How to change limiting beliefs by working with NLP Submodalities (Part 1 of 2)
Terry shows how to find and change the internal coding a client uses for their beliefs.
How to change limiting beliefs by working with NLP Submodalities (Part 2 of 2)
In this part, Terry changes the old belief by shifting the subject’s internal representations.
More on Submodalities
Submodalities in NLP are fine distinctions, or the subsets of the Modalities (Visual, Auditory, Kinaesthetic, Olfactory, Gustatory, and Ad) that are part of each representational system that encode and give meaning to our experiences.
They are the building blocks of the representational systems by which we code, order and give meaning to the experiences we have.
Submodalities are how we structure our experiences.
How do you know what you believe and what you do not believe?
You code the two different kinds of beliefs in different submodalities.
We create meaning by using different submodalities to code our experience, for example someone we like and someone we dislike.
Changing submodalities is a very effective and powerful way of changing the meaning of an experience. For example, when we set a goal, the more attention we pay to the submodalities, the more specifically refined it becomes. The finer our distinctions, the more clearly and creatively we can design our future.
Here is a longer version of what submodalities are:
The concept of submodalities had been part of NLP since the late 1970’s, but they were presented primarily as a way of enhancing experiences. Although association / dissociation was the key element in many of the more effective standard NLP patterns that had been taught for years, it was not clearly described as a submodality shift.
It was only in 1983 that Richard Bandler explicitly began to reveal the structure of submodalities in general. He taught how submodality shifts could be used to change habits (swish pattern), change beliefs, and create motivation or understanding, and how submodality thresholds could be used to break locked-in patterns like compulsions, or to lock in new changes.
In short, he outlined how submodalities comprise one way of understanding the underlying structure of all experience.
Bandler and Grinder constructed the Representational Systems of the VAK modalities with their qualities (“submodalities”). This provided a language for describing & modeling human experiences.
The concept of submodalities arose in the field of neuro-linguistic programming, explaining that human beings ‘code’ internal experiences using aspects of their different senses.
We have five basic senses: visual, auditory, kinaesthetic, olfactory and gustatory. In NLP, these are referred to as representational systems or modalities. For each of these modalities, we can have finer distinctions. We could describe a picture as being black and white or colour, or it could also be bright or dim. Sounds could be loud or soft, or coming from a particular direction. Feelings could be in different parts of the body or have different temperatures. Smells could be pleasant or offensive, strong or light. Taste could be sweet or bitter or strong or mild. These finer distinctions are called submodalities and define the qualities of our internal representations.
Generally, we work with only three modalities — visual, auditory and kinaesthetic. However, you may be working with a client on an issue where the olfactory or gustatory submodalities play a major role e.g. a food issue or someone who is a chef. People have known about and worked with submodalities for centuries. For example, Aristotle referred to qualities of the senses, but did not use the term submodalities.
For most people, research within NLP states that the brain often uses these structural elements as a way to ‘know’ how it feels about them, and what they signify internally. The link is stated to be bilateral – that is, emotions attached to a mental experience are affected by certain submodalities with which it is associated, and specific submodalities can also be affected if the emotional significance changes.
The discovery that the emotion associated with a thought is often functionally linked to the submodalities with which that thought is presented to consciousness, led to a variety of brief therapy NLP interventions based upon change of these key submodalities. In effect, voluntary change of submodalities on the part of the subject was often found to alter long-term the concommitant ‘feeling’ response, paving the way for a number of change techniques based on deliberately changing internal representations. NLP co-originator Richard Bandler in particular has made extensive use of submodality manipulations in the evolution of his work.
To match these subjective distinctions, Eric Robbie (an NLP trainer) demonstrated in 1984 that sub-modalities can be reliably distinguished from external behaviour – in the case of visual submodalities, subtle changes in the eye and facial muscles surrounding the eye are good indicators of specific visual submodalities; in the case of auditory, subtle changes in the muscles surrounding the ears perform the same function for auditory submodalities, and in the case of kinesthetic, subtle changes in the musculature of the body reveal subjective variations in that modality too.
Submodalities are key components to many of the NLP change techniques.
Submodalities, by themselves or as part of other techniques, have been used to assist people to stop smoking, eat more of certain foods and less of others, address compulsion issues, change beliefs and values, enhance motivation, move from stress to relaxation, address phobias, etc.
What exactly is a submodality?
A submodality in neuro-linguistic programming is a distinction of form or structure (rather than content) within a sensory representational system. For example, regardless of the content, both external and mental images of any kind will be either colored or monochrome, and stationary or moving. These parameters are submodalities within the visual sense. Similarly, both remembered and actual sounds will be mono or stereo when experienced internally, so mono/stereo is a submodality of sound.
Submodalities refers to the subjective structural subdivisions within a given representational system. For example, in visual terms, common distinctions include: brightness, degree of colour (saturation), size, distance, sharpness, focus, and so on; in auditory: loudness, pitch, tonal range, distance, clarity, timbre, and so on.
Ordinarily, one can establish these by asking questions:
“This image – is it bright, or dim? Coloured or black and white? How much colour? Is it big or small? Is it near or far? In focus, or out of focus?”
“This sound – is it loud or soft? Is it high pitched or low pitched? Does it have a range? Is it near or far? Is it one point source or spread out? Where is it coming from? Is it clear or muffled?”
“That feeling in your body – where exactly is it? Does it have a size? A temperature? Does it stay the same, or does it move at all? Does it have a texture? Is it hard or soft?”
NLP asserts that far from being arbitrary or unimportant, these submodalities often perform a functional role, as a means by which emotions, related memories, felt-sense perceptions such as “importance”, and so on, are presented to consciousness by the unconscious mind, along with thoughts or memories.
NLP asserts that amongst the many possible submodalities, there will often be a handful of so-called “critical” submodalities which can functionally effect large-scale change, and that they differ between people, and can be identified by observation and inquiry. NLP states that a change within these critical submodalities will often correlate with a near-immediate subjective change in the emotion or other felt-sense with which a mental impression presents itself.
Submodalities are therefore seen in NLP as offering a valuable therapeutic insight (or metaphor) and potential working methods, into how the human mind internally organizes and subjectively ‘views’ events.
NLP Views of Submodalities
According to core NLP research, each person’s brain seems to code emotional significance differently through variations in mental “image” or representation. Examples found include people whose unconscious minds place black borders around bad memories, people for whom visual images seen dimly are less compelling than those seen brightly, people for whom a subjectively “good” memory is accompanied by one kind of sound whilst a “bad” memory is accompanied by another, and so on.
For most people, there will be a handful of such distinctions which are ‘critical’ to emotional perception, and thus to their mental processing. For example, these might be submodalities that distinguish optimistic thoughts from depressive ones, or which distinguish compelling and important thoughts from less compelling ones. For any given individual, a submodality that turns out to be critical in how a given memory or thought is subjectively experienced, is known as a critical submodality.
List of submodalities
Examples of distinctions that are embedded within sensory impressions include:
Representation system Examples of submodalities
(sight, images, spatial) Location: to the left, right, top, bottom
Color or monochrome
Framed (nature of frame?) or panoramic
2D or 3D
Clear or fuzzy
Shape: convex, concave, specific shape
Movement: still, photo, slideshow, video, movie, looping
Style: picture, painting, poster, drawing, “real life”
Auditory (sound, voice) Mono / stereo
Qualities: Volume, pitch, tempo, rhythm
Variations: looping, fading in and out, moving location
Voice: whose voice, one or many
Other background sounds?
Kinesthetic (propreceptive, somatic) Proprioception: Somatic sensation, location, movement
Tactition: pressure, texture
Here is another table listing submodalities:
Visual Auditory Kinesthetic
Black & White or Colour
Near or Far
Bright or Dim
Size of Picture
Associated / Dissociated
Focused or De-focused
Framed or Unbounded
Movie or Still
If a Movie-Fast/Normal/Slow
3 Dimensional or Flat Loud or Soft
Near or Far
Internal or External
Stereo or Mono
Fast or Slow
High or Low Pitch
Verbal or Tonal
Pauses Strong or Weak
Large Area or Small Area
Weight: Heavy or Light
Texture: Smooth or Rough
Constant or Intermittent
Temperature: Hot or Cold
Submodalities: Key Building Blocks of NLP Techniques
Changing submodalities is a very effective and powerful way of changing the meaning of an experience. When we set a goal, for example, the more attention we pay to the submodalities, the more specifically refined it becomes. The finer our distinctions, the more clearly and creatively we can design our future.
Yet how do submodalities really work? What mechanism or mechanisms explain the effects? What skills does a person have to have in order to effectively work with making submodality shifts?
Current research and exploration into The Submodality Model questions many of the things that we have assumed about “submodalities.” Knowing and utilizing these secrets of submodalities will powerfully enrich your understandings of what drives and governs and thereby puts a turbo-charge to your selection and use of them.
We should recognize that the qualities of the VAK modalities operate at a meta-level. We have to go Meta to detect these structural elements. We have to go Meta to play, shift, alter, and “map them across. “We have to go Meta to recognize them as setting frames of references for our thinking. This creates Meta-Programs and Meta-States. And this meta-level framing then, in turn, governs and organizes the thinking-emoting system as a self-organizing attractor.
A great deal of the magic of NLP has arisen from the genius of recognizing the components of “thought, “consciousness, and “mind” as made up of the sensory modalities of sight (visual), sound (auditory), and sensation (kinaesthetic) (the VAK). A great many of the magic-like processes in NLP that creates transforming change and new meanings emerges from our use of the distinctive features of the modalities that we have labeled as “submodalities.”
The visual submodality Associated/Dissociated is a very important and refers to whether or not you can see yourself in the picture (visual internal representation). You are associated if you cannot see yourself in the picture. Often we refer to this as looking through your own eyes. If you can see yourself in the picture, then we say you are dissociated.
If you are associated in a memory, then your feelings (happy, sad, fearful) about that memory will be more intense. If you are dissociated, this is more like watching a movie of your life rather than being there (on the playing field) and any feelings will be less intense or not at all.
Can NLP not do its magic in such cases? Of course it can! Any proficient practitioner will simply keep interrupting the old program (meta-frame), re-enforcing new frames of dissociation, comfort, and resourcefulness, and eventually go faster than the person in out framing. When the gentleman out frames himself with pity, shame, guilt, being a terrible person, hopelessness, etc., the NLP practitioner out frames that and jumps another logical level faster than a speeding train, “And as you look at that sad pitiful wreck of a man for
the last time in your life knowing that change has begun to occur, and will continue to occur even when you don’t know it consciously, you can begin to wonder, really
wonder, about what learnings you can make from this so that you never have to repeat it, but can turn around and face a brighter future than you could have even imaged before now”
When we have a person with those kinds of rigid, limiting, insulting, and traumatizing meta-frames working with such a person becomes a frames war to the end. Who will get in the final out frame?
Our experiences result from our established frames. These meta-level frames identify our more abstract and conceptual maps of reality and our meanings about self, others, and the universe.
“Mapping over submodalities” & “submodality shifts” do not always work. In the traumatic experience, note the quality of the cinematic features of your internal representations that cue your brain and body about how to respond.
When we code a painful memory associated, close in image and sound, bright, three-dimensional, loud, etc., we encode it with a structure that says, “Enter into that experience again and feel distressed, angry, fearful, upset, etc.”
Here the submodalities encode the higher evaluative frame that essentially gives the Behavioural Equivalent for: “Real, Close, Now, Associated.”
In this, the quality of submodality distinctions works as if “the switch” to experience. But it does not do so because “the difference that makes a difference” lies in submodalities.
If associative processing moves us to think, feel, and act as if in an experience and dissociate or spectate and the process moves us to step out and only think, feel, and act about the experience, then this submodality (i.e. associated/ dissociated, also a Meta-Program) provides an off/on distinction. Experiencing as if “in” the event; experiencing as if “out” of it. Step in, step out.
Step in and go through the trauma again and feel terrible; step out and take another perceptual position and feel more resourceful about it.
Notice that associate and dissociate not only describe a submodality, but also a Meta-Program. Consider that. How could a submodality distinction, something that supposedly exists below and under the level of the modalities also exist above them, and have a Meta relation to them?
When we think about and work with submodalities, we never actually operate at a sub-level (such doesn’t exist). We have moved to a meta-level. Thinking about,
detecting & shifting these qualities works with structure and process, not content.
SubModalities: Belief Change Script
1. Can you think of a limiting belief about yourself that you wish you did not have? Good, what is it? As you think about that belief, do you have a picture? (Elicit the SubModalities.)
2. Can you think of a belief which is no longer true. For example, perhaps you used to be a smoker. Someone who was a smoker, used to believe they were a smoker, but now they no longer believe that. Or someone who used to own a new 1985 car, believed that they were a new car owner, but now they no longer do. Do you have something like that which used to be true for you, but no longer is? Good, what is it? As you think about that belief, do you have a picture? (Elicit the SubModalities.)
3. Change the SubModalities of #1 into #2.
TEST: Now, what do you think about that old belief?
4. Can you think of a belief which for you is absolutely true? Like, for example, the belief that the sun is going to come up tomorrow. Do you believe that? (Or, the belief that it’s good to breathe.) Good, what is it? As you think about that belief, do you have a picture?” (Elicit the SubModalities.)
5. Can you think of a belief that you want to have, which is the opposite of the belief in #1? Good, what is it? As you think about that belief, do you have a picture?
6. Change the SubModalities of #5 into #4.
TEST: Now, what do you believe? Why do you believe you have this new belief?