you’ll almost certainly be missing out on new learnings. 

No matter your age, it’s naive to think your life experience has already taught you everything about the world. Especially since one’s model of the world is formed mostly during the earliest stages of life, chances are you know close to nothing, especially when you choose to remain fixed in your ways.

But stubbornness and preconceived notions aren’t the only problems it causes. Generalization can also be the reason for severe pathological conditions, most notably phobias. 

A traumatic experience with a dog, for example, can be generalized and result in a dog phobia, especially in early childhood. The brain takes that one frightening experience with a dog and, because it was so impactful, generalizes the same reaction to every dog in the world.

Most of the time, generalizations actually help us make faster decisions, saving us the time and energy that’s better spent elsewhere. But they can screw us up from time to time, which is why we need to be aware of its dangers.

Think about where you might be making unhelpful generalizations, and ask yourself these Jedi Questions to re-evaluate these beliefs. You’ll find it’s much worth it, as it frees you from limiting beliefs and misconceptions that might be holding you back in life. 

If you’re a consulting hypnotist or a therapist, the NLP Meta Model is an awesome tool to challenge your clients’ limiting belief systems, and help them break through it. It’s amazing how much this simple change can turn a person’s life in a completely different (and much better) direction.

Pencil Eraser Erasing A Line


We’ve discussed how these shortcuts are meant to enable the brain to handle the vast quantity of information it’s always receiving and processing. The amount of information is in fact so tremendous that most of it has to go.

Once a certain piece of information has been processed and it’s no longer useful, deletion takes care of things. A person who focuses on certain aspects of a past experience while forgetting or ignoring others, for example, is doing deletion.

It’s common for some people to recall only the positives of a past relationship, and forget about why they broke up in the first place. They’re quickly reminded, however, once that couple gets back together. All the memories of an atrociously abusive relationship come rushing back, and the person is left wondering what was in their mind when they chose to return to it.

Deletion doesn’t always just delete things, although that happens, too. But we also call it deletion when the mind chooses to hide certain memories from our conscious awareness in order to protect us. 

It does this because some pictures of the past are so traumatic they’re best left forgotten. They’re archived somewhere deep in the unconscious mind where they can’t hurt us, at least not directly.

This process helps us maintain a positive outlook and reduce stress. The problem, however, is when we forget something happened and why, we may end up making the same mistakes that caused the problem in the first place. It’s the case when people return to an abusive relationship, contrary to all logic.

It can also leave unconscious scars that if not dealt with, can trouble us through our entire lives. Age regression, also called regression to cause, aims to unlock these archived memories and clear out the negative emotions, thus healing the symptoms. Click here to read our full age regression protocol tutorial.

To deal with the negative aspects of deletion, empowering questions have proven a great resource. In general terms, it’s good practice to always ask yourself: “What am I missing in this situation?”, “What am I overlooking?”, or “Where are my blind spots?”.

Distorted Forest


Almost every bit of information we receive is slightly distorted at least. Because we don’t apprehend the world directly, as explained by NLP modalities and submodalities, we make our own internal representations of things.

Distortion is useful for creativity. When an artist like Michelangelo looks at a block of marble and is able to see a sculpture within, he’s reshaping reality in his mind through distortion, and then turns his imagination into reality. We can say, therefore, that imagination itself is a kind of distortion.

In therapy, distortion is used in the form of future pacing. By distorting reality, one can imagine what a better future will be like after a certain change. Empowering questions use distortion in much the same way, helping us find resources by picturing a wider range of possibilities.

On the other hand, people who have catastrophic thoughts, for example, are distorting reality in a highly negative way. Once again, the mind presents us with a mechanism that’s meant to help us, but often winds up being problematic. 

When that happens, the NLP Meta Model comes in handy once again, helping us recognize the unhelpful distortions we’re creating, and moving us back to reality.

It’s All Just a Model

We always emphasize how, especially in the fields of hypnosis and neurolinguistic programming, we work with models that don’t necessarily correspond to reality.

Just like The Map Is Not the Territory, a model is only a useful way of understanding things. We are committed to discovering, teaching and applying models that have proven useful in helping improve people’s lives.

You won’t find Generalization, Deletion and Distortion described anywhere in scientific literature. They are, however, near perfect ways of understanding how the mind works, if you can assume them to be true, in order to help people make positive changes.

If you’re interested in learning more of these models and techniques, our blog is full of extremely valuable information for any NLP and hypnosis practitioners and enthusiasts.

However, our NLP Essentials course is the quickest way to learn the foundational principles of neurolinguistic programming, and enable you to understand and replicate all the advanced protocols and tools used by world-class NLP experts.

But if hypnosis is what you’re after, the Mike Mandel Hypnosis Academy, our flagship online hypnosis training, is the perfect training program for beginner and experienced hypnotists alike. 

We’ll teach you our original Neo-Ericksonian approach to hypnosis, the most resourceful style of hypnosis ever developed, and turn you into an extraordinary hypnotist.

You can take a free 14-day test drive of the Mike Mandel Hypnosis Academy here.

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