How to Save the Swish: A Thoughtful Response to Steve Andreas

Aug 07, 2016

NLP in a State of Change

By Shawn Carson

In this article we will comment on a blog post by Steve Andreas, entitled ‘How to Ruin the Swish Pattern: “Let me count the ways”’.

I believe the NLP and hypnosis community shares a common goal of 'raising the bar' in respect of change work and coaching, and healthy debate about NLP techniques, principles and the merits of different philosophical viewpoints supports this goal. No one can doubt the many contributions Steve Andreas has made to the field of NLP and it is with a due sense of the debt the NLP community owes to Steve that I respectfully disagree with some of the premises in Steve's blog post.

In his blog post Steve critiques (although it might be more accurate to say ‘criticizes’) various YouTube videos of the swish, including videos featuring Michael Carroll, Tony Robbins as well as yours truly.

Steve has two problems with the various swish techniques or variations he critiques:

  1.      Firstly they reflect a “lack of ability to learn and follow the steps of the pattern”

  2.      Secondly they reflect a “lack of understanding of the principles underlying each step”

“Lack of ability to follow the steps of the pattern”

Let’s deal with the first point first. NLP has never been about following the steps of a pattern. Richard Bandler (co-founder and arguably the creative force behind the birth of NLP) defines NLP as “an attitude of wanton experimentation that leaves behind a trail of techniques,” meaning the steps of the pattern are something that are left behind after the application of NLP. If you are simply following the steps of an NLP pattern, it does not mean you are necessarily ‘doing NLP’.

Neither of the co-founders of NLP (Richard Bandler and John Grinder) teach NLP using the deductive teaching approach of ‘follow these steps’.  Rather they teach by encouraging their students to step into a state of personal excellence, and then to work with their ‘client’ from that state. As a result, their students all have unique experiences.

The principles underlying the Swish

I totally agree with Steve Andreas that it is vital to understand the principles underlying the NLP patterns. Once you understand these principles, you can step out of the confines of the ‘steps of the pattern’ mind-set, and enter the dance of change with your client. This is why we write our NLP Mastery books to fully explore the principles underlying each of the core NLP patterns (including ‘NLP Mastery: The Swish’ by Jess Marion and Shawn Carson).

Therefore I will re-analyze each of the videos Steve Andreas critiques, but with the intention of pointing out how these videos reveal some of these principles, especially where they vary from the “standard” swish Steve Andreas describes, i.e. from the perspective of ‘what is right’ rather than ‘what is wrong’ with the videos.

Before we get to that, I would like to point out a few areas of disagreement that I have with Steve’s discussion in his “Background” section.

What is a ‘swish’???

Steve defines the swish as “a rapid way to change any troublesome habit or other unwanted response”, and it’s certainly the case that the swish was originally described in the contexts of problems such as smoking and nail-biting (we will talk more about this ‘classical’ swish a little later).

However, I would define the swish as a technique that chains or links two representations (typically two pictures) using a sliding submodality shift, in order to redirectionalize the mind. As an example any technique that links a trigger picture with an outcome picture by making the trigger picture shrink, as the outcome picture gets bigger, is in my mind a swish pattern.

Obviously techniques that are swish patterns under my definition, would not necessarily be swish patterns under Steve’s definition, but this is semantics. Does this matter? Well, certainly if you are teaching an NLP Trainers Training, then it is important. Trainers should be able to ‘speak the language’ of NLP in a way that allows them to communicate with each other. But if you are working with a client, or even teaching an NLP Practitioner course, it’s less clear that overly ‘standardized’ NLP terminology provides any substantive benefit to your client or students.

‘Classical’ or ‘standard’ swish

In the classical swish (Steve refers to this as the 'standard' swish), the issue is an unwanted behavior (say smoking). The trigger picture is whatever the client sees out of her own eyes immediately before she loses conscious control (e.g. the cigarette packet, or the newsagents where she buys her cigarettes, or the cup of coffee that precedes her first cigarette of the day, etc.). The outcome picture is how she sees herself being as a person (identity level dissociated picture) when the habit is no longer an issue for her. So far, so good, we all agree on this basic foundation.

So why is the desired self-image dissociated? Richard Bandler told me that the classical swish was intended to maintain the client’s state while changing the context. Meaning the client has a desire for the cigarette, and the classical swish is intended to maintain the state of desire but to then apply that desire to the self-image. The client maintains the state of “I want” but changes from “I want to smoke” to “I want to be her”; meaning her ideal future self. This is why the image is dissociated in the classical swish, because (as Steve Andreas rightly says), if it is associated there is no longer the ‘wanting’, rather a ‘being’.

I discussed this idea (that the classical swish is intended to maintain a state of desire) with my teacher and mentor, John Overdurf. John shrugged and said “well, maybe”, again because he sees the swish as a much wider pattern than mere changing of unwanted habits. In any case, if we limit our discussion to the classical swish as described by Dr. Bandler then there is no state change (the state is ‘desire’ for both the trigger and self-image pictures) and the state changes that Steve Andreas describes do not take place, i.e. they are inconsistent with Dr. Bandler’s original swish.

Self-delusion of change

Now Steve makes a strange and in my view a mistaken claim:

“if the self-image were associated, that would assume that the client had already become it, so there would be no motivation to change, only a self-delusion that change had already happened.”

The problem with this statement is that if the swish (however it is done) works then change has already happened; it’s no delusion, it’s reality. The reason to keep the image dissociated (in the classical swish) is to utilize the client’s (existing) state of desire, not to avoid self-delusion.

State based coaching

Substitute behavior

Steve suggests that seeing the self-image in a context, “doing a specific behavior” is a mistake. If so, then it’s a mistake that Richard Bandler made with the original swish as he describes getting smoke-free clients to see themselves happily co-existing with smokers (because he claims he did not want to create anti-smoking crusaders). Indeed it’s impossible to see a self-image absent any behavior; standing is a behavior, sitting is a behavior, so how can a self-image have no behavior?

Now in the HNLP (Humanistic Neuro Linguistic Psychology: Overdurf and Silverthorn) coaching model we are always looking for ‘context-trigger-state-behavior’, both for the problem and for the change. If the behavior has not changed then typically the problem hasn’t either. Therefore, there is no way to test change unless the coach sees (and the client experiences) a new state and a new behavior.  

State-based coaching

State based coaching is the basis of HNLP. State based coaching assumes that behaviors and other responses are based on:

·       Your state,

·       In a context,

·       Presented with a trigger.

For example, if you are in your cube at work (the context), and you notice your boss looming over you (the trigger) then your response will depend upon the ‘state’ you go into when you notice your boss. For example if you go into a ‘flapping panic’, then you are likely to respond inappropriately, while if you go into a state of ‘unflappable calm confidence’, then you will likely respond appropriately.

Change work is therefore about collapsing a problem trigger so that the trigger becomes an anchor for a resourceful state, rather than an unresourceful state.

The major issue I notice, when watching unsuccessful swishes (or any other NLP pattern for that matter) is that the coach fails to elicit a resourceful state or fails to attach that resource to the trigger. But you will all-ways create change if you follow the four steps of John Overdurf’s Meta-Pattern (associate into the problem, dissociate, associate into the resource, and collapse i.e. attach the resource to the trigger so the trigger becomes an anchor for the resource). See The Meta Pattern by Sarah Carson and Shawn Carson for more.

So, if the new self-image triggers a sufficiently powerful resource state, and the swish attaches this resource to the trigger, the technique will be successful, if not, it won’t. If you get hung up too much on the image, rather than the resource state, or ‘end state energy’, you are ‘focusing on the finger and missing all the heavenly glory’.

‘State’ versus ‘end state energy’

Understanding the concept of a resource ‘state’ versus ‘end state energy’ (using HNLP terminology) is important. Typically, if you ask a client for a resource state, how they would prefer to be feeling in their problem context, they will offer a word that is more-or-less the ‘opposite’ of their problem state. For example, if they feel afraid of speaking in public, say, they might say they want to feel ‘awesomely confident’. These big resource states are great for breaking down problems, but not so good for generative change.

Why is this? Because these states are difficult to maintain over time; they are too high energy. An accomplished speaker will probably not say they feel ‘awesomely confident’ when they speak in public, they’ll say something like “I feel free, relaxed, open…”.

These lower energy ‘end states’ are typically associated with ‘values’ or ‘identity’ level states, such as “freedom”, “love”, “being myself”. Think about it, it’s pretty easy for you to feel “free” all the time, but to feel “awesomely confident” all the time would be exhausting!

Now it’s important to know that if you as a coach, generate a big powerful resource state in your client (“awesomely confident”, say) and use that to collapse the trigger, change will happen. And, over time, that “awesomely confident” will transform into a lower energy (but more sustainable) ‘end state’.

The swish pattern typically uses ‘end states’ (remember end states arise at ‘identity’ level, or ‘self-image’). BUT a good swish can (and should) also layer in more energetic resource states such as laughter, excitement, confidence, and so on. When you watch the videos, please look primarily for the state of the client, and how their state changes, as they go through the swish.

Video Review

Before we get to the videos themselves, I think it’s important to bear in mind the purpose of a YouTube video. Most of the videos discussed are short videos, not extracts from lengthy trainings, and even the ones from trainings do not contain all the teaching that preceded and followed the demo. Such videos are never intended to teach chapter and verse on a specific pattern; wouldn’t life be easy if you could master an NLP pattern by watching a three minute video! I would suggest that you watch each video as a summary of the swish, more intended to raise the profile of the trainer than to lay out all the details of the swish.

Michael Carroll

Michael describes the swish using the ‘slingshot’ method. This is not a client demo, and is not really even a ‘covert demo’ (compare this to the Tony Robbins video discussed below).

It does utilize the ‘slingshot’ swish, where the trigger image is sent out to the distance and returns as the new self-image. In HNLP we consider the slingshot to be often superior to the ‘standard’ swish because of two important underlying principles:

1.     Different clients react to different submodality shifts. The swish Andreas describes uses two of the principle submodalities (size and brightness), while the slingshot uses three (size, brightness and distance), so if your client’s driving submodality is distance, she would get a better result using the ‘slingshot’ than using the ‘standard’ swish. Michael could have done a better job of stressing this in the video, but again it’s a short 6 minute YouTube video.

2.     NLP is ultimately theater; it relies on communication between coach and the client’s unconscious (this by-the-way is the basis of New Code NLP, which Michael practices – to maximize unconscious involvement in each key step of transformation). The slingshot swish is often better geared toward a theatrical presentation by the coach, which is more likely to engage the client’s unconscious.

It’s true that Michael does emphasize behavior over state in the video (the antithesis of New Code), but again I suspect this is more to do with the ease of describing the swish in a short 6 minute video, than the way Michael would actually work with a client.

Tony Robbins

This is a great video.

The first thing to note about Tony Robbins’ video is that his definition of the swish is much wider than the classical swish, designed to change a habit, that Steve Andreas seems to be focused on.

The video is excellent (of course, being Tony Robbins). I will point out a few of the principles Tony is using:

1.     Tony is doing a ‘covert demo’, meaning he is overtly talking about his own experience, but covertly is leading his ‘client’ (in this case his audience), to actually experience the swish. This means that when they actually come to practice it their unconscious minds have already been through the swish at least nine times!

2.     Tony not only uses the visual association of chaining the two pictures, he also uses the physical behavior (raising the hand to the nail-biter’s mouth) to trigger the swish. So when the client actually raises their hand to their mouth, this physical motion (as well as the visual cue of the hand) will trigger the swish.

3.     Tony triggers the swish by reaching down with his right hand to a resource (in this case Tony’s identity level self-image as a communicator). For a normally organized individual, this reaching down-right accesses their kinesthetic resources, and moving the hand up toward the chest associates into the chosen resource by ‘pulling it’ into the body. If you are familiar with Tony Robbins’ work you will know this is a common feature of his ‘swish’ patterns (and one described in detail in Jess and my book ‘NLP Mastery: The Swish’). 

4.     This reaching down also sets a gestural anchor that can be used by the client whenever they need. Tony refers to this at 7.40 of the video.

5.     Tony also plants a post-hypnotic suggestion that the change he has installed will transform the audience’s life in unexpected ways (generative change).

The really great thing about this demo is watching Tony use the theater of the pattern to create a big positive state in the audience. You will see this in the faces of the audience around 7.00 of the video. Tony creates this energy using speed and tempo, and voice tonality, as ‘sliding anchors’ as he repeats the swish (getting faster, more up-tempo and more energetic each time).


Alkistis (Steve Andreas refers to ‘Akistis’), discusses a pattern she calls a swish, but which is closer to a map-across. As such we will not discuss this video further.

Note that Ms. Alkistis does not claim to be an NLP trainer, so it seems petty to fault her on calling a ‘map-across’ a ‘swish’.

Mark Hayley

This is a file download. I was not comfortable downloading this to my computer so did not open and review the video.

Shawn Carson (oh, wait, that’s me!)

This is part of a series we did using an animation program called ‘Two Minute NLP’ (although this video runs an impressive 3.17).

This sets out the classical swish, but using the ‘slingshot’, in a (hopefully) fun way. I lead the client Sophie into choosing a self-image not a behavior. To represent this in an animation there has to be a picture of something, in this case Sophie in work-out clothes (Steve Andreas describes this as a ‘behavior’; so be it).

Steve Andreas makes the point that the ‘standard’ swish uses a submodality change that allows the self-image to (for example) get bigger as the trigger picture gets smaller. The changes take place simultaneously. In contrast the slingshot swish, which is used in several of the videos including this one, uses sequential submodality changes. The trigger image gets smaller as it moves further away, followed by the self-image picture getting bigger as the picture returns.

We talked about a couple of the advantages of the ‘slingshot swish’, versus the ‘standard’ swish when we analyzed Michael Carroll’s video above. But what about Steve Andreas point that the simultaneous change in submodalities of trigger picture and self-image is like a “lap joint” and therefore “stronger and more lasting”? As you watch all the videos, you will see that the swish pattern begins slowly, to allow the client to acclimatize, but ultimately each swish is being run in a fraction of a second. This does not allow time for one state to decrease and the other to increase. States take up to a minute to ebb and flow, not fractions of a second. In fact, the swish is run so fast that the client realistically does not have time to even change the pictures in a meaningful way; I would argue that the swish neurologically wires the end-state to the real-world trigger, via Hebb’s Law. As a result, the trigger becomes an anchor for this new state.

Finally, Steve Andreas talks about images being ‘realistic’ (see discussion above or Steve’s swish video at It’s pretty clear that in reality the trigger is not going to actually reduce in size. Imagine walking into Dunkin’ Donuts and seeing the donuts actually get smaller before your eyes (in reality). Ain’t gonna happen; not realistic.

Given the length and very basic nature of the video, there are no ‘important principles’ revealed here.

Shawn Carson (me again!)

This excellent video (did I just say that?) uses the swish to deal with difficult people. I learned this pattern (which Jess and I refer to as the ‘New Behavior Generator or NBG Swish’ in our book ‘NLP Mastery: The Swish’) from John Overdurf. When understood it does reveal some important and useful principles, including:

1.     Creating patterns by Integration. Some great hybrid patterns can be created by incorporating elements of one NLP pattern with another. For example we use Deep Trance Identification or New Behavior Generator as Steve Andreas rightly points out, within the swish. This can be a particularly powerful approach with clients who can’t imagine their ideal future self, but can find a model (Superman, Oprah Winfrey, James Bond, Emelia Earhart or whoever) with the qualities they wish they had. Seeing, then stepping into, this image can create powerful change. Just ask Steve Gilligan who used DTI to model Milton Erickson. Steve Andreas refers to this image as “unreal”, and “a delusion”; it’s actually called a “positive hallucination” in hypnosis!

2.     This pattern is structurally different to the classical swish. In the NBG Swish, the client steps into (associates with) the new self-image. This is particularly effective when the pattern is being used to generate a specific new state and behavior (rather than to eliminate a compulsion as in the classical swish). So in this case, the client steps into a state of (say) confidence so he can deal with his difficult boss.

3.     The coach presupposes the change has taken place (as Steve Andreas notes), so that the client can search for and notice what is different.

4.     It is vital that there be a break state in any pattern (see NLP Mastery: The Meta Pattern by Sarah Carson and Shawn Carson). However here it is not the ‘blank-the-screen’ break state that appears the classical swish. This is presumably why Steve Andreas, focused on the classical swish, misses the break state. The break state at 2.12 of the video when the client sticks the post-it (or postage stamp) onto Burt’s forehead; if there is someone who makes the client feel bad, and you ask them to imagine sticking a post-it on that person’s forehead, you can get them to laugh (laughter is a break state). That’s why I crack a joke at this point in the video.

5.     Many patterns use physiological tricks to enhance their effect. This one is no exception: the act of looking at someone’s forehead (i.e. above their eye level) is associated with social dominance. Having the client stick the post-it (and hence look at) the forehead of their nemesis tends to put them into a more socially dominant physiology, and hence will tend to shift the dynamics of the encounter in their favor.

Anthony Beardsell

For me this technique was more like a ‘double map across’ (such as is used in the NLP Belief Change) than a swish. But what the heck, who’s splitting hairs now!

I enjoyed this video because it shows a really important principle, namely that change arises primarily from the rapport between coach and client. Rapport is much more important than ‘following steps’. Anthony creates very nice rapport with Michelle and she gets her change quickly and easily as a result.

David Shepard – The Performance Partnership

The great thing about this video is that you can see how the coach enters into the dance with the client. As Steve Andreas notes, the client responds with several problems throughout the pattern. The coach responds to each with an elegant reframe, for example using submodalities, meaning reframes and hypnotic suggestions. The end result of the intervention appears to be extremely positive for the subject.

Steve Andreas does raise some excellent issues regarding the video which, I believe, come from the fact that driving a motorbike round a tight bend on a race-track is primarily a kinesthetic experience, while the swish is primarily a visual pattern. Perhaps this demo would have been better using a different NLP pattern? The video does not show the ‘demo selection process’ that preceded the demo, but in an ideal world I might have saved this problem to demo a more kinesthetic pattern, such as Bandler’s 'backward spin’. At the end of the day, the change appeared to come more from the client’s feeling of ‘being on rails’ than the change in the (visual) picture.

In any case, this demonstrates the adage than any NLP Pattern can be used to address any problem, assuming rapport between the coach and client, and the coach's ability to 'dance'. Again David Shepard’s rapport with the client is excellent, as is his dancing!

Jevon Dangeli

This is a very rich demonstration with lots of great learning points. I’ll point out a few of these:

1.     Utilization: at an early point in the demo there is the sound of construction, an electric drill or saw, from outside the seminar room. Jevon utilizes this by commenting, ”we are cutting through already!”

2.     Jevon elicits a nice ‘clean language’ metaphor for the problem behavior, a ‘machine gun’ (although he doesn’t utilize it further in the demo).

3.     Jevon associates the client (Rene) into the problem state and calibrates Rene’s physiology nicely (so he can test his change later on).

4.     After associating Rene into the problem state, Jevon breaks state nicely by first ‘wiping’ away the internal image, then re-associating Rene back into ‘now’ by getting her to focus on the light coming into the room through the leaves of the trees outside. He uses this break state several times through the demo.

5.     Jevon elicits a ‘last time and place’ trigger very nicely (the look in the other person’s eyes; 11.40 through 13.00). Those familiar with John Overdurf’s work will recognize this as the first step in the Meta pattern. This is not surprising as Jevon is an HNLP coach.

6.     Jevon first finds the client’s desired state, and uses this state to elicit an image. This presupposes (correctly) that if the feeling elicits the picture, then seeing the picture will elicit the feeling. At the end of the day, in my opinion the swish relies on the ‘end state energy’ feeling associated with the new self-image.

7.     Jevon gently challenges Rene’s change using Overdurf's 'testing loop' (“Are you sure…”). When the client responds with “90% sure”, Jevon utilizes the Ericksonian technique (‘90%? Not 91% or 89%?’).

8.     In the Q&A Jevon gives a good explanation of the positioning of chairs (or relative position of client and coach) for the swish.

One issue with the demo is (as in the last video), the swish might not be the best NLP pattern to use in Rene’s context. I say this because Rene had a workable strategy (the ‘machine gun’ strategy) for dealing with the problem. Simply changing the state does not necessarily offer the client a new strategy that will necessarily work to give her the desired outcome. To complete the change, Jevon might have used e.g. a strategy installation, to make sure the client had a new strategy. Of course, he might have done some additional work later in the course that we didn’t see. In any case Rene’s post course feedback indicates that the change was effective.

For those still uncertain as to the difference between the swish and the map-across, there is also an interesting discussion between a couple of the students in the audience.

Mel Cutler

Again Mel does not claim to be an NLP trainer, so it’s perhaps a little unfair to judge the video according to some strict standard of whether the pattern is a swish or not, or the fact that Mel does indeed appear to be consulting his notes as he speaks. Mel’s focus is clearly to get change for the client (which he appears to do).

This video is a pretty good straightforward demo of the swish with a nicely responsive client. Watch it for a nice, simple, clean demo of the swish. The one point I found interesting was that Mel used the image the client provided and chunked up on that, “what will that do for you, and what will that do…” He went as far as values (“make more money, grow your business” – Mel is after all an ‘entrepreneur’s coach’), rather than identity, but it’s a nice approach to get a new self-identity from a client who otherwise has difficulty finding that new self-identity.

Pip Thomas Edge NLP

To me, this is more like a cross between a swish and the Coaching Pattern, because the new image is associated. Pip uses submodalities to boost Louise’s resource state. I would have liked to have seen more of a ‘pop’ in Louise’s state, although this may have been because the demo was more ‘staged’ than the typical demo in a seminar where the client brings a bigger issue.

It’s a nice demo of using submodalities within an NLP pattern (although not a typical swish pattern).

George Hutton – Mind Persuasion

This is not a demo, but rather a ‘hypnotic product'. George sets anchors for positive and negative states using blue and red circles, and then ‘swishes’ by changing the size of the circles. It’s a cute video (and has lots of fun state breakers). It will not teach you the swish but if you run through the video with a problem in mind you may find yourself getting some change! Enjoy!

Alex of

This video contains one real gem of information. Unfortunately it is skipped over so fast it’s easy to miss. It’s this: for procrastination, one of the most powerful resource states you can bring to your client is the feeling of completion. Nobody likes doing their taxes (or their homework as in this case), but we all enjoy the feeling of having mailed our tax return off to the IRS and knowing we are done till next year.

This feeling of completion creates the new self-image of being a person who ‘gets things done’ so that you can enjoy the feeling of being free. This is all ways a great starting point when using the swish for overcoming procrastination strategies.

Ved Prakash –

I have to say the Caribbean or maybe Pacific background music does not add value to the quality of this video! I was unable to watch the whole thing, sorry Ved!

Terry Elston –

This is a demo from a seminar. Again, for me it’s a very clean demo of the Coaching Pattern rather than a swish. Terry doesn’t use a trigger picture or an outcome (self-image) picture, but rather attaches the client’s (Rachael) resource state to the ‘trigger’ by ‘stealing anchors’.

Terry discusses the importance of attaching the resource precisely at the trigger point, rather than when the client has already dropped into their negative state. He gives a good demo of rewinding the client’s story, although for me he did not actually identify the trigger point (meaning an external event that lets Rachael know it’s time for her to book her train and hotel). The trigger becomes ‘six o’clock’, rather than “I look at my watch and realize it’s six o’clock”.

Terry does give a good demonstration of ‘stealing anchors’ by mirroring Rachael’s physiology in her resource state. It’s worth watching this demo for that alone.

Keith Livingston –

This is a very short (2.40) description of the swish. As such it is a brief overview and will not add much to your understanding of the swish, if you have watched all the other videos so far.


It is my belief that NLP is a living, evolving discipline. The co-founders of NLP continue to develop their own techniques as do the those that I admire most in the field, such as Tony Robbins and John Overdurf. The moment we say "NLP is this and only this, so that is not NLP", we remove the creative spark, the 'attitude of wanton experimentation' that created NLP in the first place. The moment we say "the swish is this and only this, so that is not a swish" we limit our ability to 'dance' with the client, and the dance is where we find the magic of change.

Please do study other practitioners who are courageous enough to post their material publicly. Notice what they do well and absorb that. Notice the mistakes they make and avoid them. Focus on the true aim of this wonderful art, which is becoming more of the person you were born to be.




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