Neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) uses the term ‘meta-programs’ specifically to indicate general, pervasive and usually habitual patterns used by an individual across a wide range of situations.

Examples of NLP meta-programs include the preference for overview or detail, the preference for where to place one’s attention during conversation, habitual linguistic patterns and body language, and so on.

Related concepts in other disciplines are known as cognitive styles or thinking styles.

In NLP, the term programs is used as a synonym for strategy, which are specific sequences of mental steps, mostly indicated by their representational activity (using VAKOG), leading to a behavioral outcome.

In the entry for the term strategy in their Encyclopedia, Robert Dilts & Judith Delozier explicitly refer to the mind as computer metaphor: “A strategy is like a program in a computer. It tells you what to do with the information you are getting, and like a computer program, you can use the same strategy to process a lot of different kinds of information.”

In their encyclopedia, Dilts and Delozier then define metaprograms as: “[programs] which guide and direct other thought processes. Specifically they define common or typical patterns in the strategies or thinking styles of a particular individual, group or culture.”

The book ‘Words that Change Minds’ by Shelle Rose Charvet documents 13 distinct meta-programs categories effecting work-place motivation and performance, commonly known as the Language and Behaviour Profile or ‘LAB Profile’. It is based on the work of Rodger Bailey and Ross Steward who wanted to make meta-programs usable to people without NLP training.