NLP Techniques: The Swish Pattern

If you have read my previous articles about submodalities and how to use submodalities to increase your personal effectiveness, it’s time to try out another of the most widely known NLP applications – the ‘Swish pattern’. It’s called the Swish pattern because… well, you’ll find out why in a moment.

The Swish is great for defusing the environmental triggers for unwanted emotional responses or behaviours. Examples of unresourceful emotional responses that I’ve helped clients with using the Swish pattern would include: a feeling like their stomach is turning over when they see a certain expression on the boss’s face; a sinking feeling every time they go through the front door at work; or a woman who’d had a car accident when someone pulled out in front of her without looking, and who had a feeling of panic whenever she saw a car ahead waiting to come out of a side road. Or, just any challenging situation where you might want to feel more resourceful than you’ve felt in the past.

Examples of habits that the Swish can help with include nailbiting, excessive snacking, and distracting yourself by checking emails too frequently; anything that you find yourself doing in specific situations, where there’s a specific trigger in your environment, that you wish you could stop. And yes, you can use the Swish as part of an intervention for smoking cessation, to defuse one by one the trigger situations that have become cues for lighting up, although usually there’ll be some other things you need to do as well.

Note: the Swish pattern is a visual technique, so if you’re someone who believes they “can’t visualise”, you may want to try out and practise my tips for people who “can’t visualise” first

So, what is the Swish pattern and how does it work? The very high-level overview is this – you form an associated image of the trigger for the unwanted response, and then instantly replace it with a dissociated image of your desired state – usually an image of yourself as you want to be. You repeat that sequence as many times as it takes for the brain to condition in a link between the two images, so that as soon as the trigger picture occurs, the desired image automatically replaces it, causing a more resourceful response.

Let’s try this out. As usual with trying out problem-solving NLP patterns by yourself, choose as your example problem something that you can think about without being overwhelmed by it.

If there’s some situation where your emotional or behavioural response is not as resourceful as you would wish, notice what the trigger is for that response. If you’re not consciously aware of what sets it off, notice what you see immediately before you get the response. You will know when you have the image because you will feel at least a twinge of the unwanted response. And by the way, when we’ve completed this process, and you can see the trigger image and you don’t get any of that unwanted response, you’ll know that you’ve made a change – won’t you?

Now let go of that image, and instead see yourself as you want to be – someone for whom that situation is no longer a problem. This time you want a dissociated picture, where you are seeing yourself from the outside.

You know how you can tell when someone is totally confident and comfortable with themselves, just from the way they stand, and the expression on their face? Just see yourself in that way – and adjust the submodalities of that picture to make it totally compelling. You should be getting a good feeling when you look at the picture – the kind of feeling that, when you have it strong enough, you know you can handle that trigger and respond in a different and more resourceful way to get the better outcome you want. Let that feeling be your guide as you adjust the submodalities – you want to make the good feeling as strong as possible.

If it’s a small picture, bring it up to life size, or the size that gets you the most good feeling. And turn up or adjust the other submodalities to give you the most intense good feeling from the image.

Here’s an element that wasn’t in the original Swish pattern, but will make it work even better. You have that dissociated image of yourself as you want to be. Now step into the image, and become the person in that picture – looking through the eyes of success. Notice what that feels like, and turn this good feeling up even more.

Now step out again, noticing how that image is now even more inspiring. And shrink that picture down to the lower left of your field of vision, allowing it to darken and shrink down to about the size of a postage stamp. All the information in that picture is still there, just concentrated down, and you could, if you wanted, instantly expand it back up again to that full size, inspiring picture. Let’s just try that – one, two, three – swishhh! That’s how quickly you want it to come up. You may want to practice that a couple more times, remembering to make the swishhh sound just to show how quickly it’s expanding.

OK, now shrink that picture down and to the left, so it’s dark and postage stamp-sized. I want you to see the associated trigger picture again, this time with that little dark ‘postage stamp’ in the lower left corner. And on the count of three, disappear the trigger picture, and at the same time bring up that inspiring picture to replace it – one, two, three – swishhh!

And as soon as you get the good feeling from that picture, blank the screen. This is very important – you will see why after you read the rest of the article.

Now we need to repeat that sequence a few times to condition in the neurological link between the two images. So see the trigger picture again, with the little dark ‘postage stamp’ in the lower left, and – one, two, three – swishhh!…. and blank the screen.

Again, trigger picture with the ‘postage stamp’… one, two, three – swishhh! And blank the screen.

Now repeat this sequence, in your own mind, a few times, remembering to hear the swishhh sound and to blank the screen between each one. And do it faster each time.

OK, now see the trigger picture again. What happens now? Chances are, the inspiring picture appears automatically and you feel good. And you don’t get the bad feeling or craving from the trigger picture, or quite often people find it hard to get a clear picture of the trigger now. If you don’t have the inspiring picture or the good feeling coming up automatically yet, you probably need to repeat the sequence a few more times, quicker each time, so take a moment to do that.

OK, now for the “future pace”, where we make sure that the change doesn’t just stay in our virtual consulting room but carries on into the real world: what’s going to happen next time you’re in that situation for real? Just imagine that, and notice what’s different now. The unwanted emotional or behavioural response should have gone; instead, you should be feeling positive and resourceful, or at the very least like you now have a choice.

Note: So why do we blank the screen in between each repetition of the sequence? You’ve probably worked it out already: it’s so that your mind doesn’t jump from the successful picture at the end of the sequence to the trigger picture at the beginning of the next repetition. The sequence we want to condition in is “trigger picture –> successful picture –> good feeling” and stop there.

You can hear an audio version of this article in the Practical NLP Podcast episode 22, The Swish Pattern.