Whack-a-Mole for Coaching

Feb 22, 2017

Meta Programs on Display, Human Knowledge Advances and (yet another) Whack-a-Mole Meta Pattern Example

This post, part of a continuing series of light hearted back-and forth with Steve Andreas, replies to Steve post entitled ‘Nesting Experience, Contradiction, and Other Exceptions to the Meta Pattern’. In this post I will answer 3 questions: 

  1.     How is it that Steve and I have such diametrically opposite views within our discussion? Understanding this ‘how’ will help readers make sense of both sides of the argument.
  2.     How does Human Knowledge increase, and why it is important for the growth in our field to consider parallel fields such as Neuroscience? (BTW I’m very happy to see that Steve has started to post Neuroscience research on!)
  3.     How can you use the Meta Pattern to assist clients who don’t believe in their own ability to change, and hence risk relapse? I’ll use Steve’s latest example of an ‘exception’ to the Meta Pattern for this (and show how this ‘exception’ clearly follows the steps of the Meta Pattern).

Hopefully I will also seek to entertain, and to provide Steve with further mole-minutia to whack.

Another Example of the Meta Pattern

Steve begins his post discussing the example of ‘reorientation in time’ that has run through the previous two posts:

“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.”       

Steve states: “…this great process doesn’t appear to me to fit the steps of the Meta Pattern”.

I’ll show (a little later) how this pattern does indeed follow the Meta Pattern, and will use it as an example of how you can use the meta Pattern creatively with your own clients. But before we get there, let’s take a little excursion, to Times Square, New York City, the Greatest City of the face of the Earth…

There Are Two Types of People in the World, ‘Shawns’ and ‘Steves’…

One game I love to play with my own clients, is ‘there are two types of people in the world…’. This brings some laughter into the session, while allowing the clients to identify their own patterns that may be holding them back.


There are two types of people in the world, big-chunk people and small-chunk people. Sounds pretty disgusting, but it refers to the NLP ‘meta program’ sometimes called ‘chunk size’. Small chunk people like to parse the world down into very specific and detailed pieces. Big chunk people prefer to link ideas together using more abstract concepts that may capture the relationships between different ideas.

I’m a big chunk person. I'm going to go out on a limb and suggest that Steve is a small chunk person, at least in the context of our conversation!

Steve gives an example: where is Times Square? Steve suggests that the answer: it's in Manhattan, New York City, at the junction of Broadway and Seventh is more specific and detailed than saying it's in North America.

This reminds me of the game my friends and I used to play as small children, when we would give our address as something like Times Square, Broadway and Seventh Ave., Manhattan, New York City, NY, North America, the Americas, the planet Earth, the solar system, the Milky Way, the Universe. Now this doesn't provide more information or more specific detailed information, than just saying “Times Square’. Once you have said ‘Times Square’, all the other information is known or knowable, and is therefore superfluous. Times Square is Times Square.

However, Steve could have offered a more enlightening example:

Steve: “Times Square is in Manhattan, New York City, at the junction of Broadway and Seventh”

Shawn: “Yes, Times Square is world’s largest, longest-running digital art exhibition”

You see, Times Square is a cool experience that I have the blessing to walk through when going from my apartment to my office. Here is a website that will give you a pretty good idea of why Times Square is so cool.

Steve’s definition of Times Square is indeed very small-chunk-specific, but it’s only useful if all you want to do is to get to Times Square. My definition of Times Square is more big-chunk-abstract, and places Times Square within several interesting contexts such as ‘art exhibitions’, ‘tourist attractions’, ‘human creativity’. You can get to Times Square using the small-chunk address, but to understand Times Square you need much more than this, you need big-chunk contexts.

This is one reason Steve and I see things so differently.

BTW there are a number of other meta-programs on which I believe Steve and I differ, for example options-procedures, sameness-difference... What do you think?

How Does Mankind Acquire Knowledge?

Steve quite rightly states that finding examples of something you believe to be true, does not make it true. There is a heuristic called confirmation bias, which says that human beings search for information which tends to confirm what they already believe to be true.  This can be a bad thing because it tends to lock you deeper into beliefs that may not be true.

However, there is another type of search that leads to scientific discovery, one that tends to advance our knowledge, and that’s the search for exceptions.

How are scientific breakthroughs made? Let’s take the theory of gravity. Back in the 17th-century Sir Isaac Newton asked himself a big-chunk question, “If an apple falls to the ground, why doesn’t the moon do the same thing? Is the moon governed by different physical laws than those governing the apple, or is there an underlying truth that governs the behavior of both?”

Once Newton had invented calculus to calculate how the apple and the moon might behave, he found the underlying laws of gravity that governed both the apple and the moon, as well as the motion of objects on the earth, and the motion of the planets around the sun. He found a more powerful (and abstract) theory that linked two seemingly different phenomena.

Now, scientists could have sat back and simply observe the many things that seem to confirm Newton’s theory. But that’s not what scientists do, instead they look for exceptions. They try and disprove the theories they have, because it is only by finding these exceptions that the more powerful theory can be developed.

One such exception which they were not able to explain using Newton’s theory of gravity was the fact that light from distant stars appeared to be ‘bent’ when passing close to the sun. Light has no mass, so should not be influenced by Newtonian gravity. It took another intellectual giant, Albert Einstein, to explain this. To do so he had to throw out Newton’s theory of gravity and replace it with his own, which he called Relativity. Of course, that’s not the end of the matter, because Relativity does not seem to apply at very small ‘quantum’ distances, so scientists are searching for the complete unifying ‘Theory of Everything’.

In the current conversation between myself and Steve we are searching for counter examples to the Meta Pattern. I would love for Steve to find one, because it would mean that Steve and I might be on the cusp of finding something new; something more powerful and elegant than the Meta Pattern.  Unfortunately, all the counterexamples that Steve has suggested so far do fall within the structure of the Meta Pattern, just as the falling apple and orbiting moon both ‘fell’ under Newton’s gravity.

This is one reason why neuroscience is such a gift to coaches and hypnotists. Either our work is supported by neuroscientific research (good to know), or it’s not, in which case we are missing some important principle!! What is it?? Let’s find it!!

The Teflon Client

The Teflon client, you know the one for whom change just won’t stick.  They feel great in your office, the problem has been transformed, but you both know that as soon as they step out into the real world is going to be back to same old, same old. They are going to ‘relapse’. A real problem, right?

But now we know how to build a solution. All we have to do is to apply the Meta Pattern.

We already have step one:

Step 1 – Associate into P/S (here the problem belief): I feel better now, but the changes aren’t going to last and I’m going to relapse into my old problem!

We know that step two of the meta-pattern is going to be to dissociate the client from Step 1.  What is the structure of the problem? It’s temporal, it’s structured according to time, the client is in the positive present (as Steve says, “a solution state”), but looking towards a negative future when he may lose what he has just gained. 

So how do we disassociate the client, well one way is to move them to a point in the future beyond the point of relapse. So…

Step 2 – Dissociate: “Step into the future…”

Now for Step 3. We have to decide on an appropriate resource, and associate the client in. Well, the obvious resource is to have the client observe not the relapse, but rather the amazing, unforeseeable, generative changes they (will) have experienced as a result of the changes they made all that time ago in your office. Rather than falling back, they are moving forward.

Step 3 – Associate into the resource: “looking back, realize how far this change has taken you…”

I believe the Steve and I are in general agreement on the above three steps, as far as I can tell from Steve’s post. Then I think Steve is saying this example does not follow the meta-pattern because there’s no ‘collapse’.  

I’m not sure what Steve means by this…

In the example we’ve been using, the client may explicitly state the belief, “I may relapse” or she may not.

Steve believes in “making… the smallest change necessary”,  I assume he would use the above pattern only when he thought it was necessary.  If the client is not explicitly (let’s say ‘consciously’) raising the problem of the relapse, then it’s not necessary to make the collapse consciously explicit, but that doesn’t mean there is no collapse.

So what is the collapse?

In this example the client is now looking at a certain point in time, the point of relapse, from two different ‘pseudo-orientations’:

·       From the very recent past, looking into the future

·       From the more distant future, looking back into the ‘future-past’

While I love the idea of time loops and time mazes, what you will generally find is that your client’s unconscious mind will collapse different states when those states exist (or will/did exist) at the same point in time. Think about it, if you say, “I had a really great time last night” and your friend replies, “Yes you were really miserable”, you’d experience a moment of confusion, a ‘collapse’! As Steve will later point out, Milton Erickson used this natural ‘collapse’ within his Apposition of Opposites language patterns, which BTW were awfully nice.

But let’s make the collapse more explicit; suppose your client says, “That was great but I’m not sure I’ll be able to feel that way in the real world.”  You can use exactly the same pattern as described above, and make it consciously explicit. You might run something like:

Step 1 – Associate into Problem (belief): “That was great but I’m not sure I’ll be able to feel that way in the real world.”

Step 2 – Dissociate using time: “Step into that future, where you know that you have control and can feel this way… in the real world…”

Step 3 – Associate into the resource: “…because… looking back from this future toward… now… you realize how far this change has taken you… and all the other changes you’ve been able to make in your life…” [as resource state builds]

Step 4 – Conscious explicit collapse: “How amazing is it to know that that’s what’s in your future, now?”

It’s the same pattern, only this time we’ve made the collapse conscious and explicit. It’s the Meta Pattern.

Trivialities and Minutia

I know this is not like me, but I’m going to go ‘small-chunk’ on a few of the moles Steve introduced to the discussion, that have been running round my feet as I typed my big-chunk response:

Problem State versus P/S

As I have mentioned before, the Meta Pattern is not about “problems”; ‘P/S’ stands for Present State. Saying or thinking about the client having a ‘problem state’ ignores the fact that the client is all-ways changing. There is no one ‘problem state’.

Meta Pattern and Anchoring

Anchoring is not required in the Meta Pattern; for example you as coach can ‘catch’ the client in a resource state such as laughter, and ‘collapse’ this against the P/S. Having said this, it is extraordinarily useful to have resource states anchored so you can trigger when you want. In HNLP we typically ‘steal anchors’ from the client based on their BMIRs in the resource.

And we typically use contextual anchors for the P/S.

TOTE and the Meta Pattern

As long as your client is still finding examples of the P/S, your coaching is not done. When they can no longer find a P/S that is not the resource, you are done and can Exit. You might typically lead a client through between 3-5 contexts to generalize the change.

It you are a strict TOTE’r then the exit is: When your client can no longer find a P/S that is not resourceful, or when time is up in the session, whichever comes first…

If you like the ISE model as Steve suggests, then by all means use the ISE (or most extreme) context first. It’s likely to be the most powerful, but you may spend more time finding it than you save in the generalization. Either way is better.

Apply to Self

I don’t want to argue about nomenclature of ‘apply to self’. However, here we have two modal operators: ‘should’ and ‘can’t’.

The apply-to-self pattern applies the should to the can’t i.e. to the client’s sentence(s), not to the client: How is it possible that you should be able to do something you can’t do?’

BTW if you want to understand modal operators better, take a look at Modals (i.e. modal spaces). I’m not trying to be clever here, just thought provoking.

Gambling Red Herring

I was pleased that Steve was pleased that I referred to the gambling diversion as a ‘red herring’. However, I was absolutely delighted that Steve then felt the need to expand on the red herring. Bravo Steve!

Tree of Life

The Tree of Life is awesome. That’s why it’s been around for over a thousand years (some date it back to the Garden of Eden).

At the top of the Tree is God, or the Big Bang, or the quantum wave of the Universe, or whatever you picture the Big Guy/Gal in the Sky’ to be.

At the base is the physical world. Not necessarily your sensory experience of the world, but the world that stops you from walking through walls (if you can walk through walls, congratulations you hav mastered matter and energy!).

In between is everything else, every thought you think, every feeling you feel, every belief, value, meta program, idea, memory you hold, every archetype from Jung’s collective unconscious, and every distinction you will ever make of good-bad, hot-cold, this-that. My wife Sarah is giving a presentation on “Lightening Path” coaching where you lead your client up and down the Tree at HypnoThoughts; should be great.

Heart Transplants and Coaching

Finally please, please, please never ever do surgery in your coaching sessions (unless you are a qualified surgeon).

As usual I would like to recognize the great contributions that Steve has made to our field and the good-natured to-and-fro that I know many readers are enjoying (especially those of you who have read this far – you know who you are!).




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