why following exact procedures can cause you trouble

It’s A Trap!

It's a trap!

or… Everybody Wants a Procedure…

Folks will often ask me what techniques they can use for _____________ (fill in the issue–we’ll use smoking cessation as an example) clients. “Please tell me what techniques to use and in what order.”

Well, I can…

…But it’s a trap!

Where a Metaphor is Inaccurate, We May Fall Short

Knowing what tools to use in what order is similar to a recipe. Sometimes NLP processes are described as recipes. But remember–a metaphor (or simile) is not the thing it describes. Where the metaphor falls down is where we have to let it go and think of some more accurate way to communicate an idea.

Here’s the thing about recipes. It’s generally you, some tools and the ingredients. “Chop up the carrots. Dice the potatoes. Add flour. Stir.”

As far as I can tell, the carrots don’t have motivations for being in your meal. And different carrots don’t have different motivations. “I geef up my life for de nutrisheeon ov yore fimily.” “Not me. Mah laff is sacreeficed to ayud flayvoor.” (Carrots all have terrible accents)

People Are Not Carrots

People do have motivations. Those motivations differ from person to person. They have differing life experiences. They have different triggers for behavior and different reason to want to change. You may need all that information in order to help them in the most effective way.

Scripts And Procedures Can Be a Trap

Can you imagine scripting a conversation about what to say when you meet someone you want to ask out on a date? OK. You say “Hello,” then she says “Hello.” You say, “It’s pretty nasty weather outside” and she says “At least it’s not as windy as it was yesterday.” Well, what happens when she doesn’t react the way she’s supposed to in the script? You get stuck, that’s what. And you can’t really effectively script an NLP or hypnosis session any more effectively than you can script a conversation.

So I could say, “For smoking cessation, first gather information, then do parts work, then direct suggestion–but it would be a trap. You might feel like you knew what you were doing going in to the session but once the session got “off script” you might feel lost.

Focus On Process–Not Content

But you could give a set of process based instructions for a conversation, couldn’t you?

1) First, introduce yourself.
2) Make small talk (weather etc.)
3) If the small talk seems to be going well, move to more personal subject “What do you do for a living?” ‘What do you do for fun?” etc.
4) As you find interests in common, think of an activity you could do together and suggest it for a specific time “I love macrame’ too. Let’s go to the macrame’ convention on Thursday.”

We can do the same thing for smoking cessation or any other sort of NLP or hypnosis session. It would be more of a guideline really.

A Big Picture Process for an Intervention

Big picture, it looks like this…

1) Set a treatment goal (do the well-formed outcome procedure)
2) Intervention
3) Test

Step 1 will give you direction as to what to do in step 2. If the treatment goal is to stop smoking, while you’re well forming the goal, they might tell you that “One part of me wants to stop but another part of me really likes it.” That might mean parts work is called for. If you see signs of age regression when they talk about their problem then a regression based technique could be a good approach (time lines, affect bridge etc.). When you run into beliefs that are getting in the way of desired change–reframe with sleight of mouth patterns or do re-imprinting to change a limiting decision. If they experience a negative emotion an anchor collapse might help.

At each phase you test your work. If any of the problem remains, take it back up into step 2.

Process Allows You To Work Content Free

Remember, NLP is process based–not context based. Put in another way, you could help someone stop smoking without even knowing that’s what they wanted to do!

Client: “Hey, I want to stop doing something.”
Practitioner: “How do you know when it’s time to do the thing you want to stop?”
Client: “I make a picture of myself doing it, say to myself ‘That’s cool,’ and then get a great feeling about doing it.”
Practitioner: “Whatever it is you’d like to do instead–Make of picture, inside your mind, of yourself doing it. We’re going to do something called a swish pattern…”

If you’re asking “How do I work with __________ (fill in the issue)?” you might be focusing on content rather than process.

Here’s more about process vs. content.


About The Author:

Keith Livingston is the main instructor for Hypnosis 101. Keith has been studying hypnosis since he was a boy and doing hypnosis & NLP training since 1997.

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  1. I am about halfway through my first Practitioners class and already see, the usefullness of this ability. Its fustrating though because I want to jump right in and start using it. Then, comes the (fun) part, where my mentor tells me to ‘go ahead and USE IT’.
    I would not use a drill to cut a piece of wood, I would use a saw for that. Saws also do not make nice clean holes like drills do. However, I just saw a little kid banging on a big wood screw with a hammer in an attempt to drive it into a piece of wood. I applaud his flexability !!!
    What I want to do is use the most appropriate tool in the most efficiant way to achieve the highest quality result.

    Parts work is for when a client is conflicted (but not necessarily)
    Time line therapy would be helpful to someone showing signs of age regression (but not necessarily)
    … and so, on goes the list of tools and applications.

    I know better than to put roadblocks in front of myself, and I conciously avoid doing that as much as possable.

    Thank you for your blog.

    1. Hi Dave,
      Recently I looked at a friend’s web site. The designer had built her a very complex data base driven web site that is difficult for her to update with her limited technical knowledge. The design is poor in other ways too. The decision to go with a data base rather than a simple design was probably because it’s what the designer specialized in. You know, “When you’re a hammer, the whole world looks like a nail.”

      I’ve seen a lot of folks who have favorite NLP techniques. For a while parts is their favorite. They use it on everything. Then it’s working with time lines. Then Core Transformation etc.

      I think it’s useful to think about it like a conversation. You don’t freak out because you aren’t sure what words you’re going to use. You just respond when the other person talks. It’s natural.

      The challenge when you’re new is that there’s a limited vocabulary. Maybe you only have 6 tools in your toolbox rather than 20. You might be surprised at how much good those 6 tools can do. For instance, I like to teach people anchor collapsing early on. It’s fun to watch them go out and solve long-standing problems in just a few minutes.

      What’s even more fun is when they don’t. Sometimes, they’ll come in from an exercise and say something like “Well, I tried an anchor collapse and his amputated leg didn’t grow back. Why didn’t it work?” OK, I’m exaggerating. The point is, they often come back having worked on what has been a big problem in someone’s life and they’ve “failed” at their first attempt.

      That’s when I know things are going well. They are already expecting to succeed–in ten minutes, with difficult issues and using one of the first techniques they’ve learned! “Hey folks, it’s day two here. You’ve already done minor miracles. We don’t get to the major miracles until day three!”

      When I see that particular frustration in a student’s face, I think of it differently. I see motivation to learn. I see caring–they want to help somebody and they don’t want to wait. I know it’s a good sign.

      It’s good to go in with an open mind (as I’m sure you have). The timing of the openness is important too. Be open to the possibility that you know, on a deep level what to do. Be open. Be open when you start to work with someone. Open to the conversation that’s about to occur. Maybe that’s what your mentor means by “Go ahead and USE IT.” From my vantage point, it’s nice to see a student using something they don’t consciously know they know yet!

  2. Keith,
    I hope this is appropriate.

    I have been so excited about learning all of these techniques that I have looked at a variety of sources for information. I have books, some Anthony Robbins tapes, and a few internet sites I visit to watch NLP & Hypnosis videos.
    I have been thinking about signing up fot the Global NLP Basic and Master course in San Diego coming up in November. When I told my (former) mentor about it he was “glad to have the pressure off, so we could just be friends again.’
    I just got home from THAT conversation. I am out of his NLP class.

    Do you have any suggestions for other things I could do (besides what I am already doing) to maintain my momentum and excitement ? I feel like someone has kicked me in the gut ! I am still planning to save up for San Diego, but I am not sure what to do in the meantime. I still have my NFNLP Basic guide to read and all of the other resources, just not the hands on trainer.


  3. This was really a great post & is recommended for hypnotherapy training sessions.

  4. Hi Keith
    A brilliant post, this is a point i often stress to people but which many seem to miss, its not about the scripts or the techniques, it’s about the process of hypnosis and transformation.

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