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NLP Training – The Milton Model – Language for change

Milton Erickson was a fantastic linguist and out of his work comes something called the Milton Model.

Milton Erickson was generally regarded as the foremost hypnotherapist of his time. He worked with trance and cleverly structured sentences full of vague meanings to help his clients discover how to address their problems and the resources that they already had available to them. Erickson’s success was based on his ability to read non-verbal behaviour (sensory acuity), his ability to establish rapport with his clients, his skill with language patterns and his beliefs about his clients — some of his beliefs appear in the list of NLP Presuppositions. For example:

  • Every behaviour has a positive intention.
  • This is the best choice available to a person given the circumstances as they see it.
  • Respect for the other person’s model of the world.
  • Resistance in a client is due to a lack of rapport. That is there are no resistant clients, only inflexible therapists.

Erickson would also pace a client’s experience and then begin to lead them into trance (or downtime). In NLP terms, uptime is when your senses are focused on the outside world, while downtime is related to your inner thoughts. The Meta Model (of which there is a blog about three blogs ago) is associated with uptime (i.e. who, what, how specifically), while the Milton Model is associated with downtime. As we go through our daily activities, we are continually cycling through uptime and downtime and are often somewhere in between.

Pacing and Leading

To pace a client, begin by matching and mirroring her physiology, choice of words, tone of voice, etc., then make reference to what she would most likely be seeing, hearing, feeling or thinking (e.g. “As you notice the lights slowly dimming …” or “As you hear my voice …” or As you feel the chair on your back …”, or “As you wonder …”) while speaking slowly in a soft tonally and pacing your speech to her breathing. To lead her into downtime, you would begin to focus her attention inward by saying something such as “You may notice how easy it is to close your eyes whenever you wish to feel more relaxed …”

Watch this brief video here. Especially the heads! Rapport becomes a natural affair when two people are engaged.


The topic of trance and hypnosis is vast. The rest of this article will focus on the Milton Model, which is a set of language patterns used to:

  • Pace and lead
  • Distract the conscious mind
  • Speak directly to the unconscious and access its hidden resources

Let’s take a look at a way of thinking inside language using distinctions to help us:

1. Mind Read: Claiming to know another’s thoughts or feelings without specifying the how you came to that knowledge.

“I know that you believe …” or “I know you’re thinking …”

2. Lost Performative: Expressing value judgments without identifying the one doing the judging.

“Breathing is good.”

3. Cause & Effect: Implies one thing leads to or causes another; that there is sequence of cause/effect and a flow in time. Includes phrases such as: “If …, then …; As you …., then you …; Because … then …”

“If you can hear my voice, then you can learn many things.”

4. Complex Equivalence: Attributes meaning to something that may or may not have a ’cause’ capability.

“Being here means that you will change easily.”

5. Presupposition: The linguistic equivalent of assumptions.

“Will you be changing your attitude now or later today?” It is assumed the person will change their attitude, the only unknown is when.

6. Universal Quantifier: Universal generalizations without referential index.

“Everyone; No one; All; Every”

7. Modal Operator: Words that refer to possibility or necessity or that reflect internal states of intensity tied to our rules in life.

“You should care for others.” or “You must resolve this issue.”

8. Nominalization: Words which are formed as nouns and which are shorthand for processes.

“People can come to new understandings.” Here ‘understandings’ is used as a noun and is shorthand to describe the on-going experience of ‘understanding’ or ‘making sense of something’.

9. Unspecified Verb: Implies action without describing how the action has/will take place.

“He caused the problem.”

10. Tag Question: A question added at the end of a statement/question, designed to soften resistance. It is used to ratify to the listener that he has or will actually manifest the action. It has the structure of a question and often the tonality of a statement.

“Your perception of life is changing, isn’t it.”

11. Lack of Referential Index: An expression without specific reference to any portion of the speakers/listeners experience.

“People can change.”

12. Comparative Deletion (Unspecified Comparison): A comparison is made without specific reference to what or to whom it is being compared.

“You will enjoy it more.” or “That one is better.”

13. Pace Current Experience: Using sensory-grounded, behaviorally specific information to describe current experience.

“You are reading this article.”

14. Double Bind: Invites choice within a larger context of ‘no choice’.

“Do you want to begin now or later?” or “Do you want to go into trance before or after you sit down?”

15. Embedded Commands: This is a command that forms part of a larger sentence that is marked by using italics or a subtle change in voice tonality or body language and is picked up by the reader’s or listener’s unconscious.

“I will not suggest to you that change is easy.” or “You can learn this material easily“.

16. Conversational Postulate: Are questions that operate at multiple levels. Although they require only a simple yes or no answer, they invite you to engage in an activity in some way. Often they contain an embedded command.

“Can you open the door?” or “Would it be possible for you to choose to change?”

17. Extended Quote: Is a rambling context for the delivery of information that may be in the format of a command.

“Many years ago, I remember meeting a wise old man who taught me many useful things. I cherished all of his advice……. I remember one particular day when he said to me……… Change is easy and can be fun“.”

18. Selectional Restriction Violation: Attributing intelligence or animation to inanimate objects.

“Your chair can support you as you make these changes.” or “Your diary tells interesting tales.”

19. Ambiguity: Lack of specificity

a. Phonological: “your” and “you’re” – same sound, different meaning.
b. Syntactic: More than one possible meaning. “shooting stars” or “leadership shows” – the syntax is uncertain within the context, i.e. adjectives, verbs or nouns?
c. Scope: “Speaking to you as a changed person …” (Who is the changed person?) or “The old men and women …” – the context does not reveal the scope to which a verb or modifier applies.
d. Punctuation: is unexpected and does not ‘follow the rules’, i.e. improper pauses, rambling sentences, incomplete sentences – all of which ultimately force the listener to ‘mind read’.
“Hand me your watch how quickly you go into a trance.”

20. Utilization: Takes advantage of everything in the listeners experience (both internal and external environments) to support the intention of the speaker.

Client says: “I don’t understand.” Response: “That’s right…you don’t understand, yet, because you’ve not taken that one deep breath that will allow the information to fall easily and comfortably into place.”
Or perhaps while working with a client, one of your colleagues mistakenly opens a door. Instead of getting frustrated and annoyed with your colleague, you could say to your client, “You may have heard a door opening and let this be an opportunity to invite new ideas and thoughts into your life.”

We can go deeper inside these language patterns to think of examples, getting the patterns more familiar with you.


If I was to say “you know that you can feel confident about some learnings from last weekend . . . ” it is much easier for you to agree than If I was to say “you know that you can feel confident about unspecified noun structures from last weekend . . . “

Learnings is an example of a nominalisation. To nominalise something means to make a noun out of something intangible, which doesn’t exist in a concrete sense (in NLP, we say any noun that you can’t put in a wheel barrow is a nominalisation). In this example, the process of learning something is turned into a noun, learnings.

Being happy becomes happiness.

Being curious becomes curiosity.

Being depressed becomes depression.

A state like depression becomes an enormous and sometimes insurmountable, overwhelming state of being, for example, whereas being depressed to most people is more likely to imply a state that has a beginning, and more importantly an end. A block is something much more insurmountable than something that is merely blocking your progress.

“So close your eyes and think for a moment about some recent learning, one that may have given you much surprise and enjoyment.”

Notice in the previous sentence the speaker doesn’t say how or where, but allows the listener to fill in with his or her own details.

Unspecified Nouns and Verbs

“People can learn easily under hypnosis.”

There are a few things in this sentence which are not clear,

Which people?

How can they learn easily?

What do they learn easily?

When phrases like these are used, the listener is forced to use his or her imagination to fill in the who’s and how’s. Again, these types of phrases are useful for pacing and leading when the speaker becoming too specific could mismatch the listener and break rapport or minimize influence.

“So take a moment and enjoy remembering some of the things you learned and did at the seminar.”

What were your thoughts after hearing that sentence? Did you have a specific representation?

What did you learn and do, and which seminar did you learn them at?

Nominalisations are one type of unspecified noun.

Unspecified Referential Indices

(not in your NLP manual as this name)

(Don’t you hate these silly technical terms?) are nouns that don’t refer to something specific, i.e., :

“This is much easier to learn than it looks at first.”

“This” doesn’t really tell us what it refers to. We guess and make an internal decision about the topic of the sentence.

“People can relax.”

We need to guess which people.

Unspecified verbs and adverbs

also let us fill in with our own experience.

“This is much easier to learn than it looks at first.”

“People can relax.”

We don’t know how it is easier to learn, or how it looks at first. Nor do we know how people relax, nor how they can do it.

But we can imagine how.

Commentary adjectives and adverbs

(not in manual as this name)

are a way that we can lead people to easily accept our presuppositions.

“How soon will you be pleasantly surprised by easily remembering and using the tools you’re learning this weekend?”

Comparable “As”

are another type of connection:

“If anyone can learn as methodically as you do, they must be extremely motivated and thorough.”

Semantic Ill-formedness

(not in manual as this name)


imply a cause effect relationship between two things. There are three kinds of linkages:


“You are sitting here right now, and you can begin to relax.” These include and and but.

Connections in time:

“As you listen to the sound of my voice, you are becoming curious.” These include as, while, during and when.

Causality (Cause – Effect):

“The occasional sounds and noises from outside make you feel more and more relaxed.” Here you have words like makes, causes, forces, because and requires.

A linkage works by connecting a statement that is pacing something that is already occurring with a statement that leads the listener to some other (usually internal) experience.

Mind Reading

means acting as if the speaker is doing exactly that. By making use of the art of speaking generally, a speaker can make an educated guess about the listener’s internal experience to build credibility and deepen rapport.

“I know you are wondering how much you will learn from this training.”

“You may be curious about how you will use these patterns.”

We must be cautious to keep our references as general as possible. If specific details clash with the listener’s thoughts, it will disrupt his or her attention.

Lost Performatives

It’s important to know about these structures, because it’s often necessary to deliver presuppositions indirectly. These types of phrases contain at least one judgement or evaluation of which we can’t identify the source.

It’s important to learn language patterns.

It’s essential to have fun learning all this stuff.

It’s good that we are all here tonight.

The speaker doesn’t state exactly who thinks these things are good, necessary or important.

Modal Operators

can be used to direct the listeners experience in a certain direction.

“How fortunate you are to be able to learn so easily. It can happen with your conscious mind reading to know how quickly it may happen.”

Conversational Postulates

are requests for action or information masquerading as yes/no questions.

“Can you tell me what time it is?”

“Do you know what today’s date is?”

“Can you lend me a pen?”

“Can you go into a trance easily?”


are ways of indirectly getting agreement from a listener. There are several types of presuppositions:

Existence: “She saw the ice cream in the freezer.” Implies is, was, may be.

“John Didn’t see a goat behind a tree” well what do we now know that John doesn’t?


Before, after, during, continue, yet, already, begin, stop, start, still, while, since, as, and when. “You may hear noises in the room while you are entering a state of deep relaxation.”


These assume action will be taken, the question is, in what order, 1st, 2nd, 3rd, etc. “Do you want to take a deep breath or would you like to settle down into your chair first?”


“Would you prefer a silk blouse or one in cotton?” This presupposes that the listener wants one of them. The question is which. It’s better than asking “do you want one?” of which it can be easy to answer “no!”


These assume the statement is true, all that may be questioned is whether the listener is aware. “Have you realized how common it is to be in a trance?” “Have you noticed how often you go into a trance, even by yourself?”

Adverbs and Adjectives

presuppose that something is going to happen. The issue is how will the experience be?

“What have you enjoyed the most about driving the new RX-7?”

“Are you excited about making this purchase?”

“How easily can you begin to relax?”

“Fortunately we have plenty of opportunity to practice this material.”

Embedded Suggestions

are suggestions or directives buried within a larger sentence. They allow the speaker to ask more subtly and in a way that the listener can respond sometimes without consciously knowing he or she has been asked. (We do this all the time without realizing it).

“I don’t know how soon you’ll feel better.”

You can learn these patterns easily.”

Negative Commands

(not in manual)

use the inability of your unconscious to comprehend language constructions that use negatives (No, Not, Don’t, etc.). For instance, if someone were to say, “Don’t think about pink elephants,” what happens? Using negative commands can be thought of as sending subliminal messages to the brain. Since the unconscious cannot process the negative, only the positive message registers.

“Don’t relax too quickly . . . “

“It’s important that you don’t make this purchase any sooner than you feel comfortable doing so.”

“Don’t go into a trance too soon . . . “


When words have double meaning, the unconscious mind must process all meanings. Words like down, left, duck, hand, back all have double meanings. Then there are words spelled differently and pronounced the same. Hear/here, your/you’re, nose/knows are examples. These can be extremely helpful in helping us produce embedded suggestions.

“One of the things that’s most interesting about you’re unconscious mind is its ability to scan for hidden meanings.”

Tag Questions

According to Milton H. Erickson, “Tag Questions displace resistance to the end of a sentence,” don’t they? In addition, they set up a place to create an agreement frame, as well as to strengthen agreement in a pacing situation. It’s a fairly effective concept to utilize, isn’t it?

The More, The More

(not in your manuals)

Once some degree of rapport is established, this construction the incorporation and utilization of other wise resistant behaviors.

“The more you try to resist going into a trance, the more you find your eyes wanting to shut all by themselves.”

Milton Model: Hypnotic Language Patterns

(not in manual)

The Milton Model hypnotic language patterns encourage the listener to move away from detail and content and move to higher levels of thinking and deeper states of mind. Some patterns are used to establish a trance state (or downtime or relaxation in the body). Other patterns are used to loosen the listener’s model of the world from which he is expressing his current behaviours and to consider a more expansive interpretation of what is possible.

You will notice that many of these language patterns are identical to those of the Meta Model. The difference being that for the Meta Model, the client is being vague and we ask specific questions to assist him in getting clarity on his issue/problem. For the Milton Model, we use some of the same language patterns, but this time we wish to be vague so that the client can easily go into trance and/or from the vague suggestions choose a suggested course of action that will address his problem/issue.

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