Book Review

Secrets of Personal Mastery
Advanced Techniques for Accessing Your Higher Levels of Consciousness
Reviewed By
Judith Pearson, Ph.D.

Secrets of Personal Mastery promises to bestow the “secrets that govern your executive power so that you can cultivate…personal mastery over your mind and emotions.”  Scholars of the mind will enjoy this self-help book which contains “advanced techniques for accessing higher levels of consciousness.”  The main tenet is that by “stepping back” and objectively examining and directing our thoughts and feelings, we exercise a governing influence over our communications, emotions, behaviors, beliefs, and interactions with others.

A Model of Mind

Hall presents a model of the human mind as infinite layers of frames of reference, which we access via self-reflexive consciousness.  We can think about our thoughts, and, in turn, think about those thoughts, and so on.  The book reveals 13 “secrets,” or premises that provide a theory, more or less, of how to achieve personal mastery over the mind, and, in turn, live life in fulfilling and effective ways.  Such has always been the quest of NLP. 

Secret #1 ---The road to mastery begins when we appreciate our “thoughts” as neuro-linguistic programs.
(p. 9)

Hall’s approach to personal development and self-actualization is cognitive.  Our thoughts determine our truths, our realities, and give us the maps for navigating life.  Our thoughts act as perceptual filters for our senses, and exist holistically within the mind-body system.  Personal mastery lies in accessing our “higher thoughts-and-feelings” to evaluate our primary thoughts and feelings, and choose those that serve us. With this degree of self-reflexive consciousness, we achieve “executive control” over our thoughts, feelings, and actions. We become the “programmers” of our minds.  Our subsequent actions result from conscious acts of will, rather than by habit or default.  In this way, we experience conscious, purposeful living. 

According to Hall, “Experience itself does not ‘make’ us formulate the world in a particular way….Experiences…do not inherently mean anything.  We learn to give events various meanings.” Our identity, meanings, beliefs, and values operate as frames of reference; mental contexts that shape our perceptions, our conceptual reality and our truth. Our frames perpetuate themselves by self-fulfilling prophecy---a natural tendency to interpret the world according to our expectations. 

Secret #5---Mastery emerges from our power to detect and to set higher level frames. (p. 57)

Primary states are “embodied” thoughts and feelings.  To access executive levels of thought we go to meta-states.  We demonstrate the capacity to observe and evaluate our own thoughts.  We think about what we think.  Thus, we can ask ourselves meta-level questions such as:

“Is this state useful to me?”
“What does it say about me that I am having this state?”
“What meanings am I assigning to this situation?”
“What beliefs are supporting this state?”
“What would be a more useful state in this situation?”
“What other meanings or beliefs would be more useful?”  

Consider the idea of managing…self.  This concept presupposes that somehow we can step aside from ourselves, and identify the processes by which we can exercise more control over our thinking, emoting, valuing, believing, perceiving, etc., In this vein, the very terminology of ‘self-control’ or ‘self-discipline’ highlights a meta-level state. (p. 50)

Through personal mastery we gain control over our four “neuro-linguistic powers.”  Our private, subjective powers, are thoughts and feelings.  With our public powers, speaking and behavior, we relate to others and shape our environments.  These four powers form the “essence of our response-ability.” Hall invites us to consider; “To what extent have you fully owned and accepted your powers?  To what degree have you cultivated and developed these powers? How much of your powers do you give away to others?” Vitality and mastery emerge when we fully own our powers and develop them to serve us well, so that we maintain highly valued states (such as joy and productivity) by choice, by design.

Methods for Mastery

Developing executive control over our states begins with state awareness—the ability to comment on, observe, and describe our states.  From there we can change our states with NLP operations.  We can:

Interrupt problematic states.
Diminish or amplify states by changing internal representations or physiology.
Access alternative states by anchoring new resources.
Plan to replicate states by future pacing.
Change what a state means by reframing it.

Meta-stating takes us to the “higher, executive levels of mind.” Thus, we can bring states to bear on other states, as when we have a feeling about a feeling.  For example, we could feel curious about our anger, or happy about relaxation.  While this process often happens spontaneously, Hall shows how to make it happen by design. In doing so, we can create states that nest in one another, in “about-ness” relationships. 

Our ability to observe, comment, and select states allows us to shape identity and concepts about self.  Hall writes, “We can have as many selves as we have concepts (ideas) about ourselves. And we have layers of Selves in a self-reflexive system.” From our many definitions of self, we formulate an identity that makes each one of us unique and individually separate from others (i.e., me/not me). The good news is that we experience individuality.  The bad news is that anything with which we identify can also limit our flexibility and adaptability unless we remember that we are more than our identities.  We can make the decision to accept, appreciate, and esteem the self.  We can make the decision to reinvent the self at any time.  Hall shows us how.

Our “inner executive” mind sets the policies, or procedural rules, about how we act.  These policies govern our strategies and expectations, and filter our perceptions. Such policies show up linguistically in our Modal Operators (necessity, desire, options, impossibility, and possibility).  Our policies are the guidelines for accomplishing intentions. 

Secret # 9---Energy flows where attention goes as determined and governed by intention. (p. 127).

Personal genius lies in the ability to consciously establish policies by decision.  Hall challenges us to examine our limiting decisions, and replace them with empowering ones that support our highest intentions.  If you intend to live joyfully, for example, then what decisions will you make?  When we conduct ourselves based on intention, rather than attention, we become more skilled at directing our volition (will power).  Hall guides readers through exercises for identifying and installing higher-order, empowering intentions.    

If we attempt to only deal with attention, without considering intention, we will never find the leverage point that can transform the entire system.  And that makes change very hard. (p. 142)

Beliefs are thoughts and concepts embedded in confirmation.  The difference between mere ideas and beliefs is that beliefs feel true---we confirm them.  Hall shows readers how to apply swish patterns to shape new beliefs about identity. He teaches how to  detect unconscious meanings (beliefs about cause-effect and complex equivalence) by eliciting the policies and intentions behind what we think and feel, do and say.  We can discard and disconfirm old, limiting beliefs by saying a firm, forceful “no” to them, and accept and confirm new beliefs by saying a firm, forceful “yes” to them.

Implementation Patterns

The second half of Secrets of Personal Mastery is devoted to methods for implementing executive states, by putting the above concepts into practice.  What truths and insights would you like to implement in your life? What empowering beliefs would you like to install? What decisions could you make that would improve your life on a daily basis? Hall shows us how to overcome procrastination and patterns of inaction, so that we feel compelled to act on what we want and know. 

We can go beyond having well-formed outcomes by accessing the volition, urgency, commitment, and passion that bring those outcomes into reality.  With the processes in Secrets of Personal Mastery, we can develop a positive bias for acting on and implementing exciting ideas.  For example, we can feel positive about moving through incompetence toward competence, or about turning failure into feedback. 

Everyone can benefit from Chapter 9, which tells how to bring internal conflicts into alignment for personal congruence and integrity.  This chapter contains several alignment processes, such as Zink and Munshaw’s “Spinning Icons” pattern (incorporates eye movements with changes in changes in submodalities), a variation on de Shazer’s “Miracle Question,” and Assagioli’s “Psychosynthesis” process. 

When we align all of our higher frames of mind---our valuing, understanding, believing, identifying, deciding, etc., we find that we can direct our powers of attention according to our highest intentions.  This creates a laser beam type of focus….Several profound processes support becoming integrated and whole….We can make high level decisions for not tolerating internal conflict and for refusing to stay stuck. (p. 211)

The NLP metaphor for mind is “map.” But how is that map organized?  How does it help us to conceive that our minds “map” the territory, if we don’t know how to think about the structure of the “map” itself? Secrets of Personal Mastery seeks to answer this question.  

Julian Jaynes1 wrote, “Each age has described consciousness in terms of its own themes and concerns.” Hall suggests that we think of the human personality as a corporation of employees (parts) arranged in departments (i.e., Bateson’s2 logical levels of experience), with multiple layers of managers (meta-states).   At the higher levels of management, or “executive operations,” we enter a semantic environment that sets policy (frames of reference).  Personal mastery emerges when we organize our thinking-feeling-actions from the top down and allow open communication and cooperation among all parts. 

“Demon states” is a phrase describing moments of pure genius, where a keen sense of focus, flow, commitment, and passion seem to transcend time and self. Hall provides strategies for accessing and interrupting such states at will.  He also provides ways in which we can outframe negative events so that we accept them and remain resourceful.  He advises on ways to keep inner executives sharp, flexible, up-to-date, and open to feedback.  I especially enjoyed learning the “Mind to Muscle Pattern” that turns valued insights and principals into neurological patterns—another way to translate ideas into conviction and action. 

The book ends with appendices that include tutorials on meta-states and the place of emotions in relation to states and meta-states. Appendix A is a treat!  It describes Alfred Korzybski’s3 early efforts to design a model of mind, that eventually led to NLP and the Meta-States Model.  

About the Author

L. Micheal Hall, Ph.D. is a psychologist, psychotherapist, writer, and trainer par excellence who lives Colorado’s Rocky Mountains.  He earned his doctorate in cognitive-behavioral psychology with an emphasis on psycho-linguistics.  His academic studies include NLP, Rational Emotive Therapy, Reality Therapy, Logotherapy, and General Semantics.  He is a highly respected Master NLP Practitioner and Trainer, who studied with Richard Bandler in the late 1980s.  He has written and published more than two dozen books on NLP.  He is no stranger to the pages of Anchor Point, having written hundreds of articles in this magazine, as well as NLP World, Rapport, Connection, and Meta-States Journal.  


Secrets of Personal Mastery gives a practical approach to managing consciousness---easier read than done to be sure, yet, nevertheless, worthy of effort.  The content is sufficiently complex and thought-provoking that most readers will probably want to read this book several times for complete understanding and insight.  Secrets of Personal Mastery invites personal reflection in that it speaks not only to the fascinating subject of consciousness, but includes questions and exercises by which readers can detect their own meanings, intentions, rules, and beliefs, and reprogram them.  Some readers may want to keep a journal nearby while reading, for noting their responses to the exercises and questions, and to capture the inspired discoveries and resolutions that a careful reading should bring. 

Some of the processes in the book left me with a few questions. Given that meta-stating could go on indefinitely, given infinite layers of thought, when does the process become obsessive or perseverative?  How does one know where to stop? What does one do when attempts to reach higher layers result in endless loops?

According to Hall, meta-stating is an “aboutness” relationship between states, such as “feeling joyful about learning.”  It is the act of imposing one frame over another, such as feeling justified about one’s anger, or awed by happiness.  However, some of the examples seem to describe mixed states, or to confuse states with situations, as in  “we could feel embarrassed and shame in hearing a criticism.”  A more apt example, in keeping with the definition, could be, “we could feel embarrassed about feeling shame in hearing a criticism.”

Although the text makes two references to Bateson’s logical levels, Hall does not explain, for the uninformed reader, what the logical levels are.  Most NLP practitioners know the levels are identity, beliefs, capabilities, behavior and environment. These could have been explained or listed in the text or in an additional appendix.  Hall routinely includes an appendix on the Meta-Model in many of his books.  In this book, it seemed out of place, since the Meta-model is not mentioned anywhere in the text. 

I attended Michael Hall’s Frame Games workshop in April 2000 and found it enlightening,  and mind-stretching. I came away thinking of thoughts not just as neurological workings inside the skull, but as holographic structures in which we live and move.4 Michael teaches that thoughts have a structure (conceptually, anyway). NLP and meta-stating create new frameworks that alter those structures.  Secrets of Personal Mastery expanded the workshop for me, explaining the theory behind the methods, and presenting the philosophy and psychological concepts in more detail.  It is one of Hall’s more readable books---challenging, innovative and inspiring.


In Secrets of Personal Mastery, Michael Hall has applied his genius to the daunting task of defining the structure of human consciousness.  He asks us to consider that there is no reality other than that which we invent with our minds.  The meanings we assign, by conscious design or by default, determine what is true for each of us. Our inner policies, rules, decisions, and permissions become the rationale by which we conduct ourselves.  Who is in charge of these things? Hall tells us that we are in charge. In his model, there is a way to access a higher level of consciousness, to get control over runaway emotions, bad habits, and limiting beliefs, and live in ways that express our core values.  We can create our personalities and exemplify our ideals.  Shakespeare told us that all the world is a stage, and all the people players.  Perhaps we are not only the players, but the directors and the playwrights as well!


[1] Julian Jaynes, The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind, 3rd edition (New York: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1982/2000).

[2] Gregory Bateson, Steps to an Ecology of the Mind, (New York: Ballantine, 1972).

[3] Alfred Korqybski, Science and Sanity:  An Introduction to Non-Aristolelian System and General Semantics, 5th edition (Lakeville, Connecticut: International Non-Aristotelian Library Publishing Co., 1933/1977)

[4] A fellow trainee in the Frame Games workshop compared Hall’s teachings to Neo’s discovery in the movie, The Matrix; that the world is only a big computer program running in our brains! 


Judith E. Pearson, Ph.D. is a Master Practitioner and Certified Trainer of NLP. She is a Licensed Professional Counselor practicing in Springfield, Virginia.

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E-mail: judy @
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