Patterns Inside Patterns: The Continued Discussion with Steve and Connirae Andreas

This is the most recent installment of the ongoing discussion between Steve Andreas and myself. It originally began as a discussion of the swish pattern, but has now moved onto a discussion of the ‘Meta Pattern’ of HNLP. I believe both Steve and I hope this discussion can act as both to enlighten various aspects of NLP that are normally hidden below the surface, and also act as a model for respectful discourse that is so often lacking in some other on-line platforms.

Welcome to Connirae Andreas!

First of all, I would like to say a big thank you and welcome to Connirae. I found your comments and observations brilliant and insightful and contain nothing that I could possibly disagree with. I’ll expand on a couple of points:

First, in saying John Overdurf developed, or more accurately discovered, the Meta Pattern I did not mean to imply that others have not done so. I read ‘Change Your Mind and Keep the Change’ many years ago (I would thoroughly recommend the book to any readers of this blog who have not already read it), but had obviously forgotten this reference to the Meta Pattern:

“One very broad general formulation of change work is that you start with a problem state, and then identify and access an appropriate resource state. Finally, you install the resource state so that it’s triggered in response to the same cues that previously had been cues for the problem state.” 

This is exactly a formulation of the HNLP Meta Pattern (so I am a little surprised that Steve is arguing there is no such thing!). We will add this reference to the next edition of our book on the Meta Pattern: our goal is to properly attribute where credit is due, not to claim ownership!

Secondly, I love Connirae's example of the linguistic-temporal change. As she says, this is built around the Meta Pattern (as all change work is). There are several important principles embedded within this pattern that might be worth bringing out:

1.     Connirae brilliantly denominalizes the client’s problem by turning it into “problem-ing”. Clients typically bring in problems in the form of nominalizations, perhaps “I have stress”. Denominalizing, for example, “so you have been experiencing stress”, puts motion back into the problem, making it easier to linguistically move into the past.

2.     Once in the past, Connirae again turns the problem into a (past) nominalization, “This has been a terrible problem”

3.     That was then and this was now! Although Connirae doesn’t specify, typically the resource would be denominalized ‘resource-ing’, for example “feeling peaceful”.

4.     Again although Connirae doesn’t specify, obviously there would then be a collapse, “as your feeling peaceful now, look at [trigger] and notice how it’s different now”.

Of course, the above are the four steps of the Meta Pattern. Incidentally, in the Overdurf/HNLP version of this temporal pattern (which we call ‘Conversational Timeline’), an additional temporal step is added by inviting the client to step into the future and, looking back, see the changes she has made within the ‘past-future’ visible from the farther future, “step into the future, and looking back toward now, realize how far this change has taken you…”

There is one point I would take some issue with in Connirae’s comments (although it’s an agreement, not a disagreement); Connirae says it is possible to “think of” a resource while associated into the problem. This is perfectly true; typically the resource a client ‘thinks of’ when associated into the problem is the ‘opposite’ of the problem. As Steve has pointed out, this may not be the best resource. What the client will find difficult to do is to associate into this resource while associated into the problem.

Hence I would argue the steps of the Meta Pattern remain the same as the client likely needs to dissociate from the problem before associating into (which is different from thinking about) the resource. There are exceptions; for example, Bandler’s original formulation of the swish where the state supposedly remains the same, desire, so no dissociation is necessary between problem and resource because they are the same.

Thank you Connirae for joining the discussion and I would also like to thank you on behalf of the NLP world for your many contributions to the field.

I’ll split the remainder of this article into two parts. In the first I’ll show how each of the (new) examples Steve lays out as ‘counter-examples’ to the Meta Pattern, actually contain the Meta Pattern embedded within them. Steve is quite right in saying that simply saying the Meta Pattern is the basis of all change work doesn’t make it so; but perhaps if I demonstrate how the Meta Pattern is the basis of all change work enough times, the universal truth of the Meta Pattern will become unarguable!

In the second half I’ll offer another description of change work that provides a simple (although not as simple as the Meta Pattern), yet enormously powerful structure based on the Tree of Life. I’ll also show you how the Meta Pattern fits into this larger pattern by taking two of Steve’s ‘counter examples’ as examples.

Why the Meta Pattern

Let’s not lose sight of the ‘why’ of the Meta Pattern. The four simple steps allow you to recalibrate if you lose track of your process. All you need to do is to look at your client and calibrate their state: if they are still in the problem, you need to dissociate them; if they are dissociated, you need to associate them into a resource; if they are resourceful, you need to collapse the resource onto the problem contextual trigger.

More examples of the Meta Pattern

Collapsing Anchors

In collapsing anchors, as Steve rightly says there have to be two states or two anchors to collapse. Steve then for some reason says that this requirement is not included in the Meta Pattern; this is incorrect. The first step within the HNLP Meta Pattern is associating into the problem. We do this so that the coach can identify the ‘synesthesia’ associated with the problem, meaning the contextual anchor that triggers the problem, and the BMIRs of the problem so it can be evoked later if and when required.

The second anchor appears in step 3, the association into the resource state.  The anchor (or anchors) for this state may be kinesthetic as in the traditional collapsing anchors. However we prefer to steal the client’s anchors for the resource state, which may be gestural, auditory, or visual. 

Moving to the final step, the collapse, while the client is associated into the resource, the coach fires the anchor for the problem, thus evoking the problem state. The problem and resource then ‘duke it out’ within the client’s physiology. This is repeated until the resource state (or a resource state) emerges the winner. The Meta Pattern is then repeated on an iterative basis by running the client through other triggers, and other contexts, until the client is not able to identify any more examples of the problem. This is typically fairly quick as the brain is an amazing generalization-machine! The process can also/then be repeated on an iterative basis by ‘backing-off-the-anchor’ until the contextual anchor or trigger becomes the anchor for the resource state.

By the way, when this happens the Meta-Pattern-TOTE-strategy ends (to quickly address another of Steve’s objections).

The ‘Fast Phobia Cure’ or V-K Dissociation

I agree with Steve that dissociation is part of the resource state for a phobia or other response based on ‘amygdala hijack’ (described in my previous post). There are typically (at least three) other elements to the resource state: dissociation in the face of the trigger; laughter; and ‘safe-to-safe’ experience. I won’t expand on these here; the fact that dissociation becomes part of the resource does not invalidate the fact that ‘V-K dissociation’ follows the Meta-Pattern as described in my prior post.

Modal ‘Meta Problems’

As mentioned in a prior post, in HNLP we generally say a client’s problem typically manifests as a behavior or feeling (unwanted-and-done, or wanted-but-not-done). Note I’m not pushing this as an inviolate rule like the Meta-Pattern, just an easy way to think about it.

Having said this, these problems often come with, let’s call them meta-problems. Please note I am using ‘meta’ in its usual sense of above or more-abstract. Often these meta-problems express themselves as modals, such as 'I should' or 'I can’t'. Steve gives the example of “I can’t change, yet I should change”. Any readers who deal with smokers will recognize these meta-problems!

Now you don’t need to change these meta-problems before you address the main issue (as any reading of Erickson’s cases will show), but it certainly helps. So most coaches or hypnotists will deal with the 'can’t' and 'should' problems first, before dealing with the presenting issue.

The modals 'can’t' and 'should' exist in different ‘modal spaces’ (we will call them ‘frames’): 'can’t' generally inhabits either the epistemic (personal knowledge) frame, or the doxastic (personal beliefs, without knownledge) frame. 'Should' generally inhabits either the deontic (duty), or axiologic (cultural) frames. In any case for brevity I will only address the can’t modal here using the doxastic (belief) space.

When a client has a belief about their problem, such as “I can’t change my problem” the most direct way of working with this might be using an NLP ‘belief change’. There are two main variations. One uses a submodality map across (actually this usually involves a double map across, the first to eliminate the limiting belief and the second to install a more empowering belief). The other main NLP belief change is the ‘walking belief change’ used extensively by Robert Dilts as well as my good friend Michael Watson. Both of these patterns (unsurprisingly) follow the Meta Pattern - in a fairly obvious way, so I won’t go into further detail.

Steve’s ‘Modal Collapse’

Steve shows a lovely pattern for collapsing both his client’s modal can’t and should at the same time. Steve then says this pattern doesn’t “fit this meta-pattern”; this is not correct. I’ll explain how this is in fact a clear example of the Meta Pattern below.

The Foreground-Background Switch

Steve discusses a another pattern as follows: you invite your client to: “Expand your view to include what surrounds what you see,” [to] elicit “the big picture,” which often results in a more balanced emotional response.

This pattern is similar to the foreground-background switch. I’m not sure if this is just an HNLP pattern or a more general NLP pattern, so I’ll briefly describe it.

First teach your client to go into “peripheral vision”, and anchor it.

1.     Lead them to notice what precisely they are paying visual attention to when in the problem; lead them to be as specific as possible.

2.     Invite them to “Expand your view to include [everything else] other than that”, as you fire the peripheral-vision anchor. We include ‘quantum-4th-position’ in this expansion by iteratively widening the context.

3.     Invite them to focus back down, but this time onto what is most important to them, their value or end-state-energy in this context. Linguistically associate them into this denominalized value.

4.     Invite them to notice how the context is different now looking from this new viewpoint.

I will explain below how the foreground-background switch in fact follows the Meta-Pattern below [hint: notice the numbering above!].

The Visual Squash

The visual squash is another very clear application of the Meta Pattern once you understand the nature of a problem the squash is designed to address.

The visual squash is a pattern designed to deal with problems having the structure of Korzybski’s ‘exclusive or’; meaning I want A and I want B but I can only have A or B, I can’t have both. I have to choose one, I have to forgo the other, and this creates an inner conflict.

This inner conflict is the presenting issue. When your client says for example, “I want to pursue my dreams, but I don’t want to leave the safety of my regular paycheck…”, they are associated into the problem. Step 1 of the Meta Pattern is complete.

So how do you, as the coach, dissociate a client from an inner conflict between two seemingly conflicting parts (step 2 of the Meta Pattern)? Well it’s rather like being a parent with two children squabbling over a toy: you send one to one corner of the room, and the other to the other corner, separating them so they don’t squabble anymore.

Similarly, in the visual squash, you separate and externalize the parts that are creating the inner conflict. You place one as an image on the client’s left hand and the other on their right. We are now at step 2 of the Meta Pattern, we have dissociated the client from their problem (the internal conflict).

On to step three of the Meta Pattern, associating into the resource. First let’s help your client to find the appropriate resource. We do this by chunking up on the ‘intentions’ of each part until we find a shared value, or at least values that sufficiently overlap. This shared valued is the resource. At the same time we build rapport between the parts by asking what each can learn from the other. We then associate the client into this resource, typically by internalizing it “bring that back inside your body…”.

And the collapse? Well the client will certainly feel differently (and better) after the squash. However, very often the final collapse occurs when your client calls you or comes to the next session and says “I know exactly what I’m going to do! It’s so obvious, I don’t know why I never thought of this before!”

Intermission: Anticipatory dopamine [Warning: this is a red herring]

Steve is quite right that dopamine is largely anticipatory.

To check this for yourself you will need a monkey and two tickets to Vegas. For some reason monkeys prefer Caesar’s Palace, although they will also go to The Rio. Take your monkey to the roulette table. Monkeys prefer bets with 50:50 pay-offs so you’ll find your monkey will bet red or black (a monkey’s math skills are not up to playing odds and evens).

You’ll find the monkey’s dopamine rush begins as the croupier spins the wheel, and lasts till the ball lands. At that point the monkey either whoops with glee at his winnings, experiencing a non-anticipatory dopamine spike, or suffers a dopamine crash if he loses.

[If the thought of spending a couple of nights sharing a queen sized bed with a monkey disturbs you, you can find discussion of the research here:].

If you do decide to do research yourself, a word of warning: buy enough gambling chips to last till 6am when the all-you-can-eat-banana-buffet opens. If you run out of chips for your chimp before then, you’re in for a long night with a cranky monkey.

The complete interaction between dopamine and gambling is complex, and involves other neurotransmitters; the above is a simplified version and should not be taken literally or seriously.  Although it doesn’t really have anything to do with the swish or Meta Pattern, it is interesting; for example, one study found that addictive gamblers and control subjects get similar dopamine rushes from winning, the difference being that addictive gamblers also get a big dopamine rush from losing [Dopamine release in ventral striatum of pathological gamblers losing money; Linnet J, Peterson E, Doudet DJ, Gjedde A, Møller A, Acta Psychiatr Scand. 2010 Oct; 122(4):326-33.].  I hate to lose, so I’m a lousy addictive gambler.

The Meta Pattern and ‘Steps’

Steve rightly notes that I use the word ‘steps’ when talking about the Meta Pattern (which of course has 4 steps). But, these ‘steps’ differ depending on which NLP or HNLP pattern is being used.

For example ‘step 2’, dissociate:

·      In the visual squash involves inviting the client to externalize each conflicting ‘part’ as a symbol on the hands; while,

·      In the slingshot-swish it involves sending the trigger picture off into the far distance.

So the concept of ‘steps’ in the Meta Pattern are different to Steve’s description of ‘steps’ in a particular NLP pattern such as his ‘steps-to-the-swish’.

Tree of Life (ToL) Coaching

Note that ToL coaching is not an HNLP process. The ToL in its ‘modern’ form can be traced to Athanasius Kircher in 1652, but is first documented in the Zohar in the 13th Century, and its adherents trace its origins back to the Book of Genesis, and even claim it was developed by the first man, Adam.

In any case, I find it to be the simplest model that captures any and all human experience, and for this reason incorporate it into my own coaching model. I’ll very briefly outline it in part; if you want more information there is a book and video training that goes through the ToL coaching model in detail.

The ToL has 10 points or branches, linked by a series of horizontal and vertical pathways. Each point represents one aspect of human experience.


As you will see various aspects of experience can be modeled using sets of points, for example the lower triad includes thoughts, emotions/feelings and behaviors (both the intention of the behavior and the physical action of the behavior) that Steve uses to describe a ‘state’.

I’m going to focus on the client’s right hand column just now (the left hand side as you look at the diagram), which from the bottom up consists of:

·      ‘feelings’/emotions

·      emotional energy, including ‘end state energy’, as well as values

·      at the top a point that we call the void or ‘distinctions’; things like problem/solution, this/that, near/far, etc.

 Let’s apply the Meta Pattern to each point in turn, using linguistic patterns from HNLP.

Whichever point I wish to use, I have to first I have to associate my client into the problem: “What do you want to work through…? Tell me about the last time and place you experienced this… Where are you… what are you seeing… what’s happening…?” I’m looking for the synesthesia that lets me know what the contextual triggers are, and what the problem state looks like. This is the first step of the Meta Pattern, of course.

Now, starting from the first (lowest) point of feelings/emotions I can simply ask, “That’s how you’ve been… how do you want to be different?” This allows the client to choose a resourceful feeling. Typically, they will do so consciously by choosing something that is the ‘opposite’ of the problem feeling. Also note that this question is linguistically dissociative, by using ‘that’ and the past tense ‘have been’.

Once the client has told me, “I want to feel [confident – or whatever they say]”, I associate them into feeling of confidence [step 3 of the Meta Pattern], then collapse against each of the contextual triggers [step 4 of the Meta Pattern].

This may be the simplest approach, but sometimes my client may say something like, “I don’t know, I just don’t want to feel [problem]”. Here (and I’m going to borrow Connirae’s elegant language) I might say, “What would it be like,… when you have all the resources you need for things to go in a much different way…“…(voice tone indicating pleasure)…”

When you, as the coach, use inductive language such as “all the resources…”, the client’s unconscious (or right-brain depending on your perspective) tends to take over, and select something along the lines of an ‘end state’ or ‘enduring state’ [see previous posts on this thread for more discussion of end states].

In the HNLP model, we might first use a dissociating phrase such as, “When this issue is so far behind you, that you can hardly recall it,…”, otherwise you risk getting another, “I don’t know, I just don’t want to feel [problem]”! Of course, Connirae is leading her client out of the problem “…(voice tone indicating pleasure)…” and she has exquisite rapport skills to do this. 

The third and highest point on the right-hand column is point of ‘distinctions’. This is the point where Steve’s modal collapse, and the foreground-background switch, make their appearance.

Steve’s modal collapse, “How is it possible that you should be able to do something you can’t do?”, is an example of what Robert Dilts calls ‘apply to self’. This means we are using the language the client uses to keep his problem in place, to question the problem. John Overdurf used these ‘apply to self’ patterns to develop his ‘Beyond Words’ model; John further developed this into his ‘Attention Shifting Coaching’ (ASC) model (students of Igor Ledochowski will better know this as ‘Mind Bending Language’, MBL). 

When you successfully launch an ‘apply to self’ pattern such as “How is it possible that you should be able to do something you can’t do?", it has the effect of causing the client to unconsciously question their assumptions. Under Overdurf’s model we say they are ‘spun into the Void’ (or the Trance of Infinite Possibilities under the Ledichowski model).

THIS IS DISSOCIATIVE. It dissociates them from the problem, because, as Steve rightly says, “smoke comes out of their ears”. This is therefore Step 2 of the Meta Pattern.

When the smoke is extinguished, where do they land? Well, they land in one of three neighborhoods:

1.     They land back in the problem. In ASC and MBL models, we simply spin them back up into the Void with another language pattern.

2.     They land in a state of confusion. This is a ‘hub’ state, that allows us to direct them into a resource state, “That’s right you’re confused, and how do you want to feel?”

3.     They land is a resource.

Either way, sooner or later they land in a resource, Step 3 of the Meta Pattern. Once there, you re-fire the problem trigger, leading to the collapse [Step 4 of the Meta Pattern]

 I'm looking forward to reading Steve's response.  In the meantime I will also be posting my response to Steve's most recent blog.