Sub-modalities Going Meta: Cinematic frames for Semantic Magic (formerly know as “The Structure of Excellence“)
Unmasking the Meta-Levels of Submodalities
Judith Pearson, Ph.D.
Prepare to revise your thinking about submodalities, because L. Michael Hall and Bobby Bodenhamer, again, have produced a book that will enhance your understanding of NLP. What do submodalities have to do with excellence? By learning to modify our submodalities, we can better control cognitions and meanings, dismantle limiting beliefs, enlarge our range of possibilities, and awaken our personal genius. What makes this book remarkable is that Hall and Bodenhamer redefine submodality patterns as a previously unrecognized meta-domain of NLP. Submodality patterns are actually meta-level operations, requiring that we disengage from immediate experience to think about our internal representations in detail and modify the elements. This self-reflective consciousness can open pathways to states of excellence.
The Structure of Excellence is actually two books. Book I makes the case that submodalities take us to a meta-level regarding internal representations. It presents a model of excellence by defining the factors, processes, and states that contribute to genius, and shows how geniuses manage their thinking. Book II offers new NLP change patterns based on the relationship between submodalities and meta-states.
NLP is the science of taking a meta-position to individual human experience. With NLP we surmise that human functioning emerges from internal maps, constructed of sensory-based (VAKOG) representations. The structures and sequences of our maps are called strategies. Language is a higher order of representation; a meta-representational system. The Meta Model of language, the first meta-domain, allows us to articulate our maps and strategies. Meta-programs, a second meta-domain, describe the perceptual filters and personality variables that influence thinking and behavior. Meta-states, a third meta-domain, describe how we perceive and feel about our own thinking and feelings.
Representational systems are the building blocks of our models of the world (maps). Submodalities (a term coined by Richard Bandler in the 1980s) are the details that reveal the “code” of the building blocks; a structural blueprint of internal experience. When we examine our submodalities we are in a fourth meta-domain, what the authors call Meta-detailing. Hall and Bodenhamer propose that submodalities are not “sub” to anything. Instead, examining submodalities is a meta-level process.
The ability to “go meta to” direct personal experience is the structure of genius. NLP began as a study of the structure of therapeutic genius, as practiced by Erickson, Satir, and Perls. Bandler and Grinder found that, with the Meta Model, they could inquire about the distortions, deletions, and generalizations of perceptual/conceptual maps and representational systems to understand how people create empowering states.
“Geniuses operate from a different paradigm, a different way of perceptually filtering and sorting things, from a different conceptual reality and from a more advanced way of using his or her (sic) nervous system. Those individuals who perform excellence at higher levels or in new ways also tend to use different mental-and-emotional strategies.” (p. 30)
Typically, we don’t experience submodalities consciously. We usually don’t ask ourselves questions about the structure of our internal representations. To examine our submodalities, we must go meta to our representations and doing so changes the frame. Now we are observing our thoughts. To do so, we necessarily operate in a meta-state.
So what does this have to do with genius? A genius operates from a dual focus, recognizing key differences, while simultaneously maintaining a “big picture” or overall frame of meaning. According to Hall and Bodenhamer, geniuses have:
- A specific detailing awareness [that] looks for salient differences (namely, differences that stand out). Genius [is] the ability to make refined distinctions—to see, hear and feel differences, to sort and separate….The genius sees, hears, feels and thinks about what others do not see.
- A higher embracing frame that sorts for patterns and similarities….By operating from some higher level frame, the genius organizes knowledge according to the pattern. The pattern….detects and expresses leverage points within systems for taking effective action. (p. 60)
To develop the quality of genius in any skill one brings “higher level frames of awareness to bear on the quality level of the representational systems. Genius arises from and exists as a meta-level state of consciousness…[and] inherently involves a flexibility of consciousness.”
Submodalities are not lower level components of internal representations. They capture the qualities and properties of internal representations. They cannot exist as separate from our representations. They are higher order processes that shape representations. Submodalities derive from understandings and concepts, not vice versa. Yet NLP has operated as though submodalities and meanings form a two-way street (i.e., change the submodalities and the meaning changes automatically). Yet, in practice, this method has not always worked. Hall and Bodenhamer state that submodality change patterns work “only when meta-frames are set.”
Thus, submodality shifts are effective when, in going meta to the internal representation, one also accesses meta-states conducive to change. The primary contribution of this book is that it debunks the long-held premise that changes in submodalities, in and of themselves, result in state changes.
“We now realize that if a submodality shift works, it works because it has activated some meta-level structure.” (p. 208)
While Book I is theoretical, Book II is practical, presenting six new NLP pattern groupings that can change experience at a meta-level:
- Foregrounding and Backgrounding: Change state by switching the foreground and background of an internal representation. Pain is an example: Take a representation of pain and move it into the background, and move background experience into the foreground.
- Negating Old Programs: How do we “negate” those states that get in the way of excellence? The authors describe several linguistic tactics and submodality interventions that can change meanings. The list includes metaphor, denominalizing, linguistic negations, and behavioral negations.
- Changing Beliefs: Here, the authors explore the role of beliefs in excellence, the structure of those beliefs, and how submodality interventions can diminish limiting beliefs and enhance empowering ones. The text updates the Submodality Belief Change Pattern and describes additional belief changing patterns as well. The list includes metaphor, creating doubt, and anchors for saying “NO” to limiting beliefs and “YES” to empowering beliefs.Hall and Bodenhamer describe Meta-yessing as “The most dynamic belief change pattern we’ve discovered to date.” They present the Ten Minute Belief Change Pattern, based on the difference between a thought and a belief. A belief is a thought confirmed by a meta-level validation or confirmation. The change process involves saying a firm “NO” to an old belief and an enthusiastic “YES” to a replacement belief.
- Organizing Data into Patterns of Understanding: This process requires going meta to internal data and finding new relationships. The authors also offer an interesting model for defining levels of thought.
- Valuing Things of Importance: Valuing is the meta-function of assigning importance. Excellence comes from valuing and focusing on whatever makes for achievement. Values function as rewards and warnings that evoke intense emotions and empower strategies. When we value something, we not only represent it in a particular way, but we attach beliefs and understandings about significance and importance. Then we repeat the strategy until it becomes habitual.
- Reframing Meanings: Meanings are the frames we put around our perceptions. Meanings are associations based on “linkages” between events. These linkages emerge as statements about cause-effect, complex equivalence, and identity. By layering associations, we construct frames of reference. Reframing is a meta-level function requiring that we step out of our meanings to evaluate and alter them. Altering submodalities results in new meanings and beliefs only when those alterations are made within the context of meta-level operations.
“We will not find these higher level and layered phenomena (i.e., beliefs and meanings)… amendable (sic) to mere ‘submodality’ shifts. The only exception…occurs when we use a ‘submodality’ quality, distinction, or feature in a way so that it represents, or stands for, some higher level symbol. Thus, if ‘a black and white picture’ represents the meta-level concept of ‘Not Real,’ and ‘a picture in color’ represents the meta-level concept of ‘Real,’ then we could bring this ‘submodality’ feature to bear…so that it sets the frame of ‘Real’ and thereby turn a mere ‘thought’…into a ‘belief.'” (p. 220)
Next, Book II gives three new Meta-Pattern Applications for excellence:
- Change Personal History: This reformulation of the Change Personal History pattern incorporates putting a resource in a memory and meta-stating the memory (i.e., changing the meaning), as well as meta-stating the past, present, and future on one’s timeline.
- Inserting Resourceful Ideas: Here is a pattern interruption called the “Inserting Resources Pattern.” Make mental movies of limiting, problem experiences and stop them, while inserting an image that represents a resourceful state.
- Externalizing Submodalities: The authors present the novel idea that submodalities do not exist in our heads, but as holographic maps through which we move. Rather than representations existing in us, we exist in our representations. Hall and Bodenhamer suggest several ways to calibrate another’s submodalities by observing subtle cues such as eye movement and posture. In this way, we can chart another’s “mindscape.”
The authors invite us to refer to submodality shifts as Meta-distinction Patterns. They then review Bandler’s work in submodalities to show that much of his success was in his ability to meta-state the changes people wanted. Robert Dilts (Strategies of Genius, Volumes I, II, and III, Meta Publications, 1994-1995) pointed out that the observation of submodalities could be called “meta-detailing;” paying attention to the details from a meta-position. This is “the essence of genius,”—moving from the general to the specific and back again.
NLP helps us reach meta-cognitions by getting us out of content so that we focus on the context or structure of thought and behavior. Meta-thinking means examining the “structure or process nature of our thoughts.” Thus, we enter the meta-domains of NLP; the Meta Model, Meta-programs, and Meta-detailing (submodalities). Submodality distinctions (color, location, or brightness, for example) stand for higher level concepts such as past/future or old/new. Examining and commenting on submodalities are dissociative processes that de-intensify emotions and take us to a “higher frame of reference” (a Meta-state). The structure of excellence is found in the ability to go meta to one’s thoughts, and to set higher frames of meaning that organize, govern, and support desired outcomes.
Hall and Bodenhamer are familiar names to readers of Anchor Point. They have co-authored a number of books and articles that bring new understandings and approaches to the practice of NLP. They are both masterful NLP trainers and geniuses in their own right.
The Structure of Excellence is not a light read. It is well-researched, complex, thought-provoking and best digested in small chunks. It is full of new ideas and concepts about submodalities and the cognitive process of going meta to our thoughts and feelings. The book is an in-depth analysis of the mental ability of the genius—the ability to simultaneously attend to details, maintain a framework, meta-state the process, and take varying perceptual positions to the work at hand. The Structure of Excellence is the best book available on submodalities and one that NLP practitioners and trainers will definitely want for their personal libraries.
Judith E. Pearson, Ph.D. is a Master Practitioner and Certified Trainer of NLP. She is a Licensed Professional Counselor practicing in Springfield, Virginia.
To contact Judith:
Mailing Address: 5417-C Backlick Road, Springfield, VA 22151