‘Future pacing’ is a bit of NLP jargon used in changework (therapy or coaching) which essentially means taking your client into the future after an intervention so they can check out what’s going to happen next time they are in the problem situation.
This exercise in imagination does four things:
- It tells you if the intervention has worked, because if the imagined future situation doesn’t feel any different, then nothing has changed. If it hasn’t worked, what do you do? Rebuild rapport and then do something different.
- It also acts as what in NLP is called an ‘ecology check’ – in other words, checking for knock-on effects and unintended consequences in the wider systems of which the client is a part. If the change you’ve put in place will fix the immediate problem but make things worse in some other area, it’s better that you find out before sending the person on their way, so you can do something about it.
- Future pacing builds credibility in the client’s mind, because when the imagined future situation evokes a different response, they know something has changed. In fact, you can preframe the intervention before you do it by getting them to imagine the trigger situation for the problem, noticing how it feels, and then saying “So when I ask you to imagine (whatever the problem situation is) after we’ve done the intervention, and it feels like you’ll respond in a different way, you’ll know that something’s changed – won’t you?”
- Finally, future pacing acts almost like a post-hypnotic suggestion for responding differently. At some level the client will be looking out for that situation, which will then act as a ‘trigger’ for their new and better response. It’s a way of cementing in the new response to the problem situation.
You can also use future pacing in management or business consulting, for example if you are inviting a team to consider what will be different after the introduction of an innovation or a new way of doing things.
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