What do Overwhelm, Negotiations & Purpose have in Common?

Xperience Growthblogposts

Here’s a fun riddle: what do overwhelm, negotiations and purpose have in common?

The answer to the riddle is this: getting past overwhelm, gaining agreement in negotiations and finding purpose can all be solved through a similar technique.

The technique is called “chunking up, down & laterally.” It’s based on a Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP) concept called the Hierarchy of Ideas. Essentially, it says that our ideas are on a spectrum and like a ladder. The higher up we go on that ladder (chunking up), the more abstract our thought is. The lower we are on the ladder (chunking down), the more detailed or specific the thought is. Lateral chunking means we move to the same step of a different ladder.

A quick example of this process looks like this: Tesla Model S is an example of Tesla sedans, which is an example of Tesla cars, which is an example of all automobiles, which is an example of transportation.

You notice how each example is part of a larger category as we “chunk up” and move up the ladder. And, we could do a “lateral chunk” at the “Tesla” level and list out other car brands like Ford, BMW, Jeep.

Using the Hierarchy of Ideas and the technique of chunking up, down and laterally we can solve overwhelm, negotiations and purpose.


Overwhelm happens when we have too many ideas in our mind to handle and we have the inability to choose a focus. The negative feeling associated with overwhelm happens because we make a judgment or a projection about ourselves or the outcome due to believing we’re not in control of our lives.

Taking the Hierarchy of Ideas language to overwhelm, we’d say those myriad of ideas floating in our head are chunked down. We chunk up into the negative spiral that tells us something bad is going to happen or that we’re a bad (or some other negative belief) person.

If the overwhelm happens because we chunked up with a negative emotion because of inaction or clarity, the solution is to chunk down into clarity and action.

Next time you’re overwhelmed, ask yourself this: What is the most important thing that I can do right now? Keep asking that question until you get into focused action. Once you’re clear on what you can do and intentional around the action, the overwhelm naturally goes away.


Simply put, a negotiation is an exercise to find actionable agreement between parties. The basic understanding to start a negotiation is that both or all parties want to reach an agreement. (If someone doesn’t want to agree at all, then you are not negotiating.)

Many times negotiations get hung up on the specific points of the agreement. Price, timing, commitments by the parties, etc. trip or stall agreements getting made.

Hierarchy of Ideas comes into play here. The deal pieces are chunked down. The best way to get people in agreement is finding something they agree on.

Find the meaning for each party. What’s the real reason that they want to agree? If it’s a home buyer, they want to create a better life for their family. If it’s a home seller, don’t they want the same thing: a better life for their family? Ultimately, everyone wants to create a better life for their family through this agreement (or some other positive abstract idea).

With this agreement, you can begin to piece together other things that they can agree on, moving down the ladder or to laterally while maintaining the common ground established.


We are always looking for purpose and meaning in our life. Sometimes we follow a North Star and sometimes we feel like we’re just going through the motions.

Using the Hierarchy of Ideas, you can find purpose in anything you’re doing. The higher you are on the ladder, the more abstract or expansive the thought. Purpose is a highly abstract and expansive thought that we have to put intentional language around if we want to define it for ourselves.

You can take any activity or action and apply this easy exercise to it. Take an activity you’re doing – say taking out the trash. Ask yourself “what’s the purpose?” You might say, “because I was getting rid of smelly garbage.” Again, ask “What’s the purpose?” You might say “I want a good smelling home” or maybe “I want to keep my wife happy.” Keep asking yourself “What’s the purpose?” and go one chunk higher. Ultimately, you will reach an idea that is as lofty as you can think of. That is the purpose.

You can apply this to your career, your relationships, health – anything. When you do the simple exercise, you’ll be able to link deep meaning to all you do.

Three concepts – overwhelm, negotiations, purpose – all different, yet linked through similar techniques based on a single concept.