The NLP Swish pattern uses an individual’s own submodality changes at high speed to shift that person’s attention from the content they have to see, hear or feel each time they initiate an habitual act. The sensory representation of the memory of performing the start of their chosen behaviour shifts instantly into a highly attractive and dissociated representation of the person as they would like to be at some time after they have changed. This creates a shunt that diverts the person from the act they wanted to change before they do it.
Submodalities provide and create the meaning we make of the content of our representations (images, sounds, and sensations), and the meaning of a representation changes when we alter the submodalities with which it is represented. A NLP Swish changes both the meaning and the content of representations attached to the act we want to change. For the purposes of using a Swish to break an habitual act, we use two analogue submodalities in representational systems of the person’s choice. These should be driver submodalities that change the intensity of the experience simultaneously with their direct action on the initial representation.
“Submodalities provide and create the meaning we make of the content of our representations”
The principle of the NLP Swish Pattern is to create an automated shift of the person’s attention to their highly motivating and self chosen representation of themselves in the future after the change.
Christina Hall is one of the founding owners of the Society of NLP and has been an NLP trainer since the early 1980s. She was working with Richard Bandler, the co-originator of NLP, as a blend of executive assistant and associate trainer. She also had a life partner called Peter, who played a central role in the development of the Swish.
“Christina Hall is one of the founding owners of the Society of NLP”
One evening, Christina was driving home from an NLP training seminar. Peter was with her in the car, and they were discussing Bandler’s demonstrations. During the conversation, Peter experienced a sudden shift in his internal images and changed state. The new state was markedly resourceful, and Christina’s attention was alerted. She asked Peter what he did, and he described his experience as follows:
He had been thinking about something in life-size, moving, associated images close in front of him. Suddenly, the image shifted from its life-size movie configuration and dropped down to his left side, while it shrank to a black dot at the bottom left of his field of vision. Simultaneously, a (different) black dot rose up from the same place at the bottom left and enlarged and placed itself across Peter’s field of vision, where the previous image had been. This was a dissociated, lifelike image of who he would be or how he would appear ideally, after making a change to the content he was first thinking about.
Christina took this information to Bandler, and they experimented with it. In due course, it became what is known as the Standard NLP Swish Pattern. It worked well for some people, notably those who include size, location, and brightness in their analogue driver submodalities.
The swish created a shunt from the present state image with its unique components of the unwanted behaviour directly to an idealised dissociated image of the person after the change is established. This produced a state that was sufficiently resourceful and different from the state associated with the habitual behaviour to break any link with the unwanted behaviour. As a shunt, any residual link would be broken each time the person was exposed to the initial stimulus.
Some people found it difficult to shrink an image and move it sideways while darkening it and others found it did nothing for them. These people use different driver submodalities. Bandler discovered that a large number of them work well using size and distance. For them, the initial associated image pulls away as if on a bungy cord while shrinking down to become a dot in the far distance. Simultaneously, the desired state image starts from being a dot in the far distance and rushes forward, enlarging to occupy the position formerly held by the first image. This is known as the Distance NLP Swish Pattern.
Finally, for those who do not include any of these options in their own driver submodalities or who prefer to work in the auditory or kinaesthetic representational systems, Bandler chunked up from the two formats above to describe the patterns that guide them. In the Designer NLP Swish Pattern, the individual subject’s use of submodalities is elicited, and a swish is created for that person using two of their own analogue driver submodalities. This is the most accurate description of the NLP Swish Pattern.
The Standard, Distance, and Designer NLP Swish patterns are taught as part of the syllabus for our postgraduate qualification in NLP, the 10970NAT Graduate Certificate in Neuro-Linguistic Programming.
Jules Collingwood, NLP Trainer
Learn more about NLP by reading our Ultimate NLP Compendium of NLP
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