In time, observe time — why not both?

Updated 14 August 2015, version 1.1

How a person represents “now” on their timeline or other time representation has a big effect on their quality of life.

  • If they are in time, with their timeline running through their body (or they stand inside a “time tube”), they are probably good at being present in the moment. However, they may stay so in the moment that they have trouble keeping appointments or planning ahead.
  • If they observe time, standing outside the “now” so they have perspective and can see the future from now, they can probably remember appointments and plan ahead. However, they might find it difficult to enjoy the moment because they always see, hear, and think about their future and/or past.

Each option has useful elements, and it would be nice to have them all, rather than having to pick one or the other. That’s why I developed the following technique.

Creating a both/and “now”

My frame for doing timeline tune-ups is that the client and I are going to provide their brain with a bunch of options for how to work their timeline. Their brain will then automatically choose those options that work best for them.

After eliciting their timeline and determining whether they are in time or observe time, I have them try the other version.

I then have them compare the two, pointing out the advantages and disadvantages of each.

Next I suggest that it would be useful to have both options. I have them double their timeline at “now.” The “in time” section goes through their body; the “observe time” section goes in front of them where they can see it. Visually, it’s rather like a river splitting to go around an island.

Once they have both options, I instruct them to vary how much of the timeline goes through each pathway:

  • If they want to be present in the moment, they can have most of their timeline “in time” going through their body. I suggest they keep only enough “observe time” outside their body to remind them of upcoming events, and to make sure their current behavior supports their future plans and goals.
  • If they want to plan ahead, they can keep most of their timeline “observe time” outside their body, with just enough “in time” that they become present to now and sensory experience when that’s appropriate.

Next, I talk them through practicing and future-pacing various examples.

  • If they are relaxing on the beach or hanging out with their children, they might want 99% of their timeline to be in time. They can retain just enough observe time to remind them of an appointment later.
  • If they need to do planning at work, they might want 95% of their timeline to be observe time. They can stay just enough in time to respond appropriately when a colleague or customer needs to connect with them.
  • At a business dinner they might want to be 50% observe time, so they can plan ahead and notice the future implications of their current actions and decisions, and 50% in time so they can enjoy the food and conversation, and bond with their colleagues.

I have them pick several examples in the near future where each option might be useful. In each, I have them practice adjusting how much of their timeline is in time and observe time. Finally I suggest that from now on, their mind will automatically adjust their timeline to make it appropriate to what they’re doing.

So far, every person I have done this with chose to keep their adjustable in time/observe time “now.” Including me! It is delightful to be able to be thoroughly in the moment, knowing that at the appropriate time, I’ll remember other tasks and appointments. It’s also nice to go deep into abstract thinking mode, and still notice and appreciate delicious food, beautiful sunsets, and great people.

So much of NLP is about adding choices. Adding both/and options to what many people assume are digital either/or choices can do a lot to improve quality of life — for both you and your clients.

Want to experiment?

This is an NLP development blog, and you can participate by testing NLP patterns and suggestion improvements. Try today’s intervention on yourself or a client, and report the results in the Comments section below. Thanks for participating!



In time, observe time — why not both? — 3 Comments

  1. I am personally uncomfortable with dividing attention between two different timelines. When I try that, both images are fuzzy and somewhat unreal. If this is only an initial momentary choice point, it can work for me, but I don’t like the idea of X% attention on one and Y% on the other. I realize that may say more about me personally than about what is useful.

    However, I have a alternative way to integrate “in time” and “observe time” (what previously was called “through time”) that works well for me and has also worked well for others when I have offered it to them.

    When you elicit an observe time timeline, which typically goes from left to right, there are two very different possibilities. The line can go in front of the person — or if it is physicalized on the floor, underneath the person, in which case the person is separated from the timeline, dissociated from it. The other possibility is that the line goes through the person’s body — usually the chest and/or belly. This means that the person is fully associated into the present moment, while still able to observe the past and future. To me this is a more integrated way of being. And of course, someone might take Joy’s instruction and modify it in the way I have outlined.

    There is another factor, encouraged by the word “line” in “timeline,” namely that the flow of time is a narrow line, rather than an area or tube, or infinite panorama. If you visualize the flow of time as an infinite space, all of which is shifting and changing as time flows, that creates a greater sense of being immersed in (associated in) the present moment — even when visualizing the past and future to the left and right.

    For the record, when Connirae and I were first exploring the submodalities of time in 1983, we didn’t use the word “timeline,” we just explored how people represented the past, present, and future, and how those representations were related to each other in space. By doing it in this way, many fascinating elements emerged that would not have if we had used the word “line.”

    For instance, one person used transparency in an interesting way. He viewed a representation of a less recent past THROUGH a representation of a more recent past, and did the same for the future. This created a much more integrated flow than viewing events as being like a sequence of beads on a string.

    Another woman saw her future possibilities as bubbles floating in space, sometimes exchanging position, becoming larger or smaller, nearer or farther. These bubbles were only constrained by a cone of space, expanding into the more distant future.

    My future grows out into the distance, gradually as I plan and take action in the present. I visualize this as ice slowly freezing in needles in water, moving out. The more distant future is all water, the immediate future is mostly ice (determined) and my intermediate future is a mixture of ice and water.

    Many people have literal “turning points” where their timeline changes direction sharply, often obscuring portions of their history. And sometimes with significant consequences.

    For instance, some people have timelines that end abruptly. Someone who had a traumatic event will say, “My life ended that day,” while others may have a definite future ending paralleling a parent’s heart attack at a certain age (or a doctor’s prediction that they have six months to live) and this will affect their lives very strongly. If someone is dead already, “nothing matters,” and if someone “knows” they will die soon, there is no point in planning.

    If you try out several of these possibilities — and there are many, many more — you can realize that the word “line” in “timeline” limits your conception of time, and what you are likely to think of changing for a client.

    Later others reduced this wonderful complexity into two alternatives. For many purposes the two alternatives are enough to make a useful change, but it leaves out a lot of fascinating details that are sometimes quite significant and useful.

    Steve Andreas

  2. Thanks for your in-depth reply, Steve. I especially appreciate the many interesting examples.

    When I try your version of a both/and timeline, I have to vary the height in order to achieve various levels of association and dissociation. For me to associate fully, the timeline must pass through my chest. For me to begin to dissociate, I must move the timeline down. By the time I fully dissociate from “now,” I’m standing on it, so it is less visible than my version. However, I can feel the texture I’m standing on, which I can’t in my version.

    I too have found “timelines” an oversimplification. I worked with a brilliant physicist whose time “line” consisted of several intertwined helices, some carrying events and others carrying resources. Once I started investigating contextual time coding, a subject I’ll post more about, I encountered some very bizarre structures.

    “Time coding,” “time representations,” “time structures,” or “time constructs” might better describe the many interesting ways in which people represent time. (Vote your preference…)


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