Will Murray has accepted the challenge of using NLP in casual situations many people wouldn’t attempt. Recently he shared some examples of conversational change with me; I found them interesting demonstrations of how NLP can be used quickly and easily in ordinary life, so I asked him to write up some of them for this blog. We are pleased to share it with you below:

Since NLP is based on the way your mind already works to make useful changes, often it’s easy to make changes conversationally, so that it doesn’t seem to be “work” or “therapy.” This makes it possible to incorporate it into your daily life, seamlessly and easily. I encounter perhaps a dozen opportunities every day to incorporate NLP patterns into casual conversation with immediate results.

Using NLP in a casual situation is a little bit like shining a flashlight around a dark room. You see only where you point the beam. Sometimes the beam illuminates a nice opportunity to help a friend, and then I feel okay to take a next step, and offer a new choice.


Shortening the two-year heartache

Bill, a long-time friend, asked me for advice about a complicated relationship situation. He and I had spoken several times about his relationship, which had recently ended surprisingly and abruptly and had this poor fellow sleeping poorly, unfocused at work and unable to eat properly. A therapist friend of his had suggested that he would have to go through a series of stages, which would “take two years” before he could “put this sad feeling behind him.” That didn’t sound necessary or useful to me, so I asked, “Two years—that’s a long time to feel bad. When are you ready to be done with this?” Bill said, emphatically, “Yesterday!” spoken with force and speed and in louder volume than the previous parts of the conversation. This nonverbal “all systems go” behavior convinced me that he really meant it, so I asked Bill if he would be willing to try something that would shorten the two-years of bad feelings. “Of course,” he replied. “And would you like to try it now? It might take five minutes or so.” Again he said, “Yes,” So I used the following process:

  1. Reference example. “Can you think of a relationship that really hurt you in the past, but which you are completely done with at this time, and it no longer causes you any trouble? I don’t need to know what it is; I just need to know that you can identify an experience that fits that description.”

He responded that yes, he could think of something like that, and his nonverbal behavior (calm expression, relaxed posture, etc.) confirmed his verbal statement.

  1. Elicit the qualities of the experience. “When you think of that relationship that no longer bothers you, where do you see the image in your field of view? How far away from you? Movie or still picture? Large or small image? Does the image have a border? Color or black and white? Fast or slow or normal speed? Sharp or grainy? Bright or dim or normal? Is there sound with the picture? Do you have any physical sensations in your body in a place you can point to when you see this picture?”

He represented the relationship that once really hurt him but now no longer bothers him as a color movie, about iPad-screen size, about 10 inches to the left of his left temple, a little faster than normal speed, normal sharpness and contrast, no sound and no physical sensation.

  1. Transform the hurtful image into the qualities of the reference example. “Now get a picture of the relationship that hurts you now, but think of it in the same way as the one that doesn’t bother you any more. Make it as a movie, color, about iPad size, about 10 inches to the left of your left temple, and run the movie a little faster than normal. Go ahead and do this now and tell me when you are done.” . . . In about 15 seconds he said, “Okay, I’m done.”
  1. Test. “When you think about the end of this relationship, when you think about her, how is it?” He responded in a matter-of-act tone, “Well, I guess she needs to do what she needs to do. Too bad it ended this way, but, you know, life goes on.”
  1. Stronger test. “Okay, let’s say you are walking down the street and turn a corner, and there she is, almost bumping into you, and she’s with some other guy.” He said, again in a “so what” tone of voice, “I guess I hope she’s doing well.”
  1. Test for objections. “Ask yourself, as though there were a part of you who could answer, ‘Is there any part of me that objects to feeling this way about the past relationship?’ and notice and report to me what you notice.” Bill paused for a minute, and replied, “No, I don’t think so.” Again, his nonverbal behavior appeared congruent with his verbal answer, so I took it as accurate.

Two weeks later he reported that he is beginning to see someone else, is sleeping through the night and eating well. And he wondered, “Why do you ask?” The five steps above took two or three minutes, and then we just carried on with the rest of our conversation.

I used this same process with someone going through a tough time in his marriage. The couple counselor had advised him that the problem was his anger. After doing this brief process with him, he said, “What do I have to be mad about? I don’t have any reason to be mad.” His wife reported that the couple counselor now thinks they can move on to the next part of their process.


What comes next?

Barbara is a college professor friend who had some previous experience with NLP. One July 4th, a bunch of us from the building wanted to watch the fireworks from our roof, but she had a fear of heights and would not consider climbing the vertical ladder, crawling through the hatch in the roof, standing on the roof or descending through the hatch and down the ladder. I asked her if she would like to be done with her fear of heights, and upon receiving an affirmative answer, I spent a few minutes using the Fast Phobia Cure with her. She then scaled the ladder, enjoyed the fireworks from the roof, descended the ladder and went through the rest of her evening as though nothing unusual had happened. Her husband was quite surprised. When I asked her about her fear of heights (stronger test), she said, “Oh, that was never a big deal anyway.”

At a spontaneous Sunday dinner with Barbara, we were talking about our weekends. I was just finishing a training session in Metaphors of Movement with Andrew T. Austin that the Andreases had sponsored, so I mentioned this. Barbara said, “Metaphors—nobody uses metaphors.” I asked, “Would you like to test it out?” Most of NLP is vastly easier to demonstrate than describe, so I often invite interested people to try some NLP pattern that is relevant to them.

To explore the Metaphors of Movement approach, I elicited a metaphor by using a vague, general question: “You know that thing in your life, you know, that has a lot of your attention right now? I don’t need to know what it is, but you know what it is, right? What is it like?” She replied, “Well, it’s like I’m standing at the edge of a forest.” Now that she had the kernel of her metaphor, I quickly took her through the initial steps to draw out the metaphor, by asking her to observe and report what is to her left, right, front, back, below and above. She could describe her surroundings in all those directions. To the left was dense brush; to the right, the same dense brush. To the rear was a concrete path. Above was a clear blue sky. Directly below Barbara’s feet was a gravel path, about a foot wide. In front was a forest about five steps in front, with the thin gravel path disappearing into the trees. Then I asked her to take one step in each of those directions, then return to center, and say how it was for her. Barbara said that “it doesn’t feel good” to step to the left or step to the right toward the brush. When she took a step back, her face looked as if she smelled something bad and her head retracted as she said, “Oh no…no good.” When I invited her to take one step forward from her original position, then step back, Barbara said, “I could see a little better from there. Do I have to step back?” No, of course not,” I replied. “They are your steps.”

There are more steps to the Metaphors of Movement approach, but we were in the middle of dinner, and her nonverbal responses indicated that she was having a nice internal experience, so we returned to normal conversation. The next afternoon I received this unsolicited email:

“Thanks for doing that visualization exercise with me yesterday. Turning 60 has been challenging because I don’t know what I want to do with myself for the next phase of my life. I’ve felt frozen, not knowing which way to go. Last night I slept very soundly and then this morning I felt like I knew how I want to move forward. I don’t need a radical change, just a minor adjustment. So I won’t be quitting my job or moving into a cabin in the woods, but I will step down from being department chair and dive into more teaching, research, building the nonprofit I started, travel, exercise, and building friendships. Sounds like an exciting path into the future.”

This was a nice report, but the “stepping down” part caught my ear. As department head, she has a certain status and position, and I wanted to make sure she was ready for that kind of change. A few days later, I ran into her in the parking garage, and simply said, “Hey, you know about your decision to step down? You have a certain status now; how do you think that will change?” She replied, “Department head isn’t as glamorous as it sounds. It isn’t a big step down.” Then we went on to talk about how atrocious the weather has been for bike riding.


Lining up the group facing forward

Working with a planning group or giving mental skills training to groups of athletes is not exactly casual conversation, but I have learned that a strong start to any session is important, so I casually insert a bit of future orientation right at the start. I like to ask the members of the group to imagine being in the future in order to set an agenda. I will ask the group, “Let’s say our session today goes as well as you could possibly want. You are at the end of our day together, and you are able to look back and say, ‘This is just what we needed. I’m glad I was here for this.’ What would we need to get done today for you to be able to say this?” Then the group makes a list of things that would make them glad to be part of this process, setting a direction for the meeting. We record the list and look at it again at the end of the day to make sure we accomplished everything they wanted.

Having participants do this focuses their attention on desired outcomes and sets an optimistic tone right from the beginning. It may seem like a small thing, but I have found it really effective. Although each participant answers that question individually, having the group’s collective sense on a flip chart, and then returning to it at the end, helps the group’s work come together smoothly, because each knows the goals of all the others. A key to this three-minute experience is to have the participants place themselves in the future and experience what has already happened. Participants often refer to the desired outcomes during the session, and more easily stay focused on the agenda.


Have a nice race day

In many of these situations, my friends and family know my NLP background and have a situation they would like to address, so I have implicit permission to demonstrate or do an NLP pattern. With a group, I’m on contract to help them achieve the results they want, and they expect me to bring the most effective skills I have to help them. Occasionally, though, doing some NLP with a total stranger seems appropriate.

I was getting ready to race in a triathlon in Boulder Reservoir in 2013. All of us were standing knee-deep in the water just before the start of the race, which consisted of a ½-mile swim, 15-mile bike race then a 3.1-mile run. It was a beautiful morning, just dawning, with the reservoir glassy and a few golden scattered clouds catching the first light. A few hot-air balloons were ascending to the east, right in line with the buoys marking the swim course. It was a great morning for a race (at least I thought it was). Nearby was another triathlete standing next to me knee deep in the water about one minute before the start of the race. He was muttering something and staring down into the water, with his fists clenched. Barely audibly I could hear him saying, “Oh God, oh God, oh God.” I noticed that he kept his gaze down, looking a few feet in front of him.

I guessed that he was having an internal experience of a terrible race to come. Maybe he was catastrophizing about getting bumped into and panicking in the swim (150 of us were all going to start swimming hard together all at once), or crashing his bike or getting a flat tire or getting cramps or throwing up or getting blisters from his running shoes or losing his way on the run course or having an asteroid strike his home—I didn’t really know. But it was clear to me that he wasn’t in a good emotional state to have an enjoyable race.

NLP uses eye position to detect how someone is thinking. Eyes looking down usually indicate that someone is talking to themselves internally, or having a strong emotional feeling, or both. Eyes looking up usually indicate that someone is having a primarily visual experience, making pictures in their mind’s eye, and usually having less emotional feeling. By changing eye position, you can change how someone is experiencing.

So, without permission, and without announcing who I was, or what I did, I simply said, “Hey, look at those balloons going up” and I pointed up at the balloons above the horizon. He looked up, stopped his muttering and unclenched his fists. Then I said, “Great day for a race, isn’t it?” He looked at me, giggled a little, and said, “I guess it is.” Then the starting gun went off, and the race was on.

Will Murray, is an NLP Practitioner living in Boulder, Colorado. He has trained with Connirae and Steve Andreas and has participated in many other training sessions. Will has an 18-year career as a management consultant to non-profit organizations. He is a certified USA Triathlon Level 1 coach and a certified triathlon youth coach, specializing in mental skills on the coaching staff of D3Multisport. Will is co-author of The Four Pillars of Triathlon: Vital Mental Conditioning for Endurance Athletes, which uses NLP patterns to enhance athletes’ results and enjoyment and Uncle: The Definitive Guide for Becoming the World’s Greatest Aunt or Uncle.