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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.)

Steve’s Original Article 

Shawn’s Response

Steve’s Response to Shawn

Shawn’s Response to Steve

Steve’s partial response to Shawn


Shawn wrote:      

         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.


Shawn wrote:

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.


Shawn continues

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:



Steve writes:

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:

  1. Integration, in which two states simultaneously blend into a third state containing elements or aspects of both.
  2. Chaining, in which the two states remain unchanged, but one state I linked to the other sequentially.

         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.


Shawn continues:

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.


Steve’s comment:

         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.


Shawn continues:

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.


Steve Comments:

         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.


Shawn continues:

We then begin some change work, which itself will follow the Meta Pattern through any number of iterations.


Steve comments:

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.


Shawn continues:

So the Meta Pattern is not a fixed sequence of steps like in Steve’s interpretation of the Swish, it is the ‘dance’.


Steve comments:

         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.


Shawn continues:

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.


Steve comments:

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.


Shawn continues:

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.


Steve comments:

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.


Shawn continues:

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:


Steve comments:

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.




Shawn continues:

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.


Steve comments:

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.


Shawn continues:

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.




Steve comments:

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.”


Shawn continues:

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.


Steve comments:

         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.


Shawn continues:

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.


Steve comments:

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.


Shawn continues:

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.




Shawn continues:

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).


Steve comments:

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.


Shawn continues:

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.


Steve comments:

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.


Shawn continues:

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.


Shawn continues:

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.


Steve comments:

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.




Shawn continues:

Compulsion Blowout

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.




Steve comments:

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.


Shawn continues:

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.


Steve comments:

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.




Shan continues:

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.


Shawn continues:

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”.


Steve comments:

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.




Shawn continues:


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).


Steve comments:

         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!)


Shawn continues:

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.


Steve comments:

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

Steve Andreas

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).

  1. Change of Scope:


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. . . .”

  1. Change of Categorization: (at the same logical level)

Redefinition or Redescription “And how else could you describe that. . . ?”

  1. Change of Logical Level of Categorization:

       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.


Online Opportunities

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.

Interview Here

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.”

–Carola Martin-Smith


“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.”

–Martin Winkler


“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.”

–Michael Cahill


Thanks to all the London participants for their thoughtful comments. Much appreciated.

You can find the Wholeness training schedule here.

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:

Steve’s Original Article 

Shawn’s Response

Steve’s Response to Shawn

Shawn’s Response to Steve


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’.”

Steve replied:       

“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.”


Shawn replied:

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.

Telephone session with an anxious client,

using Nick Kemp’s Spinning Feelings and Tempo Shift methods,

with commentary by Steve Andreas


A colleague asked me for feedback on a 25-minute phone session that he did with a middle-level manager who was anxious about an imminent meeting with several upper managers, in which she expected to be criticized and attacked verbally. The session was very successful, as indicated by her report the next day, “Thanks for the check in, and THANK YOU for that fantastic work in the afternoon. I felt really great about how I conducted myself. I was able to provide the center even in the midst of yelling.”

Feedback seldom gets much better than that! However, despite the complete success of the session, I had a number of suggestions for how to make the process even more elegant and effective. Some of my comments are minor, perhaps even “picky”; others are more substantial. Many clients will be able follow instructions appropriately even when they are sloppily worded, but others will not. (And of course some clients will manage to misunderstand even the most carefully worded instruction.) The more specific and precise you are with your words, the easier it will be for the client to change. When I offer this kind of feedback, I also see it as an opportunity to learn as much as I can, in order to make my own language more precise. I’ve made my living as an editor—in one form or another—for some 45 years, so I have quite a lot of practice. With the coach’s permission I have made a transcript of the phone recording, and interspersed my suggestions, which I hope will also be of interest to others.


Verbatim Transcript

(Steve’s comments are in italics)

Coach:        So, what would you like to have different?

Client:         What would I like to have different? I would like to be less anxious, going to this meeting.

Coach:        OK, so you’d like to be less anxious. Now that’s a negative so you want to be less of something. What would you like to have in its place?

(Eliciting a positive outcome is an important part of many interventions, but in the case of anxiety, it’s not required. My experience with the spinning feelings process is that it is unnecessary, because the result is automatically positive and appropriate, without needing to rely on the client’s conscious mind to decide what the new response will be.)

Client:         Well, I would like to be a calm, non-anxious presence.

Coach:        “Non-anxious” is also a negative.

Client:         I would like to be astute. I would like to be a centering influence on the group; I’d like to be a calm influence on the group.

Coach:        Calm influence. Actually the word that I like, is in comparison to being non-anxious is to be assured.

(“Assured” is content, which may or may not fit for the client. Content interventions can be useful, but it’s good to realize that they are different from process interventions.)

Client:         Be assured?

Coach:        Uh-huh.

Client:         That’s good.

Coach:        But anyway the idea of being able to be calm, which to me also is about being centered and grounded in who I am—

(“Centered” and “grounded” are additional content.)

Client:         Totally.

Coach:        —rather than being totally reactive to what other people are doing.

Client:         Totally, Right, yes.

Coach:        So with that in mind I’ve got a couple of things that I’d suggest we do, and the first thing is to respond to the anxiety, deal with the anxiety.

         (“Respond to the anxiety,” and “deal with the anxiety” are not the same thing, so this introduces ambiguity and is a little confusing. I think what you mean is “work with the anxiety” or “resolve the anxiety.”)

         (Before working with the anxiety it would be good to find out what the client says to herself that triggers the anxiety. The coach does this much later, after using the spinning feelings process. At that point, the feeling is resolved, making it awkward to find out what she says to herself.)

So take a moment and just be aware of,

(This is “putting the cart before the horse”; you need to elicit the context before being aware of something in it.)

imagine being in this meeting and how you probably imagine you will be.

(This sentence is also not as clear as it could be. “Probably imagining how you will be in the future,” elicits hypothetical, intellectual, possibility rather than present actuality. Compare with, “Imagine you are in the meeting, and notice what you feel,” which is more direct and succinct. You want to start with “imagine,” but after that presuppose in your language that the client is actually in the meeting.)

So just anxious, right?

(“Anxious” names the feeling, which is unnecessary, and may limit or distort the client’s experience of the feeling; using the word “feeling” is more open-ended, and can also be used for any other strong feeling. The outcome at this point is not to name the feeling, but to locate it.)

Client:         Right, right.

Coach:        So just take a moment and be aware of the anxiety.

(The previous sentence is unnecessary; the following one is fine.)

Now as you are aware of the anxiety tell me where it starts in your body and where it goes to.

Client:         And where it goes?

Coach:        Yeah. Anxiety is kind of an interesting experience. It has a huge physiologic component.

(The two previous chatty sentences are unnecessary, and irrelevant to the location.)

So where does it start in your body?

Client:         It starts in my chest with very shallow breath.

Coach:        Very shallow breath. It starts in your chest so it’s sort of your upper chest?

(I would delete the “sort of” which suggests her experience is uncertain. Nothing is added by saying “upper chest,” which may not be accurate.)

Client:         It’s in my upper chest, and I’m truly having hot flashes. Of course it is about 100 degrees here today, but I’m still having hot flashes about this meeting, yeah.

Coach:        So and so you also experience an increase in temperature. So now it starts in your chest. Where does that anxiety travel to? Where does it—?

(There is no advantage to naming it “anxiety.” “Feeling” or “it” is enough.)

Client:         Well it goes down to my stomach, but it doesn’t go— How shall I say? It goes to my stomach, but my feet are not on the ground. It does not go— I know that I’m not grounded; I guess that’s how to say it.

(There is a curious jump in her attention from stomach to feet. I would have asked if the feeling goes anywhere after going to the stomach. Since she mentions that her feet are not on the ground, I suspect that the feeling goes all the way down through her legs to her feet. Even when I think I have the full path, I usually ask once or twice more, to be sure I have the complete path.)

Coach:        Oh, OK. So the feeling now goes from your chest down to your stomach.

(The “now” implies a change; I would delete it.)

Client:         Yep.

Coach:        OK. So it’s traveling that path. Now notice, as it’s traveling that path what color is it?

Client:         What color is it? Red.

Coach:        It’s red. OK.

(A step of the protocol is missing here—asking about the shape, size, etc. of the path. It’s not essential, but it amplifies the visual representation of the feeling, establishing a detailed context for asking the next question.)

And watch it going down that red path,

(“As the feeling moves along this red path,” presupposes both the moving and the watching, so it’s a bit better for engaging unconscious processing.)

and tell me which direction is it spinning—clockwise or anti-clockwise?

(I prefer “notice” to “tell me,” since the client has to notice it before telling me, and the context already implies telling.)

Client:         It’s spinning, uh, anti-clockwise.

Coach:        Anti-clockwise, OK.

(The following conscious-mind selection of an outcome color interrupts the process, requiring a shift in attention, and back again to gathering information about the problem state afterward. It’s not part of the spinning feelings protocol, and seems to be unnecessary. However, selecting the outcome might be a useful addition for some clients.)

Now just set all that aside and come back to that sense of being grounded, with a sense of assurance in who you are, that sense of confidence and calm. When you think of that, what color is that experience?

         (“When you think of that” is an invitation to intellectualize. “What color is that experience?” is more direct.)

Client:         Grass green

Coach:        Green, grass green

Client:         Grass green, yep.

Coach:        Cool. OK, so the first thing I want you to do is to take a moment—

(There is a big jump in attention here between the outcome specification and the problem state. More important, the problem context for the intervention is not elicited. Adding sparkles was omitted here; it’s not necessary, but it amplifies the visual experience in a pleasant way for most. Better to say, “Go back into that problem context and notice the very beginning of that feeling. As it begins to move along that path, spin it in the reverse direction, change it to a color you like better, and add sparkles to it, and just find out what happens.”)

—and spin that anxiety as it’s going down. It’s going anti-clockwise

(“It’s going anti-clockwise” is not useful because it elicits the problem state, which is not what you want here. Doing it this way links the reverse direction to the problem response rather than to the context. This can lead to feeling bad first before feeling better. You want to link the context directly to the reverse spinning.)

so I want you to spin it clockwise and as it’s spinning clockwise let it turn from red into that grass green color, and tell me when it’s spinning quite quickly in the opposite direction. So it will be spinning clockwise and you’ll begin to see as it spins quickly clockwise it will be turning from red into grass green, and tell me when it’s completely green.

(Again, mentioning “red” elicits the problem state, when you want the context to link directly to the new color. “Change the color to a color you like better.”)

Client:         Right. It’s marbled. It’s a marbled red and green.

(This is the result of mentioning “red,” making it more difficult for the client to change it.)

Coach:        Just center into yourself and just let it spin, and spin it quite quickly and tell me when it’s completely green.

         (Nice “save,” presupposing that it will become all green.)

Client:         Yeah, it’s completely green.

Coach:        OK, and now as you watch it spinning and it’s completely green just let it add some sparkles to it, so that you’ve got green and little sparkles going inside of it.

         (Much better to add the sparkles earlier along with reversing the direction of spin and change of color. Using several instructions together tends to overload the client’s conscious mind, eliciting unconscious change.)

Client:         I saw my temperature coming down. My hot flash is subsiding.

Coach:        Cool. So you got little sparkles in it as well?

Client:         Yep.

Coach:        Brilliant, brilliant. OK, now just take a moment and check to see whether your feet are now on the ground.

Client:         They are.

Coach:        Cool.

Client:         It’s sort of amazing.

Coach:        So now just see if you can get the anxiety back.

(This is imprecise. Better to say, “Go back into that meeting, and find out what happens,” to test and future-pace. If the process didn’t work, and the client still feels anxious, asking “see if you can get the anxiety back” would be a serious mismatch! Assuming the report is positive, then follow with a further challenge, “See if you can get the anxiety back.”)

Client:         It’s interesting because now I can remember what red looks like but it’s hard to think about it. It’s actually harder than getting it to spin in the first place. The green is kind of overwhelming everything, which is good! Just the color, it’s a very common color to me.

Coach:        Yeah. Cool.

Client:         Yeah, amazing, amazing!

Coach:        That really is quite amazing

Client:         It’s so much better; I was out in my car searching, seeing if I could find a little happy pill to take. I don’t have any of those anymore, so there you go; I can’t take a happy pill—just do it the right way.

Coach:        OK now so that’s the first thing so that sort of takes care of the physiologic part of the anxiety.

(The following elicitation of the voice that triggers the anxious feeling is a bit awkward now that the feeling has been changed. It would have been much easier and better to elicit the voice before changing the feeling.)

Now I want you to come back though and think about anxiety

         (“Think about anxiety” is an invitation to intellectualize, rather than to notice.)

and to imagine I’ve never been anxious in my life. And so you are trying to teach me how to be anxious.

(“You are trying” implies effort that doesn’t succeed. Better to say something like, “Now I want you to imagine that I’ve never been anxious in my life, and your job is to teach me.”

And so the things that—particularly since you’re feeling anxious about a meeting that’s to come, so the meeting is not actually happening in the room with you at the moment, so it’s a future—

         (That is a very confusing sentence. The focus has shifted from teaching the coach to the client’s experience. “You’re anxious about a meeting to come” would be much simpler and direct. But since she doesn’t get anxious any more, it’s hard for her to do. An explicit reorientation in time would be helpful here: “Go back 15 minutes to when you used to get anxious, and notice what you say to yourself just before the feeling.” In addition to gathering information, this sentence helps solidify the change that has been made.)

So you got to imagine the meeting right? Typically there are four things to pay attention to when we have an experience. And the four things are: what do we see with our eyes, what do we hear with our ears, and then what do we see on the inside, and what do we hear on the inside? And so I’m particularly interested in your experience of anxiety because it’s not happening at the moment.

Client:         Right, right.

Coach:        It’s just in your imagination that what do you have to see on the inside and what do you have to hear on the inside in order to get anxious?

         (The foregoing would be fine as an introduction to a thorough elicitation. However, this is after putting the client into the situation, so it is requires a shift in attention, and is an invitation to pop out of the experience and intellectualize. For this process, the only thing you need is the voice and what it says.)

Client:         Hmn, see on the inside, or hear on the inside. I need to see walls all around me like I’m in a tunnel.

Coach:        OK, you need to see like you’re in a tunnel.

Client:         Like I’m trapped.

Coach:        So there’s a sense of being trapped. Now what do you have to hear?

Client:         Actually what I have to hear is well inside of myself? Inside of myself I need to hear my voices, my mini-voices—

Coach:        Yeah.

Client:         —trying to figure things out.

Coach:        And actually what you’ll find that in order to feel anxious there’s usually, well I call them, a negative mantra. It’s a little phrase that you repeat over and over and over again. It’s kind of in a loop like those old, old eight tracks.

         (This may be true, but the client doesn’t need to know it, and it introduces content that may not fit for the client.)

Client:         Right, right.

Coach:        So this continuous loop and it’s doing, and it’s saying something. So just listen to the loop of all those voices and find the one that really elicits the anxiety.

(I would leave out “loop” and “all those voices” both of which may be a mismatch for the client.)

Client:         Yeah, now I’ve got it, yeah.

Coach:        And tell me what it is.

(“is” is vague, and confuses the client; “what it says” is more specific, and would avoid the confusion that follows.)

Client:         You mean what it’s saying?

Coach:        Yeah.

Client:         It’s saying, “How can I get out of this?”

Coach:        How can you get out of this?

Client:         “How can I escape this?” Yeah, how can I? How can I? “I’ve got to flee.”

(Any of the above sentences will be in the fast voice tempo that elicits the feeling, so any will work to do the voice tempo shift.)

Coach:        OK, now take a moment though. Why would—if you had to stay in this, why would that be a bad thing? ‘Cause getting out of this is an escape mechanism; you’re trying to escape some bad outcome.

(The foregoing is true but unnecessary. The voice is what used to trigger the anxiety. Asking about the precursors only confuses the client, as shown by what follows. )

Client:         Yeah, why?

Coach:        So what’s the bad outcome?

Client:         Well, actually I think that when I’m trying to escape I’m trying to escape; I don’t even want to be part of it. But yeah, no on the level of—hmm—I’m not quite sure what you’re saying.

Coach:        Well, it’s kind of like “I got to get out of this” and that may be the little negative mantra. Here’s what I often find though, is that underneath that is something like “They’re going to get me, I’m going to die.”

(“little negative mantra” and “underneath” may not be a good fit for the client.)

Client:         Oh yeah, thank you, actually all day I’ve been saying I’m terrified.

Coach:        “I’m terrified.”

Client:         I’m terrified. I’m shaking. I’m peeing in my pants. I’m terrified.

(Being “terrified” describes the feeling elicited by the voice, not what the voice says that causes the feeling. This is where many people go wrong, mistakingly thinking that it’s the voice that causes the feeling.)

Coach:        And so something—which tells me, something really bad, you’re imagining something really bad, like “They’re going to hate me, they’re going to fire me, they’re going to abandon me, or I’m going to be alone.”

(These are all content possibilities for what might cause the feeling.)

So take a moment, just take a breath, take a moment and listen and see if you can find what’s the sort of the darkest little mantra that’s way down underneath all of these?

(“The darkest little mantra that’s way down underneath all of these” introduces content that may not be a good fit for the client’s experience.)

Client:         It’s really good. It’s very clear to me that if I stay in the thing I’m going to die.

Coach:        “I’m going to die.” I’m just writing it down. “I’m going to die.”

(“I’m going to die” will also work. However, that meaning is carried by the voice tone in which she previously said, “How can I escape this?” etc. The words don’t matter that much. The fast tempo elicits the anxiety. If she said, “I’m going to the store” in that tempo that is will also make her anxious. It would be more efficient and equally effective to just use the first clear statement the client offered, “How can I get out of this? Or How can I escape this”)

         (At this point in the protocol, the instruction is to ask, “When you have said this to yourself, do you say it in your normal conversational speaking voice, or is it said at a faster tempo? That’s all. Period. Compare this with the somewhat meandering instruction below, some of which is an invitation to think about her experience, in contrast to noticing it.)

So now let’s just take a moment and listen to “I’m going to die” and the first thing I want to do is figure out what do you have to do, and there’s usually two things but we’ll check both of them, to make the feeling of anxiety get worse? So I want to see what you need to do in order to get it worse. And the first thing is to change the volume of the, um—so for example, if we make the negative mantra “I’m going to die,” if we make it really loud does that make it worse?

(Although volume will have an impact, it is secondary. Asking about the volume is not in the tempo shift protocol, and unnecessary.)

Client:         Yeah.

Coach:        OK, loud. Now check also the pace of it. So if it speeds up, does that make it worse?

(“Does that make it worse?” is pretty clear in the context, but “Does that increase the feeling?” would be more precise.)

Client:         Yes, yes, more than slow, fast, yes.

(The next step in the protocol is to ask the client to say it the way they have been, then to slow the tempo by one-third, and then to slow it much more.)

Coach:        So fast and loud?

Client:         Yep.

Coach:        OK. So now what I invite you to do is you know when you watch TV on like CNN they have a “crawl” that’s going along the bottom of the screen?

(The above is not in the tempo shift protocol.)

Client:         Yeah, yeah.

(What follows is essentially a variation of the phobia cure, with green and sparkles added in, rather than the anxiety protocol.)

Coach:        OK, so I want you to imagine in your mind you’re seeing this whole situation and you’ve got a crawl going down the bottom of your visual field and the crawl is this “I’m going to die” and it’s just going, it’s an endless crawl. So you’re no longer hearing it, you’re now seeing it. So tell me when you see it. So you can see it?

Client:         I see it. I got it.

Coach:        OK, now the background of the crawl I invite you to make it that green with the little sparkles in it.

Client:         So I’m like looking at the television set? Is that what I‘m imagining?

(This points out an earlier ambiguity. “Seeing this whole situation” didn’t specify seeing it on a TV.)

Coach:        Yeah, or that sort of the visual field of what’s going on.

(A very confusing sentence! “Sort of” weakens the instruction. Better to say, “Yes, you’re seeing this whole situation on a TV.”)

In the bottom of it you’ve got this crawl and the background of the crawl, so like typically it’s usually like black writing on white or something like that.

Client:         I think I don’t understand the word you’re saying, “call”?

Coach:        Crawl. C-R-A-W-L.

Client:         Oh crawl! Got it, got it. (both laugh)

Coach:        So as you’re watching the crawl, make the background of the crawl that grass green color with the sparkles. And what we’re going to do is (slowly) slow the crawl down.

         (At last, the tempo shift, visual variation, though modified significantly from the protocol.)

So it’s going, (very slowly) “I’m . . . going . . . to . . . die.” So it’s getting slower and slower. (client laughs.) Keep watching it as it’s going really slow, and get really curious and see which of the words is the first one to just get so slow that it gets bogged down and absorbed into the background so you can’t even see it anymore.

Client:         Yeah, “going.”

Coach:       “Going,” OK. And just keep watching and tell me what’s the next one that’s—?

Client:         “I’m.”

Coach:        And just keep watching and tell me when they’ve all gone.

(This is an instruction for amnesia. In general we never want to erase experience, only modify it.)

Client:         Yeah, pretty much green, pretty much green. I can still see a little vestige of it, but pretty much green.

Coach:        OK. And what’s the vestige?

Client:         It’s more that if there was lighting there, the vestige is that it’s not perfectly green, I guess is a way to say it.

Coach:        OK, so there’s a little reminder. And would it be OK if that reminder was a memory of how you used to be, which reminds you to be calm instead of that other way?

(The first part of this is a nice hypnotic invitation to categorize the “vestige’ as a “memory of how things used to be,” which puts the old way into the past, and consolidates the change. However, “instead of that other way” invites her to re-elicit the problem state again, so that’s not useful.

In the tempo shift protocol, all that is done is to slow down the tempo, and that is sufficient to elicit a new response.)

Client:         Right, right, right, umhmn.

Coach:        And assured. OK, so now as you think of this meeting, yeah as you think about the meeting, see if you can get the anxiety back.

(“Think about the meeting” is an invitation to intellectualize. “Imagine you are in the meeting” would be more specific. I prefer to first ask an open-ended question, “What do you experience?” which invites the client to respond with whatever they experience. If the process didn’t work, and she is still anxious, then asking “see if you can get the anxiety back” would be a serious mismatch of her experience.)

Client:         It’s totally gone. I’m not anxious right now. My feet are on the ground literally—literally and figuratively.

Coach:        So now take a moment and be grounded, and remember we used to talk about compassion being tender, fierce, mischievous, that sort of—

(The above seems to me to be totally irrelevant to the stated outcome of the session, introducing content that may not fit for the client. Likewise what follow seems to be a meandering way to future-pace. Since the purpose of the session was to resolve the client’s anxiety in a meeting, the simple and direct way to do this is to say, “Imagine being in that meeting, and tell me how you experience it now,” to confirm that the new response is immediate and spontaneous. That would get the job done, and make what follows unnecessary.)

Client:         Yeah.

Coach:        —think of your competence, the times when you have been grounded, that experience of you in your realm being responsive rather than reactive, with the full range of compassion.

(I think compassion is great, but I don’t see how it’s relevant here.)

Client:         Right and I think that that’s— I’ve got that, and I think that it’s reminding me that my feet on the ground is important.

(The client returns to her own statement of the change she noticed, “my feet are on the ground” without mentioning the other things suggested, which adds to the likelihood that they are not particularly relevant to her.)

Coach:        Grounded.

Client:         Literally.

Coach:        Now take a moment and just sort of internalize that experience

(“Sort of” weakens the outcome of internalizing the experience.)

of being really grounded, and now imagine having this meeting with these folks, being really grounded. And play that through like a movie, where you’re the lead character in the movie, not just watching yourself, but actually being yourself fully grounded.

         (“Play it like a movie” suggests being separated from it rather than being in it; at best it’s ambiguous. And “not just watching yourself” is a negative command creating ambivalence. Better to say something positive like, “Imagine being in that situation now, seeing out of your own eyes, and find out how that scenario unfolds spontaneously.)

Client:         Yeah, I mean I have a vision of myself being solid, you know—

         (“A vision of myself” indicates seeing herself in the situation, rather than being in it, which is necessary for a dependable future-pace.)

Coach:        And take a moment and imagine some other situation with some other people where you need to be this grounded and just imagine doing the same thing, playing a movie of you being grounded in the future.

         (Again “playing a movie of you being grounded” is ambiguous at best, suggesting seeing herself. And since she is in “some other situation with some other people where you need to be this grounded,” “in the future” directs her attention to a future beyond that, which isn’t useful.)

Client:         Right, I got that.

Coach:        OK, cool. And now take a moment and go back in time to a situation where it would have been really good to have had this resource and just do the same thing, play it through like a movie as though you’re in the movie as the lead character but having this resource so we can use one of those past memories as a learning lab.

(This is fine, but out of order. Better to revise 1-3 past memories before doing a future-pace.)

Client:         Yeah, I got that, and for me it’s a really good image because it’s like I’m taking up my space. I mean that in a really good way. I’m holding my space. My space is mine.

Coach:        Yeah, and you’re fully inhabiting your body and your being.

         (Nice reinforcement of the associated experience.)

Client:         Yep.

Coach:        And I should have done this a couple of moments ago,

(This is distracting, and not useful.)

but is there any situation that you could think of where this would not be appropriate?

(“This” is ambiguous, and “not be appropriate” is a negation, possibly causing the confusion that follows. Better to state this in the positive. “Can you think of any context in which you would want to have the old feeling, or some other response?”)

Client:         Yes, I mean I think that this would not be appropriate in, um—you mean—

         (The client is confused by the preceding ambiguities.)

Coach:        Some kind of contextual limit and I don’t know—

(“Contextual limit” is unclear, and jargon.)

It may not be but I think of helping someone to be assertive and that we’re not actually doing that so much as we’re helping you to be grounded. It may not be the most beneficial to be assertive if you were in a 7-Eleven that was being robbed.

(The example of a robbery would be fine in a teaching context, but bringing in assertiveness is suggesting content that distracts from the simple question, “Can you think of any context in which you would want to have the old feeling?”

Client:         Yeah, and I think I was actually thinking of the opposite if I had to, because it’s not about being grounded but it’s about being active, because what we’ve just done makes me feel calm and not inactive, but not a lot of frenetic energy. When we talked about the anxiety it was very frenetic and fast to me. So this seems very slow and deliberate, slow and deliberate. So I actually thought the only place that I can imagine—well no it’s not true. I was thinking if a building suddenly caught on fire I would still need to be deliberate. I might not need to be slow—I could be fast and deliberate.

Coach:        Yeah, and just to sort of be aware that it seemed to be a pretty safe generalizable state

(What does it mean to “sort of be aware”? “A pretty safe generalizable state” is jargon. Better to say something like, “Being aware and grounded is a useful resource in almost any situation.”)

but there are times when maybe not like you said when you have to really— Well, I think there are times when there’s life and death where we need to act promptly, quickly, instantly if you like, and we can deal with the issues when we got people to a place of safety. Now so just take a moment and

         (There have been quite a few times earlier when “take a moment” has been used without being particularly useful.)

with that in mind this seems to be a state that you would like to keep.

(“A state that you would like to keep” is somewhat dissociated and jargon. Better to say, “So you are fully satisfied with your new response.”)

Client:         Yes, definitely, definitely.

Coach:        Cool. Brilliant.

Client:         Can you come to my meeting with me?

Coach:        I don’t think you’ll need me, but here’s what I would— Just take a moment and thank yourself for your ability to learn and the resources that are within you to make these changes.

(This is a nice suggestion to view the change she made as a part of her identity, in contrast to just a change in behavior.)

Client:         That’s a good reminder.

Coach:        Ahah, Cool. Well I think we’re done.

Client:         I think we’re done, too.

Coach:        I look forward to hearing how it goes.

Client:         Thank you very much. Thank you.

Coach:        You’re welcome.

Client:         Take care. See you next week.


Remember that despite all my comments, this session was very successful. Your clients want you to succeed with them, and they will often respond to what you mean, not what you say. Still, the middle word in NLP is “linguistic.” The words you say are important, especially in a phone session in which your gestures aren’t available to clarify the inevitable ambiguities in speech.

Furthermore, the as just words of sequence a sentence as in important is, the sequence of steps in leading a client through an effective intervention is just as important. Being precise makes it easier for your clients to change, and that makes your work with them easier and more satisfying for you as well.


Coach’s comments in response

Thanks Steve for the detailed review; it has been very helpful in several ways. Three things that I am really aware of:

  1. Reading the verbatim itself shows that I could be more precise in my language, eliminating phrases such as “sort of,” “take a moment,” and other verbiage that muddle the directions.
  2. Most of my clients are participants in my training programs and I am confusing teaching with coaching. While I am a teacher, when I am working with a client I need to be working with the client and their experience and not teaching them about their experience. “Negative mantras,” and “8 track recordings” would fit into the “teaching about the experience,” rather than eliciting and working with the client’s experience.

Paying attention to 1 and 2 would make me more present with the client and my work with them more precise, efficient, and effective.

  1. Specifically with respect to anxiety: In most anxiety situations the critical submodality is the tempo of the voice. When I first learned the process I learned the auditory to visual shift and changing the tempo or speed of the visual representation, which in most cases is unnecessary. We can simply adjust the tempo of the voice to a speed which does not evoke the feeling. What we want to be doing is giving the person the freedom to control the voice and while they still can hear the voice they can chose whether to listen to it or pay attention to the voice. While the voice and its tempo is the critical Submodality, what we test for in outcomes is not the voice and whether it can be heard, but whether the person can put themselves into the original context and feel the anxious feeling. I think in the past I have focused too much on what happened to the voice rather than what was happening to the feeling.

Once again thank you for refining my skills and the elegance of my work.