Neuro-linguistic Programming is often used to improve interpersonal dynamics. It also has applications in personal growth and development. Several NLP happiness techniques can help you live a more enjoyable and meaningful life. NLP underscores the importance of mastering higher self-awareness methods to spot patterns, thoughts, and assumptions that can be preventing you from finding happiness in your life. Below you will find an overview of four valuable NLP happiness techniques and the science behind them.
Anchoring is one the most common Neuro-linguistic Programming techniques. The goal is to elicit positive responses at will by associating a particular mental and emotional state to an anchor, which can be an image, a word, or a gesture. Anchoring improves our ability to control emotions and to take an active role in self-management, making us less prone to feeling powerless and overwhelmed.
- Elicit a time when you experienced the intense positive feeling you want to trigger in other situations (e.g. feeling achievement the moment you got a promotion)
- Bring in sensory cues associated with that state (e.g. what you saw, felt, smelt, heard)
- Bring the memory to its most intense point and then associate your feelings to an anchor (e.g. twist a ring on your finger, pinch your earlobe)
- Take a short break and repeat the steps above Test the anchor (e.g. pinch your earlobe) to elicit the intense feeling of achievement.
- You can then use this method whenever you need an emotional pick-me-up, either on its own or alongside other NLP happiness techniques
Anchoring is based on the psychological concept of conditioning, whereby a stimulus triggers certain responses. Anchoring helps you elicit the response you want through repetition. It benefits you by putting you in charge of your emotions. Moreover, some studies suggest that when coupled with other techniques and interventions, anchoring can help overcome phobias and irrational fears.
Next in the list of NLP happiness techniques is reframing, or viewing adverse events from a different “frame”. This allows you to open up your mind to opportunities that may be lying ahead instead of dwelling on the negatives. In short, reframing changes the focus from negative and overpowering to positive and empowered.
How to reframe a thought, feeling or behaviour
- Identify the thought, feeling or behaviour you want to change
Establish contact with the innermost part of yourself that is triggering the negative mood. This could be an image, voice, an expression, etc.
- Find the positive intention behind that part. Let’s say you have a fear of flying. The sound of plane’s engine taking off triggers anxiety because it wants to protect you.
- This intention is good, but the response is inadequate Focusing on the positive intention, try 2 or 3 ways of responding that will help you realise such intention. For example, acknowledge the protection and self-preservation, which is why you choose the safest way of travelling (flying vs. driving)
- Ensure your subconscious is fully committed to trying alternative responses, and that it won’t sabotage your reframing efforts. Check for conflicting beliefs, and if you find yourself making excuses, go back to step 4 and find alternative ways of responding
Reframing is used as a therapeutic technique for its ability to modify perceptions. Different parts of the brain trigger memories and emotions: memories are stored in the hippocampus, whereas the amygdala mainly controls emotions. When recalling past events, the amygdala responds by triggering an emotion that replicates the original one, but reframing reminds us that the nature of that emotion is not fixed and that we can break automatic patterns and prioritise rational responses over knee-jerk reactions. Reframing is one of those NLP happiness techniques that prove that it is possible to break free from the so-called amygdala hijack.
What a liberating thought it is to know you can alter the meaning of events instead of letting events change your mood and perceptions!
Meta-modelling is one of the most powerful NLP happiness techniques given its ability to help identify self-imposed constraints that may be preventing you from finding happiness. The easiest way to meta-model is by looking at the language you use in everyday life, paying attention to these three types of patterns:
- Generalisations, evidenced in thoughts along the lines of “I’m always so unlucky” or “all men are the same”
- Distortions: mind reading (e.g. “John didn’t greet me today, he must be upset with me”) or cause-effect statements (e.g. “if I don’t lose weight, I will feel like a failure”)
- Deletions, or cherry-picking your understanding of reality to confirm pre-existing beliefs. For instance, someone with poor self-esteem would ignore compliments and pay undue attention to critiques, leading to thoughts like “people don’t find me attractive.”
Identify which category your thoughts belong to, then start the exploratory process of questioning the maladaptive thought pattern. For example, if you catch yourself in a deletion like “people don’t find me attractive”, meta-modelling questions to ask would be “which people specifically?” and “how do you know that?”. The chances are that your answers will include a generalised statement with the words “always” or “never”, then it’s time to ask yourself whether you are realistic by claiming that things are always this way and never that way. When meta-modelling, it is also useful to ask about alternative courses of action. For example, in the statement “if I don’t lose weight, I will feel like a failure”, ask yourself whether feeling like a failure is your only option.
Meta-modelling works because it forces you to challenge ingrained response patterns that can evolve into what experts in psychological science call excessive avoidance behaviour, which limits your ability to learn from new experiences. The effectiveness of this technique is also linked to pattern separation. When faced with a new situation, we tend to compare with previous ones, but if pattern separation is active, you will understand that different scenarios require different responses.
Meta-modelling can prompt you to develop habits like listening to yourself and challenging limiting thoughts. This can help you become more resilient to cognitive distortions, and more skilled at challenging deep fears, lessening anxiety and tension.
The Swish Method
This is one of the NLP happiness techniques that emphasise the severely limiting effect of negative thoughts. The goal of the Swish method is to identify mental and emotional triggers of negativity and replace them with an ideal response. When using the Swish technique, you don’t have to take any action, but become aware of the alternatives available and train your brain to set off a “happier mode” whenever negative thoughts and emotions begin to overpower you.
How to put the swish method into action
- Identify the feeling that triggers anxiety. Example: you may be anxious about exam performance even though you have done your best to prepare for it. In this case, the trigger feeling would be nervousness and uneasiness
- Next, know how your mind and body react to such feelings (e.g. nail biting, knots in the stomach, etc.) Create a visual image of the context in which this happens (e.g. as you walk into the exam room)
- Think about how you would ideally like to respond as you physically enter the context in which the negative thoughts take place (e.g. confident, well-prepared, optimistic, etc.).
- This is called the replacement thought. In your mind, visualise the negative state and figuratively place the replacement thought over it, make sure it appears bigger, stronger, and more vibrant while making the negative emotion appear in black and white or blurry
As it happens with other NLP techniques for happiness, you need to practice the Swish Method a few times to ensure the replacement thought becomes the default response. Do it at least five times and speed up the visualisation with each round. To check for effectiveness, evoke the trigger thought/feeling and its context, and see how you feel about it.
The Swish Method is a visualisation technique driven by the principle that seeing is believing. Research studies have shown that the brain does not differentiate between real and visualised events, as they both activate the same parts of the brain. Other studies have shown that the type of mental rehearsal involved in visualisation has a direct effect on fundamental cognitive skills, including memory, attention, and perception. The benefits of mastering this technique include improved emotional performance and a calm and confident approach knowing that you don’t need to let negative thoughts dominate your life.
Neuro-linguistic Programming can help you tap into the resources and skills needed to you train your brain and take control of thoughts and beliefs, facilitating the achievement of a fulfilling life. Anchoring, reframing, meta-modelling, and the Swish technique are some of the NLP techniques for happiness and personal empowerment that are worth putting in practice.
Model photos: Colourbox.com