Posted by: Steve Andreas in: Articles
Steve Andreas responds to Shawn Carson’s post, “The Swish, States, and Neuroscience: Continuing the Dialogue with Steve Andreas”
Steve’s responses are in italics.
This blog post (round 6) focuses on the question: “Does neuroscience actually help us know what to do with clients?” Shawn’s answer is “Yes”; my answer is “No.” Enjoy the dialogue! Summaries at the end.
This post is in response to a continuing dialogue between Steve Andreas and myself, revolving around the swish (but occasionally veering off onto other topics). Steve and I hope this dialogue can act as an example of deep yet respectful debate of important areas of NLP. Of course I am also deeply enjoying this dialogue and hope Steve and the rest of the NLP community who are reading this discussion are as well.
As usual, I’d like to take one aspect of Steve’s prior post and explore it a little more deeply. The aspect I have chosen is Steve’s wonderful line: “I have great respect for neuroscience, and also for nuclear physics. However, I don’t think either one has much to tell us (so far) about learning and change.”
That’s rather like saying I respect French cooking and nuclear physics, but neither one will help me entertain my friends from Paris!
This argument from analogy seems to be an attempt to show that my statement is not only wrong, but perhaps a bit ridiculous. However, Shawn doesn’t go on to show how this analogy establishes that, so for me it’s a non sequitur. An analogy can be useful if — and only if — the similarities are relevant, and if the analogy reveals a new understanding or prediction. How specifically is neuroscience like French cooking, how is entertaining friends from Paris like learning and change, and what can we learn from that analogy? I think it best to forego a confusing analogy, in favor of simply saying, “I disagree, and here are my reasons.”
I assume that the laws of nuclear physics underlie the practice of therapy, and I also assume that they underlie the process of kissing someone or making a soufflé. However, I have never seen any way in which physics can tell us how to do any of those things (or vice-versa)! They are simply different levels or realms of knowledge. When a carpenter cuts a board, she needs to know about the grain, and about splits or knots, but knowledge of the chemistry or physics of cellulose or lignin is of no use to her. Likewise, neuroscience is at a completely different level of understanding than therapy and change, so it doesn’t tell us anything about what to actually do with a client.
In this blog post I’ll focus on how neuroscience may indeed be able to assist with one of the key points of disagreement between Steve and myself: the difference between the ‘slingshot’ swish (aka Steve’s “butt joint”) and the ‘standard’ swish (aka Steve’s “lap joint”).
Though it’s a bit peripheral to this dialogue on the usefulness of neuroscience, perhaps a reminder might be useful. A slingshot swish is one in which the cue image rapidly recedes to a point on the horizon, and then returns as the desired self-image, which I likened to a butt joint, because the two images don’t overlap. In the swish as Bandler originally described it, the cue image rapidly becomes smaller and more distant at the same time as the desired self-image becomes larger and closer, which I likened to a lap joint, because the two images overlap at all points in the transition.
More relevant, there is a key difference between the kind of evidence that Shawn and I are using for our differing views, Shawn is using theoretical understandings based on neuroscience. Even if they may be true, images of neurons firing don’t provide us with the kind of sensory-based experiences that are utilized in the swish. In contrast, everyone has had the experience of turning our head, and seeing one scene change quickly to another, connecting the two in a smooth transition. We have also had the experience of a door opening, and seeing the image of the door diminish in size, revealing an enlarging image of what is beyond the door. These provide concrete reference experiences of connection between images that are similar to those used in the swish.
I have been searching for examples of experiences in real life that are similar to the slingshot swish, without success. In movies, a “jump cut” (butt joint) always indicates a discontinuity — a change in objective viewpoint, a shift from what one person sees to another person’s view, or a gap in time or space. All of these are disconnecting rather than connecting.
Good change work accesses experiences that we have all had in the real world and applies them to problems in our inner world. For example, fairly often when people are making a difficult decision, they find that their images of different aspects of the decision don’t stay put in their visual field; they fall down, zoom in or out, or slide around, etc., causing confusion and overwhelm. If you suggest to them that they put Velcro on the back of each image, and hear the slight sound that Velcro makes when you press it down, suddenly all their images will stay put, and they are no longer confused.
Before we dive into the client’s brain and swish their neurons, I’ll preface by saying the principal use of neuroscience in change-work (IMO) is that it provides a complete and compelling set of metaphors to create change-potential in clients. That’s why I wrote a book on Neuroscience for coaches (‘Keeping the Brain in Mind’) with my co-author Melissa Tiers. Explaining how the processes you (as coach) will use with your clients actually rewire their brain, you set them up for success. For example I coach a number of hard-nosed New York business men and women on a long term basis. They may initially be reluctant to try any technique they consider “woo-woo”, but as soon as I explain how their ‘working memory’ operates, they are keen to get started as those “woo-woo” techniques have now become scientific. Science is the new religion.
When someone is reluctant to engage in change work, talking about neuroscience can indeed be used metaphorically to elicit cooperation. Depending on the client’s background and reasons for hesitating, other metaphors based on energy, digestion, computers, or religion might be much more effective. One fundamentalist client’s concerns about Satan were satisfied when he was told that the swish was a form of “visual prayer,” a way of communicating with the almighty.
I usually use a simpler and more universally applicable approach, based on refocusing a client’s attention on his/her outcome. “OK, you’ve been (past tense) concerned that the methods I use might be “woo-woo,” so you think they won’t work. I don’t care whether you think they will work or not, because I know that they work. Your cell phone works whether or not you believe in the electronics and physics that make it work — all you need to know is which buttons to push. I don’t do faith healing; if you want faith healing, you’ll need to see someone else. Now here’s the really important question, ‘If my methods did work to get your outcome, would you have any objection to that?’ ”
Some variation of that approach side-steps the whole belief issue, and refocuses attention on the client’s outcome. This elicits cooperation. My phobia client was totally disbelieving (6:25) until after I tested her response at the end, but she cooperated fully, which is all that was needed.
While you can use neuroscience to motivate a client to do a processes, that is using an external authority, which won’t fit for someone who has a strong internal reference. I prefer the approach I outlined above, because it teaches clients to focus on their outcomes, and to try things out and notice their own experience, rather than believing in what a “neuroscience expert” says. Many clients already suffer from taking on limiting beliefs from others, and I don’t want to add to that. I want clients to learn from their own experience, and develop more of an internal reference. I often say to clients, “I’m the expert on what might work to get your outcome; you are the expert on what actually does work.”
Since talking about neuroscience is an abstract, conscious-mind activity, it can be used to dissociate a client from their problem. As the client pictures neurons firing together, or “hijacking the amygdala,” it will be hard to attend to whatever internal images have been troubling them. However, there are hundreds of much simpler and more direct ways to interrupt the client’s problem state, such as commenting on their shoes, or a non-sequitur like, “Yes, except for the ladder.” Talking about “brain science” may delude both client and practitioner into thinking they are discussing something useful, when its only utility is as a break state.
Finally, if science really were the new religion, then everyone would “believe” in evolution and climate change, but that is certainly not the case. Science explains nothing, but makes many testable predictions. Religion explains everything, and predicts nothing. Here is a mathematician’s poem that captures the essence of science:
Not truth, nor certainty. These I foreswore
In my novitiate, as young men called
To holy orders must abjure the world.
“If . . ., then . . .,” this only I assert;
And my successes are but pretty chains
Linking twin doubts, for it is vain to ask
If what I postulate be justified,
Or what I prove possess the stamp of fact.
Yet bridges stand, and men no longer crawl
In two dimensions. And such triumphs stem
In no small measure from the power this game,
Played with the thrice-attenuated shades
Of things, has over their originals.
How frail the wand, but how profound the spell!
–Clarence R. Wylie Jr.
From “The Imperfections of Science” by Warren Weaver. Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, Vol. 104, No. 5, October, 1960.
Hebb’s Law and Spike Timing Dependent Plasticity
OK, let’s dive into that brain. Inside your client’s brain (let’s say they came for smoking cessation), you see a tangle of long cells, with sparks of electricity moving between them.
It is simply not true that “sparks of electricity” move between neurons. A presynaptic neuron releases one or more neurotransmitter chemicals from a vesicle, the neurotransmitters diffuse rapidly across the synaptic cleft, and bind to receptor sites on the postsynaptic neuron, stimulating it to fire in response.
However, more important is that neither Shawn’s nor my explanation is of any use whatsoever for someone who has an everyday problem of angry outbursts, thoughts of revenge, shame, or grief; it’s just irrelevant in helping them change.
These are your client’s neurons. When one neuron (the pre-synaptic neuron) fires, the neighboring neuron (the post-synaptic neuron) can either fire in response, or fail to fire in response. Whether the neighbor fires depends on a number of complex factors, one of which is how receptive the second neuron is to signal from the first neuron, i.e. whether or not the two neurons consider themselves to be ‘friends’ or ‘enemies’.
How do the neurons decide whether to be friends or enemies? Pretty much the same way you do! If one neuron fires, and its neighbor fires in response (“Hi neighbor, how are you today?”; “I’m just great, how are you?”) then they become friends; and the second neuron becomes more likely to fire when the first neuron fires.
Shawn’s anthropomorphic metaphor describing the relationship between neurons at a synapse is misleading in several ways. Neurons that fire sequentially don’t “talk to each other,” they aren’t “friends,” and most important, the postsynaptic neuron never “talks back” to the presynaptic neuron. They also don’t “decide” whether or not to fire; if the connections are numerous enough, and strong enough, they fire, and if they aren’t, they don’t.
Again what’s really important is that neither Shawn’s nor my neuroscience explanation is of any use whatsoever in deciding what to do in order to help someone who has an everyday problematic response that they would like to change.
Until someone can give me a specific example of how a piece of information from neuroscience can tell us something about what to do with a client that we don’t already know from NLP, I stand by my statement that “I have great respect for neuroscience, and also for nuclear physics. However, I don’t think either one has much to tell us (so far) about learning and change.”
Shawn’s discussion of neuroscience below only provides a different explanation of what we already know. Since it offers no new predictions about how to respond to a client with a problem, it’s irrelevant to the swish, or any other method. Explanation without prediction is a useless self-deception. Nevertheless, I have made a few comments below where I thought it might be useful to clarify and respond to certain points.
But if the first neuron’s greeting is ignored by being met with a chilly ‘failure to fire’ response, then the neurons become ‘enemies’ and second neuron actually becomes less likely to fire when the first one fires.
This process is called ‘Spike Timing Dependent Plasticity’ (STDP). This is the basis of the famous Hebb’s Law which is somewhat inaccurately stated as, “neurons that fire together, wire together”. As we have seen, it would be more accurate, but less poetic, to say “neurons that fire sequentially, wire together”.
Now let’s focus on two specific neurons, the pre-synaptic “smoking neuron”, and right next to it, the post-synaptic “ideal-future-self” neuron. I do realize these are not actually individual neurons, rather they would be neural networks, but let’s stick with the simple case first! What do you see when the “smoking” neuron fires a spark of electricity to its “ideal-future-self” neighbor across the synapse? How does the “ideal future-self” neuron respond? Unfortunately, it doesn’t respond at all, because you haven’t yet run the swish pattern with your client, and the neurons are currently enemies! After all, if these neurons were wired together, the client wouldn’t be a smoker because every time she saw a cigarette she would imagine how she wanted to be a non-smoker.
We want to wire these two neurons together so that whenever your client sees their cigarettes, they imagine their ideal-future-self. Hebb’s Law (or rather STDP) says we first get the smoking neuron to fire (by asking our client to imagine seeing her pack or cigarettes), then immediately afterward get the ideal-future-self neuron to fire (by swishing into the picture of their ideal-future-self). Repeat this a few times, and voila the neurons become friends, and the ideal-future-self neuron will fire each and every time the smoking neuron fires. As Steve rightly says we are linking the two pictures (or in this description, linking the two neurons) and this can be done very quickly. Indeed it must be done quickly if STDP is to work. This is why we speed the swish up until it is done very quickly. Incidentally, this is also why the cue image (say the pack of cigarettes) always precedes the outcome image, because we have to fire the pre-synaptic neuron first for STDP.
So the swish helps the client to literally rewire their own brain, what Dr. Jeffrey Schwartz calls self-directed neuro plasticity (see Dr. Schwartz’ book ‘The Mind and the Brain’).
Now Steve draws an erroneous conclusion. He says that because we are swapping images (which is fast), or wiring neurons (which is even faster),
I wrote about swapping images; Shawn is talking about wiring neurons. Swapping images is experiential, and you can give a client specific instructions how to do that. Wiring neurons is entirely theoretical, and you can’t tell a client how to do that.
therefore (and I quote) “a simultaneous transition will be much more dependable than the sequential slingshot swish”. Clearly the one statement doesn’t at all follow from the other, any more than saying “because the pre-synaptic neuron fires first and only afterward does the post-synaptic neuron fire, then the sequential transition is more dependable”. In NLP jargon this is a ‘cause-effect statement’ from the Milton Model, but it’s not good logic.
When I wrote “simultaneous transition,” the word “transition” clearly indicates a sequence. My use of the word “simultaneous” described that the cue image decreases in intensity at the same time that the desired self-image increases in intensity. I have no idea how that relates to the sequential or simultaneous firing of neurons, and I don’t think Shawn does either. I am not aware of any neuroscience research on the swish pattern that would tell us what is going on in the brain when images are exchanged in the swish. Even if that kind of information were available, it would only be useful if it told us something we didn’t already know — for instance if it made some prediction about how a change in the swish process would make it more efficient or more lasting.
Sequential or Simultaneous, That Is the Question
So what’s an NLPer to do to decide between the two swishes? Fortunately we have a wealth of data on ‘sequential’ versus ‘simultaneous’ neural firing from the field of classical conditioning. Now the white-coated ‘behaviorists’ who get excited by ringing bells and salivating dogs, have their own jargon, which I will use here so readers can take a look at the underlying research if they wish. They call sequential firing “trace conditioning”, and call the type of ‘simultaneous’ firing Steve is referring to “delay conditioning”. To make this clearer, if Pavlov rang his bell and then fed his dog that would be trace conditioning, but if he rang the bell and then fed the dog while the bell was still ringing, it would be delay conditioning.
So what does the world of neuroscience have to say about trace versus delay conditioning? It turns out they say some pretty interesting things, and at least one VERY interesting thing.
So first and foremost, both trace and delay conditioning are effective.
I want to repeat that Shawn’s use of the word “simultaneous” to describe the “lap joint” swish is misleading. The lap joint is both simultaneous and sequential at the same time, so Shawn’s discussion above doesn’t apply.
I know very little about different kinds of conditioning, and even less about the extent to which they might be applicable to understanding the swish. However, in looking up trace conditioning and delay conditioning, I find that they are both versions of classical (Pavlovian) conditioning, in which a physiological response (salivation) is conditioned to a different stimulus, (such as a bell or a light) instead of the unconditioned stimulus (meat powder). In both versions of classical conditioning the unconditioned stimulus doesn’t decrease at the same time that the conditioned stimulus increases. And since the evolved self-image in the swish is not a physiological response like salivation, it is at least questionable whether the principles of classical conditioning have any application to the swish.
Operant conditioning, in which a behavior (rather than a physiological response) is rewarded or punished, would seem to be somewhat more relevant to the swish, but my ignorance is abysmal, and I don’t know if that would apply either. The desired self-image is not a specific behavior to be reinforced, the fact that it is desired means that the source of reinforcement is internal (intrinsic) rather than external (extrinsic), and there are other differences that lead me to think that operant conditioning is also a poor fit for understanding the swish pattern.
Again the bottom line is, “Does any neuroscience explanation offer any information about the swish that we don’t already know?” So far in this discussion, the answer is clearly “No.”
Outside of some specific contexts (that I will get to in a moment) they seem to be pretty equal. One context in which they are not equal, where delay conditioning (Steve’s lap joint) is better, is if there is a significant delay between the stimulus and response. For example if Pavlov rang the bell then waited for five minutes before feeding his dog, ‘delay conditioning’ would likely be more effective because the bell would still be ringing when the dog was fed. Obviously there is no significant delay between trigger picture and outcome picture in the swish, so this is not an issue (unless you are a fan of the slooowww-swiiisshh pattern).
Another context where ‘delay conditioning’ is also more effective is where there is significant damage to the subject’s pre-frontal cortex (PFC) or hippocampus. It appears that trace conditioning uses a different neural pathway, one that travels through the hippocampus and PFC, while delay conditioning requires only a cerebellum and brain stem. Therefore if you have a client who has had a full frontal lobotomy, or has serious brain damage to the PFC or hippocampus as a result of say a stroke, or if you’re a frog-whisperer and your client is an amphibian, you should definitely stick to the classical (lap joint) swish. Otherwise feel free to use either, confident that both are effective. Or use the one that butters your parsnips, or better yet the one that butters your client’s parsnips.
Again, these are all comments about classical conditioning, which could be relevant to a process involving straight anchoring of physiological responses, but they don’t appear to apply to the swish.
Actually this comes to an important principle of NLP, namely that, as NLPers, we do not use exclusive ‘or’s’. Meaning as the classical and slingshot swish actually use different neural pathways, you could try using both (either sequentially or simultaneously – just kidding!).
Neural Networks and Hebbian Engrams
Now let’s expand the discussion from individual neurons to the more accurate neural networks. Because neighboring neurons either become ‘friends’ (more-and-more likely to fire) or ‘enemies’ (less-and-less likely to fire), your brain becomes tribal, forming cliques of neurons that all tend to fire together and also stop other cliques from firing. This process is described by the famous psychologist Gordon Allport as follows:
“If the inputs to a system cause the same pattern of activity to occur repeatedly, the set of active elements constituting that pattern will become increasingly strongly inter-associated. That is, each element will tend to turn on every other element and (with negative weights) to turn off the elements that do not form part of the pattern. To put it another way, the pattern as a whole will become ‘auto-associated’. We may call a learned (auto-associated) pattern an engram.”
Since Allport died almost a half-century ago, I don’t think he is the best authority on current neuroscience. But even if his (somewhat vague) statement is correct, it doesn’t make any predictions about the swish, or tell us something we don’t already know about how to do it.
If that’s a bit of a mouth-full, think of the Jets and the Sharks from West Side Story, you’re either a Jet, or you’re a Shark (but not both), and when the Jets visit Doc’s Drug Store, the Sharks generally stay away, and vice versa. Revisiting our client’s neurons, the smoking neuron (let’s call it Tony) has a whole gang of other neurons, let’s call them the Jets, associated with it. These Jets will include memories of smoking, contexts where the client smokes, beliefs about smoking, the feelings associated with smoking, and so on. And the ideal-future-self neuron (which we will call Chino) has its own gang (the Sharks) of neurons relating to how that ideal-future self will look, feel, behave (OK Steve no behaviors) and so on.
When we use the swish to wire Tony and Chino together, we end up wiring all the ideal-future-self resources onto all the smoking contexts and triggers – we may have to swish several contexts to fully generalize of course. At the end of the swish, the Jets and the Sharks become friends, reconciled through Smoking-Tony’s demise, and the Maria neuron sings “One Hand-One Heart” as the credits roll.
It’s a cute metaphor, but since it is based on classical conditioning, it doesn’t fit the structure of the swish, and makes no predictions, so it’s irrelevant, and doesn’t teach us anything.
Choosing the ‘Appropriate Resource’
I will comment briefly on Steve’s points about resource selection. I completely agree that the resource should be “appropriate” for the problem. However that doesn’t get us very far: what is appropriate and what is not? There is something in NLP called an ‘ecology check’, which seeks to ensure the change being made by the client will be ecological for all aspects of their life. For example if a client wants a high energy confidence state to do something silly, the coach has to deal with the lack of ecology as a first step.
In HNLP (Humanistic Neuro Linguistic Psychology) we say, “the conscious mind has no business choosing the resource-state”. This includes the hypnotist/coach’s conscious mind. HNLP presupposes it is up to the client’s unconscious to choose the best resource.
I agree that is a very useful principle, and that is why, in my original post “How to ruin the swish,” I stressed the importance of the desired self-image, which doesn’t include a specific behavior; that is left to the client’s unconscious mind. However in Shawn’s animated video, the narrator/therapist asks, “What if there were a way that every time you saw a donut . . . you felt motivated to work out?” “Working out” is a specific behavior chosen by the narrator/therapist’s conscious mind, not the client’s unconscious mind.
Furthermore, as I pointed out in my original post, “feeling motivated to work out” is not ecological in at least three respects: 1. If it succeeds, the “every” means she has given up the choice to eat a donut now and then, 2. The contexts in which she sees a donut will seldom offer an opportunity to work out, so her motivation to work out will be frustrated, and 3. Sometimes she may think of eating a donut when she’s already worked out and be too tired to work out more.
This might be a high energy resource, or a lower energy ‘end-state’ type of resource. If a high energy resource state is chosen then would then tend to moderate into a lower energy end-state over time (as in the discussion of Bella – see previous post). The principal tool for achieving this is pacing and leading.
Steve seems to imply that high energy resource states are by their nature bad (“a thousand red flags flutter in my mind”).
Shawn has taken my quote out of context, and has substituted “high energy resource state” for “awesomely confident,” when those are not the same thing. What I actually wrote was, “Whenever someone wants to be “awesomely confident,” a thousand red flags flutter in my mind, as I wonder if they have the competence to go with it.” A high energy resource state may be appropriate for a particular task, such as Olympic performance where you need to mobilize every ounce of energy and concentration, but you also need to have specific skills (competence).
However, “awesome confidence” is a contradiction. If you are “awesomely confident” about something, you don’t even notice it, because you so completely take it for granted. When Tony Robbins elicits a “high energy state” (using the same methods that evangelist preachers have been using for hundreds of years) it is always to “break through” fears or doubts — the opposite polarity that usually lurks beneath the desire for a state of “awesome confidence.” Disregarding the reasons for the fear or doubt is a violation of ecology that is likely to cause trouble. Integrating the polarity will be much more useful — and lasting.
High energy states can indeed be risky, that’s why we still use the Greek word hubris for those who tempt the gods. However, I would hazard to say that for every person who has made a bad decision due to over-confidence (the number of Las Vegas gamblers shows there are many), there is a person who has failed to take action toward their goals and dreams due to low energy lack of confidence. Some who only rarely access high energy states often “live lives of quiet desperation, and go to the grave with their song still in them”. It cuts both ways, and many people admire James Dean over the man who retires from his desk job and spends the rest of his days playing bingo until expiring unremarked at the age of 90.
The foregoing poses a false either/or dilemma, in contrast to what Shawn wrote earlier, “Actually this comes to an important principle of NLP, namely that, as NLPers, we do not use exclusive ‘or’s’.” There is an infinite range of possibilities between James Dean and a geezer playing bingo.
When someone suffers from uncertainty, and wants more confidence, both sides of the polarity need to be recognized and honored, and they need to be integrated if change is to be lasting and ecological. If James Dean had only raced his Porsche on the race track in sanctioned races, instead of on a public highway, he might still be enjoying life today.
A great example of a higher energy state is Dr. Richard Bandler’s client session called ‘Shyness’. Dr. Bandler does a classical new strategy installation. If you have seen the video of the session, you will recall Dr. Bandler installs an initial step in the strategy where he asks the client to make a sort of primal yell. BTW this takes place inside the client’s head, not out-loud when introducing himself to a young lady! This could be interpreted as a high energy sense of confidence (and why not). There is a similar step Tony Robbins uses in his ‘stuttering’ demonstration (that Steve refers to in an earlier post), where Robbins leads the client to make a ‘warrior’ yell; again this generates a high-energy state in the client. What you may not realize when seeing these is that this high energy yell also takes back control of the voice from the word and language based left-brain, to the more emotional right brain (there’s always more going on!). In any case, Bandler does a follow up with his shyness client, who sits back in his chair relaxed (wearing badly fitting shorts if memory serves), talking as if meeting girls was never a problem for him. The high energy state transforms into an end state.
Finally, another piece of neuroscience. When talking of phobias, anger, fear and embarrassment, and similar states, these are moderated by the so-called ‘amygdala hijack’. The optic nerve runs from the eyes to the visual cortex at the back of the brain, where it’s processed into a meaningful representation of the world, which is transmitted forward to the PFC at the front of the brain for rationale decision making. This route is too slow to prevent me from being eaten by a saber-tooth tiger (“Oh is that a saber tooth tiger over there? Hmm that’s interesting, perhaps I should run…”; CHOMP!!!). Therefore, to save me from danger my brain takes a feed from the optic nerve and runs it straight into the amygdala, before the information even reaches the visual cortex. The amygdala is responsible for fight-or-flight responses, and if my amygdala has any doubt about what it’s seeing, it sends a jolt of adrenaline into my body that I feel as a phobic response, or physical fear, or embarrassment (social fear), or anger. This is known as the amygdala hijack because it hijacks the rational mind, and is why I can feel afraid when I see a snake-like twig on the ground at night, and why these emotions can instantaneously interrupt everyday emotions.
The phobia cure, and similar techniques, target ‘amygdala hijack’. We calm the amygdala (“imagine you’re sitting in a comfortable theater, about to watch an old grainy black and white movie”), while gradually introducing the stimulus. This ultimately results in a rational ‘so what’ response, as the information follows the longer pathway through the visual cortex and PFC (for a visual phobia). Notice that this depotentiation of the amygdala hijack follows the meta pattern: there is the phobic response; gradual exposure to the trigger in a dissociated manner; a calm response (the resource); and finally the ability to associate into the context (have the bee land on you) and retain the resource-calmness, i.e. the ‘collapse’.
Even assuming that all the above is true, it doesn’t tell us anything new about what to do with a client with a phobia. People have realized for hundreds of years that extreme feelings of fear “hijack” thinking. Does it really matter whether this occurs in the amygdala, rather than the liver, the left elbow or the (raised) middle finger of your dominant hand?
I totally agree with Steve that client’s don’t generally go from a phobic response to ‘confidence’, but again this doesn’t mean high energy confidence is never appropriate.
As I explained above, high energy confidence is a contradiction indicating an inner polarity between confidence and doubt. If you elicit either side of the polarity, that ignores the other, and that is not ecological. “High energy confidence” is a castle built on quicksand.
I am greatly enjoying this ongoing discussion with Steve, and I hope it provides some interesting jumping off points for readers own thoughts, discussions and experiments. Due to modern imaging techniques such as fMRI, neuroscience is making leaps and bounds in our understanding of how the brain works. I would strongly encourage anyone interested in NLP, how the brain and mind work, or the human condition in general to become familiar with the principles of neuroscience. These will aid you in choosing a solid direction for your own experimentation with clients.
Please provide a specific example of how a specific “principle of neuroscience” can be used to choose a direction for “experimentation with clients” in a way that goes beyond what we already know and can predict from NLP principles or practice.
The tai chi master was delighted after three years of training that his student was able to replicate the tai chi forms he had been taught. He told the student to go away and practice by himself for a further three years and then return. After three years the student returned, crestfallen and confessed that even while practicing diligently, he had lost 30% of what his teacher had taught. The teacher was disappointed and sent the student away to practice for another three years. Three years later the student returned and said he had lost 60% of his learnings. Once more the teacher sent him away to practice for three more years. On his return the student told the teacher he had now lost 100% of his learnings, at which point the teacher congratulated him as he had made the art his own.
That is a nice story about the difference between conscious explicit memory, and unconscious implicit memory. That is an important distinction that is often useful in deciding how to intervene with a client, but it is irrelevant to our exchange, which is an discussion of whether neuroscience can tell us anything we don’t already know about how to do the swish pattern or any other NLP process.
I’m going to repeat a paragraph from the beginning of my response that summarizes my argument that neuroscience is irrelevant to doing therapy or change work:
I assume that the laws of nuclear physics underlie the practice of therapy, and I also assume that they underlie the process of kissing someone or making a soufflé. However, I have never seen any way in which physics can tell us how to do any of those things (or vice-versa)! They are simply different levels or realms of knowledge. When a carpenter cuts a board, she needs to know about the grain, and about splits or knots, but knowledge of the chemistry or physics of cellulose or lignin is of no use to her. Likewise, neuroscience is at a different level than therapy and change, so it doesn’t tell us anything about what to actually do with a client.
Posted by: Steve Andreas in: Articles
A further response in the ongoing dialogue between Shawn Carson and Steve Andreas, regarding the HNLP Meta Pattern, (including comments from Connirae Andreas) (round 5b)
In this post I’ll respond to Shawn’s claim that “all human change is based on the HNLP Meta Pattern” and “all NLP patterns follow the Meta Pattern.”
Any general formulation such as the Meta Pattern will always be incomplete, and have omissions and implicit presuppositions. That is what makes a general formulation useful. However that incompleteness also provides opportunities for misunderstanding.
First I’ll point out what I think are some of the significant omissions in the Meta Pattern, and then provide examples of interventions that don’t fit the four steps of the Meta Pattern.
Finally, at the end, I’ll offer an alternative way of understanding the different structures of change, a reorganization of the different patterns of reframing.
(Below are links to the Previous Exchanges.)
Finally the Meta Pattern…
In my blog post on the Swish (which itself was in response to Steve’s original blog post), I explain that the second step of the HNLP (Humanistic Neuro Linguistic Psychology) ‘Meta Pattern’ (not the Meta Model!) dissociates the client from their problem state. And because all human change is based on the Meta Pattern, all NLP patterns follow the Meta Pattern, and therefore all contain a ‘break-state’. Steve argues this is not true, citing a number of examples, the most intriguing of which is the Compulsion Blowout that clearly doesn’t contain a break-state…
…or does it?
Origination of the Meta Pattern
The Meta Pattern was observed and formulated by John Overdurf. Note that it was not ‘created’ by John, any more than relativity was created by Einstein; it was ‘discovered’.
Steve says that he learned the Meta Pattern from Bandler. This may be the case, but I doubt it for a couple of reasons. Firstly John Overdurf told me he developed it and strictly attributes to others where appropriate; so John Overdurf did not learn it from Dr. Bandler (despite being a Master Trainer under Dr. Bandler). Therefore if Dr. Bandler was previously teaching it, he must have stopped teaching it to his Master Trainers before John Overdurf trained with him.
Secondly, John Overdurf discussed the Meta Pattern with John Grinder and Grinder gave no intimation that it was something he had taught before. So either Grinder wasn’t present when Bandler taught it, or he had forgotten.
Connirae Andreas joins the discussion:
Shawn, I’ve heard a lot of good things about John Overdorf, so I believe what you are saying about his integrity, and I also respect that you’ve learned a lot from him. This note is about Steve’s saying we learned a “meta-pattern” from Bandler’s group. I’d like to tell you my experience of this.
This was a long time ago, so some of my memories are a bit vague. The part I remember clearly was that Steve and I sometimes taught “a” meta-pattern in our Master Practitioner Trainings. I remember teaching it as part of some of the advanced language patterns sections. Early on Steve and I taught that together, and then I was usually the one who taught that section. We taught the “meta pattern” as part of understanding how to do “conversational change.”
The “meta-pattern” that we taught had 4 basic steps: Stage 1: The “client” starts out being associated into the problem experience, e.g. “So you are problem-ing…” Stage 2: Dissociate the person from the problem in the present, and place the problem in the past. “And this has been a terrible problem, hasn’t it?” Stage 3: Elicit the “solution” or resource as dissociated future possibility “What would it be like,… when you have all the resources you need for things to go in a much different way (voice tone indicating pleasure)…” Stage 4: Associate the person into the resource, in the present. “…Now!”
So the essential aspects of understanding this meta-pattern are a) time frame: being aware of the time frame and shifting it as appropriate, and b) shifting association or dissociation, plus c) shifting experience from problem to solution. (This example is just for illustration – there would be many ways to do it which could be much more detailed and thorough.)
This meta pattern is quite similar to the one you describe John Overdorf mapping out, although there are a few differences. I had thought we learned this meta-pattern from the Bandler group explicitly. However, it’s possible that this formulation was what we came up with in trying to understand Bandler’s demonstrations of conversational change. Steve and I went over examples together, and also Cathy Modrall (who was studying with Bandler at that time) shared some additional examples with us, and we were all trying to figure out the structure. I don’t know if Bandler ever taught it formally, but he was systematic and I think it was quite clear he was following that structure.
We were teaching it as one key way to organize presuppositions and language patterns to make change possible. There were other ways that I used conversational change that didn’t involve that sequence.
And also, as it sounds like John O. did, we presented this as a fundamental sequence through which change happens through the NLP formats. And how when one understands this underlying structure, one can organize presuppositions and language patterns to create change.
Re: John O. being in Bandler’s trainer training and not being taught this. That doesn’t surprise me at all. Bandler never was very systematic about training. He wasn’t interested in teaching people a systematic or “complete” NLP experience. He was always more interested in teaching whatever he felt like teaching—or exploring. This often annoyed some of his colleagues, who were trying to offer a more “complete” or “systematic” training.
Steve and I often took on the role of making things more thorough, complete, and systematic, so that people would learn what (at that time) was “the whole thing.” As I mentioned earlier, we didn’t learn this meta-pattern from Bandler in any training, either.
It’s also not a surprise that Grinder had never heard of the meta-pattern. When Bandler started demonstrating conversational change, that was already quite some time after he and Grinder had stopped teaching together. Even earlier when they showed up to teach in our practitioner trainings in ‘79 and ‘80, each wasn’t aware of what the other had taught. The conversational change and “meta-pattern” was happening after the time that the “Big 4” (Richard, John, Leslie & Judith), went their separate ways. From then on they really didn’t know what each other was doing. If I understand the timing right, John O’s trainer training was after the “Big 4” had split up.
This “meta pattern” was evident in the change personal history pattern early on. But we didn’t teach it as a meta-pattern until the ‘80’s sometime. I’d have to look up more specific dates. It was when I was doing conversational change, and somewhat before that.
After writing the above, I noticed we’d published a version of this “meta-pattern” in our book, Change Your Mind—And Keep the Change (1987).
“All NLP involves accessing and resequencing experiences in time. One very broad general formulation of change work is that you start with a problem state, and then identify and access an appropriate resource state. Finally you install the resource state so that it’s triggered in response to the same cues that previously had been cues for the problem state.” (p. 28)
And on Page 29 of Change Your Mind there is a more detailed 5-step version of this “meta-pattern”:
“1. If I have a problem I can’t solve, I am associated into the problem state, in the present. I may have no awareness of the desired state.
“2. The first step toward change is for me to think of the desired state, dissociated, as a possibility in the future. So I see myself acting resourcefully in the future.
“3. Next I dissociate from the present problem state, and associate into the future resourceful self. Now I am in the future, with resources.
“4. From this future vantage point, I can see the old problem behavior in the completed past.
“5. Now I can collapse the future “now” with the present “now” so that I experience the resources in the present, and the problem as over in the past.”
As Shawn mentions, some of the above steps need to happen before other steps. However some can happen in a different sequence. For example, one can dissociate from the problem state before thinking of the resource, OR one can think of the resource first, before dissociating from the problem state. We taught with examples both ways.
Thirdly, Steve doesn’t understand the Meta Pattern (I’ll explain why in a moment) so if Steve learned it from Bandler, then Steve has also forgotten it. Now obviously Bandler (and Grinder) taught applications of the Meta Pattern (because all NLP patterns follow the Meta Pattern), for example ‘The Structure of Magic’ is a clear application of the Meta Pattern. So I suspect Steve may be seeing the Meta Pattern in something Bandler taught and thinking that was the Meta Pattern.
Steve Andreas comments:
Though not so named, the four steps in the Meta Pattern are explicit in Bandler and Grinder’s early presentation of the “change personal history” pattern in the 1979 book, Frogs into Princes (pp. 82-86) which I believe is some years before Overdurf got involved in NLP. That was the basis for my saying that I learned it long ago. The Meta Pattern was a fairly crude early outline that was useful but oversimplified—something that typically happens in the early stages of any field. Subsequent discoveries and developments have revealed a number of important distinctions and exceptions to the Meta Pattern, some of which I’ll discuss below.
Meta Pattern Overview
Overdurf noticed that all human change follows four basic steps. These steps are associating into the ‘P/S’ (think of P/S as the ‘problem-state’ for now), dissociating from the P/S, associating into the R/S (think ‘resource-state’ for now), then ‘collapse’ (think ‘collapsing anchors’ for now). Overdurf called these four steps the ‘Meta Pattern’ of change. Note that Steve said I was over-generalizing by saying all NLP patterns follow the Meta Pattern, here I’m over-generalizing even more by saying all human change follows the meta-pattern!
Let’s represent this pictorially in the case of the Collapsing Anchors pattern:
I agree that the “collapsing anchors” pattern (which has the same steps as “Change Personal History,” mentioned earlier) is a reasonably good fit for the Meta Pattern.
However, even here the fit is a clumsy enough that I don’t think the Meta Pattern alone will be a practical guide for practitioners. For example, let’s look at step 4 “collapse anchors.” If you want to collapse anchors, you need to have 2 states to collapse. However, in Shawn’s 4 steps, there isn’t a step to reelicit the problem state so that you have something to anchor and then collapse with the resource state.
Also, there is a significant ambiguity about what to “collapse”; the resource state could be collapsed with the problem state, or with the trigger for the problem state, and the results of each will be different. Either the problem state or the trigger has to be re-elicited before it can be “collapsed” with the resource state, but there is no such re-elicitation step in the Meta Pattern.
The Change Personal History pattern itself has more precision in it. You elicit the problem state, do a break state (dissociation) then ask, “How would you like to feel in this situation?” You access and anchor this resource, then say, “Take this resource, into that situation, and notice how things are different.” (collapse)
I have never liked using the word “collapse” as a metaphor to describe combining two states. What, exactly “collapses”? When two states are elicited in a brief time frame, they can combine in a variety of ways. For simplicity, I’ll only mention two of the most common useful ones:
Although I have been using the word “state” in this dialogue it is helpful to realize that the word is ambiguous. Some people use the word “state” to mean emotional feeling alone, while others would include all the different sensory elements (VAK) of an experience in a moment in time—but without specifying any of them. So it’s good to keep in mind that the word “state” is a sort of “place holder” for a package of ignorance.
Shawn’s Step 3, “associate resource state,” specifies association; however in the swish pattern the resource is dissociated, not associated, in order to create motivation. This is an important counterexample to the Meta Pattern.
Now let’s examine the NLP fast phobia cure. Here the second step is to dissociate from the problem state. This dissociation is also the resource state, rather than a separate “step” as in the Meta Pattern. And in the phobia cure there is no collapse step, another significant counterexample to the Meta Pattern.
One can find even clearer examples of change that don’t fit this meta-pattern in conversational change work. For instance, often a client will say that they feel bad because they should be able to do something about a problem, presupposing that they can. At another time they also say, “I can’t do anything about it,” often because it is simply not under their control. If you say to them, “How is it possible that you should be able to do something you can’t do?” you’ll often see a “smoke coming out of the ears” response, as they realize they have been torturing themselves by thinking that they should do the impossible. When the “can” and “can’t” presuppositions are brought together in the same sentence in a moment in time, the two opposite presuppositions “collide,” and one of them has to go—usually the “should” that has been making the person’s life “shoulddy.” The two states don’t integrate; neither do they chain; one of them vanishes. If you think of the “should” as the problem state, and the “can’t” as the resource state, putting them in the same sentence simultaneously combines the two, creating a contradiction. This might be an instance in which the word “collapse” is appropriate, though only one of the “states” actually collapses.
Another example. In the visual squash pattern, the two parts of a conflict are both seen dissociated, but in the next step the resource state is created by the integration of the two parts—each of which is part of the problem state conflict. This is a collapse (step 4 in the Meta Pattern). So in this case the collapse (step 4) comes before the resource state (step 3).
Furthermore, before the collapse there is a step in which the meta-outcome of each part is elicited. The Meta Pattern is a fairly good fit for simple reanchoring when there is no positive outcome being served by the problem state—what used to be called “first order change.” But when the problem state has an outcome (which is most of the time) resolution requires that it be satisfied—what used to be called “second order change.” The Meta Pattern doesn’t provide a step to include either an outcome, or a meta-outcome in the choice of a resource state to bring resolution.
However, the Meta Pattern is not a pattern in the sense of the Swish or the Compulsion Blowout. Rather it represents the structure of all change work, so Steve’s comment that I am introducing “steps” is not really correct. What is important are the transitions contained within the Meta Pattern, i.e. moving from one step to another.
Shawn writes “one step to another” just after writing that, “Steve’s comment that I am introducing ‘steps’ is not really correct,” a puzzling contradiction. Shawn continues to use the word “steps” in what follows below.
Let’s take a look at a typical client session:
Perhaps first I build rapport with the client, and perform an intake that asks about their hobbies, interest and favorite places (among other information). This is accessing resources, so I am starting on ‘step 3’ of the Meta Pattern.
Now at some stage, I am going to have to ask the client what they want to work through. You can think of this as a mini ‘collapse’ if I have succeeded in making them feel secure (say) with me, Step 4 of the Meta Pattern. I am then going to begin associating my client into the problem, perhaps by saying “Tell me about the last time this happened, where are you…”. We have finally reached Step 1 of the Meta Pattern.
Asking the client “what they want to work through,” is not a collapse, it elicits the problem state, which could be either associated or dissociated.
Alternatively, you can skip eliciting the problem state entirely, by asking for the desired outcome (resource state) in a particular context. If the resource state is elicited behaviorally, step 4 (collapse) becomes unnecessary, because the resource state is already associated with the cues in the problem context.
We then begin some change work, which itself will follow the Meta Pattern through any number of iterations.
Any process with iterations requires an exit in order to avoid infinite looping, but there is no exit in the Meta Pattern, as there is in the TOTE (Test, Operate, Test, Exit) model of Miller, Galanter and Pribram’s book, Plans and the Structure of behavior. All NLP processes need to have a test of the intervention, in order to know when it has succeeded, and stop the iterations. In Shawn’s diagram, there are arrows between all four circles, with no indication of when to stop cycling.
So the Meta Pattern is not a fixed sequence of steps like in Steve’s interpretation of the Swish, it is the ‘dance’.
Firstly, I didn’t present an “interpretation” of the swish pattern, I presented it exactly as Bandler originally taught it, without interpretation.
More important, when Shawn says, “the Meta Pattern is not a fixed sequence of steps,” that is somewhat ambiguous. Shawn’s diagram has arrows from one circle to the next, clearly indicating a sequence from one step to another, and not the reverse. “Not a fixed sequence of steps,” could mean that you can start anywhere in the diagram and follow the arrows.(Shawn’s example below is consistent with this meaning.) Or it could mean that you can skip steps in the sequence. But if it means that you can do the steps in any order, then the arrows in the diagram are misleading.
It simply indicates to the coach or hypnotist what the next step in that dance ought to be, but does not spell out how to take that step. As an example, if you have your client feeling good, perhaps laughing (Step 3: R/S) and you as the coach don’t use that opportunity to go to Step 4: Collapse by saying “Hey, what was that problem you used to have” with a twinkle in your eye, then you as the coach have wasted an opportunity to shift the problem. If you want to see this approach in action watch Nick Kemp do provocative therapy!
Why Does the Meta Pattern Work?
To understand why the Meta Pattern underlies all change work, you need to first understand the nature of a typical client problem. In HNLP we say there are four types of problem: something a person feels, which they don’t want to feel; something they don’t feel, which they would like to feel; something they do, which they don’t want to do; or something they don’t do, which they would like to do.
Since it is common to divide experience into three aspects, thinking, feeling and doing (or internal computation, internal state, and external behavior) I would add thinking to this list, as in obsessive thinking, or lack of ability to think in certain ways—though of course thinking can be described as a kind of doing.
More important, whether the problem appears to be one of thinking, doing, or feeling, it is the resulting unpleasant feeling that motivates the client to seek help.
Now, a ‘state’ only lasts (let’s say) about a minute if left to its own devices; that is the amount of time it takes for the chemicals that wash through the body. So if I can only feel bad about my problem for longer than a minute if I ‘throw logs on the fire’, meaning by thinking about the problem, making pictures of the problem, saying nasty things to myself and so on.
The foregoing appears to equate “state” with emotional feeling, omitting other (VAK) aspects. I agree that longer lasting states are maintained by some process that repeatedly elicits them. However, that is true of many very problematic states, such as depression, moods, and anxiety, so Shawn’s Meta Pattern solution below would not apply to those.
Otherwise my bad feeling is pretty much over in one minute; not much of a problem, right? This is how most of us deal with most of our problems:
This may be adequate for trivial problems, but even when that is true there is no permanent resolution of the problem, only an avoidance of the problem. And quite often the “decide what to do” step chooses an activity that is harmful to the person, for instance drugs or other risky distracting behavior, hardly a good solution.
But I could use the negative feeling to mess my life up, by assuming the feeling is just going to get worse and worse and last forever.
Forecasting a troubling future (usually with an internal voice) can certainly be a problem, but avoiding a feeling by finding something else to do can be just as problematic. An unpleasant feeling, like a “trouble light” on the dashboard of your car, indicates that something needs attention; ignoring it is generally not a good idea.
I might therefore avoid the context of the feeling (“I can’t speak in public because I get scared”). There is no change because the Meta Pattern is not complete.
I think it is more accurate to say that there is no change because there has been no intervention of any kind, Meta Pattern or otherwise. I agree that avoidance prevents change; previously Shawn advocated avoidance in order to “decide what to do” and “get on with it,” but now he presents it (accurately, in my view) as “problem avoidance.”
Alternatively, I give in to the feeling by doing something I know I shouldn’t (as in a compulsion). Again either the Meta Pattern is not complete, or even worse I install a meta-problem by feeling bad about my addiction…
Dr. Jeffrey Schwartz and Compulsions
There is plenty of research showing change follows the Meta Pattern. For example Dr. Jeffrey Schwartz successfully treated OCD simply by getting his clients to say, “That’s not me, that’s my OCD” whenever they experienced their compulsion, and then go and do something else, perhaps gardening say.
Firstly, Schwartz’s instruction to the client to dissociate from the OCD is very crude (“take a step back”) and secondly he also tells clients to think of the OCD thoughts as “not real,” which may be even more useful. Finally, Schwartz’s method takes a lot of conscious effort, and a very long time. I have written a blog post in which I go into much more detail about his work.
They would then be asked to notice how much better it is for them to be gardening than compulsively checking that the front door is locked.
Even if/when “doing something else” works, the problematic feeling of compulsion is left unchanged. That leaves the symptom intact, in contrast to changing the cause of the symptom so that the symptomatic feeling is no longer elicited. This fundamental error is also true of many other approaches, such as “stress reduction” or “anger management.” Rather than changing the process that causes the stress or anger, interventions are directed at modifying the resulting symptoms. In medicine, prescribing an aspirin for a fever caused by an infection is considered malpractice—unless there is no known effective treatment for the underlying cause.
By the way, this is an example of the Meta Pattern. Take a look and you’ll begin to see how the Meta Pattern does indeed underlie all human change.
This is the fifth time Shawn has made this assertion. Repetition does not establish truth; this is an informal logical fallacy, sometimes called “argumentum ad nauseum,” for good reason.
Ultimately both feelings and behaviors are driven by ‘states’, these problems boil down to the client going into an inappropriate state in a particular context, and this state lasts one minute left to its own devices. I have been talking about ‘states’, so what is a state? A state is a combination of emotional biochemistry, thoughts, behaviors (including physiological behaviors), and sense-use (what I focus on when I’m in that state, and how I focus).
Now Shawn is using a much more inclusive definition of the word “state.” As I described earlier, the word “state” is a kind of “place holder” for a package of ignorance, unless all the elements that Shawn mentions (and more) are specified, which is very difficult. Fortunately, many very effective process interventions are directed at only one or two elements of a state. For instance, “Expand your view to include what surrounds what you see,” can elicit “the big picture,” which often results in a more balanced emotional response. In this example there is no dissociation step, the instruction elicits the resource directly, and there is no collapse. When the client sees the larger context, they often spontaneously have a much more useful response.
How to Install a Compulsion
Dr. Schwartz explains how a compulsion is installed in the first place. I’m writing this at Hypnothoughts Live in Vegas so let’s use gambling. I think “Vegas Baby!” and I go into a state, including a desire to play some Blackjack. Then I ‘add logs to the fire’, I say, “I’ll have so much fun”, and I make a picture of flashing lights and pretty waitresses so I go to the tables. I win a hand, I get a shot of dopamine, “This is awesome”. Then I lose a hand, that’s no fun and I get a dopamine crash. So I picture myself winning again and get a shot of anticipatory dopamine.
I believe the current understanding is that all dopamine release is anticipatory, rather than a reward following a behavior. It is that anticipation that keeps people at the gaming tables; the occasional win only keeps the anticipatory images refreshed—and it is those images that create and maintain the state of anticipation.
I bet again and win, more dopamine… Ultimately I become addicted to my compulsion, because my brain gets addicted to the dopamine rush.
I don’t know exactly what happens neurologically. But experientially what creates the compulsion is a change in one or more submodalities used to represent the image of the object of desire, not the content represented. Often this will involve an increase in size, closeness, or zooming in, height in the visual field, brightness, etc.
Note that installing a compulsion cause me to change (obviously); I didn’t have the compulsion before and now I do. As I said above, all human change involves the Meta Pattern. The dopamine crash following my loss becomes the ‘P/S’, putting that loss behind me to see myself win the next hand becomes the ‘Dissociation from the P/S’, the dopamine rush I get when I win is the ‘R/S’, which is ‘collapsed’ onto the idea of Blackjack.
Since the dopamine rush is anticipatory, the description above has to be incorrect. Dopamine doesn’t surge in response to a win, or crash in response to a loss. It surges in anticipation, and sinks when behavior commences—before there is a win or a loss as a result of the behavior.
Now we are ready to explore the Compulsion Blowout. For those unfamiliar with the pattern it involves taking a compulsion and actually making it worse. Make it bad enough, and it ‘blows-out’, it essentially disappears.
The feeling of compulsion disappears, but the representation doesn’t; there is a spontaneous change from submodalities of reality to submodalities of unreality, as a result of a submodality passing a threshold.
How do you make a compulsion worse? Well, the easiest way is to get your client to see a therapist for 10 years to talk about it (just joking), alternatively you can amp up the submodalities of the compulsion; that’s a little quicker!
Obviously this compulsion blow-out does not contain a ‘break-state’, a dissociation, right?
Well actually, it does. Remember a state will last one minute unless I throw logs on the fire. My brain may make a picture big, for example, as part of its ‘log throwing’, but not too big. By asking a client to crank up the submodalities of a problem beyond this threshold, the client’s thoughts are taken out of the pattern normally associated with the problem, and are distracted from running other parts of the problem pattern. This is a mental dissociation; the client is dissociated from their usual thought patterns. Starved of further fuel, the state runs for another minute then disappears. The disappearance of the feelings associated with the compulsion (the ‘blow-out’), is the second part of the dissociation; dissociation from the feelings.
Now, you may argue that we are doing more than just breaking the client’s normal thoughts patterns when we super-amp the submodalities, and that may be true. But either way we’re now at step two of the Meta Pattern.
I agree that the compulsion blowout creates an experience of crossing a threshold. After the threshold is crossed, the image will be in submodalities of “unreality.” (Schwartz asks his compulsive clients to think of their compulsion as unreal, but he doesn’t tell them how to do it.)
But I disagree that this process involves dissociation. If a client’s compulsion, for instance, involves a martini that is 12” tall, he is asked to continue to see it and then to rapidly increase its size to be “larger than the known universe,” in order to cross a threshold. This is not dissociation; if anything it is an example of “throwing logs on the fire,” increasing the feeling response until the size exceeds a threshold for “reality.”
With a driver submodality that doesn’t have an infinite range, you have to use a different process, called the ratchet method, which uses a repeated increase of a submodality, for instance, zooming in repeatedly (described in our book, Change Your Mind, chapter 5). Both methods are fully associated, contrary to what Shawn asserts. Furthermore, there is no step 3 or 4 (associate resource state, collapse). The compulsion blowout is one of the few NLP patterns in which a problem response is eliminated without eliciting a substitute resource state. That is why it is necessary to follow it with a swish, in order to provide that. Shawn’s follow-on comments below seem to agree with this need.
If that was all the coach did, I very much doubt the change would take.
The change will “take,” but you can’t predict what new response will take its place.
Any good coach will associate their client into how they will be without the problem e.g., “How will you be as a person when this is no longer an issue?” (remember this can be done at the start of the session – the Meta Pattern is not restrictive). And will collapse the outcome state (at least in the testing phase) into the trigger, “Now as you’re feeling free, see those losers around that blackjack table and realize what that freedom means to you and your family”.
I don’t think it’s useful to install superiority and disdain for “those losers”; most people are already burdened by many judgments of others—as well as judgments about themselves. Judgment is a problem, not a solution.
The problem with thinking too strictly in terms of NLP ‘patterns’ without understanding how the patterns are working (e.g. within the Meta pattern of change) leads to inflexible thinking (in my opinion). Keeping the Meta Pattern in mind (or some other frame that is larger than just the NLP pattern being used), facilitates the coach-client ‘dance’, leading to greater flexibility (i.e. the Law of Requisite Variety).
I totally agree that understanding how interventions work, and having flexibility in applying them is important—something that I emphasized in my original post on the swish. In cooking, if you know that the function of vinegar in a recipe is to provide sour flavor (or to react with baking soda) you can substitute lemon juice, tomatoes, etc. The alternative is to apply a pattern by rote without understanding it, which leaves you helpless when something unexpected happens. However, it still makes sense to follow a recipe that is known to dependably get the results you want, and I don’t see how trying to force all interventions into a single Meta Pattern increases flexibility in the “dance” with a client. (Procrustes had a bed like that!)
Thank you Steve for continuing this dialogue. It is a pleasure to engage in such thought provoking discussions. Exchanges like this benefit all of us, including the greater NLP community.
Thanks to you Shawn, for raising issues that I would never have thought of on my own, and for taking the time and effort to respond to my posts. Responding to your views has been a unique opportunity to think about them and clarify my understanding. I’ve hoped that others would also chime in and offer additional views, but perhaps you and I are the only ones reading these. ;-)
Every way of generalizing about a data set will focus attention on certain aspects and ignore others. People talk about “thinking outside the box,” but I don’t think that is possible. However, you can expand the scope of the box, and you can think inside a different box, and that is what the different patterns of reframing do.
I view the Meta Pattern as a schema that is useful for beginning students to understand the basic structure of simple anchoring formats for problems that don’t involve outcomes. But there are too many counterexamples for me to agree that, “all human change is based on the Meta Pattern, all NLP patterns follow the Meta Pattern,” as Shawn repeatedly claims. Rather than present yet more counterexamples, I’ll offer an alternative outline of how all change can be understood as the consequence of three experiential variables. Few—if any—of the interventions below follow the four steps of the Meta Pattern.
Reframing Patterns: A Reorganization
Every reframing pattern changes one or more of the following: a scope of experience in time or space, the categorization of a scope, or the logical level of categorization. This organization helps you understand how all the different reframing patterns are related, what kind of change of experience will result from each, and points out ambiguities in earlier presentations of reframing patterns. Whenever a pattern has previously been named (for instance in Dilts’ “sleight of mouth” descriptions) that name is used. Dilts lists 14 different patterns; the list below contains 26 patterns, but some are different names for the same kind of scope/category distinction, and some differ only in content. The number of patterns is not written in stone; that depends on how specific you make distinctions in creating categories. A simple sentence stem is used to exemplify each intervention to make it easy to distinguish differences (sometimes this restriction results in somewhat awkward sounding sentences).
Expand frame (larger scope) “And the larger context around that is. . . ?”
Shrink frame (smaller scope) “And part of that is. . . .”
Change frame (different scope) “And something entirely different than that is . . . .”
Perceptual Position (self, other, observer) “And how s/he would see this is. . . ?”
Prior cause (earlier scope) “And that’s because. . . ?”
Consequence (later scope) “And the result of that is. . . ?”
Expand frame (larger scope) “And if that still picture were expanded into a movie. . . .” Shrink frame (smaller scope) “And the most significant part of that event is. . . .”
Change frame (different scope) “And a very different time is. . . .”
Redefinition or Redescription “And how else could you describe that. . . ?”
Eliciting a more general category (higher logical level)
Meta-frame (The prefix “meta” alone has been used ambiguously in the past to indicate either scope or category, but “meta-frame” has usually indicated a shift to a more general category, rather than a larger scope.) “And that is an example of. . . ?”
There are many such meta-frames. Some of the more useful and well-known ones that have been described previously are listed below:
Positive Intent “And his/her positive intent is. . . ?”
Model of the world “And so the way you see it is. . . ?”
Learning “And what you learned from that is. . . ?”
Curiosity “And what was most interesting to you about that is. . . ?
Hierarchy of criteria “And what is more important to you than that is. . . ?” Analogy/Metaphor “And that is like what. . . ?” (Metaphor creates a category, and often also creates a prototype example that represents the category.)
Eliciting a more specific category or an example (scope)
Category to more specific category “And that is what kind of. . . ?”
Category to scope And an example of that is. . . ?”
Counterexample category (Category to specific category with negation) “And examples of when that isn’t true are called. . . ?”
Counterexample scope (Category to scope with negation) “And an example when that wasn’t true is. . . ?”
Looping between category and example, or between category and more specific category (the category includes itself as an example) These patterns are seldom applicable, but very useful when they are, because they are logically “airtight.” Both of these loop between logical levels;
Apply to self (applying a category to itself) “And is that true of what you just said?” “You said that you hate complaining; is what you said a complaint?” (See Six Blind Elephants, volume 2, chapter 5)
Paradox (apply to self with negation) “You said, ‘I won’t communicate with you,’ but what you said is also a communication.” (See Six Blind Elephants, volume 2, chapter 7)
Ambiguous Reframing Patterns (in addition to, meta -frame, or meta above) Each of the categories below is an example of one of the previous categories described.
Outcome “And the outcome of that is. . . ?” An outcome can be either a scope of experience (a specific new car) or a category of experience (status). Asking about an outcome could shift from one scope or category to another, or from scope to category, or vice versa (four possibilities).
Another Outcome Just as an outcome is ambiguous, another outcome could also yield the four possibilities listed above.
Meta-outcome (outcome of the outcome) Again, asking about a meta-outcome could also yield the four possibilities listed above. When the prefix “meta” a used in other ways, it is also ambiguous in regard to scope and category.
“Chunk down” can mean either going to a smaller scope or to a more specific category. “Chunk up” can mean either going to a larger scope or to a more general category.
Reality Strategy “And the way you know that is. . . ?” asks for the evidence (the epistemological basis) for their experience. The responder may tell you a category (“That is one of the things my parents told me.”) or a scope of experience (“I saw it happen,” or “It’s in the Bible.”).
There are many ways to use the information in this very brief outline; here are just a few:
You can write down examples of what you have said to clients, and discover which patterns you typically use. The ones that you don’t use indicate ways to expand your range of skills and flexibility.
Better yet, make a transcript of a short segment of a session with a client, and notice both what patterns you use, and which patterns your client uses in response. Do they respond appropriately to the pattern in what you said, or not? If not, did you repeat what you said, or accept their inappropriate response?
You can do the same with transcripts of different therapy sesions, to notice how they are biased, and how this limits what they can accomplish. For instance, psychoanalysis mostly asks for an earlier scope of time, and the tired old, “How do you feel about that?” asks for a higher category, what is often called “meta” (All emotional feelings are “meta” to the experiences they evaluate.)
You can practice using different patterns together for greater effect, for instance: “When you see the larger context around that event, how else could you describe that situation?” asks first for an expanded scope of experience, and then for a recategorization of that scope.
As an exercise, pick any two patterns at random, and create a sentence that uses both; then notice your response to that sentence, how it changes your experience.
You can say to a client, “Tell me more about that,” which is ambiguous, and notice which patterns they use in response to it, which will tell you something about how they are naturally organized—or how a previous therapist has trained them to respond in the therapy context. They might tell you more detail, they might tell you about its history, or its consequences, they might recategorize it, or tell you their intent or outcome. Generally speaking, the patterns that they don’t use will be more impactful in changing their experience, so they are more likely to be useful.
Free Video Demonstration of the “standard swish” with nail-biting.
In response to my recent blog post, “How to Ruin the Swish Pattern” several people asked for a demonstration of how to do the process correctly. This is the first demonstration from our 1986 swish video; the second demonstration on that video shows Connirae gathering information and designing a swish in the auditory system for a woman who went “ballistic” when her daughter used a certain tone of voice.
Free 2016 NLP Mindfest
Fourteen different presentations, starting October 24. My session is a quick audio tour through many of the exercises in my two books on Transforming Negative Self-Talk.
Two Great Books
The Checklist Manifesto: how to get things right, by Atul Gawande, M. D. The principle is ridiculously simple, the telling of it is fascinating, and the results from using it can be life-altering.
Never Split the Difference: negotiating as if your life depended on it, by Chris Voss. If you think you know all there is to know about negotiating, read this book and learn more. Key principles, illustrated with detailed stories of actual negotiations with terrorists and kidnappers. Some of his moves will be familiar to NLPers, others won’t, and he also misses some good moves, like implication and meta-outcome. In many of his extreme examples it really is true that splitting the difference doesn’t work; you want all the hostages released. When he applies his methods to more ordinary situations, his approach is more adversarial, and he tends to ‘diss win/win solutions. That said, it’s a great read you can learn from.
New Ways to Work with Last-Chance Couples, with Terry Real
It’s very difficult to find even very short video clips that show what a therapist actually does with clients; it is rarer still to find longer videos that demonstrate skillful interventions. In this four-hour course hosted by Rich Simon, editor of the Psychotherapy Networker, the first session is a “talking heads” introduction to Terry’s work, the next two are extensive video clips of work with a couple, with discussion, and the fourth is a follow-up with the couple nine months later. Terry is an unusually skilled clinician, with a direct kindness, especially good at identifying the interpersonal dynamics between couples, helping them to recognize their own loops, in a compassionate and nonjudgmental way. Some of his interventions will be familiar to NLPers, others not, and he is missing some key NLP moves that could make his work faster and more effective and complete. For instance, the “inner child” work that he demonstrates is too sketchy, and leaves the younger part unintegrated. Using Core Transformation or some other process directed at changing unconscious understanding would result in deeper and faster healing. That said, Connirae and I both learned a bunch from this course, and we expect to view it again to learn even more. Early registration is discounted almost 60% from the regular price for a limited time. If you could use some CEU’s, this is a great way to get them.
Posted by: Steve Andreas in: Articles
When Connirae was teaching in London a few weeks ago, she was asked to do an interview for Conscious2 TV about her new Wholeness Work.
Connirae shares a profound personal experience from when she visited Dr. Milton Erickson, shortly before he died. She explains how this oriented her to developing Core Transformation, and more recently the Wholeness Work. Connirae also guides the group through the first steps of the first Wholeness Process. You can follow along and get a sense of what this is all about.
You can watch the whole 90 minute interview for free here. Sign up for the 14-day Free Trial, and watch the interview with Connirae, as well as anything else on the site that you might be curious about. Conscious2 is a site devoted to spiritual and personal growth modalities, and features many well-known spiritual teachers including Mooji, Byron Katie, Ken Wilber and others.
The Wholeness Work got their attention because it puts the spiritual quest into a surprisingly precise, specific, and doable set of practices. As an attendee at Connirae’s September training in London said, “It was excellent. Simple and mysterious at the same time.”
A few other reports from the London training help convey that this isn’t just another meditative process, but a whole different way of experiencing:
“After the Foundation course I couldn’t imagine how there was more to learn but I’m so glad I came back for the advanced course.”
Q: Did you experience Benefits? “Yes – huge relief of the whole nervous system. Stresses that have been with me since birth. Loved it all.”
“Excellent. Clearing out long held issues.”
“Warm, loving, encompassing precise, effective.
It confused me in a positive way :-)
The techniques brought me more in contact with people and lifted separations with people and/or the world.”
“A really enjoyable and profound training… The [process from Day 4 morning] generated great insights and accompanying shifts in my way of being and was very empowering.”
Thanks to all the London participants for their thoughtful comments. Much appreciated.
You can find the Wholeness training schedule here. http://AndreasNLPTrainings.com/Wholeness
Posted by: Steve Andreas in: Articles
The Structure of Change: A Response to Steve Andreas by Shawn Carson Sep 01, 2016
Shawn’s reply is in regular type; Steve’s comments are in italics.
I have decided to divide my response into two parts; first to the two smaller items below which relate directly to the swish pattern. In a later post I’ll respond to Shawn’s discussion of the HNLP Meta Pattern, which goes far beyond the swish, to how we think about NLP processes in general.
I truly enjoy and appreciate intelligent discussion of NLP. Such discussions can make us all think more deeply about the principles that underlie this amazing discipline. I am therefore thrilled to have the opportunity to share ideas with Steve Andreas, one of the giants of early NLP development, regarding the Swish pattern.
Steve wrote a blog article regarding the Swish, I responded with my own article, and Steve commented in detail on my article. I guess this is now round 4! Steve made some great points in his last article, although on some matters we will have to agree to disagree. As Steve says, we will have to wait till there is serious scientific research into NLP to resolve these matters, something that seems unlikely in the near future!
To Read the Previous Exchanges Please Click the Links Below:
I would like to use this post to explain in detail the HNLP Meta Pattern, which Steve takes some objection to. But before I do that, I will make a few responses where Steve specifically requested.
Lifetime of a State
The first is the ‘life-time’ of a state (absent throwing logs on the fire). The estimated lifetime of around a minute first came to prominence (I believe) following the publication of Jill Bolte Taylor’s remarkable book, My Stroke of Insight. Dr. Taylor is a neuroanatomist and carried out her postdoctoral at Harvard Medical School. She talks about a state lasting 90 seconds (and who am I to argue?), which generated the famous ’90 second rule’ for state life-times. This is not a definitive rule as far as I can tell from consulting the Goddess Google, but the shortest time I could find anyone argue for is 6 seconds. Whatever the lifetime of a state is, it’s much longer than the time offered to a client to run the Swish, which casts doubt on Steve’s lap/butt joint theory.
As Shawn says, the question about how long a state lasts originated in his response to my writing that I thought that the “slingshot” swish, (in which the cue image first gets very small and distant, and then returns as the desired self-image getting bigger and closer) was less dependable because the two images only connect at a single point on the distant horizon, which I likened to a butt joint. In the standard swish, the cue image gets smaller and more distant as the desired self-image simultaneously gets larger and closer, so that there is a direction from cue to self-image at every point in the transition, what I called a lap joint. Shawn’s argument was that since states typically last longer than the swish transition, this wouldn’t make any difference—there would be ample overlap between states with both.
Steve uses a metaphor of anger-to-fear to argue that states can change quickly. Unfortunately anger and fear significantly overlap in terms of state; one of the major differences is blood-flow to the hands (higher in anger than in fear). Anyone who has been in a street fight knows that fight and flight are coded to allow smooth transition from one to the other; most street fights end when this anger-to-fear switch happens.
Anger-to-fear is an example, not a metaphor, and there are many others. Any situation in which an existing state is interrupted and quickly replaced with another was commonly used by Milton Erickson to change clients. Anyone who has experienced either surprise or embarrassment will have personal experience of a state shifting very quickly. Other states, often called moods, can last for a significant part of a day or more. Some, like depression or ennui, can last a lot longer, and are typically very hard to interrupt. So any generalization about how long a state lasts will be an overgeneralization unless the state is specified in greater detail.
Try less compatible states like ‘anger-to-forgiveness’ and you’ll feel the states battling it out over a longer period!
Actually, that’s not true at all. Our Forgiveness process—a specific application of Bandler’s “mapping across with submodalities”—requires some advance framing and information-gathering that takes some time, but the state shift in response to changing the submodalities of the representation—often a change in location is all that is needed—is almost instantaneous, and that is generally true of other applications of “mapping across,” for instance Resolving Shame, or Resolving Hate.
However, Shawn’s focus on how long a state lasts is irrelevant, because the submodalities transition in the swish doesn’t link states directly; it links two images. Since images can, and often do, change in a fraction of a second, a simultaneous transition will be much more dependable than the sequential slingshot swish. It took me a while to realize this simple, but crucial distinction (sometimes I’m a little slow, but I usually get there eventually). Thanks, Shawn, for raising this issue, and forcing me to think it through.
Resource to End-State Pathway
Originally Shawn wrote:
“Now it’s important to know that if you as a coach, generate a big powerful resource state in your client (“awesomely confident”, say) and use that to collapse the trigger, change will happen. And, over time, that “awesomely confident” will transform into a lower energy (but more sustainable) ‘end state’.”
“I would be interested in Shawn’s understanding of how this transition from a big energy state to a lower energy state occurs. I would say that sometimes that happens. Other times the change will fall apart, and the person will revert back to the other side of the polarity.”
The second specific point Steve asked about is the idea of end state energy, and how that takes place. I have a fantastic reference experience involving a great friend Bella Rabinowitz (now passed), who had a fear of public speaking. She could only speak to a small group, and had to sit down to do so (because she then felt she was talking to friends). She worked through this with John Overdurf (the session was recorded and is offered for sale on John’s website, hence my freedom to discuss it) and Bella went through some big state changes. I saw Bella at an NLP practice group perhaps a month afterward, and she told me she had just spoken to 200 people at a prominent New York women’s group, and when I made some comment about how much she’d changed she made a characteristic gesture like she was brushing dust off her hands, her way of saying “no big deal”.
Shawn’s first response is to provide an example, a reference experience, which is not an answer to my “How?” question. Shawn’s next response is to provide a neurological explanation, and then one of his own.
So how does a problem become a powerful resource, then change to lower-energy ‘end state energy’? Well, to learn a new way of behaving you have to lock the new information into the hippocampus (which encodes most memories) long enough and powerfully enough for the new memories to form. This requires the release of dopamine to ‘lock’ the hippocampus and instruct it to begin forming long-term memories. Dopamine is typically released through strong emotionally-charged experiences. Hence (this is now my explanation) big resource states tend to release dopamine, lay down long-term learnings, and create change. However, once the change (the new state and new behavior) is wired into the brain, the brain seeks energy efficiency, by ‘dialing down’ the required state. That’s how Bella’s ‘big change’ became “no big deal” over the course of a couple of weeks.
I have great respect for neuroscience, and also for nuclear physics. However, I don’t think either one has much to tell us (so far) about learning and change.
Let’s make a clear distinction between memory formation and memory reprocessing. Memory formation is often facilitated by emotional arousal, but reprocessing the same memory often doesn’t require that. A lot of NLP consists of reprocessing memories and/or the conclusions based on them. A well-known example is the phobia cure, in which a terrifying memory is not changed, only the point of view is changed. In the phobia process, dissociation is certainly not “a big powerful resource state,” yet it is the perfect state for resolving a phobia.
In an article I wrote many years ago, ‘Selecting a Resource to Anchor,’ I pointed out that the appropriateness of a state is far more important than its intensity. A resource state for mathematics is mostly mental, so it’s not likely to be useful for skiing which is mostly physical, and vice-versa. Different skills require very different kinds of resource state.
When a client has experienced the phobia process, they immediately have the kind of blasé state that Shawn reports Bella having, with no need to “dial it down” so that it’s “no big deal over the course of a couple of weeks.” For a nice example of that, skip to near the end of my bee phobia video (8:34) when I ask the client to imagine a bee landing on her hand. When I ask her what that’s like, she replies matter-of-factly, “It’s like having one sitting on my hand.” When someone is very, very confident, it doesn’t look awesome at all, because it is “taken for granted.” Most of us are so totally confident that we can open a door that we don’t even think about it, we just do it.
Whenever someone wants to be “awesomely confident,” a thousand red flags flutter in my mind, as I wonder if they have the competence to go with it. Some people need confidence in order to demonstrate their competence; but far more often I see people who have too much confidence, without the competence to back it up. Years ago, I knew a guy who came back from a Tony Robbins workshop “awesomely confident,” and signed a year’s lease on 10,000 square feet of conference/office space; it remained largely empty until the lease was up.
It is fairly easy to elicit and anchor confidence, but developing competence takes a lot more persistent work and practice. People who are confidently incompetent are often a danger to themselves as well as others. As Robert Fulghum said, “Ignorance, power, and pride are a deadly mixture.”
Not too long ago I watched videos of a weekend workshop with an NLP trainer who was “awesomely confident.” He had over forty years of experience teaching NLP, and had written a couple of books. In one demonstration he “stacked anchors” for 5 different “awesomely powerful” states. When he attempted to elicit these states, the demonstration subject didn’t show any state changes, and at the end she reported no change in her problem state. The demonstration was a complete failure (which he didn’t acknowledge to the group) for two reasons: 1. He didn’t realize that some of the states were totally incompatible with others, and 2. His sensory acuity was so poor he didn’t realize that the demonstration subject wasn’t actually accessing any of the states, so he wasn’t able to anchor them—and he didn’t test his “anchors” so he had no way to check them.
To summarize, careful selection of a resource, to be sure it is appropriate for the problem state, is far more important than its intensity.