How to Develop VAK Flexibility

vak-visualThere are .mp3 files included at the end of this post to help you develop VAK flexibility.

Note: The iNLP Center did not develop this method, although we named it VAK Synergy for iNLP Center students. It’s a classic NLP and VAK modality exercise. I don’t remember where I learned it, but feel like Steve and Connirae Andreas would be a good guess.

The VAK Synergy exercise helps you develop internal VAK flexibility. If one or more of the VAK modalities are challenging for you to consciously experience, this could be a worthwhile exercise.

For example, if it’s difficult for you to:

• See pictures in your mind’s eye
• Remember or imagine sounds: music, conversations, environmental sounds, etc….
• Be aware feelings or emotions in your body

Description of VAK Synergy

A common question during NLP practitioner training has to do with developing VAK flexibility. How do we learn to use all the VAK modalities when one or more of them is challenging to access? For example, some NLP students find it difficult to visualize in their mind’s eye. They don’t see inner pictures. Others have a hard time remembering or imagining sounds. Still others are less aware of feelings in their body.

It’s important to note that this is merely a matter of conscious awareness. NLP maintains that we all do all three of the VAK modalities naturally. So, if you’re not aware of your feelings, you are still capable of feeling and do have emotions. The issue is that you are not consciously aware of them when they are happening. And the same principle applies to the visual and auditory modalities. It’s all a matter of where we tend to direct conscious attention.

Over time, we develop habits and may not be used to accessing a full range of VAK experience. To become more VAK flexible, we need to develop the skill and practice patiently until we’ve expanded our consciousness enough to encompass all of the VAK experience we have.

VAK Enhancement Exercise

This is a mini-meditation that begins where you are most aware and leverages your natural abilities. The exercise is a simple formula involving an imaginary tree:) During the meditation, we’ll experience three elements of the imaginary tree: visual, auditory and kinesthetic.

Visual elements
Seeing the tree, leaves, trunk, height, breadth, surroundings, colors of leaves, color of the bark, texture (that you can see) of bark, etc…

Auditory elements
Sounds of wind blowing through leaves, branches rubbing together, chirping of birds in tree, what you might say to yourself about the tree, sound of rubbing your hand against the bark, other sounds in the environment, etc…

Kinesthetic elements
Feeling of bark texture (smooth, rough), temperature of bark, texture of a leaf, temperature of a leaf, feeling of leaf squished in hand, feeling of breeze against skin, temperature of surround air, feeling of ground beneath feet, feelings or emotions about tree on the inside, etc…

Process and .mp3 Guides

Begin with the VAK element that’s easiest for you to imagine, then move to the next easiest element and finish with the most difficult element to imagine. Then, repeat the cycle over and over. If visual is easy for you, begin there and move into auditory and kinesthetic. If auditory is easier for you, begin with that, then move to visual and kinesthetic. If kinesthetic is easier, start there and move to auditory, then visual.

Below are some audio guides to take you through the exercise. There are three guides, one for each VAK starting point. Feel free to listen to them all:)

Begins with Visual Modality

Begins with Auditory Modality

Begins with Kinesthetic Modality

V-K Dissociation: NLP to Heal Traumatic Memories

Warning: This article is for informational purposes only and is not to be interpreted as self-help advice. Do not attempt to address trauma on your own. You should seek healing with the help of a qualified practitioner.

Many times we like to remember things as vividly as possible.

If your favorite memory is camping with your family when you were twelve, you’re going to want to remember every single aspect of that experience.

The smell of campfire in the air, and eggs and bacon at breakfast. The warmth of the fire on your skin against the cool outside temperatures in the evening. The sound of birds chirping as you opened your eyes first thing in the morning.

In NLP, this is known as being in an associated state. You’re remembering events through your own eyes, as if you’re there again, immersed in the scene and reliving the event.

Remembering positive events in this manner is a great way to recapture and relive positive feelings in the here and now.

Sometimes remembering in an associated way is not a good thing.

According to an article titled Why We Remember Traumatic Events Better published by Live Science:

In a study of rats, emotionally arousing events triggered activity in the amygdala, an almond-shaped part of the brain known to be involved in emotional learning and memory. The interaction then triggers production of a protein called Arc in neurons in the hippocampus, a brain region involved in processing long-term memory.

It seems the brain may be wired to remember trauma, which would make sense from a self-protective point of view. If you didn’t remember the bad things that happen, how would you know what to avoid in the future?

The problem is, when you’re continually traumatized emotionally by bad memories, it makes life very difficult on far too many levels.

Is it possible to both remember what happened in the past for self-protecting purposes, avoid similar situations in the future, and NOT be re-traumatized on a regular basis?

Remember, if you experience something traumatic, and vividly remember that experience in an associated state, it’s going to rekindle the painful feelings appropriately associated with the negative event.

What’s the solution?

A way to ‘disassociate’ yourself when in this type of situation is to change how you’re recalling the traumatic memory.

Rather than seeing it through your own eyes, and recalling the sounds and smells, try imagining it as if you’re watching yourself in a black and white movie. Perhaps this is even a silent movie, and you’re just an observer who is watching the actors play out a scene. Get creative in how to detach yourself from the events that play out.

By focusing on the “how” of the memory, rather than the “why”, we are getting to the source of the problem, which is the fact that your brain is programmed to recall it in a painful way. We’re simply flipping the switch.

This is also a healthy preventive approach to suppressing this memory in an unhealthy and potentially detrimental way (such a drinking or drugs), which many people do because they don’t know how to deal with the memory’s presence in their daily lives.

Why We Remember Traumatic Events Better. (n.d.). Retrieved from

Metaphoric Interventions

Our concept of existence is metaphorical in nature. We can only comprehend life, objects, and ourselves by association, which is the broad meaning of a metaphor – to understand one thing in terms of another.

The metaphor we choose or inherit, which is often deeply unconscious, holds enormous power over how we feel, think, behave, and interact with others.

My metaphor for years was “life is a struggle”, which made life very scary and not much fun.

Recently, while going through several of the NLP strategies, I a new metaphor popped into mind – life is an experiment.  What a difference that makes for me. This new metaphor takes the pressure off and allows me to try things I may not have been willing to try previously. I didn’t have to do something perfectly, it doesn’t have to turn out right – I am experimenting.
It seems to fit in with the NLP principle – there is no failure only feedback.

Metaphoric Interventions is included in the Personal Development Program course  – Life Metaphors.


The Strategies Model suggests thoughts are sequential in nature and a person thinks about one thing at a time leading to an outcome or to motivation. These thoughts are formulated based on visual (V), auditory (A), kinesthetic (K), olfactory (O), or gustatory (G) information.  When eliciting someone’s strategy or process, the purpose is to determine how he or she composes this VAKOG phenomenon on the way to the results they experience. The first step is to evaluate what sensory input is involved in the decision and in what order the information is processed.  Once known, changes can be made to elicit more adaptive patterns.

Hypothetical Client
Jayson is a 21-year old man who makes an appointment with a coach because he has been hired as a sales consultant for a large company. He feels as if this is an excellent opportunity and he wants to do well. However, even though he has successfully completed the training, he remains nervous about talking to clients.

During the first session, my goals are to:
1. Build Rapport – I observe Jayson’s eye accessing cues and listen to his predicate phrases. His primary representational system is visual. So, I ask visual questions such as “What do you see yourself doing five years from now?” and “Can you imagine what it would be like to be a successful sales consultant?” We both belong to a gym, so, we share a common interest, which makes building rapport fairly easy.

2. Identify the positive intent of the behavior – Jayson says the positive intent of his nervousness is to make sure he makes a positive impression on his bosses.

3. Complete the Logical Levels exercise

The information gained during the exercise provides a clear understanding of what Jayson wants to achieve and where best to intervene. His answers are as follows:

Jayson: Wherever I making a sales presentation to a prospective client.

Jayson: I get nervous and stumble over my words.

 & Skills Level
Jayson: I know the product well. I have successfully completed the training and I want to do well.

Beliefs Level
Jayson: I have never done anything like this before, it is all somewhat foreign to me, and I don’t have all the skills to do the job as well as I want.

Identity Level
Jayson: I am a young man who is not very worldly.

I decide to intervene at the Beliefs level and ask Meta model questions to transform problematic vagueness, such as, “You have never done anything like this – ever?”, “What skills do you think are missing?” and “How is the work somewhat foreign to you?

First I want to create an anchor for Jayson.
Choose a feeling or state.
Jayson – The feeling he wants to work on is anxiety when meeting with a client.
Think of a time when a preferred state occurred and anchor that feeling by connecting it to a specific physical action.
Jayson – The preferred state he wants to access is the confidence he felt when he won first place in a golf tournament and he anchored that feeling by touching his thumbs together.

Go to a neutral place.

Jayson – Focused on the wind in the trees outside the window.
Test the connection to determine whether or not the preferred feeling occurs.
If the new feeling is not strong enough, repeat the process until it elicits the feeling or try a different physical or visual anchor.
Jayson – Repeated the anchor process several times until he felt the confidence.

Strategies Model
Once the anchor is in place a possible approach is the Strategies Model.  Jayson says his process is as follows: He sees the client coming towards, hears the questions asked, sees the customer’s waiting for the answer, feels fear and chokes up. This VAKOG pattern leads him to feel anxious and forget what he knows.

I guided him to create a different VAKOG pattern as he thinks about making the sale. Instead, when he sees the client, he takes a deep breath, puts his thumbs together, and pictures his anchor of confidence. This VAKOG pattern offers him other choices.

Future Pace
I always like to future pace what has been taught. So, I asked Jayson to think of situations which could arise where he would feel the anxiety, instructed him to use the anchor, and practice the new pattern to see what or if adjustments must be made.

This is one approach to working with the issue of anxiety.

An Extra Logical Levels Exercise

The Logical Levels process is a valuable NLP tool which can be used to organize one’s thinking. The practitioner can use it as a model to identify where difficulties lie and to help a client understand in a clear and structured manner where he or she is stuck. The lowest level is environment and the highest level is identity; each level builds on previous levels.

A person’s self-esteem, sense of self, and with what they identify.This can include identifying with one’s job, marriage, or religion. However, identify can also include how the person’s interprets events in terms of personal self-worth.

Whether a person believes something is possible or impossible, whether they believe it is necessary or unnecessary, whether or not they feel motivated about it.

Whether or not a person has innate capabilities and/or learned skills for dealing appropriately with an issue.

The external behavior can include what an observer would see or hear or feel when the individual is engaged in a particular activity.

The: the people and places that an individual interacts with and responds to, when they are engaged in a particular activity.

The Logical Levels process can be used with a client as a way to organize thinking, gather information, and communicate. The process helps establish an understanding of what makes a person “tick.”  When looking for reasons why change is not occurring, it can be helpful to look at a person’s neurological levels as a way of determining exactly where a block is located and where it would be most effective to intervene.

Hypothetical Case using the Logical Levels Exercise:

Gregg came to see an NLP Practitioner because of his nervousness in making presentations.

Environment Level – refers to what is around the person when the behavior occurs. 
Gregg:  I get nervous every time I give a presentation either for a small or a large group.

Behavior Level – refers to what the person does.
Gregg:  I break out in a cold sweat, stutter, and can barely say the words.

Capability Level – refers to what a person is able to do.
 Gregg: I know the material; I am conversant in one-to-one meetings but not in front of groups.

Belief Level – refers to what a person thinks he or she can or should do. 
Gregg: I should be able to do this; I know the products and I have taken speaking classes. I shouldn’t be nervous, but I always am.

Identity Level – refers to what a person thinks of him or herself.
  Gregg: I want to excel at my job, speaking is part of the job, and I just can’t do it comfortably.

One option is to intervene at the Environment Level where I could provide Gregg with ways to manage the anxiety or we could role play the speaking engagements.. But, because I knew that intervening at a higher level affects the lower levels, I chose to focus on the Belief Level instead. At the Belief Level, Gregg thinks “he should be able to make the presentations and he shouldn’t be nervous.” If his thinking at that Level were reframed to the belief “nervousness is a good sign, it keeps me sharp and provides information, that shift might open the door to further possibilities and additional NLP strategies.

A Sample Coaching Session

In this article, I want to explore how a coach, counselor, or therapist can apply NLP strategies when working with a client.

Jim has a drinking problem. When his fiancée unexpectedly called off their wedding, he was devastated. Since then, he occasionally asked women out, but they either declined or ended the relationship after a few dates. Over time, he basically gave up – even though his greatest dream was to be married and have a family.

Six months ago, he agreed to attend a party with a friend. During the evening, he had several drinks and discovered that he was funny. He received lots of attention and talked with a couple of women who seemed interested in him. This success encouraged him to be more social – he even had a dinner date and he also began drinking more often.  He is convinced that alcohol allows him to relax and be more natural around women.

Jim is also aware the drinking is negatively impacting his life; he missed several days of work, skipped a couple of appointments, and ignored old friends who are genuinely concerned about his change in behavior. So, he came to see me, a therapist certified as an NLP Master Practitioner.

With every client, I begin by:

Building rapport – observing eye cues and predicate phrases as well as matching and mirroring the client’s physical movements and tonality.

Identifying the positive intent of a behavior.

Completing the Outcome Specification process and exploring Logical Levels. The information provides me with a clear understanding of what the client wants to achieve and where best to intervene. It also helps me develop a purpose-driven course of action and identify strategies which would be less than helpful.

Asking Meta Model questions to transform problematic vagueness in thinking.

As we talk, Jim’s eyes move left and right; his predicate phrases include words like “I heard,” and “they listened,” which leads me to consider that his representational system is primarily auditory. So, I use statements such as “it sounds like learning communication skills would be helpful,” and “I hear sadness in your voice.” I also match the volume and speed of his voice. Rapport is established quickly.

Jim says the positive intent of drinking is to feel comfortable meeting and dating women. He really wants a girlfriend and ultimately a wife and family.

By asking “how can I help, specifically?” I am deliberately vague, so he will interpret what was said in a way that has meaning for him personally.

During the Outcome Specification process, Jim’s responses are as follows:

His goal is to feel comfortable with a woman without having a drink.

He will know he reached the goal when he can do that.

The goal is relevant a) financially – he doesn’t want to lose his job and b) health-wise – he is sure that he will become an alcoholic like his father if he keeps on this path.

Jim is reluctant to pursue the goal because he really wants to feel comfortable around a woman. This seems impossible without drinking first. He says his fiancée took his self-confidence when she left and drinking gives him courage.

He has a strong will and wants to stop drinking before it becomes a major problem.
Additional resources he wants include learning effective communication skills, motivation to stop drinking, and self-confidence.

His friends will be pleased. They are concerned. His job will be safe. His health will be good. He sees no risks, other than that he strongly believes he won’t be able to have a relationship with a woman unless he has a drink first.

Daily actions he can take:
a) practicing communication and socialization skills; maybe role playing conversations
b) saying no to alcoholic beverages.

Determine a plan he can live with and decide whether or not in-patient treatment should be considered.
It is definitely worth the effort.

In conducting the Logical levels exercise, Jim’s responses are as follows:

Environment Level
– refers to what is around us when the behavior occurs. 
Jim: When I am talking to a woman.

Behavior Level – refers to what we do.
 Jim:  I need a drink before I feel talking with her.

Capability Level – refers to what we are able to do.
 Jim: I can afford the drinks. I can talk to women easily when I have had a gin and tonic.

Belief Level – refers to what we think we can or should do.
Jim: The only way I can carry on a conversation with a woman is to have a drink first.

Identity Level – refers to what we think we are. 
Jim: I am a man who wants to get married and have a family, but was wounded when my fiancée called off our wedding and am afraid of getting hurt again.

One option is to intervene at the Environment Level – teaching Jim to limit his drinks and stay away from situations where liquor is available. Instead, I chose to focus on the Belief Level. If his thinking changed to the belief “I really can carry on a conversation with a woman without having a drink first, I just have to learn some new strategies,” he might consider other possibilities.

There are nine Meta Model distinctions. I challenged Jim on four:

– an individual selectively pays attention to certain dimensions in our experience while excluding others.
Jim said “he can’t do that now; he has to have a drink to relax.”
I asked “can’t do what?” or “can’t do what with whom?” or “what would happen if he could?

Cause and effect – the implication that one thing causes or is caused by another.
Jim said “she took my confidence away.”
I asked: “How exactly did she do that?” or “How did that one event take away your confidence?”

Generalizations – an individual’s learned model of an aspect of the world comes to represent the larger category of which the experience is an example.
Jim said “he knows he will become an alcoholic as his father was.”
I asked “How do you know that?” or “Why does your father’s alcoholism have to do with you?”

Mind reading – believing one knows the thoughts, feelings, intentions of others with no basis in reasonable, logical, grounds for interpretation or direct observation.
Jim said he “talked with a couple of women who seemed interested in him after he had a drink.”
I asked “Are you sure that is the case?” or “So, they won’t be interested if you haven’t had a drink first?”

Using the Meta Model questions, I clarified Jim’s responses to the Outcome Specification practice and the Logical Levels exercise.  This information allowed me to obtain a clear understanding of the issues and set a foundation for determining which strategies will be most effective.

Process Instructions Exercise

You can use the process instructions exercise to guide someone or yourself through a valuable experience without having any idea of what the content of the experience will be.

The steps are as follows:
Relax/go internal.
Access some past experience that has some emotion attached to – what do you see feel, hear.
Dissociate – different point of view – see self as if in a movie to gain a broader perspective.
Learn something from the experience.
Apply the learning to a future context.
Come back to the present.

This was my experience when doing the process instructions exercise.
I found a quiet place to relax and let my mind drift to a past experience which still bothered me without having any preconceived idea of what it might be.  The memory was of an evening when my son and his friend were out sailing on the river and dumped the sailboat. They righted the boat, gathered the gear, returned to the dock safely, and dealt with the situation successfully. After he told me about his adventure, I reacted by yelling and grounding him. However, in looking back, I realized the boys handled the situation well, they were not hurt, the boat was not damaged and this is the way my Mother would have responded.

My take away was that a) I didn’t want to respond as my Mother would, and b) a better way of responding would have been to discuss what happened and what worked, what could have been done differently, and what lessons were learned; so, a similar situation was less likely to happen in the future.

This was an AHA moment for me. I made the decision to parent my children differently than my brother and I were parented.

If I were working with a client, my goal would be to guide him or her through the process.

How to Build Rapport using NLP

If the relationship between the NLP coach or counselor and the client is not strong, if rapport is not established, effective counseling or coaching is less likely to occur.

Building rapport with clients
Clients can be distrusting and unwilling to commit to counseling; some more than others. While it is true that creating the client-counselor relationship can be challenging; this relationship is critical to future success. Such a relationship occurs naturally when people share common interests and mannerisms. These connections can be enhanced by understanding eye-accessing patterns and predicate phrases.

Eye accessing clues and predicate phrases
Accessing clues typically refer to eye movement and indicate the sensory representational system a person uses to acquire information. In other words, we are talking about how a human mind processes and stores information. The primary representational systems are visual, auditory, and kinesthetic. If a person’s primary representational system is visual, a phrase like “I see what you mean” tends to make him feel heard. Similarly, when a person’s primary representational system is auditory, a phrase like “I hear what you say” tends to make her feel understood. Voice tone, breathing patterns, and posture also provide cues.

Visual, auditory, kinesthetic and auditory words are known as predicate phrases. Predicate phrases can offer hints to a person’s preferred representational system. Comments such as “I pictured something different” or “his words didn’t sound very encouraging” provide information. When these eye accessing and verbal cues are observed and duplicated, a subconscious message is conveyed that “we” are similar. In addition to connecting with a person’s primary representational system, rapport can be built in other ways such as matching and mirroring.

Matching and Mirroring
According to NLP, when people are similar to each other, they are more apt to like each other. So, matching and mirroring can be an effective tool in building rapport. Matching is doing exactly what another person does. Mirroring is doing it in reverse.

Five ways to match or mirror are as follows:
1. Physical actions – If the person crosses his or her legs, then, cross your legs.
2. Speaking tone, volume, and tempo – If a person speaks softly and quickly; then, speak softly and quickly.
3. Breathing – Matching another person’s breathing allows someone to create an internal experience of what the person is feeling.
4. Chunk size – If a person discusses specific details or is vague, do the same.
5. Common experience – A common interest tends to create a feeling of closeness.

Very reluctantly, Jennifer made an appointment to see me, an NLP Practioner, because none of the other counselors understood her problems. She doesn’t really think I can help, but a friend was pleased with the results of our sessions and wouldn’t take no for an answer. So, Jennifer acquiesced; however, she obviously didn’t want to be here and had little confidence in my ability to help end her years’ long problematic binging. Building rapport quickly was essential.

I began by asking questions such as:
a) what were the pros and cons of working with the other therapists?
b) What goals would she like to pursue with me?
c) What could each of us do to make this experience more successful and different from the others?

I listened to Jennifer’s predicate phrases during the discussion. The predicate phrases helped me determine her primary processing system.  She said “my friend told me you were very good” and “other therapists didn’t understand my problems.”

I observed her eye movements to gain additional information. During the discussion her eyes moved from left (AR) to right (AC). She also looked down and to her left which suggested she was talking to herself in her own voice (AD). Clearly, her primary representational system was auditory.  I used phrases like “having sound judgment” and “being in tune with her feelings.” My goal was to talk to her in ways that made her feel as if she were heard.

If Jennifer had been a visual person, she might have made statements like “I saw my mother as being controlling” or “I saw no solution to my problem.  Her eye cues would be up and to the left and right. Given that information, questions, I might ask include “In hindsight what would you have liked other therapists to do?”, “From your perspective, did it seem as if other counselors were uncaring?” or “What is your vision of the ideal counselor?”

Jennifer would have looked down and to her right and made statements like “I feel as if no one understands” or “this problem feels unsurmountable” if her primary representational system was  kinesthetic.

Rapport could also be built by matching Jennifer: a) if she talked softly and slowly, I would do the same,  b) if she were detailed about her story; I would ask for additional details or c) if she mentioned loving a certain food, I would talk about restaurants or compare recipes.

You will know rapport is established:
• By watching how she reacts to you and what you are saying.
• By pacing and leading – when she is speaking very quickly, do the same to begin with; then slow   down; when she follows your lead, you can ascertain rapport has been established.

Once the relationship has been established, addressing Jennifer’s presenting problem can begin. However, it may be that she will drift away during sessions and a return to rapport building will be necessary.

Decision Strategies and VAK

Life is a process of decisions.  Some we agonize over and some come automatically. The truth is that every action we take from when to sneeze to which career path we want to pursue is decided upon consciously or unconsciously. Using visual, auditory, and kinesthetic information s to make a decision is such a great strategy.

I can give you examples from my own life.

BAD DECISION – a couple of years ago we bought a new car. The salesman was polite. He answered all of our questions, provided a wealth of information, and give us a price within our budget (A). The car looked expensive and had every feature we were looking form plus many additional ones (V).  When I drove the car, I didn’t feel comfortable (K). However, the car was very nice, it looked good, my husband liked it, and I told myself I could adjust. Wrong decision – the car was too big for me, I never felt comfortable driving it, and therefore drive very little.  So, while the three VAK components provided information, I chose to ignore the K and paid the price.

GOOD DECISION – Recently, we had to have our 16 year old cat Missy put to sleep and we wanted a new pet. My daughter thought we needed a dog. We went to the shelter and looked at dogs and cats. We went to a cat show, watched dogs at the dog park, and talked over the pros and cons. My husband kind of liked a dog, and I wasn’t sure, but I could adjust (familiar story?).

This time, though, I had taken the NLP training and I paid attention to the K. We went back to the shelter and decided together to get two rescue kittens, which have been a delight and a joy for both of us.


Some of you are stumped when we talk of doorknobs.

Albert Einstein’s definition of insanity describes the term well for me- “doing the same thing over and over while expecting different results.”

Examples of doorknobs:
Gretchen wants to lose weight and tries every new fad diet that comes along, but is unwilling to exercise or eat healthy foods.

David wants to stop drinking, yet he continues to hang out with his drinking buddies and go to bars.

Bill wants to get a Master’s Degree in Psychology, but he continuously agrees to do things for others and loan cash which to friends which leaves him with no time or money to complete his course work.