NLP & Time Distortion: We Are the Meaning Makers

You are hereby invited to harness a natural mental process that you've probably never controlled in your past, learn techniques that utilize that process, and then become more effective and influential in every area of your life.

Perhaps in your past you thought improving your influence or changing minds or habits would have been a hard thing to do.   There is an area of study in hypnosis and NLP that explores this very topic and process, and has developed a range of techniques for harnessing it for improved human achievement.  We call it "time distortion."  Milton Erickson studied and utilized it, so Richard Bandler and John Grinder and many other NLP developers explored its use as well.

I have spent a decade and a half exploring, developing, and mastering a range of refinements with time distortion, to the point where I can confidently say... very little of this work gets explained or published on the web.  I use it during training, during coaching, and in a wide variety of business contexts.  And it can be very, very effective.

NLP Time Distortion techniques help lock in changes, expand perceptions, create new possibilities, and change the way the past and/or the future is experienced.  I'm sharing just the tip of the iceberg with this blog post.

Why is Time Distortion such a Potentially Powerful technique for Great Results?

Time Distortion is a profoundly useful set of techniques for consciously affecting how people think, because it makes adjustments to something we all already do naturally and unconsciously, frequently.  We can't not distort time.  And this leads us to experience both positive and negative results from these effects.

We can't not distort time, because our brains are wired to do this automatically.  As poet Arthur O'Shaughnessy wrote, and Gene Wilder's Willy Wonka quoted, "We are the music makers, and we are the dreamers of dreams."  Essentially, we are all meaning-makers, every one of us, and how we distort time is often at the roots of how we create and assign meaning.

It's Time Distortion that makes...

  • that 3-hour dinner with a loved one feel like it lasted only a split second, and it's over too soon.
  • that 3 minute wait at the bank or at an airline counter feel like it takes an hour. 
  • those whole 20 years were wasted
  • that one single day seem like the most amazing day or moment of our lives.

NLP Practitioners know that we do not have to be at the mercy of this effect, but instead, can harness it and use it more with intention, for ourselves — and others.

How does Time Distortion work?

Here are just some of the principles involved (there are more than just these):

  • We assign meaning to all experience.
  • Emotion colors our memory of experience.
  • When we review experiences, and assign and review meaning drawn from that, it changes our perceptions of those time periods, which enables us to amplify some aspects of memories, and downplay or delete other aspects of memories.
  • How we feel when we are doing the above, colors the process further.

NLP Practitioners learn techniques and language patterns for shifting how people distort time from being "at effect" to "at cause."  And in doing so, we change meaning — we change experience — and we can change values, beliefs, habits, and meaning.

One of the most important factors to understand is...

We encode memories differently between a "Future Possibility" and a "Past Experience."

We 'encode' or create sensory representations of these, neurologically, very differently.  We know this thanks to our work with submodalities.  As a result, people draw meaning from these distinctions, differently.

Future Possibilities have no momentum yet, sometimes have less meaning attached to them, and sometimes encounter greater resistance (to name just a few differences).

Past Experiences have momentum as a result of sense-memory and muscle-memory, are easier to repeat, and sometimes have stronger meaning and emotions attached to them (to name just a few differences).

How you refer to these distinctions is usually automatic.  How you store them in your mind is usually automatic.  But this doesn't have to be automatic!

One example of intentional time distortion would be to have you experience some of these things, differently, which may change how you feel and think about them.  Let's show you two ways to do this!

Change A Negative Memory

"Think of something you did in the past that you're not proud of."  This is stated in the present, looking back at the past.  Minimal time distortion.

Now let's add in some time distortion:

"If you went back to some time before that event, knowing then what you know now, you would be about to make a different choice today, wouldn't you?" 

This may sound like it's stated in the present, but there is ample time distortion here.  It takes the occurrence from a negative memory, and puts you back before it, looking forward towards making a better choice in the future.  Diagramatically...

Chances are, you're already feeling better about that memory, knowing you'd choose differently today.  Now, granted, this by itself usually isn't enough time distortion to completely clear a negative memory, but it's a start.  Why?  Because instead of treating something as a "done deal" in the past, it changes your relationship to the memory, reminding you that if a similar choice were to occur in the future, you'd make a more empowering choice then.  It re-enables greater hope.

Build a More Empowered Future

"Think of something you'd love to do in the future but have kept putting off, perhaps because you haven't prioritized it, or have hesitated too long, or don't believe in yourself enough, yet."  This is stated in the present, looking forward at the future.  Minimal time distortion.

Now let's add in some time distortion:

"If you were to fly forwards 6 months, having already done that thing you were hesitating to do in your past, looking back at how wonderful a time you enjoyed getting that accomplished, doesn't it now seem like something you absolutely loved doing, thoroughly benefited from, and can't wait to have done again?"

That way of framing a description involves a lot of time distortion.  It takes a future possibility and encodes it as a past occurrence, playing up the positive meaning of the newly chosen future activity.  It does this by taking the listener out past the choice to have done something, and look back at it as if it's already done.  Diagramatically...

This makes doing it in the future much more likely, and makes it feel much more real, because it's no longer encoded as only a possibility; it's encoded as something to "repeat" (for the first time).  And again, this by itself usually isn't enough time distortion to guarantee taking action in the future on something that someone's been putting off or avoiding beginning, but it's a start.  These are just baby steps with time-distortion techniques.

There is Far, FAR More to explore and use...

This area of NLP skills becomes even more fascinating when you begin to combine these approaches, thereby changing the perception of the past and the future in single sentences.  Your results begin to accelerate when you start to combine them strategically with other Ericksonian language patterns, and with congruent use of vocal tonality and rhythm.  And when you learn to engage your inner editor as well... you can take what speakers like Anthony Robbins take a whopping 20 minutes to accomplish in front of a group... and do it all in a single sentence, with conciseness, elegance, and conversationally hypnotic language.  Y' know. Only if you want to have gotten that good at this.

What will you have needed to have learned, to have turned around that collective set of ineffective communication experiences in your past, back then, into something you'll have done brilliantly, soon?

Study the above example... and then study it more deeply.

Here are just some of the things you can accomplish with time distortion...

  • reprogram emotional responses to triggers, both in terms of remembering the past, and in terms of re-encountering past triggers in the future
  • define for others in advance what meaning they're going to draw from a future experience, instead of just leaving future interpretations of events up to luck or chance.
  • diminish unwanted emotional responses to past or future situations
  • amplify desired emotional responses to past or future situations
  • cause people to create increasing doubt and uncertainty about a topic or choice moving into the future
  • cause people to create increasing certainty and confidence about a topic or choice moving into the future
  • reverse old decisions people were certain about, take them back to before the decision, reopen the choice, help them make a better decision, make them more confident about it, and then condition them to be incredibly happy with that choice moving into the future
  • and much, much more.

When you finally become ready to step things up further... give us a call!

Author: Jonathan Altfeld