One of my favorite tools to use when I’m feeling stuck and unable to make a decision about something, I turn to Robert Dilt’s Logical Levels. I also use it as a coaching tool. Sometimes I even write out the levels on 5×8 cards and lay them on the floor and physically step through the levels.

Basically, it’s a language tool. You can tell on what level someone is operating on by the language they use to discuss their problem or situation. If they continue to operate on only one level, their problem or situation can seem unsolvable. But if they can change the level of their thinking, they can change the problem or at least their perspective on the problem.

The six levels break down like this:

Environment is about the external conditions in which behaviour takes place, and in which we operate. A person operating at this level will probably be explaining what happened, who was there and so on. In general, the ‘story’ will not be about the person telling it, and the energy will be in explaining how something happened. This may involve complaining.

Behaviour is actions and reactions by an individual within the environment. A person operating at this level will be describing what they thought and did, and what effect that had. It also includes what they might have done, and what effect that would have had.

Capability or competence might be considered the ‘how’ level. Competences drive behaviour through a personal strategy, involving skills and their development. A person operating at this level, is talking and thinking about ‘how’ to achieve something, including what skills they might need to develop to do so.

Belief might be thought of as the level of ‘why’, and is sometimes also described as ‘values’. It is about the reasons behind the behaviour, including any underlying values. Beliefs and values can either reinforce or undermine capabilities. For example, a belief that you are ‘no good at drawing’ could undermine any attempt to learn to draw well.

Identity is about ‘who’ you are, and could also be considered as the sense of self. Conversations on this level are often about personal self-actualisation, such as ‘What do I like?’, ‘What makes me tick?’, ‘What is my passion?’ A person suffering from stress and burnout often engages at this level.[1]

Here’s what a series of questions might sound like when you use the logical level: what it might look like in practice:

“Why do you think he’s behaving like that?” [Beliefs/values]
“How could you respond differently?” [Competence/capability]
“How could you change the situation, to try to prevent this happening in the first place?” [Competence/capability]
“Do you think he’s trying to assert his sense of self a bit?” [Identity]

Next time you’re working with someone who finds themselves a bit stuck, pay attention to their language. See if you can identify on what level they are stuck and then ask questions that will move them off of that level to get a better perspective of the problem and find a useful solution.

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We learn best when we share and debate ideas. I value your perspective. Feel free to continue the conversation anytime:

I stumbled upon this quote from The Alchemist , one of my favourite books from Paulo Coelho:

“The mere possibility of getting what we want fills the soul of the ordinary person with guilt. We look around at all those who have failed to get what they want and feel that we do not deserve to get what we want either. We forget about all the obstacles we overcome, all the suffering we endured, all the thing we had to give up in order to get this far. I have known a lot of people who, when their personal calling was within their grasp, went on to commit a series of stupid mistakes and never reached their goal when it was only a step away.”

While I haven’t stopped myself from doing something because I felt I didn’t deserve it, I have stopped myself from doing stuff that meant a lot to me. I was afraid if I tried and people said I sucked at it, then my sense of self and self worth would be shattered.  I also didn’t know who I’d be if I didn’t have this thing, so by keeping it to myself, nobody could take it away from me by telling me I was no good at it. I know that sounds a bit cryptic, but the details aren’t important. What’s important is I had to take the risk of failure in order to get what I wanted.

The tool that helped me get through this was Robert Dilt’s Logical Levels*. I was holding on to the belief that what I do is who I am. In other words, my identity was bound up in what I did for a living. That caused me no end of angst! But the Logical Levels helped me get through it.

The Logical Levels break down like this:

Mission & Vision 
Where you are going with your life? With which people?  Which activities and placesare central to this vision for your life/future – and, perhaps, the contribution you intend to make to the world.

The self esteem level. Your sense of self, what you identify with, etc. This can include identifying with your job, marriage, religion, etc. it can also include how you interpret events in terms of your own self-worth.

Beliefs & Values
Whether you believe something is possible or impossible, whether you believe it is necessary or unnecessary, whether or not you feel motivated about it. How your personal Values support or hinder you.

Capability & Skills 
These are your ‘internal behaviours’. The level of innate capabilities and learned skills which you have for dealing with life situations – and how effectively you use these.

Your actions – externally observable behaviours, posture, movements, etc. including what an observer would see or hear or feel when you are engaged in a particular activity.

Your surroundings: the people and places etc that you are interacting with, and responding to, when you are engaged in a particular activity.

If you find yourself mentally stuck, this is a great model to use to get yourself unstuck. It works by helping you figure out which of the subsystems of your brain structure are holding you back. Hear Robert Dilts explain it.

*The notion of logical levels refers to the fact that some processes and phenomena are created by the relationships between other processes and phenomena. Any system of activity is a subsystem embedded inside of another system, which is embedded inside of another system, and so on. This kind of relationship between systems produces different levels of processes, relative to the system in which one is operating. Our brain structure, language, and social systems form natural hierarchies or levels of processes. Link

Oh and here’s a clever video edit of several of Simon Sinek’s presentation into one 14 minute long video on leadership and being a leader. I’m planning on sharing in a team session i’m leading tomorrow. I love the question: “why should anybody follow you?”