NLP Techniques: Key Factors That Make The Swish Pattern Work

Following on from my previous article about the Swish Pattern, let’s look in a bit more detail at the critical factors that make the Swish Pattern work. You might want to read that first anyway, as I’ll be referring to bits of it throughout this article.

Let’s start with the ‘trigger picture’ of the stimulus that sets the problem off. This needs to be associated, and I think you know why that is…

… because, the next time you encounter the trigger in the real world, you will experience it from an associated viewpoint, because of course that’s how we see our experience in real time.

Another advantage of an associated picture is that it gives you access to other modalities, like auditory and kinesthetic. We want them to be able to access just enough of the bad feeling from the trigger to know that it’s a problem, and to notice the difference after the intervention when it’s gone. And because you get access to other modalities as well as visual, it means you can use this Swish pattern, which is a visual technique, to defuse a trigger that happens in another modality – like, for example, if the trigger was the sound of a phone ringing.

Now, the inspiring picture of your future self. That’s dissociated – because it’s quick and easy to form a dissociated picture, but it’s not so easy to create a full associated experience, with feelings and maybe sounds, from scratch – especially if it’s an experience that you can’t just recall from memory. And also, how would you shrink it down if you’re still inside it? It’s much quicker and easier to manipulate a dissociated visual image. It’s possible to do auditory or even kinaesthetic swishes, by the way, but visual is going to be much easier in most cases because it’s easier and quicker to manipulate visual images.

Now, in my version of the Swish I add a step where you step into the image so it becomes associated. This isn’t in most versions of the ‘classic’ Swish Pattern’, but I’ve found it helps. The purpose of this added step is to strengthen the good feeling associated with the picture, so it’s as strong as possible. When you step out again, it should be even more compelling – you know you want to get back there and to become that person.

Your inspiring picture may have been of you in the context of that trigger situation, dealing with it more resourcefully. The highly respected NLP trainer Steve Andreas, one of my inspirations, points out that if you have a context-free picture of yourself – in other words, the image is just of you, confident and strong, not in any particular situation – it can then generalise out into other contexts of your life and improve them as well. You get ‘generative’ change that goes on working, rather than just ‘remedial’ change to fix one particular problem.

I realise I’m going into a fair bit of detail on this process, but I’ve met several people who’ve done other NLP practitioner courses, including some well-known ones, who’ve told me that they never really ‘got’ the Swish pattern and couldn’t get it to work for them. So it’s important to go into what actually makes it work. Plus, everything I’m saying about the different effects of associated and dissociated pictures, and so on, is highly applicable to many other areas of NLP. And you can read this as many times as you like, to make sure you’ve got everything – you’ll probably spot something new or get new ‘aha’ moments every time you re-read.

So every time we see the trigger picture, we ‘disappear’ it and replace it instantly with the desired picture. We do this quickly, because that’s how the brain learns to make a link between one image and the next. When you condition that in a few times, the first picture has become an anchor for the next – your mind is expecting the next picture and so brings it up.

By the way, the condensed version of the desired picture, the little dark postage stamp, starts in the lower left and expands in the direction of the upper right. Why? …. Well, thinking in terms of eye accessing cues, where is your Visual Construct? That’s it – for most people, your upper right is where your Visual Construct is. So it’s easier to bring the picture up that way. Of course, if you are working with someone who is ‘reverse wired‘, you could place the ‘postage stamp’ in the lower right and expand it to the upper left.

We’ve been ‘disappearing’ the trigger picture and expanding up the desired picture from a tiny stamp-sized version, so what visual submodality have we been using? …. Size. You could also do it with distance – you have the desired picture way off on the horizon, and you swap them over by sending the trigger picture away to the horizon and at the same time bringing in the desired picture. That may work better for some people, especially if they’ve been talking about the problem in distance-related language, like telling you that the boss is getting in their face, or they just can’t distance themselves from the problem.

Whichever way you do it, you still need the ‘swishhh!’ sound. It’s just there to emphasise the speed, and make it more real to the brain. The Swish is mainly a visual technique – you see the trigger picture disappear and the desired picture come up very quickly. Adding in an element from another modality, in this case the sound that the picture makes as it moves rapidly through the air, just emphasises the speed and makes it a more compelling internal representation. This is called an ‘analogue marker’ – the ‘swishhh!’ sound is the auditory analogue for the visual image of a picture moving rapidly. You’ll meet analogue markers again when we learn about Milton Model hypnotic language patterns and embedded suggestions.

Now, each time we run that sequence, we blank that screen at the end. And I think you know why we do that? When you see the trigger image, and then the desired image, you’re creating a neurological link between those two representations. So if we didn’t blank the screen, we would be conditioning in a straight sequence of trigger picture-desired picture-trigger picture. Your brain could just set up a loop. So we blank the screen to stop the sequence at the desired picture and separate it from the next time you see the trigger picture.

Now, remember in the previous article about the Swish Pattern, when you first brought up the trigger picture, and got a bit of the negative response to it, I asked you this: “And 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?”

What are we doing there? We’re setting up an evidence procedure, so that you (or your client if you’re working with someone else) know that the process has worked. Otherwise, you might say that you won’t know if it’s worked until you are in that situation for real, and that doubt could undermine the reality of the change in your mind.

You will notice though that you didn’t need to be in the situation for real to know that you had a problem before. All you needed to do was to imagine the trigger situation, and you would get at least a twinge of the unwanted response. So that’s what we use as our evidence procedure when we say “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?” We’re setting up the future pace that we’re going to do at the end of the process.

© 2018 – 2019, Andy Smith. All rights reserved.


  1. CS

    Thank you so much for this article! This was very informative. I have a question, can the swish pattern be used to remove a limiting belief? If so, how would I elicit the trigger picture?

    1. Andy Smith

      It wouldn’t be my pattern of choice to tackle a limiting belief, as that’s not what it’s designed for.
      Instead, it’s worth looking at timeline-based methods, or even submodality belief change.
      But really, every problem and every individual is different – so rather than thinking in terms of ‘Which intervention for this kind of problem?’, I favour eliciting the person’s strategy for having the problem. That will tell you exactly where and how to intervene!

  2. CS

    That makes a lot of sense. Thank you so much!

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