Often people congruently make a change, but it just never happens. Sometimes this is because the change wasn’t made appropriately, or because some important competing outcome wasn’t considered. But often it is simply because the change wasn’t securely programmed into a specific appropriate time and place in the future, what is called “future-pacing.” For instance, someone may sincerely decide to exercise. But if it isn’t programmed into a specific time and place, they may find themselves at the end of the day with no time left to do it. Then they may sincerely promise themselves that they will do it “tomorrow” — and then again find themselves at the end of the day not having done it.

For example, we live in the country, and our mailbox at the road is some 400 feet from the front door. Repeatedly I would drive up to the house and then realize that I had forgotten to pick up the mail. Annoyed, I would promise myself that I would notice the next day. But when I came home the next day, I would usually forget again. I was definitely motivated, but something was missing, so I decided to put what I know to work. I vividly imagined the context — being in my car as I approached the mailbox. Then I focused on the mailbox, and thought about what kind of event would definitely get my attention if it happened in the real world. Then I imagined the mailbox simultaneously turning bright pink and expanding into the size of a Volkswagen and then exploding with a loud pop — something that I found amusing, as well as attention-getting. This linked the external cue of seeing the mailbox with my internal representation of the large, pink, popping mailbox. The next few times I approached the mailbox, I became conscious of the exploding pink mailbox, and felt a small smile of enjoyment, but this gradually diminished, as my noticing the mailbox became more and more unconscious. Since then, I have never missed getting the mail.

In the mid 1980’s we posed the following question to an NLP practitioner training: “If, right now, you think of something that you want to do later, how do you program yourself, so that in fact you will do it at the appropriate time?” We gathered a variety of different responses from participants, noted the advantages and disadvantages of each, extracted the general principles involved, and summarized them into a general format for teaching others how to do this in a way that is effective and dependable. We have just resurrected the audio of doing this, and made it available as an hour and 19-minute MP3 download:

Future Pacing Audio