Using submodalities

Prior knowledge required: Submodalities – a key for change

Actually, you are using them all the time, whether you know it or not. Any thought you have is built of the content of the thought, plus the properties or submodalities of that thought.

Any time you make a change in the way you think, the submodalities must change to encode the new way of thinking. So any tool or technique you use for change, whether from NLP or anywhere else, ultimately relies on changing the submodalities.

To use a computer metaphor, the submodalities are like the basic machine code that the computer uses directly. You can write a perfectly good program just using this; however, as any programmer will tell you, this is quite a job. To make things simpler, various high-level programming languages have been built which look a lot more like English, and are thus easier to understand, learn and write code with. These programming systems then convert the higher-level language into machine code in order for it run on a computer. These higher-level programming languages are akin to the various tools people use to generate change – tools such as visualisation, meditation, analysis and so on.

Some simple ways to use submodalities


Changing submodalities is a matter of personal experience and is difficult to convey in words. You just have to experiment – with a sense of play – to find out how it works for you. The rewards will be well worth the time spent finding out.

There are many techniques and exercises that work directly on the submodalities, and we have put a few of the simple ones in here for you to experiment with. The more complex tools – including ones that work directly on such things as changing beliefs – are better learnt from someone experienced in using them, and are beyond the scope of this resource.

Compelling future and motivation

Many of us set goals. How compelling are those goals?

One way you can make a goal more compelling is to change the submodalities of the outcome to increase its impact and attraction until these are so powerful you just have to have it.

Changing the submodalities of an outcome will influence whether we perceive it as positive, pleasurable and desirable, or negative, painful and frightening.

If the path to the goal involves some work you don’t much like, change the submodalities of that work so it loses impact and does not appear to loom so large in front of you.

Dissociation and association

A critical submodality for many memories is often whether you are associated into the memory or not.

  • Association means that you are re-experiencing the memory as though you are right in it, seeing what you saw, feeling what you felt and hearing what you heard.
  • Dissociation means that you are like a fly-on-the-wall observer, looking at yourself within the remembered event.

If you have any painful memories, make them dissociated and observe how you then feel about the event as you watch it unfold from the sidelines. You will notice that you will feel detached, and not involved with the event at an emotional level. If you have trouble getting dissociated, be stronger about leaping out of your body to land on the ceiling and look down from a fly on the wall view or some other unusual vantage point.

Once you are dissociated, it can be much easier to view the memory in a way that will enable you to learn from it. If you remain associated, the emotional loading will cloud your thinking and could stop you seeing the obvious.

Pleasant memories, on the other hand, will feel even better if you are fully associated, as this will get you feeling good all over again, just from the memory.

Memories in general

For most people, a memory will be most intense if it is big, bright, colourful, close and associated. If this is so for you, then make sure you store your good memories this way. By contrast, make your unpleasant memories small, dark, black and white and far away, and dissociate from them. In both cases, the content of the memory will stay the same, but how you feel when you remember it will have changed.

For an unpleasant memory, you might even take the distance submodality to its limit and lob the memory so far away it ends up being sucked into the sun and burnt up. Before you do this kind of house cleaning though, ensure you have learnt what needs to be learnt from the memory so you can avoid the same thing happening again.

Something or someone bugging you

You can use submodalities to affect the way you represent someone in your mind. Very often, we ‘give’ people power over us by thinking about them in certain ways. Now you know how to change the way you think about them. Move the image, shrink it and so on.

You can add some embellishments if you feel like it. Imagine that their voice now sounds like Mickey Mouse. Imagine they have big floppy bunny ears, and perhaps even a tail. Make them comical in your mind. A comical character can have no power over you. Just be careful you don’t burst out laughing the next time you meet them. It might be misunderstood!


Emotions are a kinaesthetic representation and, naturally, there are submodalities at play, including where you feel them in your body, their weight, intensity, heat and so on. You can change the submodalities of an emotion, and this will change the emotion. Again, experiment.

Your internal voice

We all have an internal running commentary. Since it is there, you might as well make it pleasant to listen to!

Move the location it comes from; change its tone, loudness and speed. Experiment.

Helping others change theirs

Once you have done some practice, you will find you can sometimes make suggestions to others to change a submodality. It’s possible to do this in ordinary conversation, without any explanation as to what a submodality is.

  • If someone says they cannot see the way ahead, you could suggest they fly over it with a helicopter. Their mind will do this as quickly as you can say it, and they may get a new idea about where they are going.
  • If someone says that a person is ‘in my face’, suggest that they move the person away.
  • If someone says a competitor is larger than life, suggest they shrink the competitor to a size smaller than themselves and, for good measure, put bunny ears and a fluffy tail on them.

Just watch the way their demeanour changes!


As with most things, you will get better with practice, so experiment and practise. Keep noticing how submodalities work for you.

A useful thing you can do after making some kind of change is to think about a future event where the change will come into play. Imagine this future event happening and how you will react. Do this several times.

This has a twofold purpose. It tests to see if the change has worked or if more fine tuning is needed. It also helps lock in the change when you rehearse it in your mind. You are preparing your mind to react in a new way to this kind of event.