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Present State

Present State by Rachel Hott, Ph.D. Source: Anchor Point Magazine

What is your present state? Are you reading this saying to yourself, “O.K. I know about present state” or are you reading this saying to yourself, “O.K. I know about present state and what more can I discover,” or are you saying, “Here is another NLP jargon phrase that maybe I will learn something about.” Depending upon what you have said to yourself will determine what you continue to do with your present and soon to be past.

When you identify your own or someone’s present state (P.S.) there are specific pieces that you want to address. For example when someone is reading Anchor Point, how do they choose to read a particular article. Let us say that this reader wants to read one or two articles in their busy day. Their present state is that moment where they are making the critical decision of which article they will read. Some of the common processes that go on for this reader, as well as for other people who have to do something in order to get their goal, is to have internal processes, internal states and external behaviors. These three processes go under the category of index computations.

Internal Process (Internal Process)

As I went through those three hypothetical internal dialogues I was giving you a possible example of someone’s internal processes. Internal processes are comprised of internal dialogues,sounds and images. The specific aspects of the internal dialogues, sounds and images go under the heading of submodalities. If you heard the voice that said, “Here is another NLP jargon phrase that maybe I will learn something about.” We could examine what speed that phrase was spoken, at what volume,where it was located, tone of voice etc. Identifying the specific submodalities gives you or the other person a literal way to understand what you are experiencing within the internal dialogue, sound or image. When you know how you are experiencing your internal process you have more choice about how to deal with it. (Submodalities is a whole entire column unto itself. You can read more about them in Using Your Brain For a Change ).

Internal State (Internal State)

Along with those hypothetical inner dialogues you may have also experienced some feelings related to whether you had time to read the article. Internal state is represented by internal feelings such as happiness, joy, fear, anger etc. Similar to internal processes you can discover the qualities of your internal state. Where is the feeling located, are there any sensations, temperature, movement or size that is pronounced. Again these are submodality distinctions. If you find yourself overly aware of your internal state as though you are driven by them a suggested book to read is The Emotional Hostage.

External Behavior (External Behavior)

When you began reading this and now that you are reading this you had certain external behaviors. Perhaps your posture was erect and your head was tilted or you were sitting back in a chair with your feet on the table. Both of these are examples of your external behavior. External behaviors are descriptions of your posture, gestures, facial expressions, specific mannerisms and your external dialogue. So when you are speaking to another person your words are also included in the description of external behaviors.


Initially the present state I identified was one where you were just in a deciding process. What was it that finally got you to read the article? One question I will ask but I know we can’t get the answer is What was it that got you to not read this article. (That is the old joke How many people are not here, please raise your hand). The trigger is the external event either, visual (something seen), auditory (something heard) or kinesthetic (something externally felt, i.e. textures, temperature or someone’s touch). In most cases a trigger is an external event. Although some people are unconscious of their triggers and swear that the feeling or thought just pops inside them and that is why they eat, get nervous, shy away from people etc. External triggers are the same as anchors, they cause you to feel a certain way without your conscious awareness. (See Article on Anchoring)

Case Study of Present State

I was called by a company to work with one of their managers, Gail. who had been recently promoted. (The names have been changed for confidentially purposes). Gail had been told that she was speaking too fast and the perception from upper management was that she was nervous. Her supervisor, Roy, was very concerned because he valued Gail’s work and wanted to see her succeed. However the message he was getting from the top was that perhaps her promotion was a mistake. I was brought in as a communications consultant to work specifically with Gail. The issue of speaking too fast was the identified present state. In our session I asked Gail if she was speaking too fast all the time. She said, “no that it was with one particular woman, Fran, in upper management. The rest of the session focused on identifying her present and desired states. (Desired state is what the person wants. In the next Back to Basics article I will write about desired states). “What is it about Fran that gets you to speak faster?” I asked. “Well she looks at me with her big eyes and then says, what else do you have for me?” Gail responded. “If she just said what else do you have for me without looking at you would that give you the same feeling?” I asked. “No, it is the way she looks at me first,” Gail said. Thus we had identified the external trigger- “the way she looks at me”. I asked Gail to demontrate the eyes and she widened them and moved her head up as though to look over one’s glasses. O.K. so if I look at you with those eyes (which I demonstrate) what are you feeling? (This is a question seeking internal state information). “I get nervous, Gail says, I feel nervous right in my gut..” “And when you are nervous what are you thinking about? (This ia a question for internal process information). “I’m wondering if I have all the information she wants and whether I am truly prepared.” Do you start doing anything when you are nervous? (This is a question for external behavior information). “Yeah I start talking fast.” After asking these process questions we can see that her index computations have a particular order. Once the external trigger is fired her sequence goes, internal state-internal process-external behavior. As I restated her present state with this particular sequence I asked her if there was anything she was getting out of speaking fast. This type of question is included as an ecology check. The NLP presupposition is that every behavior has a positive intention. Therefore what is this behavior doing for her and how can we satisfy the benefits in another behavior. Gail was unaware of any positive by-product of speaking fast. She believed that it would be ecological for her to change her behavior. Now that we have her present state we can begin to strategize for her desired state. The desired state specifications will be discussed in the next back to basics article.

So what is the present state really? I believe it is an identification of where the person is at with a particular problem or an assessment of their immediate present. Initially in a NLP practitioner training a clarification for new students is that an individual’s problem can be renamed the present state. Changing the attitude from problem state to present state enables the client to experience their situation as a process as well as acknowledging the usefulness of any behavior. In Gail’s case simply reviewing the process and identifying her, internal process, internal state and external behaviors plus the trigger gave her a lot of valuable information. Some times the elicitation of the present state effects the change by the virtue of the client’s heightened awareness.

In an NLP session either in business consulting or in psychotherapy a very typical question from the NLP practitioner is, “What do you want?” After this information is received the desired state information may be elicited. However what may often be elicited in the beginning of the session is the present state. After the initial question the NLP programmer then asks, “What stops you from getting it?” It is at this point with the NLP rapport skills and the meta model (Refer to Back to Basics articles on these subjects) the NLP programmer begins to ask questions about the index computations; internal processes, internal states and external behavior(s) and the trigger.

At this moment you have come to the end of the article. Please note your present state. What are your internal processes, states and external behaviors? Pick a situation that you get stuck in and do the same exercise. Take a moment and imagine that situation and again review your index computations and discover the external trigger. I look forward to writing again when we can continue the present and lead it into the future-the desired state.

Originally appeared in Anchor Point Magazine. Used by permission.

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NLP 4 TH GENERATION: Reported by Rachel Hott, PhD with additional commentary from Colette Normandeau. Rachel Hott wrote this article after she and Steven Leeds attended the NLP Leadership Summit in A


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