3 NLP Techniques to Create Instant State Change

I had a request to re-post this classic from our archives, so here it is!  By Kevin Creedon, it’s a great little piece of quick-change artistry good for all 🙂

3 NLP Techniques to Create Instant State Change – by Kevin Creedon

“Think of a problem.”

Those four words are used repeatedly throughout NLP training because most of the time NLP techniques are used in a prescriptive manner.  That means that, after the fact, we can examine a problem, make new choices, and mentally rehearse a more ideal performance in the future. But what about those events that we haven’t prepared for? Is it possible to shift from negative feelings to more resourceful feelings at the moment, without prior planning or an external trigger?

Shift Happens

I remember a time when I had to travel from New York to Boston for an important family event. Very early on a hot August morning, I went to pick up the rental car I had reserved a week before. The rental agent told me that, because some cars hadn’t been returned yet, I’d have to wait until one came in or make other arrangements. I finally got a car…two hours later.

Now I was stuck in the morning rush hour. Worse, there was a lot of repaving being done on the highway and the heat left a lot of overheated cars stalled on the road. When I finally got to Boston (having missed the wedding and most of the reception) I was in an awful mood. One of my nephews, who was six at the time, asked me why I was so grumpy. I told him the whole story: the car rental, the traffic, the heat.

And then he said, “But Uncle Kevin, you’re not driving now.”

Instant state change! One moment, I’m grumpy and reliving all the unpleasantness of the morning, and the next I’m enjoying myself.

At that point, I knew that positive state changes could happen suddenly, and faster than any NLP technique I had learned so far. But I didn’t know how to generate them for myself. They were always a reaction to something external, usually something someone else said to me. Yet I was very curious about how we could learn to do the same thing for ourselves.

Emotions are Choices. William Glasser, M.D. in his book Choice Theory makes a strong case for the idea that emotions are choices, even when they don’t feel like it. Using my trip to Boston as an example, he would say that the reason I was grumpy with my family was not that I spent most of the day stuck in traffic, but because at the reception I was choosing to generate grumpy emotions.

Whether or not emotions are choices is true, it is a very useful assumption.

An Experiment for You

Here’s an experiment. Pretend that you are grumpy and mentally label your experience each of these ways:

  1. I am grumpy.
  2. I am feeling grumpy.
  3. I am choosing to feel grumpy.

What are the differences for you?

Which gives you the greatest freedom (and responsibility)?

When I taught my first NLP Master Practitioner class, at graduation one of my students told me that he had just solved a big mystery: that much of what I taught in class was geared toward recognizing that we can choose how we feel. This was a powerful revelation for him-he had spent much of his life being angry, thinking he had no choice about it.

He asked me why I didn’t just tell everyone at the start that emotions can be chosen. “Who would have believed me?” I asked him.

Some people try to suppress or hide their emotions. Others venerate them, with the idea that ALL emotions have to be fully expressed, preferably with an audience, before an emotion is complete. I don’t think emotions should be suppressed or avoided, but I’m surprised how often what I’m feeling seems to have been chosen blindly, without considering more than one possibility.

The Ephemeral Nature of Emotions

Here’s another experiment to illustrate the ephemeral nature of emotions. Think of a small task that you can do, should get done, and have been putting off. When you think about it, what emotions do you feel?

Next, ask yourself “Is there any reason I can’t put off deciding how I’ll feel about doing this until after it’s done?”

Notice what happens. In my experience, both with myself and with my students and clients, if the answer is no, the negative feeling spontaneously disappears and we go and do the thing that we had been putting off.

The following two NLP techniques are tools to help you choose your emotions more thoughtfully. They are so simple and quick that it’s hard to believe they work until you try them out for yourself.

The Cloud Technique

The Cloud Technique is especially useful because you can do it on your own, just about anywhere. And once you become familiar with it, it takes less than thirty seconds to choose a more resourceful state.

One client I was working with wanted to go back to school and complete her education but was worried that she would fail again. She was terrified of asking questions in classes, and whenever I asked her to imagine asking a question in class, she’d start crying.

Given the broader scope of what she wanted to accomplish, I didn’t want to spend all our time on this. I had a hunch that a clear demonstration that she had a choice about her emotions would be a great start to our work together.

I began by explaining that any emotion she feels had been generated — by her — just a fraction of a second before. Then I asked her to stand up and imagine being in a classroom again; her posture stiffened, her face got pale and she stopped breathing.

I told her to imagine the feelings she was feeling like a cloud around her. I asked her to describe the color, size, and motion of the cloud. (She described it as large, black, and sluggish.)

I then had her step out of it, walk away from it, then look back at it. I said, “Now we have to work fast because — without a human there to create that emotion — the cloud will disperse quickly.”

I asked her, “Given what you want in the big picture, is that emotion serving you well?” She said, “No, it’s not!” I told her, “Even though the cloud is already beginning to disperse, blow it out like a candle.”

In another location, I had her imagine a matrix for a different emotion that might be more useful. She chose confidence. I then asked her to step into the matrix to turn on feelings of confidence like a cloud around her, and then think of being in a classroom. She was breathing easily, her posture was relaxed and she could easily imagine asking her teacher questions. (She was also stunned that it could be this easy).

This was an amazing change, especially considering that it had taken less than a minute. But we weren’t done yet. I wanted her to have a richer experience of emotional choice.

I took her through three more emotions: humor, curiosity, and “feeling larger than the situation.” Each new emotion allowed her to participate in the classroom experience in different ways — and most importantly she got to practice evaluating the influence of different emotions and changing among them quickly and easily.

With this as a foundation, the strategy and belief work that followed were a piece of cake for both of us.

Use this technique whenever you are feeling unresourceful.

And trust yourself — occasionally you will not be able to change your state this easily. Respect that, in those cases, your unconscious knows that a change would not be ecological.

Here are the steps:

  1. Imagine the emotion you are feeling like a cloud around you. Notice its color, size, and movement.
  2. Walk out of the cloud, leaving it where you were standing. Look at the cloud and quickly ask yourself one of the following questions:
    • Given the big picture, is that serving me well?
    • Given the big picture, is that helping my communication?
  3. If the emotion is serving you well, step back into it and choose it.
  4. If it’s not serving you well, blow out the emotion — which was dissipating quickly anyway (because no human is being in it to generate it) — and go to step five.
  5. In another location, pick a new emotion to try on. Imagine it as just a framework that will turn on as soon as you step into it. Step into it and feel this new emotion as a cloud around you: Will this serve you better? If so, you’re ready to move forward in the situation; if not, step out and try out other emotions until you find one or more that meet the needs of the situation.

The Tunnel Technique

I use the Tunnel Technique quite often when guiding a client through a reimprint.

Once I was guiding a woman through a reimprint of sexual abuse as a child; the younger self felt guilty for what had happened. With my client associated with her younger self, I asked her to notice where she felt the feelings of guilt in her body.

She said it was like a heavy chain around the inside of her throat. I had her move the feeling outside of herself and imagine it taking on the form of a doorway.

Then I explained to her that sometimes emotions have to be gone through to feel something else. And that there was a rule for the next step, that no matter what she felt once she entered the doorway, she had to keep moving to find out what was on the other side.

She agreed to keep in motion once she entered the tunnel, and then she opened the doorway and stepped into it. It took her about 30 seconds before she found the exit at the other end.

When she stepped out of the tunnel, the next thing she felt was rage at her mother for not protecting her. We then did the Tunnel Technique with the rage and when she went through that, she emerged out the other side into what she described as freedom and compassion.

As a result of this change, which took less than two minutes, the resources that she chose for herself and the other people in the reimprint were less prescriptive and more generative.

It’s not possible to predict what you’ll find at the other end of the tunnel; fear can turn into compassion, anger can turn into a sense of peace and wholeness.

And every time I’ve used this technique, the resources clients chose for themselves were much more creative and generative than a typical reimprint because they were choosing resources from a place of wholeness rather than a place of fear or hurt.

Use this technique whenever you have an old feeling that from an observer position seems inappropriate to the situation — like in the example, where my client’s younger self was feeling guilt for something an adult did to her.

  1. Notice where in your body you feel the emotion. With your hands, remove it from yourself and put it in front of you. Expand the image until it’s the size and shape of a doorway.
  2. On the other side of the doorway is a tunnel of emotion. In a moment, you will enter the tunnel and walk through it to find out what is on the other side. But there is a rule: once entering the tunnel you must keep walking.
  3. Having agreed to keep moving your feet, step into the tunnel, close the door behind you, and feel the emotion surrounding you as you keep moving until you discover the exit on the other side. (This has never taken more than 30 seconds.)
  4. Going through the emotion and out the other side typically moves a person into a very different place emotionally. Going through guilt can lead to freedom, going through rage can lead to compassion, but as in the above example sometimes it goes to other strong emotions which have been suppressed or masked. When that happens, go through that emotion as well until you’ve reached a place that feels healthy and whole.

I use both techniques by myself and within reimprinting and belief change processes.

Once learned, either technique can be used without a guide, without prior planning, and almost anywhere. Despite their simplicity, they are innately ecological because they move a person into a place of emotional freedom.

I would love to hear how you use these or any other “almost instant state change” techniques you’ve discovered.” – Kevin

0 thoughts on “3 NLP Techniques to Create Instant State Change”

  1. This is a great tool to instantly change your State withing minutes. I like the focus on
    the submodality changes, and I didnt know how powerful this technique was until I tried it
    on loved ones and on myself. You feel like a guru, and your peers will definitely look
    up to you for helping them in their life.


  2. Hi Moses,

    This is one of the most popular reasons for learning NLP. It gives us multiple ways to choose our responses to “the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.”

    Being able to choose responses that make us happy, increase our satisfaction and effectiveness, reduce our stres, leave us feeling the way we want to feel rather than some random programmed response and feeling – not too bad.

    PS: And this one doesn’t even require much knowledge of NLP, or a partner; you can readily and easily “apply to self!”

  3. Tonight’s task for me is to practice these.. great tools…..!

    For some reason, the timing of this for me was about perfect…..

    I thank you.


  4. Hi Dave,

    Wonderful! Glad to know it’s benefiting.

    Practice! It’ll never make perfect, but, like one of my favorite jokes, it’s how you get to Carnegie Hall 🙂

    A guy asks a New York cabbie “Say, How do I get to Carnegie Hall?”
    The cabbie responds: “I’ve been waiting since I started this job for someone to ask me that!
    Practice, man, Practice!
    A nice example of context refaming, too.


  5. Pingback: I huvudet på Håkan Fleischer » Post Topic » Snödäck på?

  6. Hello; when I click on “check it out” at the end of the aritcle to look at his Big Bang Stratagey I get a box that says improper imput, prehaps the link is not set right.

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