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The Swish

by Richard Bandler(more info)

listed in nlp, originally published in issue 13 - July 1996

The next submodality pattern I want to teach you can be used for almost anything. It's a very generative pattern that programs your brain to go in a new direction. In order to make the pattern easy for you to learn, I'm going to start with something really simple and easy.

A lot of people are interested in something called "habit control." Who in here bites his nails and would like not to? (Jack steps up to the platform.) I'm going to use this pattern to get Jack to do something else instead of bite his nails.

What do you see just before you bite your nails?

Jack: I don't know. I don't usually realize I'm doing it until I've done it for a while.

That's true of most habits. You're on "automatic pilot," and later on, when it's too late to do anything about it, you notice it and feel bad. Do you know when or where you typically bite your nails?

Jack: It's usually when I'm reading a book or watching a movie.

OK. I want you to imagine that you're watching a movie, and actually bring one of your hands up as if you were going to bite your nails. I want you to notice what you see as your hand comes up, knowing that you're about to bite your nails.

Jack: OK. I can see what my hand looks like as it comes up.

Good. We'll use that picture in a few minutes, but just set it aside for now. We need to get another picture first. Jack, if you no longer bit your nails, how would you see yourself as being different? I don't mean just that you would see yourself with longer fingernails. What would be the value of changing this habit? What difference would it make to you as a person? What would it mean about you? I don't want you to tell me the answers; I want you to answer by creating a picture of the you that you would be if you no longer had this habit.

Jack: OK. I've got it.

Now I want you to get that first picture of your hand coming up, and make it big and bright, . . . and in the lower right corner of that picture put a small, dark image of how you would see yourself differently if you no longer had this habit. . . .

Now I want you to do what I call "the swish." I want you to make the small dark image quickly get bigger and brighter until it covers the old picture of your hand, which will simultaneously get dim and shrink. I want you to do this really fast, in less than a second. As soon as you've "swished" these images, either blank the screen completely, or open your eyes and look around. Then go back inside and do it again, starting with that big bright picture of your hand coming up, and the small dark image of yourself in the corner. Do it a total of five times. Be sure to blank the screen or open your eyes at the end each time you do it. . . .

Now it's time to test. Jack, make that big bright image of your hand coming up and tell me what happens. . . .

Jack: Well, it's hard to hold it there. It fades out, and that other picture comes in.

The swish pattern directionalizes the brain. Human beings have a tendency to avoid unpleasantness and move towards pleasantness. First there is a big bright image of the cue for the behavior that he doesn't like. As that picture fades and shrinks, the unpleasantness diminishes. As the pleasant image gets bigger and brighter, it draws him toward it. It literally sets up a direction for his mind to go: "from here, go there." When you directionalize your mind, your behavior has a very strong tendency to go in the same direction.

Jack, I want you to do something else. Bring your hand up to your mouth the way you did when you bit your nails. (Jack brings his hand up. Just before it reaches his mouth, it stops and then lowers about half an inch.)

Well, what happened?

Jack: I don't know. My hand came up, but then it stopped. I wanted to put my hand down, but I deliberately held it up there, because you asked me to.

This is a behavioral test. The behavior that used to lead to nail- biting now leads somewhere else. It's just as automatic as what he did before, but it takes him somewhere he likes better.

This will translate out into experience. As that hand comes up and that compulsion begins in you, the feeling itself will literally pull you in the other direction. It will become a new compulsion. It's not really that you get uncompulsed, it's that you get compulsed to be more of who you want to be.

I did this pattern with a chocolate freak who kept saying she wanted to be "free." She didn't want to be compulsed because it didn't fit with the way she saw herself. After she was done, she couldn't hold a picture of chocolates. It just went "poof." Now when she looks at real chocolate, she doesn't have the old response. The direction of her thoughts is toward being attracted to what she wants to be. It's a new compulsion. You could call this pattern "trade compulsions." I said to her, "Now you're really stuck. You're compulsed to not be able to make these pictures," and she said, "I don't care." She doesn't really object to being compulsed; she just wants to be compulsed in her own way. That's really the difference that makes a difference.

The swish pattern has a more powerful effect than any other technique I've used. In a recent seminar there was a woman in the front row moaning and groaning about having tried to quit smoking for eleven years. I changed her in less than eleven minutes. I even chose what to put in the little dark corner picture; I'm not what people call a "non-directive clinician." I told her to see an image of herself politely enjoying other people smoking. I wasn't willing to create another evangelist convert. I didn't want her to see herself sneering at smokers and making life miserable for them.

Now I want you all to pair up and try this pattern. First I'll go through the instructions again.

The Swish Pattern

Identify context

First identify where you are broken or stuck

Identify cue picture

Now I want you to identify what you actually see in that situation just before you start doing the behaviour you don't like

Create outcome picture

Now create a second image of how you would see yourself differently if you had already accomplished the desired change

Swish

Now swish these two pictures. Start with seeing that cue picture, big and bright. Then put a small, dark image of the outcome picture in the lower right corner. The small dark image will grow big and bright and cover the first picture, which will get dim and shrink away as fast as you can say 'swish.' Then blank out the screen, or open your eyes. Swish it again a total of five times. Be sure to blank the screen at the end of each swish

Test

Now picture that first image . . . What happens? If the swish has been effective, this will be hard to do. The picture will fade away and be replaced by the second image of yourself as you want to be

Extracted with permission from the book Using Your Brain-for a CHANGE by Richard Bandler. Published by Real People Press, Box F, Moab, Utah 84532. 1985. Available in the UK from Airlift Book Company – mail order telephone 020 8443 5333.

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