Submodalities, Part 3, The Swish

(Richard Bandler)

Joke: A young recruit in the army began acting very strangely one morning. Instead of his regular duties, he was continually moving about, searching for something in a very distracted way. When questioned about it he would only say, “I’ve got to find it. I know it’s here somewhere.” When they asked him what he was looking for, he would only say, “I don’t know,” and continue searching. After a few more hours of this they sent him to psychiatry for evaluation. When he arrived in the psychiatrist’s office he began taking books off the shelves, looking through the papers on the psychiatrist’s desk, and muttering to himself, “I have to find it.” The psychiatrist attempted to find out what he was looking for for several hours, without learning anything further. Finally the psychiatrist sighed, and said to him, “Well, I guess the army’s been a little too hard on you son; we’d better give you a `section 8′ discharge.” As the psychiatrist handed him the discharge papers, the recruit’s face lit up with a big smile of relief, and he said, “There it is!”

Many NLP interventions are based on feedback. You try something out, get information, and adjust your behavior on the basis of your evaluation of that feedback information from the past. With outcome specification, however, you are doing a “feed forward” process creating a future representation to go toward. The Swish Pattern is another example of a “feed forward” intervention. You decide on the outcome and then adjust your behavior now in order to reach that future state (in contrast to adjusting your behavior by referring to feedback about past events).

The swish is a very powerful pattern that will work on almost any behavior or response that you don’t like. The swish sends the brain in a new direction, so the person ends up being compelled to be more of who they want to be, rather than compelled to do or feel something they don’t like.

(Trios, 15 minutes in each position)

Demonstration: I’m going to demonstrate what’s called the “standard swish” a simple version that works for most people, and then have you do it. (You can use nail biting, or a similar simple habit that is observable, or you can ask for an unpleasant response for which the person can already identify a visual cue that triggers it. You can also demonstrate with any other behavior or response they don’t like, but you’re more likely to get an auditory cue or a more complicated multiple outcome situation if you don’t specify what you want fairly narrowly. Before beginning the demonstration, quickly check to discover whether the subject responds “normally” to size and brightness. Ask him to think of a pleasant experience, and then ask him to adjust size and brightness while you observe his nonverbal response. If he responds in reverse, thank him, excuse him and get another demonstration subject so that you don’t have to reverse the method and confuse the group. Explain to the group that you want the first demonstration to be as simple as possible, to make it easy for them to learn. (You can always use the first demonstration with nail biting (about 10 minutes) on our videotape “The Swish Pattern” as a backup demonstration.)

1. Determine the client’s unwanted behavior/response.

2. Cue Picture:
a. Identify what visual cues occur immediately before the unwanted behavior/response. “When do you bite your nails?” (This puts the person into the appropriate context, so that it will be easier to answer the next question.) “What do you see/hear/feel that makes you want to bite your nails?” If he doesn’t know, and you can’t find out, you can pick a visual cue that you know has to be there. For instance, in nail biting your hand has to come up to your face, and into your visual field.
If he can only identify auditory or kinesthetic cues, ask him to overlap to a visual cue to keep the demonstration simple. “If that (sound/feeling) were a picture, what would it be?”
When demonstrating the standard swish, avoid spending a lot of time identifying the visual cue. It’s better to spend more time later, after they know the basic pattern.
b. “Make a large, bright, associated image of what you see just before the unwanted behavior begins.” Calibrate to client’s external behavior. “Now set this picture aside briefly.”

3. Self image Picture: “Make a picture of the you that you would be if you no longer had this difficulty.” “How would you see yourself differently as a person if you no longer had the unwanted behavior?” This picture is not simply a picture of the person not smoking, for instance, or doing any specific behavior, but a dissociated picture of themselves being a different kind of person more capable, and with more choices.
Make sure the picture:
a. Represents qualities, not specific behaviors.
b. Is dissociated (and stays dissociated).
c. Is attractive to the subject. (Calibrate)
d. Is not narrowly contextualized. Make the background as vague and undefined as possible.

4. Ecological check: “As you look at this picture of yourself as you want to be, do you have any hesitation or misgivings about becoming this person? Does any part of you have even the slightest objection?” Use any objecting parts to modify the image until all parts are enthusiastic.

5. Set up: “Make a large, bright, associated image of the cues (#2), and put a small, dark picture of the desired self image (#3) in the middle of that image.” (Use visual and auditory anchors for steps 4 and 5 to make it easier for the client to swish.)

6. Swish: “See the picture of yourself as you want to be quickly get bigger and brighter, as the cue image shrinks and becomes dim and overwhelmed. Then clear your visual screen, or open your eyes. Repeat this process 5 times, faster each time.”
Be sure to have an interruption at the end of each swish, so that the chaining goes only one way. You are creating a direction with this pattern by changing three submodality variables at once: size, brightness, and association/dissociation. Use calibration to confirm internal process. If the client begins to find it hard to get the cue image after swishing 2 or 3 times, that’s a good sign that it is already working.

7. Test:
a. Make cue image (2). What happens?
b. Behaviorally test by creating the external cue.
When the swish is successful, it will be hard to hold the cue image (2); it will be spontaneously replaced by the desired self image, which may or may not be conscious. Seeing the actual external cue should also chain through to the desired self image, though much of this is often unconscious. Use nonverbal calibration to confirm report.

After demonstrating, go through each step quickly with the group, before they do the exercise with each other. Have them check first to make sure their subject isn’t reversed with respect to size and brightness responses. If they are, have them call an assistant over to help them adjust the swish accordingly.

Discussion: This is the standard swish, a pattern that works with about 70% of people without gathering detailed information to find out exactly how their brain works. The success rate goes way up when you learn how to tailor a swish to an individual, something that we teach in the advanced submodalities training. The standard swish presupposes their brain responds strongly to the submodalities of size and brightness, but some people’s brains are organized differently. If they want to know how to identify “how someone’s brain works,” tell them that we don’t have time in this training to teach everything in NLP, and that is taught in the advanced training.

Questions for audience: “Why do you swish to a dissociated image?” “Try this: Make an image of the you that you want to become more like. Make it really attractive to you, there in front of you. Notice your response. Do you feel drawn to it?… Now step into the image. Notice how your response changes. Do you still feel drawn? (Typically, you feel more like that person with greater intensity, but less drawn to become him/her.) The purpose of the swish is to propel the person in the direction of becoming more of who they want to become.
Too often people make a wonderful image of who they want to be, step into it, and feel as if they already are that person, without having acquired the skills necessary to actually be that person. These are the people who act confident, but aren’t competent. We taught you how to do this earlier in the training when we taught anchoring and the new behavior generator, because very often the person does have the skills, but needs to have a particular feeling state in order to access these skills. These are very useful patterns, but they do have the possible drawback of creating confidence without the competence to back it up. There are quite a few people like this in the world already; we don’t want to make more of them.
There are two major elements to the swish. One is the chain from the cue to a desired state. The other is the powerful motivation provided by the dissociated self image.
When you set a direction for yourself with a dissociated self image, then you are drawn in that direction, without misleading yourself that you are already there. If the image is attractive enough, you will quickly find ways to become more and more like that person. This is a specific piece of what has often been called (high) self esteem.
What in the swish takes care of ecology? The desired state image, if carefully created, is done in a large part by all the person’s unconscious processes, so it usually takes care of any positive functions of the present response. If you already know any of the positive functions, be sure to explicitly instruct the client to see themselves in the new image as someone for whom that problem or objection isn’t an issue because s/he has more choices for achieving that function as well. For instance, if you know the person bites her nails because of stress, you can say, “Not only does she have more choices about nail biting, you can see by looking at her that she has many useful choices about responding to stressful situations.
Another reason that the swish is unusually ecological is that the swish specifies the general outcome, but nothing at all about the processes or means that the person will use to get there. As the person develops ways to get to the outcome, presumably all parts concerned will have their input into the process of getting there.

Pick any from this list to do with the entire group at once, as time permits, today or tomorrow. These are all short, so they can be used as fillers whenever you have a little extra time.

1. Change Viewpoint: Change from Association to Dissociation or vice versa. Watch from above, from far out in space, from the position of being on the floor, from the other’s point of view (to get “shift referential index”), from between two other people; see movie upside down, etc.

2. Subtracting elements: Limit experience by deleting distinctions (color, movement, proximity, etc.).

3. Adding elements: Expand experience by adding distinctions that were not made before (color, movement, depth, number of examples, etc.).

4. Collapsing anchors: Use a submodalities “anchor” to add an incongruent (or resourceful, motivating, etc.) representation to the existing representation. Example: Run a movie of an unpleasant memory and play loud circus music behind it, or have one picture “blossom” into another and become a part of it. Put a picture of a disappointment in an ornate gold baroque picture frame. See your movie of a problem set to music on an operatic stage.

5. Disruption: Give an ecology warning on this one: Be sure to abstract any useful information you want to keep, and do an all systems ecology check before disrupting a memory. “Crazing” is a word for what happens to tempered glass (a rear or side window in a car) when it is shatters; it breaks into thousands of tiny granules and falls apart. Turning a kaleidoscope provides another reference experience for disrupting a picture. Try this with any picture you want to get rid of (for example, a nightmare). Do it five times to make it permanent. Try watching a movie “inside out.”

6. Separating self from context, in order to disrupt anchored interactive sequences between self and context. Use whatever distinctions the person already uses (or could use) to distinguish self and context. Possibilities to separate the two are: speed of movement, distance, color, etc. Example:
a. Think of an unpleasant memory, and run a short movie of it. (Baseline data, pre test)
b. See yourself in the picture (dissociated). If the picture is in black and white, see yourself in color. If the picture is in color, see yourself in black and white.
c. Run the movie forward with self moving at double speed and context moving at half speed.
d. Run the movie backward with self at half speed and context at double speed.
e. Now run the movie the way you usually do, to find out if there is a change in your feelings. (Post test)

7. Separating internal feelings from self behavior: Use the same procedure above to disrupt anchored sequences between your Internal State and your own External behavior. Do this associated.

0 thoughts on “Submodalities, Part 3, The Swish”

  1. BridgetMcKenna

    I really think the Swish is one of the most elegant and generative of the NLP patterns. I originally learned it from RB using size / distance rather than size / brightness, and because in my NLP infancy I was focused more on individual techniques than on the underlying fundamentals, I actually didn’t recognize it as the same pattern when I came across this example (in “Using Your Brain For a Change”) some time later. Imagine my embarassment…

    And that, I think, is what Master Prac is for: learning what underlies the things you’ve already learned in Practitioner training. Or as one of my teachers, Peter Freeth, puts it: “In Prac training we give you lots of keys and show you how to use them to open doors. In Master Prac we teach you how to pick locks!”

    Let’s hear it for picking locks!

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