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Could self-improvement skill used by presidents and celebs work for you?

Una Brankin delves into the brain of Gerry Kelly to find out about NLP and we meet two people who have trained in the popular technique

Suave civil servant Gerry Kelly is a master of the art of self-improvement and, essentially, an expert in how-to-win-friends-and-influence-people.

And that, in a nutshell, is the basis of what he teaches - in a mouthful of a term called Neuro Linguistic Programming: scientific lingo for wising up.

Based in Stormont, Gerry leads courses in these simple mind-over-matter techniques, which are very useful tools for getting your message across effectively, or resolving conflict, or even for even overcoming phobias.

They involve some mental-note reminders such as knuckle pressing and making steeples of both sets of fingers, as utilised by famous NLP devotees Bill Clinton, Barack Obama and Tony Blair.

Celebrities such as Oprah Winfrey, Sophie Dahl, Lily Allen, Gerri Halliwell, Jimmy Carr and Russell Brand also practise NLP techniques. Robbie Williams uses one before going stage to quell his nerves. The chef Heston Blumenthal and former tennis champion Andre Agassi also espouse the techniques, while illusionist Derren Brown teaches them.

Closer to home, Michelle Hatfield, HR director of the George Best City Airport, credits NLP with changing her life. "I'm on the journey of living my best life yet," she enthused after completing Gerry's diploma course.

"I was also working with a prominent footballer last week, who said he got angry every time he kicked the ball and it didn't go where he intended it to," says Gerry. "Through NLP, he learned how to kick the ball without that automatic anger signal arising.

"It's simple: you can change how you react to any situation. The techniques are very beneficial in stressful situations, like you being stuck in terrible traffic on the Newtownards Road this morning.

"It uproots negative patterns and self-limiting beliefs, enabling you to make changes for the better in your life - all though understanding how the mind works."

NLP courses range from £49 for a masterclass, to £350 for diploma training, to £1,200 for a five-day residential training at Lusty Beg. The next NLP masterclass in the Pavilion building at Stormont, open to all, takes places on Tuesday, April 12, from 7pm-9pm. To book, phone 028 9052 2135 or email

'I used to have a fear of snakes, even a photo of one, but now can let them climb up my back'

Kay French, originally from the Midlands in England, worked in various sectors of the Civil Service for over 30 years before giving it all up to become an NLP practitioner. The fresh-faced "50-something" lives in Newtownards with her husband Brian and daughters, Rebecca (24) and Anna  (18). Kay says:

I used to have a ridiculous phobia of snakes - I'd get hyper if I even saw a photo of one. I think it came from someone in my childhood throwing a worm at me and, when I first heard about the NLP technique for overcoming the fear, I thought it was bizarre and wouldn't work.

I'm naturally sceptical and I really didn't expect anything from it, but now I can tolerate my friends' big pet Corn Snake going up vertically behind my back!

The technique involved visualising a black and white movie of the snake going backwards, and a colour version of it going forwards.

It made me realise the irrationality of all phobias and I was intrigued by the power of it. And when it came to a crossroads in my career, wherein I needed to make changes, I decided to enrol in an NLP practitioner course taught by Gerry Kelly at the Lusty Beg island retreat on Boa Island in Fermanagh.

I listened to hours of tapes before taking the boat over to the retreat and settling into one of its little single-room cottages. The setting was ideal; there are beautiful walks and we had full use of the spa and pool there. The food was great and I met a fabulous group of people from all walks of life - not just civil servants.

We had classes with a lot of interactive practical work to learn the NLP techniques. Phobias came up - there was a girl there with a fear of spiders who learned how to overcome it in the same way I did. It's all about understanding your thought processes better and how you can change them for the better. They are not fixed - you can change your outlook. Just because you have always seen something from one particular perspective doesn't mean to say it's the right perspective

It was an emotional week. It brought up some issues I'd kept suppressed and unlocked them. It was also very relaxing. I'd go to the pool in the free time to process everything. It's a bit like a child having a comfort blanket; afterwards, I felt calm and positive.

It's like medication treats the symptoms of a condition but doesn't get to the root cause. NLP does by making you understand the workings of your inner mind.

There was a lot to take in during the course, so I found it helpful to have time to consider what had been taught each day, either by unwinding in the pool or walking with some of the other participants.

We all met up again at 7.30pm each evening for dinner in the restaurant and spent the remainder of the evening chatting. It was a diverse group and everyone had different reasons for going on the course, but by the end of the week we had gelled really well together.

Our final evening together was fantastic - we had such great craic. I don't think I have ever laughed so much in my life.

As well as being brilliant trainers, Gerry and his colleague Kieran are both very entertaining individuals.

Since I got my NLP practitioner certificate, my approach to life is now much more focused. The training has helped me to identify my future goals and recognise that the adage, 'energy flows where attention goes', is absolutely true. It may seem really obvious, but it is so easy to become distracted by what we want to avoid rather than concentrating on the things that we really want to achieve in life.

NLP has given me the motivation and drive to achieve my ambitions.

It has also taught me that if something isn't working, then do something different. Although I enjoyed my job and worked with great colleagues, I felt my creative side wasn't being developed, so the main change is that I have left the job I had for more than 30 years.

The NLP practitioner training has opened up new opportunities and given me the enthusiasm and confidence to pursue other options.

I have practised some of the techniques on family and friends, for instance helping them to overcome phobias. 'Resource Anchoring' and 'Like to Dislike' - a very simple technique which can be used, for example, to stop smoking or reduce weight. I used this technique to overcome my obsession with eating cheesecake and have only eaten it on one occasion since November, when I realised I no longer liked it.

I plan to take my NLP training further. None of us know what the future holds, but I know that NLP will be part of mine and I can't wait to get started."

'I am now more confident that when I set goals for myself I will achieve them'

Kitty Brown (44) has worked in the civil service since she left school. She lives in Londonderry with her husband Steven, who is a civil  servant, and their children Molly (14) and Charlie (12). Kitty also works part-time as an alternative therapist. Kitty says:

About six years ago, I was told by a doctor that I was suffering from severe depression. During one of my counselling sessions, provided through work, I asked the counsellor could I think myself sick?

She asked me if I had heard of the book, The Secret. After reading it, I realised the power of the mind and its effects on the individual. Then, during a conversation with the trainer Gerry Kelly, he had asked me if I had heard of NLP and he began to explain what it was and how it worked, and how I could use it to achieve success in so many areas of my life. I knew it was something that really interested me and I knew it was a course I would be definitely doing.

I was excited to learn a new approach. I have always wanted to have my own business and be my own boss and thought that I could maybe understand why I hadn't already achieved this.

Although I had been advised that the course would involve a lot of study beforehand, I have to say that when I received my material, I started to worry about what I was letting myself in for. There was a book to read and audios to listen to, twice. I was lucky enough to be doing the course with my friend Jenni Wilson, so we were able to chat about the pre-course material content. Even so, both of us went to the course with a little trepidation.

The course took place over five days at beautiful Lusty Beg, near Enniskillen. There were 10 of us doing the course from different backgrounds.

We learned so much about ourselves and others. I found the training engaging at all times and each day ended with homework. I found it useful to sit and contemplate what I had learned and practiced that day.

It made me realise how some past events in my life had affected my behaviour now and prevented me from succeeding in areas of my life.

For example, before I did the course, my friend Jenni and I were going for our tea break at work, after a particularly stressful day. Jenni sat at the table with a lovely pastry. I said to her, 'oh that looks really tasty' - hoping she would maybe give me half (as I would have done). Did she give me half? No. She proceeded to eat the pastry, telling me how delicious it was. I was a bit miffed.

Since doing the NLP course, I now understand why. Because of our internal representations and how our minds delete, distort and generalise information, we all think and act differently, and just because it's not how we would do things, it doesn't mean it wrong: it is just how that person's mind takes information in and processes it.

It's all about learning to appreciate others' perspectives. I am now more confident that when I set goals for myself, I will achieve them. Before, I tended to procrastinate too much. Also, through using all the techniques has enabled me to me to help others achieve success in all areas of their life.

One of the first things I did after the course was to use an anchoring technique with my son, prior to a basketball game, to help him with his confidence and shooting. I have also been able to get my clients in a much deeper state of relaxation for massage and facials, which for me is very important.

Before the course, I would have beaten myself up about all the things that I tried and didn't work.

Now, I remind myself of a quote from our training: 'there is no failure - only feedback'."

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