NLP Basics – Speed-Hacking your Brain for Motivation and Confidence


We all have limiting beliefs and attitudes. Overcoming and reframing these interpretations has a huge impact on our satisfaction and happiness in life, but many people have to work on their personal stumbling blocks for years before they see results. What if you could permanently boost your motivation and confidence overnight? Or quickly and easily eliminate long-standing fears and phobias?

Neuro Linguistic Programming claims to achieve just this…to allow people to rapidly and easily “reprogram” deep-seated attitudes, fears and beliefs.

NLP – a method for rapid, mental change

NLP is a technique resulting from studies on the essence of change.

The central metaphor of NLP, as you might guess from its name, is that your brain is like a computer; a device which turns inputs into outputs. Our attitudes and beliefs represent the “software” installed in the “hardware” that is our brain matter. Throughout our lives, we “program” ourselves (aka learn) to respond in certain ways to certain stimuli.  If you don’t like the way you behave or react in a given situation, all that’s necessary is to “upgrade” the software to something which gives you more of the results you want. And just like your computer, once you’ve upgraded the software and eliminated the problem, the changes are immediate and permanent.


NLP can help you :

-Build your self-belief
-Get Motivated
-Develop a Vision/Mission for your life
-Increase your abilities in Rapport & Persuasion
-Eliminate Fears and Phobias


2 Powerful (and simple) NLP techniques

There are a myriad of NLP routines out there, and as such I’m going to restrict this post to two of most popular and effective “patterns” (aka, reprogramming routines), as devised by the original founders of NLP.

For greatest effect, it is suggested that you record yourself speaking the following instructions aloud (I use the audio notes function on my iphone), then play it back, pausing the recording as you work on each step.


The Swish Pattern – Building confidence in specific situations

In this exercise, you imagine a situation in which you regularly feel unconfident. Some examples of situations this pattern can help with might be public speaking, making a cold-call, approaching an attractive stranger, or perhaps competing in a sport or activity of some kind.

  1. Identify a Cue Image – Imagine a situation in which you regularly feel unconfident. Visualize this situation intensely, becoming aware of any other images, sounds or physical sensations you associate with it. Set this image aside
  2. Distraction – To completely set aside this situation, say your telephone number out loud. Then again, backwards.
  3. Create a Resourceful Self-Image – In your minds eye, see a future version of yourself, a “resourceful you”, that has already solved this problem with methods yet to occur to you. Make the image of this “future you” large, colorful and bright. Notice yourself feeling drawn to this future you. Now imagine this “future you” saying in a frank and honest tone “I feel good about myself”. Let yourself feel the good feelings this “future you” is experiencing.
  4. Practice Expanding the Resourceful Self-Image (RSI) – Next, compress the future you image into a tiny, sparkling dot. Allow it to rapidly expand to lifesize. Now imagine a blank screen, place the sparkling dot on the screen and repeat this process several times until the rapid expansion of the image becomes automatic.
  5. Place the RSI Dot in the Cue Image – Now place the sparkling dot on your cue image.
  6. Swish – Rapidly expand the dot over the Cue Image until it completely encompasses the image. Feel the good feelings your RSI feels.
  7. Blank Screen – Now imagine a blank screen, like in a movie theater.
  8. Repeat – Repeat steps 5-7 10x. Place the dot on the Cue Image, Swish, experience your RSI’s good feelings, and imagine a Blank Screen.
  9. Multiply the RSI – Shrink your RSI to the size of a playing card, and multiply it until you have a stack. Leave one full size RSI image in front of you, while you throw the rest into the air. Watch them raining down around you in concentric circles, as far as your eye can see, expanding to full size as the land. Feel the positive feelings of all your RSIs.
  10. Test your Work – Now that you’ve run through the pattern several times, test your work by going back to the original Cue Image. Do you still have the unpleasant feelings you originally did? If you still do, repeat the pattern from the beginning.


The Fast Phobia Pattern – Eliminating Phobias

This pattern is for eliminating long-standing phobias. It is recommended that you practice with less intense phobias before moving on to more intense ones.

  1. Fearful Situation – Think of a situation that makes you moderately fearful (cold-calling, giving a presentation, etc)
  2. Movie Theater – Imagine yourself in a movie theater, with the screen showing the movie of your fearful situation. The movie is paused at the moment just before you experience the unpleasant, fearful feeling.
  3. Leave your Body – Leave your theater watchers body, and float up to the projection booth, where you can watch yourself watching the movie of yourself in the fearful situation
  4. Watch the Movie – From this vantage point, let the movie of the situation run in black and white, watch until the you in the movie is no longer experiencing the fear and feels safe again.
  5. Run the Movie Backward – Freeze the movie at this point. Leave the projection booth, step into the still picture on the screen, and experience the situation backwards, in full color and sound. Allow this to happen rapidly, in about 1.5 seconds, as if being sucked through a giant vacuum cleaner. Do this step several times if you feel it would be helpful. When you’re done, actually move your physical body and shake out.
  6. Checking – Think of the experience again, and rate your fear on a scale of 1-10. If it is more than a 2, do the pattern again, taking your time to do each step thoroughly.


How NLP works

Now that we’ve seen two of the most effective exercises, how does NLP work?

NLP has a number of suppositions. The first and most basic is one you’ve likely heard before:

“The map is not the territory”.

This supposition recognizes that fact that our perceptions of the world are not the world, but merely interpretations. These interpretations as a whole can be likened to “mental maps”, and it is to these interpretations that we respond and react. In short, our emotional responses (how we FEEL about a situation) are based on our own subjective interpretations/maps of reality. These maps are far easier to change than reality.

Thus, the work of NLP is to deliberately construct your mental maps so as to help you have the emotional reactions you find most useful in a given situation.

For example, public speaking is the number 1 fear in the world…many people fear it more than death. Yet for most of us, speaking in public is not as dangerous as our emotional and physical reactions would suggest. For many, it would be preferable if public speaking filled us with a sense of calm, excitement and confidence.

NLP accomplishes this “map restructuring” by changing the strength of associations between ideas, feelings and situations. In the first exercise, you learned a method to create powerful associations of well-being in a situation that normally has negative associations. In the second exercise, you learned a method to dissociate yourself from the negative aspects of a past experience or phobia. Both of the exercises utilized visualizations heavily.

Associations are strengthened and weakened through the senses, especially through the sense of sight. NLP was one of the first methods for personal change that sought to boost achievement by modeling successful individuals as opposed to “fixing” unsuccessful individuals. While studying high achievers for the essence of success, the founders of NLP discovered that people who are successful visualize their desired outcomes in rich and intense visual and sensory detail. They also found that people who have phobias or experience difficulties with self-esteem experienced their failures and visions of negative outcomes in equally rich detail, but had very vague and fuzzy images of successful outcomes for themselves.

Strong associations are characterized by large, richly detailed images, in full color and sound – the visualization feels “real” and generates a strong emotional response. Dissociations on the other hand, are characterized by small, distant, black and white images, low levels of detail, and generate little to zero emotional response. NLP uses “patterns” to help you associate strongly with positive outcomes, situations, responses and memories, and dissociate with negative ones.

We are all different in the details of how we associate, and this is where submodalities come in. For example, over time I may notice that images with which I have positive associations tend to be accompanied by a specific soundtrack and lighting, lets say fast paced house music and golden light. I also notice that my negative associations are accompanied by the Jaws soundtrack and red lighting. These are my submodalities for positive and negative feelings. If I want to be unfazed by a normally negative experience, lets say getting hung up on during a cold-call, then I can incorporate those positive sub-modalities into my patterns addressing those situations.


3 Perceptual Positions – The Essence of “Remapping”

As we’ve seen so far, remapping happens when we consider a situation from a new perceptual position. We’ve already see two perceptual positions – association and dissociation – the “self” and “observer” perspectives respectively. A third perspective is also possible, that of the “other”.

We take on “other” perspectives all the time, especially when watching movies or theater. When you’re watching a gripping movie, you identify with the characters on the screen thoroughly share their emotional experience. You may even experience physical reactions, such as sweaty palms during a chase scene.

The book claims Gandhi’s skill in negotiation was due largely to his being able to move between different perceptual positions. One person who worked with him reported that in preparation for negotiations, he would walk around the house using the body language and posture of the Briton he was negotiating with, as he contemplated that person’s interests and options. He also said that he considered his negotiation outcomes through the “eyes of the world”, a clear reference to his use of the  “observer” perspective.

In summary, the “self” position helps bring us closer to behaviors and responses we want. The observer position helps us to become more objective, as well as distance ourselves from responses and behaviors we don’t want. The “other” perspective is particularly useful in resolving disputes and negotiations. NLP considers the ability to shift between these perspectives at will as the core of achievement, genius and wisdom.



The book as a whole is basically a Purpose Finding and Goal Setting workbook, with some NLP “attitude reprogramming” exercises scattered throughout.

At the end, they present a 21 day program for working with all the material, which would be a powerful resource for someone looking to implement the NLP method thoroughly.

In closing, what do you think about NLP? Have you ever used any NLP patterns before? How did they work for you?



8 thoughts on “NLP Basics – Speed-Hacking your Brain for Motivation and Confidence

  1. Hey man,
    very interesting article, I test the last one I guess.
    Is remapping better than being mapped?
    Isn´t life without being mapped better? Do you know vipassana meditation? This should eridacite the mapping behavior of your mind.
    Cheers mate!

  2. Rafael

    Hi Max – nice article. I was curious about this statement: “people who are successful visualize their desired outcomes in rich and intense visual and sensory detail. ”
    Do you know where I might be able to find how this can actually be modeled? More specifically, if there is a successful person whose process of visualizing his/her future has been studied in great detail.

    • Maximilian Breckbill

      Hi Rafael!

      Dan Peña would claim to be doing this :).

      He’s an interesting case. But I don’t think he’s been studied in a scientific fashion.

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