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Success Strategies that Work

by Frances Coombes(more info)

listed in nlp, originally published in issue 120 - February 2006

Modelling is a Practical Skill

When I felt twinges of RSI in my wrist I decided to model the skills of someone who wrote equally well with both hands, so I could lessen the strain on my left arm. Finding an ambidextrous person who had acquired the skills in adulthood was difficult, but also illuminating. James, an architect, had broken his right arm at university and taught himself to write fluently with his left hand in order to get his degree.

I asked James to imagine the first time he had written automatically with his non-dominant hand and re-enact the process. By modelling his behaviours and sensory processes around writing, I discovered that the quickest way to master hand control and writing legibly was from a standing position. The body should be evenly balanced for poise and control of the pen, with the writing surface at a convenient height. I had never heard of such a writing strategy before, yet as I listened to James I was struck by how obvious it seemed. Interestingly, James had not been consciously aware, until now, of how he made his initial breakthrough or what his actual strategy had been.

Installing a New Habit

I set my intention to spend six to ten minutes each day for 30 days writing for either clarity, speed or flow. I maintain my new habit by spending two minutes a day writing 'to do' and shopping lists, whilst standing up. Within a month I could write fluently with either hand.

If you want to enhance your performance in any sphere then the best way to do this is to model the behaviours of the people around you who already have these skills.

What to Look for when Modelling a Skill

  • What are the beliefs that support the skill the person is demonstrating? Listen for words like 'I believe', 'I think', It's important that…'
  • Pay attention to how people's body language and demeanour changes as they recount or run their strategy. Physical movements affect how we think, so modelling someone physically will help you to get into synch with their thinking.
  • Don't ask people 'why' they do things, instead ask 'how' they do them. This is a cleaner way of questioning which does not impose on people's own model of the world.

Choose a Skill you want to Acquire

Modelling other people's winning strategies will give you a deeper understanding of how to achieve excellence than textbook learning ever could. You get new insights into the behaviour, beliefs, state of mind and sensory experiences that make up the whole experience when a person is performing a task at their best. There are thousands of skills permutations you can model. Some everyday abilities that people around you may display, one of which you might like to model, are:

  • How to pay or receive compliments;
  • Making good decisions quickly;
  • Capturing the essence of a book or a complex situation;
  • The ability to assemble flat pack furniture;
  • Sorting clutter;
  • Stopping mind chatter and becoming focused.

Capturing the Essence – (Simplifying complex information)

Janette Hurles, an advanced modeller, did a lot of research reading for work and wanted to find a way of distilling the essence of what was in the books. She chose three people to model who were excellent at this skill.

Through modelling these people she discovered that: 'They all thought systemically at a very basic level. They believed that all information was connected and part of a bigger picture'. Detachment and objectivity seemed to be the key to all three peoples' strategies.

"If they are distilling information from a book, the people all hold the information in a map within their senses and they'll create a picture of the issue, and come up with a premise. So they'll think 'Okay, so this is what this is about'. One person said their picture was: a 'spider' with tentacles where different sorts of information was held. Another person said their picture was: 'Almost like a globe of the world'. There were bits where they would say: 'This fits into this and that into that'. So, as they're going through a meeting or book, what they're doing is looking for connections and relationships to their own internal model."

Modelling requires you to take on the beliefs, physiology and strategies of another person performing a skill you'd like to acquire. Start looking for people who display talents you admire and would like to have. Begin modelling by asking them: "how do you do that?"


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About Frances Coombes

Frances Coombes Advanced Dip CBT/REBT Dip CBT offers one-to-one therapeutic coaching in North West London and on Zoom.  She is a is a CBT/REBT psychotherapist in North West London, a NLP Master Practitioner and Rational Emotional Behaviour Therapist and runs life coaching groups in London and on Zoom.  She teaches NLP at The City Lit in Central London and tutors at the City Lit and Mary Ward Centre in central London on Using REBT for Managing Stress and NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming). She runs goal setting and REBT coaching groups for vulnerable people for inner London authorities and charities.  

Her most recent book is Motivate Yourself and Reach Your Goals, pub, November 2013, Hodder Headline. Available on and  For extract visit To inquire or book personal development courses contact Frances on Tel: 07818 896 795; 


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