Our experience of the world is created by gathering information through the use of our five senses. However, each of us tends to develop a favorite mode of focus, or a modality, as it is often called. Some people are more impacted, for example, by what they see; their visual system tends to be more dominant. For others, sounds are the trigger for the greatest of life’s experiences, while for others, feelings are the foundation.Even within each of these modes of experience, though, there are special elements of pictures, sounds, or other sensations that can be changed in order to increase or decrease the intensity of our experience. These foundational ingredients are called sub modalities. For example, you can make a picture in our mind and then take any aspect of that image (a sub modality), and change it to change your feelings about it. You can brighten the picture, immediately changing the amount of intensity you feel about the experience.
This is known as a changing sub modality. Probably the greatest expert in sub modalities is Richard Bandler, co – founder of Neuro- Linguistic Programming. The lineage of experts on this dates back to the foundational work on the five senses done by Aristotle, which categorizes perception models. You can radically raise or lower your intensity the feeling about anything by manipulating sub modalities. They affect how you feel about virtually anything, whether you feel joy, frustration, wonder, or despair. Understanding them enables you to not only change how you feel about any experience in your life, but to change what it means to you and thus what you can do about it.
One image I’ve found very useful is to think of sub modalities as the grocery store UPC bar codes, those clusters of little black lines that have replaced price tags in just about every supermarket you patronize today. The codes look insignificant, yet when pulled across the checkout scanner, they tell the computer what the item is, how much it costs, how its sale affects the inventory, and so on. Sub modalities work the same way. When
pulled across the scanner of the computer we call the brain, they tell the brain what this thing is, how to feel about it, and what to do. You have your own bar codes, and there is a list of them coming up alone with question to ask to determine which of them you use.
For example, if you tend to focus upon you visual modalities, the amount of enjoyment you can get from a particular memory is probably a direct consequence of the sub modalities of size, color, brightness, distance, and amount of movement in the visual image you’ve made of it. If you represent it to yourself with auditory sub modalities, then how you feel depends on the volume, tempo, pitch, tonality, and other such factors you
attach to it. For example, in order for some people to feel motivated, they have to tune in a certain channel first if their favorite channel is visual, then focusing on the visual elements of the situation gives them more emotional intensity about it. For other people it’s auditory or kinesthetic channels. And for some, the best strategy works like a combination lock. First the visual lock has to be aligned, then the auditory, then the
kinesthetic. All three dials have to be lined up in the right place and the right order for the vault to open.
Once your aware of this, you’ll realize that people are constantly using words in their day–to–day language to tell you which system and which sub modalities they are tuning in. Listen to the ways they describe their experience, and take it literally. (For example, in the last two sentences I used the terms ‘tuning in’ and ‘listen’ – clearly these are auditory examples.) How many times have you heard someone say,’ I can’t picture doing that’? They’re telling you what the problem is: If they did picture doing it, they’d go into state where they’d feel like they could make it happen. Someone may have once said to you,’ your blowing things out of proportion.’ If you’re really upset, they may be right. You may be taking images in your mind and making them much bigger, which tends to intensify the experience. If someone says,’ this is weighing heavily upon me.’ You can assist them by helping them feel lighter about the situation and thereby get them in a better state to deal with it. If someone says, ‘I’m just tuning you guys out.’ You’ve got to tune them back in so the can change states. Our ability to change the way we feel depends upon our ability to change our sub modalities. We must learn to take control of the various elements with which we represent experiences and change them in ways that support our outcomes.
For example, have you ever found yourself saying you need to ‘get distance’ from a problem? I’d like you try something, if you would. Think of a situation that is challenging you currently. Make a picture of it in your mind, and then imagine pushing that picture farther and farther away from yourself. Stand above it and look down upon the problem with a new perspective. What happens to your emotional intensity? For most people, it drops. What if the image becomes dimmer or smaller? Now take picture of the problem and make it bigger, brighter, and closer. For most people, this intensifies it. Push it back out and watch the sun melt it. A simple change in any one of these elements is life changing the ingredients in a recipe. They’re definitely going to alter what you finally experience in your body.
Remember, how you feel about things is instantly changed by a shift of sub modalities. For example, think of something that happened yesterday. Just for a moment, picture that experience. Take the image of this memory and put it behind you. Gradually push it back until its miles behind you, a tiny, dim dot far off in the darkness. Does it feel like it happened yesterday, or a long time ago? If the memory is great, bring it back. Otherwise,
leave it there! Who needs to focus on this memory? By contrast, you’ve had some incredibly wonderful experiences in your life. Think of one right now, one that happened a long time ago. Recall the imagery of that experience. Bring it forward; put it in front of you. Make it big, bright, and colorful; make it three – dimensional. Step into your body as you were then and feel that experience right now as if you were there. Does it feel like it happened a long time ago, or is it something you’re enjoying right now? You see, even your experience of time can be changed by changing sub modalities.
CREATE YOUR OWN BLUEPRINT
Discovering your sub modalities is a fun process. You may want to do this on your own, although you may find it more fun to do with someone else. This will help with the accuracy, and if they’re also reading this, you’ll have a lot to talk about and a partner in your commitment to personal mastery. So very quickly now, think of a time in your life when you had a very enjoyable experience, and do the following: Rate your enjoyment on a scale from 0 – 100, where 0 is no enjoyment at all and 100 is the peak level of enjoyment you could possibly experience. Let’s say you came up with 80 on this emotional intensity scale. Let’s discover which elements are apt to create more enjoyment in your life than others, more pleasure feelings than pain feelings.
Begin to evaluate each of the questions contained in the checklist against your experience. So, for example, as you remember this experience and focus on the visual sub modalities, ask yourself,’ is it a movie or a still frame?’ If it’s a movie, notice how it feels. Does it feel good? Now change it to its opposite. Make it a still frame and see what happens. Does your level enjoyment drop? Does it drop significantly? By what percentage? As you made it a still frame, did it drop from 80 to 50, for example? Write down the impact that this change has made so you’ll be able to utilize this distinction in the future. Then, return the imagery to its initial form; that is, make it a movie again if that’s what it was, so you feel like you’re back at 80 again. Is it in color or in black and white? If it was in black and white, notice how it feels. Now, again, do the opposite to it. Add color and see what happens. Does it raise your emotional intensity higher than 80? Write down the impact this has upon you emotionally. If it brings you to a 95, this might be a valuable thing to remember in the future. For example, when thinking about a task you usually avoid, if you add color to your image of it, you’ll find that your positive emotional intensity grows immediately. Now drop the image back down to black and white, and again, notice what happens to your emotional intensity and what a big difference this makes. Remember to always finish by restoring the original state before going on to the next question. Put the color back into it; make it brighter than it was before, until you’re virtually awash in vivid color.
In fact, brightness is an important sub modality for most people; brightening things intensifies their emotion. If you think about the pleasurable experience right now, and make the image brighter and brighter, you probably feel better, don’t you? (Of course, there are exceptions. If you’re savoring the memory of a romantic moment, and suddenly turn all the lights on full blast, that may not be entirely appropriate.) What if you were to make the image dim, dark, and defocused? For most people, that makes it almost depressing. So make it brighter again; make it brilliant! Continue down your list, nothing which of these visual sub modalities changes your motional intensity the most. Then focus on the auditory sub modalities. As you re-create the experience inside your head, how does it sound to you? What does raising the volume do to the level of pleasure you feel? How does increasing the tempo affect the enjoyment? By how much? Write it down, and shift as many other elements as you can think of. If what you’re imagining is the sound of someone’s voice, experiment with different inflections and accents, and notice what that does to the level of enjoyment you experience. If you change the quality of the sound from smooth to silky to rough and gravelly, what happens? Remember, finish by restoring the sounds to their original auditory form so that all the qualities continue to create pleasure for you.
Finally, focus on kinesthetic sub modalities. As you remember this pleasurable experience, how does changing the various kinesthetic elements intensify or decrease your pleasure? Does raising the temperature make you feel more comfortable, or does it drive you up the wall? Focus on your breathing. Where are you breathing from? If you change the quality of your breaths from rapid and shallow to long and deep, how does this affect the quality of your experience? Notice what a difference this makes, and write it down. What about the texture of the image? Play around with it; change it from soft and fluffy, to wet and slimy, to gooey and sticky. As you go through each of these changes, how does your blood feel? Write it down. When you’re done experimenting with the whole checklist of sub modalities, go back and adjust until the most pleasurable image re – emerges; make it real enough so you can get your hands around it and squeeze the juice from it! As you go through these exercises, you will quickly see that some of these sub modalities are much more powerful for you than others. We’re all made differently and have are own preferred ways of representing our experience to ourselves. What you’ve just done was to create a blueprint that maps out how your brain is wired.
Keep it and use it; it will come in handy some day – may be today! By knowing which modalities trigger you, you’ll know how to increase your positive emotions and decrease your negative emotions. For example, if you know that making something big and bright and bringing it close can tremendously intensify your emotion, you can get yourself motivated to do something by changing its imagery to match these criteria. You’ll also know not to make your problems big, bright and close or you’ll intensify your negative
emotions as well! You’ll know how to instantly shake yourself out of limiting state and into an energizing, empowering one. And you can be better equipped to continue your pathway to personal power. Knowing the large part that sub modalities play in your experience of reality is crucial in meeting challenges. For example, whether you feel confused or on track is a matter of sub modalities. If you think about a time when you felt confused, remember whether you were representing the experience as a picture or a movie. Then compare it to a time when you felt that you understood something. Often when people feel confused, it’s because they have a series of images in their heads that are piled up too closely together in a chaotic jumble because someone as been talking too rapidly or loudly. For other people, they get confused if things are taught to them too slowly. These individuals need to see images in a movie form, to see how things related to each other; otherwise the process is too disassociated. Do you see how understanding someone’s sub modalities can help you to teach them much more effectively?
The challenge is that most of us take our limiting patterns and make them big, bright, close, loud, or heavy – whichever sub modalities we’re most attuned to – and then wonder why we feel overwhelmed! If you’ve ever pulled yourself out of that state, it’s probably because you or somebody else took that image and changed it, redirecting your focus. You finally said,’ oh, it’s not that big a deal.’ Or you worked on one aspect of it, and by doing so; it didn’t seem like such a big project to tackle. These are simple strategies.