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NLP Reframing – The Past Does Not Equal The Future

NLP Reframing

We base NLP reframing on the idea that all meaning depends on your point of view. To reframe something is to change its meaning by putting it in a different setting, context or frame.

For instance, a nasty experience can seem funny when put in a long- term frame. It is one of the most useful NLP techniques.

The meaning of any event depends on how we frame it. When we change the frame we change the meaning and with it our responses and behaviors. For instance if someone goes to a party dressed as a skeleton the meaning is different depending on whether it is Halloween or a funeral. My response to someone slipping on a banana skin is different as an observer than as a victim.

Reframing is not new. Many fables and fairy tales include behaviors change their meaning when the frames changes. The different looking chick seems to be an ugly duckling. He has been comparing himself to all the other ducks, and now he is a beautiful swan.

Humor and creativity

Reframing often appears in jokes. What seems to be one thing shifts and becomes something else. The set up takes you down a path and the punch line sends you somewhere else.

Reframing is part of creativity: it’s about taking an ordinary event or thing and putting it in a new frame that is useful or enjoyable. The inventor of Velcro noticed how difficult it was to get burrs out of his clothing. He decided this could be useful for attaching things together.

Context reframing – a different point of view

The basis of NLP reframing using context is the NLP Presuppositions that every behavior is useful in some situation. By thinking of a useful context, you can change your response to that behavior.

When you try to get a friend to think about things differently, see another point of view law or consider other factors, you are trying to reframe events to get a different response. Putting a positive spin on ideas in politics is a typical use of reframing.

Content reframing – positive intent and purpose

Another NLP presupposition is that all behavior has a positive intent. Finding the positive intention of a behavior is the other kind of NLP reframing. Do you believe that all behavior has a positive intent?

Generally, you do not intend to harm people with your words or your action, even if the effect is different. Where you or someone else did intend harm to another, there is still a positive intention for the self. That is to feel safe, powerful, in control, prevent the person doing something again, or as punishment.

In evolutionary terms, our brains don’t do anything without some underlying purpose. Our brain’s functioning is always of benefit overall to the survival of the species. We might feel it isn’t acting in our short-term personal interest sometimes, but there is always a purpose for our behavior and responses.

For example, finding that the positive intention of a teen’s rebellious action is to become an independent, capable adult can change the way both parent, and teen views that behavior.

The Six Step Reframe NLP Technique

Bandler and Grinder developed the six-step reframe technique from their study of Milton Erickson (ideomotor signals) and Virginia Satir’s work with parts. They included it in their book Frogs into Princes.

When we are young, we try out different behaviors and some of them work. We keep the ones that work, even when times change and those responses may not be the most useful ones. Throwing a tantrum at 4 might get us what we want, at 44 it probably won’t work so well.

Behind every behavior is a positive intention – this is one of the basic NLP presuppositions. Motives drive behavior. Our brains do nothing without some (usually unconscious) purpose.

To me the six step reframe is a powerful and underestimated NLP technique.

The Process

Identify a troubling behavior or response, something you would rather not do or feel.

Establish communication with the part creating the unwanted behavior or response. Ask if it would be willing to communicate consciously. This communication might be a sensation somewhere in their/your body, a picture, voice or sound. 
When you get a signal, first thank the part for responding. When we have fought against particular behaviors, they can feel alienated, so it’s useful to be polite.

Find the positive intention. Ask the part “What do you want? What positive thing are you trying to do for me? The key here is to recognize the difference between the parts intention and the way it is going about getting it
Have you ever tried to be helpful and the person misunderstood your intention and got annoyed? How does it make you feel? Are you likely to help a second time? 
Our unconscious parts feel the same. Here they are doing the best they can to achieve something for you. Is there thanks or even appreciation? We might have a long history of fighting and shaming this response. 
If a neighbor repeatedly told you what a worthless lazy bum you were for not mowing your lawn more often, would it inspire you to mow? I have no idea why many of us think shaming works to change behavior. It doesn’t work for me. 
Assuming that this aspect of self has a positive intention can create rapport and therefore makes it more willing to cooperate.

Ask for help from their/your creative part to create three alternative ways to get the intended outcome.

Have the part evaluate these new choices. Are they acceptable? Will they be as good as or better than the previous behavior? It needs to be willing to try them out for the next month or longer if appropriate. 
The key here is negotiation. If the part with the unwanted behavior is not happy with these alternatives, it is unlikely to give them a go. If you have ever agreed to something because you were bullied into it, you’ll know how important willing commitment is. 
If the alternatives are not acceptable, go back to step 4 for better choices.

Check for objections with other parts with an ecology check and future pacing. When we change behaviors, we can affect other people and aspects of ourselves. Even changes we think are fabulous have unintended consequences. We get our new car, but our camping gear doesn’t fit in the boot. 
If there are objections, put them through the same process from step 2 what is the positive intention etc.?

Mind lines: lines for changing minds – L. Michael Hall and Bobby Bodenhamer

Mind lines connect language to things and events that carry meaning. There are seven basic mind-shifting directions and 26 mind line patterns, which reframe reality.

Check out Mind-lines: Lines For Changing Minds at Amazon

Robert Dilts identified 18 key reframing patterns in Richard Bandler (learned from Virginia Satir, Fritz Perls, Milton Ericksonand Frank Farrelly), and called them “Sleight of Mouth” patterns.

Michael Hall’s mind lines model sorts and extend these patterns into seven categories based on his Meta states model.

Language powerfully affects mind and emotional states. Although words are almost totally powerless to change our external reality, they have almost complete power over our internal reality. A tiny idea can start a revolution or trigger depression.

Framing and Reframing

We can change our perceived reality by using the process of framing and reframing. Nothing inherently means anything; it is only our associations.

Bandler and Grinder called the Meta model and Milton model change patterns reframing. Every mental image has both an internal content and format and an external environment or context.

Content — inside the box. Details of the external behavior and the internal states. How else can I view this? What other perspectives could I use? What are some viewpoints others might use?

Context — outside the box. Setting a higher frame on the belief or ideas i.e. Meta stating. Out framing the external behavior or the internal state with some other concept, ideal meaning. In what context would this behavior be useful?

Content reframe changes the meaning of an experience. A context reframe changes the perception of the problem while keeping the meaning.

The one who sets the frame governs the experience. Someone or some idea always sets the frame. Awareness of the meaning process gives us control over it.

Conversational reframing

Sleights of mouth patterns are about persuading others and ourselves conversationally. The model, based on the Meta model, persuades by transforming meaning. We also use them to repel ideas and maintain our beliefs.

A conversational reframe is a quick way to redirect our brain to a new point of view. It avoids resistance.


Beliefs often relate to “shoulds”. They are our assumptions about causation and meaning. They confirm our models of the world. Beliefs become organizing frames of reference that allow us to focus on what’s important. They are the validated thoughts that encode our sense of reality that get manifested in behavior.

A belief has at least two levels of thoughts

A set of representations about something

Thoughts of confirmation and validation about these representations. You can think all kinds of things without believing them. You cannot change a belief merely by changing the submodalities, it needs conviction. Beliefs feel real and act as commands to the nervous system. The “yes” validates the thoughts.

The Mind Line Patterns


De-framing enables us to take meaning apart by testing stability. We want to expose the faulty logic and unuseful consequences.

Make it more specific. We create beliefs by generalizing, deleting and distorting. They depend on vagueness. We can use the Meta model to test the reality of the belief or meaning.

Sequence – examine the logic and structure. If the logic doesn’t hold, it messes up the program. We can say this means that, or this causes that.

Content reframing

Here we are changing the meaning inside the box by saying that an event, experience, person or idea is not one thing but another. We call them new names, we redefine them, and we substitute one term for another.

Content reframing – redefine the external behavior – call it a different name

Content reframing – redefine the internal state. What the internal state really means is … What the internal state really causes is …

And reflexive reframing - Here we are turning either the external behavior or internal state to self or listener. The purpose is to reality test the idea or belief

For example, “saying mean things makes you a bad person”. “What a mean thing to say.”

Counter framing

Here we are reversing meaning in order to create fresh meanings. How is the whole thing the opposite of what you thought? When a belief becomes a frame of reference, we move through life searching for evidence for it. You can find evidence to support just about anything.

Counter examples
 - here we are reality-testing beliefs by examining at what times or places it doesn’t occur. “I lack energy”. To do what? At what times, according to what standards?

Pre-and post-framing

Here we are learning to play with the concept of time, consequences, intentions and causation.

Positive prior intention framing
Invite the person to find more effective ways to accomplish the positive intention. By guessing the positive intent of people’s behavior, it shifts attention from negative behaviors.

Positive prior cause framing
 - We are usually skilled in identifying negative things that cause us to do things – blaming and justifying.

First outcome framing - 
Discovering the future consequences of our behavior. This is a more confrontational stance.

Outcome of outcome framing
 - Changing our time frames alter meaning. What will the behavior could cause over time?

Eternity framing
 - How does the behavior fit in the overall picture of your whole life? How will this look 50 or 100 years from now? The small size of our fear in a larger perspective.

Out framing

Context reframing is Meta stating. In what situation is the behavior useful?

Model of the world framing is the ability to hold our maps more tentatively. Notice what happens when you say “this seems like my X”. Or how long have you thought this car belonged to you? Our internal representations of things are not the things.

Criteria and values
When we reframe something as valuable it allows us to reorganize ourselves in terms of that value. You can texture the state of anger so it becomes something valuable and useful, for example respectful anger. “Stress causes me to eat chocolate”. “Is avoiding stress more important than being healthy?”

“Allness” or universality framing
What if everyone did this all the time? This pattern pushes the belief to its limits. We typically expressed beliefs in absolute terms. “Allness” words don’t make room for exceptions. Necessity framing
 we typically use one particular style to frame our world. Necessity – obligation and force (have to, must, ought to)

Possibility – opportunities and desire (get to, want to, desire to)

Impossibility – lack of possibilities or options (can’t, won’t, it’s impossible)

We can use Meta Model questions to challenge this framing. What would happen if you did? What stops you?

Identity framing
 - There is no such thing as sameness. We live in a world of processes; nothing is static. Can you describe self without using the to be (am, is, are) verbs? Whatever we identify with sets a self-organizing frame. For instance “I am an accountant — begin to see yourself as only that”

Framing all other abstractions - 
What principle would empower this person? What idea will make this belief more empowering?

The unreality frame - uses words such as seems, appears, thinks, and looks like. These words imply doubt and loosen up our beliefs.

The self and other frame - emphasizes the word “you”. It suggests that your model of the world is different from my model of the world. So for you it seems that being late means I don’t care?

The tonal emphasis frame - emphasizes different words to change the meaning. “So you think being late means I don’t care?” is different from “So you think being late means I don’t care?”

In English we ask a question with a rising inflection at the end of a sentence. A command has falling inflection. “We are going to breakfast?” Is different from “we are going to breakfast”. You can embed a question or command in a sentence so it is received unconsciously.

Time Zones frame - distinguishes current situations that are now occurring from situations in the future or past. For example “have you always thought about it this way?”

The realization frame - acknowledges the changes we make. We often don’t realize the difference our efforts make, we discount our achievements and progress. How does it feel to realize this?

Ecology framing - is this belief useful, empowering, limiting, balancing, enhancing? Does this way of thinking serve you?

Analogous framing – reframing using Metaphors and Stories

Metaphor framing
Involves conveying a message in terms of something else. Telling a story that has a similar structure to the problem. Stories are less threatening than advice.

Additional mind lines

Both and framing
Instead of either/or, we find a middle ground that includes both options Pseudo word framing 
a ”real” word has to function as a symbol of something. Failure is some vague thing to avoid. You can fail but not experience the nominalized entity of failure. Is it a legitimate concept you want in your world?

Negation framing
Command negation – do not X. You first have to represent it and then make it go away. Don’t think of pink elephants dancing in the ocean. You can also frame a thing as invisible by creating and setting a negation frame. This can loosen up beliefs.

Possibility and “as if” framing - 
What would it be like if? If it were possible, what would you be thinking, feeling, doing?

Systemic and probability framing - 
Linear thinking enables us to sort and separate, sequence and program so we can create models and step-by-step procedures. Non-linear thinking enables simultaneous information. It connects previously separate and fragmented elements.

Decision framing -
 We often theorize, analyze, diagnose and talk but don’t decide and take action to do something. Deciding literally means cutting one thing from another. When we say “yes” to something we are saying no to another, we cut off our options. We cut away what is important from what is unimportant. 

A clear-cut decision empowers us to act on our decisions.

We can also stand back to look at what decisions are currently driving our actions.

Using Mind Lines (Conversational Reframes)

When you offer someone a mind line, you are playing with meanings. You therefore need sufficient rapport, pacing and trust and respect. What are the benefits of the belief? What difficulties and limitations has it created?

Is the difficulty simple or complex? A phobia is a simple anchored response. Low self-esteem is complex with associations, levels and meanings.

Problem states can undermine and limit our effectiveness. Make sure you reframe your own stuff.

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