How using your attention can change the quality of your states (and vice versa)

We can track components of our attention through exploring our states, and we can explore our states using attention. We have already discussed state-dependent learning in the context of having access to different resources and information in different states. With well-integrated, readily accessible states, there is overlap between resources and their availability, and this includes qualities of attention. In dissociated states, there is limited overlap to resources cached in other states. This is evidenced by lack of access to memories acquired within dissociated states, except when we return to the state in question.

We know the quality of our attention is influenced by our state. We also know that effective learning takes place when we are interested in something and curious to find out more. A state that includes curiosity and interest leads us to attend externally in all senses as we engage with the interesting material we have found.

“We know the quality of our attention is influenced by our state.”

When our attention gravitates effortlessly to the subject matter, we learn thoroughly and willingly. Learning happens seamlessly, and we read, listen, and attend with pleasure. This applies to anything we find engaging, from formally presented material to informally shared skills and conversations with interesting and fascinating people.

There are many occasions in life when it would be useful to create a state of effortless engagement, when our attention is naturally external and demonstrably with a person or what they are doing and saying. This is the foundation of establishing and maintaining rapport with people, as well as the means for learning anything we need to master.

Rapport is the art of engaging and holding the unconscious attention of another person. This is done most effectively by engaging and holding our own attention on that person and what they are discussing. We attend to seeing and hearing them, not running internal movies and soundtracks about the discussion. The same applies to making learning interesting and, therefore, memorable. When we attend to the presentation in front of us with open eyes and ears, we record the material for future consideration and application. If we are running internal movies and soundtracks or talking to ourselves, we block the input channels and miss much of what is on offer.

“Rapport is the art of engaging and holding the unconscious attention of another person.”

When we create a deliberate state of being interested by acting ‘as if’ we are interested, natural interest tends to follow. Equally, when we decide to attend externally with eyes and ears and sometimes hands, engagement follows. We take these actions by attending to, or being aware of how we are using our attention and what we are attending to at any given time.


Learning dull or outdated material to be allowed to progress to a qualification you want or need. Setting up useful frames, states, and attention.

Create a real, multi-sensory, lifelike representation, ‘as if’ you are there, reaping the benefits of having the qualification or prerequisite you needed. Enjoy the experience of learning what you want to learn or doing the work you want to do. Remember that you would not have been able to do that without obtaining the prerequisite (dull) credential with which you have been struggling. Your attention in this exercise is on the ‘as if’ experience, seeing represented, lifelike surroundings and activities as if you were present. You hear conversation, background sounds, and sounds associated with the activities. You feel the clothes on your body, the floor under your feet, whatever is in your hands, and the air temperature on your skin. When this experience is complete, return your attention to the present, knowing you can remember your ‘as if’ experience any time you need to encourage and motivate yourself to keep going with the dull stuff.

In the present, how can you frame the dull, outdated, or incomprehensible material you have to learn? Your outcome is to make it interesting, fun to learn (this is possible), and memorable, at least for the duration of the program. If you enjoy history, you could frame it as “This is what they used to believe, now.” If it has mathematical elements and you enjoy languages, treat math as a language. Learn the rules that govern your subject, familiarise yourself with formulae as if they were rules of grammar, and then the examples you are offered will make sense. If you enjoy dance, frame your dull studies as choreography. If you are fascinated by patterns, find the patterns that govern your subject and learn examples from the patterns. You can do this by taking three or four examples from the material in your course and determining the common set of information that governs them. This is the frame for bringing learning-specific material to life. Your frame should include the function and utility of the learning material.

When you create a frame that appeals to you, it is easier to become interested and possibly even fascinated. When you are interested, you attend in class with open channels (see, hear, and feel), take in the material, and then retain it. You can contemplate it outside of class and develop any further understanding you need. Even your personal nemesis can become possible with suitable framing and attention. A side benefit is that you will have better rapport with your teachers, who will be more willing to give you extra time when you need it. Any time your attention drifts off topic, remember your outcome for learning this material.

Developing Rapport Quickly and Effectively

When people learn to develop rapport formally, their attention is drawn to specific behaviour which is supposed to increase the likelihood of rapport. They are instructed to imitate what someone else is doing, called matching or mirroring for short moments of time, or pacing when matching is engaged over minutes. When rapport is present, we often see people matching each other’s behaviour naturally. Matching and pacing is evidence for the presence of rapport between two or more people, but not necessarily the best method of learning to create rapport.

Matching and pacing require us to use a lot of attention to keep track of someone else’s movements, posture, voice tones, pitch, and rhythm. This leaves precious little available to engage with the other person, and the quality of these interactions can appear forced.

It is much smoother to act ‘as if’ fascinated or interested in the other person and their conversation or instruction, just as you do to facilitate your learning. The quality of the conversation will be higher, the result will be more memorable, and rapport will follow. Simply engage with external attention and the intention to be interested. You probably know your intention for engaging with the other person already, so you have a frame for acting ‘as if’ until it becomes real. Again, this is similar to a learning scenario. You have a frame for finding someone or something interesting, a state of being interested, and external attention in all senses.

In Conclusion

You can discover how you are using your attention in the moment or by reviewing an event or context. Are you using your senses to attend externally or your representations of memory or imagination? Are you talking to yourself, and if so, is it useful? Do you want open input channels, or does the context require you to think, using internal processing? Are you engaging your unconscious resources and/or conscious attention? Are you distracted by discomfort, and if so, can you change it?

When you want to shift your attention, or part of it, you can act on it directly or via your state. When you want to access a resourceful state, you can find it from memory or use your attention to create one. There will be a more detailed and practical discussion on eliciting, accessing, creating, and changing state available soon.

Attention Training

Learning how to organise attention to change state and how to use state to modify attention is referred to as “Attention Training” and is an important part of high-quality NLP trainings. Attention training is part of syllabus of our postgraduate qualification in NLP – 10970NAT Graduate Certificate in Neuro-Linguistic Programming.

By Jules Collingwood, NLP Trainer at INSPIRITIVE Pty Ltd.

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  5. How using your attention can change the quality of your states (and vice versa)
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(Note: If you would like to learn more about the New Code of NLP, you can get a copy of our latest Kindle book, ‘AEGIS: Patterns for extending your reach in life, work & leisure’ by Jules Collingwood, NLP Trainer. For only $4.99 here).

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Learn more about NLP by reading our Ultimate Compendium of NLP

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