The Drop Down Through & The Mind Back-Tracking Techniques

Will the Thought in the Back of Your Mind
Please Stand Up?

L. Michael Hall, Ph.D.
Bobby G. Bodenhamer, D.Min.

Back to the experience out of which our map came! In NLP, this describes the heart and passion of using the Meta-Model. We start with Surface structures and meta-model them in order to get back to the Deep structures.

The Cognitive-Behavioral Psychology model, in which NLP falls, postulates that behind every emotion lies a "thought." This "thought" may involve an understanding, awareness, sensory representation, belief, value, decision, etc. From this awareness that "beneath" (or behind) every emotion lies a thought comes the idea of "back-tracking" to the thought out of which it came. Ellis (1976) in Rational-Emotive Therapy (RET) and Beck (1976) each searches with a client to discover the person's evaluative judgment that drives the emotion.

This understanding also fits the diagrams on the levels of abstraction that Korzybski (1941/1994) developed in describing the nervous system's modeling process. We start at the bottom in the unspeakable territory which we can never reach by words and which exists "out there" beyond the nervous system. But then we "abstract," (e.g. summarize, bring in, and transform) from the territory to make our neurological "maps" of that territory. Then, moving up two or three levels, we finally reach the speakable level of words, a linguistic map of various neurological transforms. In Science and Sanity, in a section on semantic reactions, Korzybski suggested a semantic experiment to discover the "meaning" of any given term. The effective of the experiment leads a person down further and further into the deep structure, into deeper levels of neurology...

"Here we have reached the bottom and the foundation of all non-elementalistic meanings--meanings of undefined terms, which we "know" somehow, but cannot tell. In fact, we have reached the un-speakable level." (p. 21).

Sometimes we need to go back down to the territory and re-map in more appropriate and accurate ways. This Bandler and Grinder (1975) built into the meta-model (as a model of human modeling processes) using the deep and surface structures of Chomsky. So dropping down back to the experience out of which we do our mental mapping describes an insight of the Meta-Model as well as a technique.

This technique involves a backtracking to the neuro-linguistic constructions. In doing so, we imagine "going back" or "dropping down" to a lower or prior level of abstraction. To accomplish what? Typically we use this "Drop-Down Through" or Mind Backtracking Technique to assist ourselves, or others, in releasing negative emotions, especially those in which we may feel stuck. Via this process the negative emotions will release as we move back or down to previous levels of abstraction.

What lies at the bottom? The Void, the Nothing, the Unspeakable realm, the quantum, God, ultimate reality, etc.

Arising then, first from Korzybski, through the Cognitive Psychology models, then through Bandler and Grinder, Tad James first developed this specific technique as a Time-Line TherapyTM technique. We here first present Tad's process, then one developed by John Overdurf to streamline the process, then our own development, Mind Backtracking.

The Pattern

1. Find the first event. "What is the root cause of this problem, the first event which, when disconnected, will cause the problem to disappear? Tell me about the first time you felt this emotion..."

2. Go back to the first event on your time-line. "I'd like to ask your unconscious mind to float up... above your time-line (The line that represents your life history.), and then to go back into the past... and as you do you can go back to the event itself and drop down into it." Fully associate the client into the kinesthetic of the event. Have him/her fully describe where and how he/she feels the emotion.

[Note: Do not associate yourself or another into the event if it has the qualities or character of a trauma; always run the V/K dissociation pattern or some other dissociative technique first to release the negative emotions.]

3. Preserve the learnings. "As you re-visit that event, notice and describe the emotion/s you now feel? What learnings have you made here that you would want to preserve? What do you need to learn from this event, the learning of which will allow you to let this all go, easily and effortlessly?"

4. Drop-down through. "As quickly as you can, allow yourself to drop down through the emotion as you do a kind of kinesthetic 'free-fall' through it and do this as quickly as you can... and say aloud the name of the emotion that you find underneath this first experience..."

5. Repeat this process again and again. "And as quickly as you can, just drop through that emotion, the emotion you found underneath the original one. And what do you find underneath that one?" Continue this process until you float down all the way through and come to the "void," or "nothing," to that unspeakable stage of experience and notice, as you do, how you come out the other side to an experience that has a positive kinesthetic to it. Then free-fall another time to a second positive kinesthetic.

[Usually you need only to go to two positive emotions. If looping occurs more than once, use an inductive language pattern to exit the loop to a deeper level of meaning. End the process when you reach the second positive emotion or the client's highest resource frame. You should see and experience an obvious physiological shift. This suggests the chain of emotions below or behind emotions have collapsed together.]

6. Meta-State the negative emotions with the positive emotions. For instance, below I (BB) elicited the following emotional states from a client:

1) Abandonment,
2) Scared,
3) Lonely,
4) Helpless,
5) Nothing
6) Jesus (The person's highest meta-frame so I stopped him at this state.)

A very helpful addition to the original Drop Down Through Technique is to say after dropping down through to the resource states, "And what happens to 'abandonment' in the presence of Jesus?"  The client said, "It is gone."  "Good, and what happens to being 'scared' in the presence of Jesus?"  "It is gone."  "Good, and what happens to 'loneliness' in the presence of Jesus?" "It is gone." "Great, and what happens to 'helplessness' in the presence of Jesus?" "It is gone. They are all gone."

In doing this we are adding the meta-stating process of bringing to bear a higher level on the lower level. In this case, the interaction will negate the negative states. On numerous occasions I (BB) I have learned that adding this meta-stating process will totally eliminate the problem. You can re-associate the client into the original problem and it will be gone. If so, skip to future pacing #11.

7. Float above your experience and time-line. "As you return to the experience that began this experience, float up  your time-line, and go back in history to well before the beginning of the event, or any of the chain of events that led to that event, and turn and look towards now."

8. Solidify and test for the disappearance of the negative emotions. "Now where has the old emotion/s gone? ... Yes, it disappeared." "Now, just float right down into the event and notice just how fully the emotion has completely disappeared from what the way you used to experience it... Do you find the emotion totally gone? Good, return back up above to your time-line to fifteen minutes above and before the painful event." [Continue to re-run this process until you access the positive kinesthetic.]

9. Come back to now. "Now, come back to now, above your time-line only as quickly as you can let go of all the _____(name the emotion)____ on the events all the way back to now, assume the position above and fifteen minutes before each subsequent event, preserve the learnings, and let go of the _____(name the emotion)____ all the way back to now." [Break state.]

10. Test. "As you recall some event, any event, in the past where you used to feel that old emotion, go back there and try to see if you can feel it, or you may find that you cannot."

11. Future pace. "I want you to go out into the future to an unspecified time in the future which if it had happened in the past, you would have felt _____(name the emotion)____, and notice if you can find that old emotion, or you may find that you cannot. OK? Good come back to now."

The Pattern Simplified

John Overdurf and Julie Silverthorn (1996) have simplified this Drop-Down Through Process into the following five steps.

1. Elicit a word which corresponds to emotional state. Identify a value or unwanted emotional state in the form of some nominalization: anger, fearfulness, timidity, etc.

2. Invite a person to "just drop down through that emotion . . . until you come to what you find underneath it..."

3. Continue the Dropping Down Through. Continue to repeat this process until you have generated a chain of states that run all the way through to a "void", "nothing," an unspeakable stage, etc. and comes out the other side to a positive kinesthetic state.

4. End the process when you reach the non-mirror image reverse of the first word (e.g. the undesired emotional term). Unless you come out immediately to the obvious non-mirror image reverse, go to the second positive kinesthetic. You will find an obvious physiological shift which indicates that the chain has begun to collapse at that point.

5. Repeat this whole process with another emotional state. Do this until you have only accessed a positive kinesthetic. You may find that various chains interconnect. In these cases continue running the "branches" of each chain until you reach only a positive kinesthetic.

6. I (BB) highly suggest utilizing the meta-stating process in #6 above.

Demonstrating Dropping-Down Through

For me (BB), the stages of dropping down through that one recent client had with this process involved the following "chain" of states:

  1. Abandonment
  2. Scared
  3. Lonely
  4. Helpless
  5. Nothing (a void, here a person will feel or experience "nothing" and so will have a "blank" so to speak)
  6. Jesus. This client dropped straight into "Jesus." I wrote in my notes, "A big one. She really had a phenomenal experience."

The following one represents another case, and a classic example of what we usually get with this process. Often I look at this as a kinesthetic free fall down through the outcome chain that one might get from using the Core TransformationTM process. Here you can take a person back on their time-line and come forward with each painful internal representation. In the process you thereby provide a re-imprint. From another recent client, I got this classic list: 1) Confusion, 2) Shock, 3) Fear, 4) Worry, 5) Fear for dad (different from above), 6) Fear of losing house (different fear, dad arrested for gambling by the police), 7) Nothing. 8) Safety, 9) Christ. At this point the client started laughing out loud.

Some caveats. Like all NLP techniques, this process will not always work. When a person drops down through, he or she may not always get the classic negative emotions, the void, and then two positive. Sometimes you get different mixtures --scramble eggs. Tad recommends that a person follow these directions precisely and to do so only with individuals, not groups.

On my (MH) first experience with this process, I picked a recent incident to which I responded with anger and upset feelings. Then, as I did the kinesthetic free-fall--I first fell into 2) hurt, then I moved into 3) fear, then into a strange emotional state, one wherein I felt a strong sense of life itself feeling 4) unfulfilled, after that, I felt, as Alice in Wonderland, falling, falling, falling... I hit the Void of Nothingness. Falling after that took me to the chaos of God's World where I had a sense of his spirit moving upon the waters bringing order out of chaos.

Mind BackTracking

As you can imagine, some people will not like the metaphor of falling or going "down." So for them, playfully using the metaphor of going "behind" enables them to use the same process.

This process may remind you of the Kinesthetic Stepping Back technique [I (MH) wrote this in "Spirit of NLP" (1996)]. In that process we take a state of some distress, and step back from it on our time-line so that we can then look at it. There in front of us we see (dissociated, from a spectator's point of view) our Future Self in that distress state! Yet as we have stepped back, we have accessed another state, one with more resources and one in which we can begin to stack and store other resources. "What resource/s would change that future experience and make it less painful or distressful?"

Once we have accessed those resources, we step back again. Now we see our future self playing and accessing resources for a future distressful state. Here again we can imagine additional resources that would help that future self. And so continuing moving back on one's time-line, associating into more and more resources as moving back, and gaining increasing perspective on the future self.

When a person has backed up numerous times and anchored resources at each spot on a kinesthetic time-line, then the neuro-linguistic programmer could assist with languaging and anchoring moving the person forward in "time" reanchoring and re-experiencing the resources until coming up to the present (where the process began) now completely re-organized.

Similarly, in backing up or "backtracking" to the cognitive-behavioral state out of which the anger/upset came, I landed first at hurt, then fear, etc. Visually I had the experience of running my movie backward--and had a strong kinesthetic sense of quickly zooming back and did so until it came out of a void and then out of God's chaos.

The Mind BackTracking Pattern

With this pattern, we begin with the statement and continue to use this as the driving force:

"And, behind that thought whirling in your mind lies another thought.... So as you allow yourself to notice what thought do you find back there?"

Using this directional question that swish the mind backwards offers a profound and simple way to take a client back to the Void of nothingness and then on to various resources.


How does this process work? It operates by associating into a problem, getting the "thought" that drives it, and then asking a series of backtracking questions about the "thought" (ideas, representations, etc.) behind it that propels it forward into becoming one's frames or generalizations. In doing this, we go (or we take other) back to the experience out of which it came and ultimately to the Void. When we get there we have arrived at the place of pure potentiality.

As such, it provides a valuable tool for those whose primary representation systems involve something other than the visual modality (e.g. auditory, kinesthetic, and/or auditory digital).

And the value of getting one back (or down) to the Void--the unspeakable dimension before abstracting? It opens us up to new potentialities as it gives us new ways to remap. It also gives us a deep neurological or unconscious understanding of the difference between map and territory-- "maps are but maps," they never exist as territory.

Though Bob did not future pace or re-imprint in this case with Susan, he very well could have brought her forward and have her re-imprint her entire time-line with the resources that she found in that place of pure potentiality. This usually offers an additional reinforcement of the process.


Michael Hall, Ph.D. does NLP Training, specializing in Meta-States Training, 1904 N. 7th. St. Grand Jct. Co. 81501.

Bobby G. Bodenhamer, D.Min., therapist and NLP trainer director NLP of Gastonia NC. 1516 Cecelia Dr. Gastonia, NC. 28054.

This pattern appears in their co-authored work, soon to be published, Time-Lining: Patterns for Adventuring in "Time."


Beck, A.T. (1976). Cognitive therapy and the emotional disorders. New York: International University Press.

Ellis, Albert and Harper, Robert A. (1976). A new guide to rational living. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc.

James, Tad. (1989). Master Time Line TherapyR Training Manual.

Hall, L. Michael (1995). Meta-states: A new domain of logical levels, self-reflexiveness in human States of consciousness. Grand Junction, CO: ET Publications.

Hall, L. Michael. (1996). Dragon slaying: Dragons to princes. Grand Junction, CO: ET Publications.

Hall, L. Michael. (1996). The spirit of NLP: The process, meaning and criteria for mastering NLP. Carmarthen, Wales, England: Anglo-American Books.

Korzybski, Alfred. (1941/1994). Science and sanity: An introduction to non-Aristotelian systems and general semantics, (5th. ed.). Lakeville, CN: International Non-Aristotelian Library Publishing Co.

Overdurf, John; Silverthorn. (1996). Beyond Words Audio Cassettes.

1997-2002 Bob Bodenhamer D.Min. and L. Michael Hall, Ph.D. All rights reserved.