A useful way to look at ‘problem’ behaviours is to remember there is a positive intention behind them. Separating the intention from the results (which may be unwanted) opens up the possibility of change without ‘resistance’. John Grinder’s ‘Six Step Reframe’ process is an elegant format that uses this principle.
You can use this format to change your own habits – or if you’re a therapist, add it to your toolkit for use with others. When I was a hypnotherapist 20 years ago, discovering that this process (from the book Trance-Formations) worked better than anything I’d been taught on my original (admittedly low-quality) hypnosis training was what first pointed me in the direction of learning NLP.
- why demonising ‘bad habits’ makes them more resistant to change
- how a snake with its tail in its mouth advanced science
- making a deal with your unconscious mind
- …. and much more!
The steps of the process are outlined in the show notes below.
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You can try this approach with a behaviour, an unwanted response, a habit, or even a physical symptom, and see what happens.
- Identify a behaviour or a symptom that you would like to have more choices around. Since everyone listening has a different thing, we’re going to give it a code letter – “X”.
- Set up a signal with your unconscious mind. Ask your unconscious mind if it would be OK to communicate directly about “X” using yes or no signals.If at first the answer is “no”, thank it for communicating with you and reassure it that you are only trying to get some information in order to help it have more choices.If it’s OK, ask your unconscious mind to give you a signal that means ‘yes’.
Leave some space for the signal to appear. It could be an image that comes into your mind, it could be a word, it could be a feeling, or a physical movement. Just leave some space until you get a signal.
When you get a signal, of course you need to be sure that it actually is a signal and not something that’s popped into your mind randomly. So ask your unconscious mind, if that is the signal for “Yes”, please make it stronger.
Again, allow some space for this to happen. When you get a reliable “Yes” signal, thank your unconscious mind for communicating with you.
Now ask your unconscious mind for another signal to mean “No”. Again, leave some space for the signal to appear, make sure it is actually a signal, and thank your unconscious mind for providing it.
- Discover the positive intention. Ask your unconscious mind what is the positive intention behind “X”. Your unconscious mind may let you know what the intention is, or it may want to keep it hidden from your conscious awareness at the moment. Either way is fine.Thank your unconscious mind for positive intention, whether you consciously know it or not, and let it know that you appreciate that there is a positive intention.
- Generate alternatives. Ask your unconscious mind “Would it be OK to have more choices in this situation?” Ask the creative aspect of your unconscious mind to generate at least three alternatives to X that would satisfy the positive intention. These new choices can be on an unconscious level — ask unconscious mind to give you a “yes” signal each time it generates an alternative.Thank the unconscious mind.
- Future pace. Ask your unconscious mind to fully imagine trying out each new choice in the type of situation where previously it would have done behaviour X. For each one, ask: “Are you willing to use this alternative choice instead of behaviour X?” Get the Yes/No signal. If the answer is yes, thank your unconscious mind and go on. If it’s no, put a time limit on your request (e.g. 2 weeks) to try out the alternatives to make sure they work. If the answer is still no, repeat step 4 to generate some more alternatives.Thank the unconscious mind.
- Ecology and congruence check. Check with the whole unconscious mind to make sure it is completely comfortable and accepts the entire process and the alternatives. If yes, and your conscious mind also feels OK, thank your unconscious mind. If there is an objection or if you don’t feel completely comfortable, go back to step 3 and discover positive intention of not trying out the new choices. Go on to ask the unconscious mind if it will take responsibility for trying the new behaviours out.Come back, and notice what’s different for you now when you think about “X”.