One of the well respected trainers (early on in my NLP training) took a small group of us aside and says, “hey, do you know what my secret is… the one thing that I do that most other NLP Practitioners fail to do… The thing that has transformed my results and let’s me get much better results than 98% of most other NLP’ers?”

“…It’s future pacing!”

Now, years later I suspect that, whilst he might have been over-stating things (just a tad), I recognise that he certainly piqued my interest and generated a high level of curiousity to find out more about what he meant.

And whilst I’m sure many of you will be familiar with the concept of future pacing I do want to ensure that everyone is on the same page (so to speak) so let me take a moment and explain exactly what I’m referring to.

Imagine someone comes to see you because… an unpleasant past experience, filled with anxiety, has been negatively effecting them on an ongoing basis.

Using a variety of tools you help them enter a good, resourceful state and then you connect this state to the past experience (collapsing anchors). At this point you even test your work… “Think of that unpleasant past experience”, you say, noticing that their non-verbal response is now very different from that anxious response they had first exhibited. Surely this is a sign that “my work here is done!”? I certainly know of many NLP practitioners that would chalk up a success at this point sending them away with this “lasting” change.

For me future pacing is all about taking this positive change and connecting it up to the places/times/contexts in the future where this resourceful state would be more useful than the old response. To me, it’s not good enough that they no longer feel anxious or emotionally overwhelmed by that unpleasant past experience, don’t we want to do what we can to ensure that, should a similar experience pop up in the future, they are better able to deal effectively with it?

So having taught us about this “future pacing concept” we went away in pairs practicing this new technique and now the room was packed with NLP’ers doing the following:

[IN DRAMATIC AND POWERFUL VOICES] “And with that great feeling inside… NOW… see yourself doing all those things that you have always wanted to do… living the way you have always dreamed of… handling every situation that could possibly arise with TOTAL ease… inner calmness and ferocious resourcefulness… imagine living as your ideal self…” and so on… Blah blah blah blah blah.

Sounded good to me at the time… And the truth is I still hear a lot of people bringing this kind of future pacing out of their proverbial toolbox.

But like most things, the “WHAT” future pacing is, is different from “HOW” can you do it to maximise results.

So let me share with you a few key ideas around the “HOW’s” of future pacing to give you an opportunity to refresh your thinking about it and/or give you an opportunity to incorporate these ideas into your work.

1) ASSOCIATED OR DISSOCIATED?

A fundamental aspect of pervasive and lasting change-work is getting any new behaviours to generalise into the clients life.

Therapeutically speaking, a lot of typical future pacing focuses on getting the client to enter resourceful states at which point we get them to associate into future events (experiencing things mentally as though they were really there (Seeing through their own eyes, hearing through their own ears etc).

Doing this tends to anchor and connect the resource feelings to these events.

Let me give you a real example, if they have already practiced mentally seeing and hearing the dentist drill coming towards their face whilst feeling calm, then when they sit in the dentist chair, the “seeing” and “hearing” of the dentist drill coming towards them becomes a trigger for the calm state. Their brain goes, “Hey… I’ve seen this before… I know what feeling is supposed to come up here and bingo, out pops the resource state!

This is great… but it’s also important to realise that this type of associated future pacing is not necessarily the most effective way of future pacing in all contexts.

For example, let’s say someone comes to see you because they want more motivation to go to the gym. I know many people who would simply help the client generate a powerful good feeling (perhaps of accomplishment) and then get them to see what they would be seeing as though they have been to the gym already (e.g.”Feel how good it feels now you have already been to the gym successfully and your body is healthier and your mind clearer and more alert”)

However, there is a pitfall and a dark side to be aware of that Gabriele Oettingen’s book “Rethinking Positive Thinking” very eloquently outlines.

Whilst getting people to associate into successful outcomes is effective in so far as it gets them to feel the feelings of success as though they have already achieved it… It doesn’t always equate to action being taken.

Gabriele reveals that in this situation, people can (almost counter intuitively) end up feeling less motivated to take real action. Think of it this way…

If you have already had the feeling of accomplishment for having done something then you DON’T need to actually do it anymore to have the feeling of accomplishment!

This in many ways could be termed, “premature bliss”.

In fact, there are many people who end up getting stuck living in fantasy worlds thinking of all the things that they are hoping to achieve but never actually achieving any of it.

For example, they are so busy imagining how life will be when they have made their millions (and enjoying the fantasy of that) they take less action to make it a reality.

Instead, getting them to future pace the results they want from a dissociated position (make a mental picture where they see themselves having done it) can work more effectively. This acts as a way of setting a direction but without the kinaesthetics (associated with the achievement) getting in the way.

On a side note, check out information about the “Zeigarnick” effect and the idea that humans like completion. Picturing yourself doing it, without getting the feelings of having done could be said to be a little like beginning the process, or “opening a loop”which in turn means that it becomes kind of compelling to move towards closure.

In practice though I often use both associated and dissociated future pacing but it’s important to understand the different effects and uses they both have. I think of it like this:

Associated future pacing:

  • Used as a way of state elicitation
  • Testing out how a perceived set of kinesthetic resources may work for them in their given situation
  • But most importantly it is used to link up and anchor the needed resources to future triggers so they emerge at just the right times.

Dissociated future pacing:

  • Is about increasing the chances of the client taking action over a particular project or goal, by giving their mind a direction. Kind of like sowing the idea in their mind of them actually achieving something without dis-empowering them with a false sense of achievement ahead of time.

Looking at it this way, how about using dissociated future pacing when they think about a long-term goal or project in its entirety but use associated future pacing to anchor the resources that they need to overcome any challenges that might get in the way of the long-term goal being achieved. Just a thought!

2) FOCUS THEM ON THE MUNDANE:

Often some people can have a tendency (especially when they are in heightened positive/resource/flow states) to leap to an imagined “super-success”.

For example, “imagine your future now you have this amazing feeling inside” could be translated as…

Going to the gym 3 times a day, running up Mount Everest with ease, beating Usain Bolt at the 100 meters, NEVER eating ANY form of junk food EVER again etc.

This is all well and good but I would argue this would be a poor future pace (although maybe it could work successfully as a way of amplifying a positive state).

The question really is, “are you future pacing something that is maintainable or realistic?” Yes sure, some sensible outcome based thinking is needed but a suggestion that I have found very useful is to play around with pacing their resources with the mundane.

For example, “Notice, now you feel so positive [or other resource state], what’s different about even doing the little things throughout each day… making a cup of tea (very british I know!), brushing your teeth, getting dressed in the morning, going to work, eating lunch… just discover how this change also positively affects all these little things… and after you notice what’s now different about the way you simply walk down the street you will get a chance to explore the difference in yourself as you do even the simplest of tasks with the experience that this positive change has brought”.

This gives them a chance to integrate the change-work, in a realistic way, into their lives. In other words, it gives them an increased chance to experience tangible change, which in turn gathers momentum. You see, it’s unlikely that they will leave your session and head straight off for Mount Everest, but you can be fairly sure that they will brush their teeth within the next 24 hours (one would hope!).

So by default, you have now created multiple opportunities for them to discover that change has happened, which in turn begins to build momentum and help the change generalise in their desired direction.

3) MAKE IT TANGIBLE

Get highly specific with your future pacing. Rather than just sticking with the general, “imagine flying with ease from now on”, why not choose the next flight specifically and future pace key moments of that process in detail.

For example, “In your mind’s eye… float to 3 weeks from now and notice the butterflies of excitement as you check in for that flight to Spain… and that look on the security guards face that gives you that feeling of security helps you know that you can keep this good feeling inside… Walking down the tunnel to board the plane now feels so comfortable. Etc”

So whilst you might go on and begin to broaden out your future pacing to more general themes… it’s nice to keep it tangible first because…

How real and tangible you make the future pace can effect how real and tangible the results of change-work become.

FINAL THOUGHTS:

Play around with these ideas and discover for yourself how future pacing in a tangible way, with sprinkling of the mundane and a hint of dissociation can help guide your clients achieve increased levels of change-work success.

And as always, DON’T simply take my word for the fact that these things work. Put them into practice and notice the effects they have for yourself.

Your comments and thoughts are appreciated below…