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Swish pattern study

swishSo how does the swish pattern actually work? How does switching one picture rapidly for another picture lead our brain in a new direction and allow us to replace problem states or behaviours with more useful states or behaviours?

Let's review the technique in a little more detail so as to gain a greater understanding of some of it's more subtle aspects.

Pattern interrupt

The swish is a form of pattern interrupt designed to assist us in changing direction - to interrupt the pattern we have been running (problem state or behaviour) and replace it with a more useful pattern (desired state or behaviour).

When we engage in the problem state or behaviour we are running a pattern that is coded and stored in our neurology.

Let's use for a moment a metaphor of our brain being a record player (or an MP3 player for those of you too old to remember what a record player looks like). When we engage the problem state or behaviour it's a lot like playing a record over and over (or listening to the same track on your MP3 player repeatedly).

What the pattern interrupt helps us to do is scratch the record (or scramble the MP3 data) so it can never be played in the same way again.

We then replace the record (or MP3) with a new tune - the desired state or behaviour.

Picture 1 - associated - present state - undesired

The first picture represents the behaviour or state that we wish to change. Hence it is something we have already experienced which is why we make the picture associated - as seen through our own eyes.

As we've already experienced this state or behaviour we'll probably have an internal representation of it which includes kinesthetics or feelings. As this state / behaviour is something we wish to change we will probably have negative feelings about it. Associating fully into the picture and seeing it through our own eyes also triggers the kinesthetics - putting us in touch with the negative feelings that we wish to move away from and creating a push effect - pushing us in the direction of.....

Picture 2 - dissociated - desired state

We create the second picture as dissociated to help to create momentum toward a compelling future. We are essentially showing ourselves how things could look and how we could look having made this change now.

People who move toward what they do want are usually more successful than people who move away from what they don't want.

By dissociating the second picture we help to project it internally not only as a worthwhile goal but also as something achievable in reality, and this creates momentum that pulls us toward this desired state.

The swish

The studies which led to the development of NLP techniques found that when we visualise images, the strength of the feelings we associate with the images can be directly affected by submodality distinctions such as the size of the image and the brightness.

Big, bright images up close in our field of vision usually trigger stronger feelings than small, dark images which are off in the distance. (This couldn't be why action movies are so much better on the cinema screen or why TV screens are growing in size almost daily, could it?)

Try it out - think of something that excites or scares you. Make the picture big and bright and pull it towards you until it's really, really close - you'll probably find the feelings you associate with the picture get stronger as it gets nearer, bigger and brighter.

Now gradually push the picture off into the distance. As it recedes into the distance it gets smaller and darker until it's hard to make out the detail of the image at all. As it slides away you'll probably find the effect it has on your feelings getting less and less.

Swish leverages these findings - we push the undesired image further away, which in turn makes it smaller and darker and less emotionally significant to us. In so doing we provide a clear instruction to our neurology that we wish to move away from this state / behaviour.

Then the desired image comes rushing back in at high speed to replace the undesired state / behaviour with the desired state / behaviour.

This too is an element of the swish that is vital to it's success. Whatever we take away - in this case the problem state / behaviour - must be replaced with something else - the desired state / behaviour. Our unconscious mind doesn't like gaps and, in the absence of something better, it will tend to fill the gap by replacing the problem state / behaviour right back where it came from.

The speed

The swish works best when it's done rapidly. Why? Because brains don't learn slowly - brains learn quickly.

Imagine being shown a picture on the first page of a small pad of paper and then, a week later, being shown the second page containing the same image again with some small changes. Imagine this process spanning several months, each week being shown subsequent pages with the image changing slighty each week from the week before.

If you were shown the pad in this way you would probably find it unremarkable, relatively meaningless and quite disinteresting.

It would only be when you were shown all of the pages in rapid succession that the greater meaning would become apparent as, through persistence of vision, your brain would connect all the disjointed images, see the pictures moving and realise that the pad was in fact a small motion picture in the form of a flick book (or flip book if you're from the USA).

Just as we can only fully understand the flick book when the pages are accessed quickly, our brains learn better when they are able to make connections between pieces of information quickly - which is why the swish works best when it's done at high speed.

Clear the screen (break state)

The direction of the swish pattern is old picture -> new picture -> clear the screen. Why do we clear the screen each time? Why not just switch back and forth between the two pictures?

We use the swish pattern to program our neurology to take us in a new direction - toward the desired state or behaviour and hence the process is sequential - step 1, step 2, step 3.

Simply accessing the two pictures repeatedly, one after the other, would suggest bouncing back and forth between the two or looping around constantly between the problem state / behaviour and the desired state / behaviour - which is absolutely not the outcome we are looking for. The process needs an exit point so that the unconscious knows that the end of the process has been reached. In NLP this exit point is known as a break state.

The clear screen step in the swish is a simple break state. By introducing the clear the screen step the pattern becomes move from the old state -> to the new state -> then exit, which is exactly the outcome we wish to produce.


The swish pattern also includes anchoring. The picture of the undesired state / behaviour becomes the stimulus which automatically triggers the response - the picture of the desired state / behaviour. This reinforces the instruction to our unconscious mind to leave the problem state / behaviour behind and move toward the desired state / behaviour.

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