Eliciting fast sequences: time distortion and alternatives

by Steve Andreas, Joy Livingwell, and Jan Saeger

In working with clients and developing NLP interventions, we frequently find it useful to elicit the sequences and submodalities of how people do things.

Even “instant” state shifts get triggered somehow. Time distortion comes in handy because a very complex sequence may run in under a second, making it difficult for the person to consciously understand it. “It just happens!”

Once you understand the structure and sequence someone uses, you can intervene to change it. Depending on what you find, you can deactivate the trigger of high-speed, automatic sequences using a Swish, the Trauma Process, a doyletic Speed Trace, the Compulsion Blowout, or a variety of other techniques.

Here are several methods that work to elicit fast sequences:

Time distortion using a touch anchor — Joy Livingwell

  1. Play a disassociated movie of an experience you had when time seemed distorted — the more time-distorted, the better. Observe yourself in that experience. Examples:
    • Transitioning from freeway driving to surface streets, where “fast” speeds (45 m.p.h.) seem slow
    • Waiting in line, or any situation where time seems to crawl
    • Waking from a nap that seemed hours long, but only lasted minutes
  2. Associate into the memory to get the state, and set a touch anchor.
  3. Pick a marker in a different representational system than the content you want to slow down. For instance, to slow down a picture sequence, I prolong closed-eye “blinks.” (Unlike breathing, I can slow blinks as much as I want to.)
  4. Play your marker at low speed and fire your touch anchor. Get a subjective sense of time distortion.
  5. Create a static representation of the beginning of the experience you want to slow down. For instance, start with a still picture.
  6. Gradually add motion. Adjust speed by slowing or speeding your marker (for instance, changing your slow-blink speed).

Jan Saeger and I suspect slow blinks work so well because blinking has both voluntary and involuntary control, so can map across to both systems.

Time distortion using a timeline — Jan Saeger

  1. Give the sequence you’re modeling a timeline. It helps to include a bit of time just before the incident starts so you have a moment to step into that isn’t part of the sequence.
  2. Stretch the timeline so it’s much longer. You might grab it and pull it out. Activating your motor and kinesthetic system seems to make changes more real and stable.
  3. Step into just before the incident begins, then walk its timeline at whatever speed you want. Stop moving to “freeze” the action.
  4. Optional: Observe the timeline from the right and left, and from above, to get perspective and more information about the situation. Observing from these three positions seems to get different information. Joy and I suspect this works because implicitly the right and left hemispheres have different viewpoints, and the overview unites them.

Reverse the sequence of steps 3 and 4 if you wish.

Alternatives to time distortion — Steve Andreas

I never had much luck creating time distortion — though I have experienced it in emergencies. I have better luck modeling by backing people up in time, by asking, “And what happened just before that?” “And before that?”

Sometimes it helps to point out that there must be something intervening. “So you look at a license plate, and then you get furious. Does that happen with every license plate you see? There must be something you do in between those two events.”

As you do this, look for the connections between events, and notice where there is something missing that you need to ask about.

Another way to model is what Richard Bandler often uses, the “Tell me how to do it” frame. “Let’s say I had to fill in for you for a day; part of my job would be to get furious from time to time. How would I do it?” Use this to get the cue and the sequence of images, feelings, and words/sounds that produces the result.

© 2004 by Joy Livingwell, Steve Andreas, and Jan Saeger, some rights reserved

Steve Andreas was one of the best-known developers of NLP, and author of numerous NLP books and articles. Joy Livingwell and Jan Saeger are NLP developers who collaborated for several years starting in 2003.


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