Changing Your Mental Programming with NLP

by Yvonne Ellis

In my last article I introduced Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) as a great tool to use for changing subconscious programming. In this newsletter, I'll introduce you to Neuro Linguistic Programming (or NLP) and give you an NLP technique you can use yourself to change an unwanted or unproductive program or eliminate an unwanted habit.

NLP was developed in the early 1970’s by Richard Bandler and John Grinder.  "Neuro" refers to the way information is processed by the mind through the senses; "linguistic" refers to the way we use language to communicate our experiences to ourselves and others; and "programming" describes how the brain codes experiences to create personal programs that determine our ways of being and behaving in the world.

In other words, NLP is a way to describe precisely how people perceive experiences, represent them to themselves, communicate them to others, and encode them within their brain. Understanding this process makes it possible to change an experience or replicate someone else’s experience. How NLP is mostly used (outside of a therapeutic setting) is in studying and replicating (or modelling) personal excellence. It is a tool that is widely used in business and personal development.

NLP is extremely effective in changing subconscious programming whether that is eliminating a belief and installing a new belief, disrupting old disempowering patterns or programs and installing more empowering patterns or programs, turning on and off emotional states at will and eliminating conflict within yourself.
The downside with NLP is that it does require training in order for you to be truly effective in using many of the processes and, because much of what we say and do is out of conscious awareness, it can be more difficult to use NLP on yourself. For example, if you were to ask a highly successful  business person how they succeeded, they probably couldn’t give you a precise answer. They most likely don’t even know, consciously, what made the difference and therefore are unable to articulate it. Similarly, we often aren’t aware, at a conscious level, of how we sabotage ourselves - only that we do.

The key to success or failure then is often unknown at the conscious level. That’s why an athlete can be sensational one time and fail the next, even though their preparation was, on the surface, exactly the same. Dig a little deeper, however, using NLP, and the differences start to emerge that explain the contrast in results. Eliciting these unknown pieces of the puzzle is sometimes referred to as the ‘magic of NLP’ although, of course, it’s not magic at all. Once elicited, you can ‘interrupt’ the sabotaging program that was running and change the end result.

The brain processes information and stores our life experiences using our five senses. When we later remember those experiences we do so using our five senses again. That is why, if you remember or imagine biting into a lemon, you ‘see’, ‘smell’ and ‘taste’ the lemon even though it’s only happening in your mind. In NLP these senses are called modalities and there are three main ones: visual (seeing), auditory (hearing) and kinaesthetic (feeling). Our other two senses, olfactory (smell) and gustatory (taste) are a part of the kinaesthetic modality. Most people have a preference for and operate primarily from one main sensory modality.

Here is an NLP process that you can easily use on yourself.

The Swish Pattern

The swish pattern allows you to ‘rewire’ an old response by programming in a new response to the same trigger. It re-programs the mind to respond in a new and positive way to a situation that previously resulted in unwanted thoughts, behaviours and emotions. It can be used on everything from stopping habits like nail-biting or smoking to changing perspectives on situations like cold call selling (eg from dislike to ease or enjoyment) and changing behaviours like yelling at the people you love, acting like a doormat instead of standing up for yourself, or compulsively replaying old memories in your head that make you feel bad.

Here’s how you do it:

Step 1: Identify what it is that you want to change eg stop biting your nails.

Step 2: Identify the Cue Picture. What do you actually see just before you start doing the unwanted behaviour? Since a lot of behaviours happen on ‘autopilot’ it might help to actually do whatever you do just before you start the unwanted behaviour eg move your hand towards your mouth just as you would if you were about to bite your nails. What do you see/hear/sense? This is your Cue picture.

Step 3: Create a Desired Outcome picture. How would you see yourself differently if you had already made the change that you desire. Not just longer fingernails – what would be the value of changing this? What difference would it make to you as a person? How would it change your self-image? How would that all look/sound/feel like? Create a picture of that New You, the you that you would be if you no longer had this habit, behaviour or feeling. See yourself in the picture as though you were watching a movie and adjust the image until you feel really drawn to it. Increase the brightness, size and distance of the image and add in desirable qualities like confidence, assertiveness, inner power and kindness etc until you find it really compelling.

Step 4: Swish the two pictures. Start with seeing the Cue Picture, big and bright. Then put a small, dark image of your Desired Outcome in the lower left corner. Now as you say ‘swish’ allow the Cue Picture to get dimmer and smaller and further away and at the same time allow the small dark picture (your Desired Outcome) to grow big and bright until it completely covers the Cue Picture and fills the screen of your mind. You do this very quickly – in less than a second – the time that it takes to say swish. Now open your eyes. Repeat this process a total of five times making sure you open your eyes in between each swish.

Step 5: Test. Now try and picture the Cue Picture This should be hard to do as it will tend to be replaced by your Desired Outcome picture. Alternatively, try to trigger the behaviour eg lift your hand as though to bite your nails. If the old behaviour is still there, go back and swish some more and add more sensory elements to your images to make them compelling. The Cue Picture should feel unpleasant since this is a behaviour you wish to change and the Desired Outcome should feel really attractive. The keys to a successful swish are speed and correctly identifying the trigger or Cue Picture. Happy swishing!


Yvonne Ellis is one of the authors of

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