NLP Swish Pattern ~ What Makes it Work and Why it Fails

NLP swish pattern enthusiasts get pretty hyped about the power of the swish. And they should.

The swish pattern is fast and smooth and such a ninja move! Imagine, someone comes in struggling with a bad habit they’ve had for years. They leave the session totally energized and never do that habit again. The swish pattern has been a small miracle for some.

But what makes the swish pattern work?

And why does it fail at times? Better, what does an NLP practitioner do when the mighty swish turns out to be a mighty dud?

It happens. You’ll be sitting with a client trying to set up the swish pattern and get a lukewarm response. Or confusion. And when you attempt to swish them onto glory, they aren’t having any.

Let’s take a closer look at the swish pattern in NLP and see what we can discover. There are a couple of key elements in the swish that you’ve got to get right. 

What is the NLP Swish Pattern?

The swish pattern is a classic NLP technique that is most often used to help people overcome automatic habits that are hard to let go. Smoking, nail-biting, overeating, and sudden emotional reactions are a few of the many swish-able problems.

The swish pattern falls into a category of Neuro-Linguistic Programming called submodalities (VAK model), which refer to the qualities of our inner imagery, sounds, and feelings. Once we understand the structure of our thoughts and feelings, we can change that structure. The swish pattern is one way to alter our inner world that happens to transform unwanted habits.


swish pattern working nlpWhat Makes the Swish Pattern Work?

The transformation happens during the swish pattern technique when the client realizes that becoming the person she wants to be is worth letting go of the bad habit.

Swishing – or installing a new self-image in place of the bad habit cue image – is a way to train your mind away from the habit and toward becoming a more developed person.

This all came about as early NLP developers modeled people who had naturally overcome bad habits, without intervention.

The most common finding was that when people were confronted with the choice to do the bad habit (light a cigarette, for example) they immediately imagined themselves happier and healthier as a non-smoker. Seeing themselves as better off being non-smokers, they found it much easier to skip the smoke.

NLP trainers turned this into a technique – the swish pattern. The idea is to use what worked with people who naturally overcame bad habits and teach it to people who struggle. In NLP, we call that process modeling. 

The Moral of the Swish Pattern Story

You must be able to see yourself as happier, healthier, and much better off without your bad habit. And you must be inspired by what you see!

This is the swish pattern in a nutshell. The particulars of the technique (size/brightness vs. distance/color, speed of the swishing, and various technicalities) are just that – finer points that are important to execute, but will do you no good if the client isn’t genuinely inspired by seeing the person she will become after she no longer needs the bad habit.

In our NLP practitioner certification, I make sure to emphasize this point. When clients are creating an image of themselves as someone who no longer needs the habit, that image must be both real and inspiring. They need to feel the inspiration when they see themselves as a non-doer of the habit. If they don’t, it doesn’t matter how well you execute the technical pieces of the swish pattern itself.

When you’re doing a swish pattern, do not overlook this most important element. You should see the inspiration on your client’s face when viewing the new self-image. If you don’t, then you need to work on that image to make it inspiring. What’s missing? Is there an ecology concern? A limiting belief in the way? Work it out before you actually swish.

Otherwise, you’re just going through the swishy motions, training your client to give up a seductive bad habit and replace it with a mediocre sense of self. Not gonna happen.

The Other Pitfall of the Swish Pattern

swish pattern get realOften when clients create these self-images, they are indeed inspired, but there’s another problem. The new image is…..pure fantasy. For example, your client imagines himself without the need to smoke and what does he see? The King of the World!

His new self-image is fantastical and his subconscious mind is too smart to fall for this kind of trickery. The new self-image needs to be both inspirational and realistic. Fantasies don’t work. Some part of him absolutely will not be fooled and when the moment of truth comes, that cigarette will end up in his mouth.

Summing It Up

We can sum up the swish pattern by the key principle upon which is works.

When you can genuinely see yourself happier and healthier without your bad habit and are inspired by the vision, you will find it much easier to stop the habit by reminding yourself whom you want to become.

That’s the NLP swish pattern!

About Mike Bundrant

Mike Bundrant is a retired psychotherapist, Master NLP trainer, and practicing life coach. He and his wife, Hope, co-founded iNLP Center in 2011.

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