Saturday, January 9, 2010

The Easiest Embedded Commands

They say, "before you begin to learn Zen, the trees are trees and the flowers are flowers. Then you begin to learn Zen and the trees are no longer trees and the flowers no longer flowers. But when you've learned it all, once again, the trees are trees and the flowers, flowers.

I don't know much about Zen, but I do know a little NLP, and I know that saying is very true for NLP. For example, once upon a time, a greeting was a greeting, and I never thought twice about it. Then I began to learn NLP, and everything became an opportunity to practice a skill, greetings included. The only difference is that with NLP, even after greetings become greetings again, they're still opportunities to practice.

Here are two that I had fun with, and I think you will too.

For decades, I'd pass coworkers in the halls at the places I worked and they'd absently say "How are you," to acknowledge my presence. If I was busy, or unmotivated, or in that office fugue-state that many of us spend our lives in, I'd absently respond "fine, thanks."

That's how it goes in most places, and no one thinks twice about it, but it's a great opportunity that folks like us shouldn't let pass! Here are some ways you can use it to improve your skills, learn about consciousness, and brighten the day for the people around you.

First one: I didn't like the numbness that infects offices and so, just as often, I'd respond with something like "too early to tell!" or "just terrible!" You can imagine that it stopped 'em cold. Invariably, they'd stop, and look up with a confused, blank stare. Of course I delivered the line with a big smile, and when they saw the smile, they got the joke, and it made them smile, too.

What was going on? In NLP lingo this is a break state, a technique that breaks, momentarily, whatever mental state the other person happens to be in. See, no one ever asks "how are you" because they really want to know. It's just an automatic ritualized way to acknowledge another's presence. Since it is a ritual, there's also a ritualized response, "fine, thanks," and as long as the the expected response is given, the pattern is completed with very little conscious awareness.

When you give an unexpected, non-ritualized response, it disrupts the expected pattern, and the person who initiated the sequence is suddenly brought totally into the moment. That's why they stop and look up at you: they need more data so they can adapt their pattern and complete it. This process is instantaneous, and mostly unconscious (instantaneous responses are usually mostly unconscious responses). As soon as they look at you they get the data they need: your radiant smile! It's not the expected response, but still gives them input they need to complete the pattern and get on with their day. The difference is that you've brought their awareness fully into the present, if only for a moment, and in that moment, your smile has also embedded a suggestion for happiness into their psyche.

Cool, huh?

Here's another: When they say/ask "how are you" look 'em in the eye and respond "Feeling fantastic!" Have a warm smile and exaggerated tonality, so you're really projecting "feeling fantastic" with your voice, too.

What's happening: Again, they initiate the ritual pattern with their greeting. You respond using direct but natural eye contact as you say "feeling fantastic!" Notice you DON'T say "I'm feeling fantastic." Rather you want to issue the command to feel fantastic, in a way that should elicit (bring up) feeling really good. It's almost a direct command, but it's embedded in the ritual context of the greeting. It's also issued at the same time as you make eye contact, so that their attention is split between two sensory inputs, and they're less conscious of either. Finally, as they're bringing up the feeling of fantastic-ness, they're looking right at you so the good feeling is anchored to you! It doesn't obviously have much impact at first, but will condition them to feel good when they see you!

If the explanations make this all seem complicated, just ignore them, but please do the techniques and see what thay can do for you! Feel free to post your responses and questions!

You can download this article here:
Easy Embedded Command


  1. So simple, but of course not so simple. I do not work in an office environment but when I remember I try to look store clerks in the eye and create engagement. Now I can think about this a little deeper and use the opportunity to create consciousness (and of course practice!).

  2. While the unexpected responses to "How are you?" are fun the NLP explanations are fluff -- much like the medieval nonsense of "How many angels can dance on the head of a pin?"

  3. Bryan, fair enough, but I'm not sure what you're getting at. Did I get it wrong, or are you saying there's not such thing as a pattern interrupt? As I said, if the explanations don't seem hoyle, ignore them, but do play with the techniques--you will get results, whatever your explanation.

  4. For years, I've enjoyed pattern interrupting "How are you?" with positive responses that awaken people and cheer them up.

    I hadn't thought of using embedded commands, however. Thanks for the great suggestion! I'm going to make "Feeling fantastic!" my new automatic response. ;-)

    Joy Livingwell