Swish Pattern

Swish patternChanging your behaviour with ease 

Out of NLP has grown a range of wonderful tools to help people change their thinking and consequently their lives. The Swish Pattern is one of the most popular NLP techniques that programs the brain to go in a different direction and is a very effective way to change habits or unwanted behaviours into more constructive ways.  Stephen Covey once said “Our character is basically a composite of our habits. Because they are consistent, often unconscious patterns, they constantly, daily, express our character”. By changing our habits and updating who we think we are, changes our lives. So let’s explore just some of the possibilities of Swish.

Updating who you think you are.

As we grow and change as a person it is important to update our identity.

For example you are a different person than when you were at 14 years old (unless you are 14 now, then you are different from when you were 5). You are not likely to act or think in quite the same way. Muhammad Ali once said “A man who views the world the same at 50 as he did at 20 has wasted 30 years of his life”.

Your identity reflects who you are and this can, for example, affect you in a work situation.  If you consider someone who is promoted into management there is likely to be a 6-8 weeks buffer zone or ‘settling –in’ period when you will decide whether to stay in management or move back into the team. To have achieved that promotion you have been identified and would have demonstrated the skills to be able to work in management – but at an ‘identity’ level you may see yourself still as team member. Such a belief is likely to be holding you back and so this is now an area of your life which requires updating and the Swish Pattern can be used to change that outdated perspective.

In what circumstances might we want to use Swish?

We can see where this skill would be important in other areas of our lives, for example:

  • From being single to being in a committed relationship
  • Having the inability to study to becoming a voracious learner
  • Moving from a position of failure to achieve success
  • From a languishing couch potato to taking energetic exercise
  • Merely thinking about booking onto our NLP Practitioner training to taking positive action, booking the training and changing your life.

Change a habit or behavior.

In 1892 William James, the founder father of American Physiology, once said “All our life, so far as it has definite form, is but a mass of habits”. More recently in 2006 Duke University confirmed this by saying “We found that more than 40 percent of the actions people performed each day weren’t actual decisions, but habits.” This seems to suggest that we are running an automated process for the greater part of our lives.

Because your brain is efficient it takes over behaviours so that you no longer have to think about it. Take learning to drive for example.  Once you know how to drive and it becomes habit, there are systems within the Basal Ganglia part of the brain that determine when those habits can take over. One way to thinking about this is simply that the Basal Ganglia will decide when a chunk of behaviour should start or end.

Swish has been designed for fast change with long lasting results. The Swish Pattern will associate to the trigger of the old behaviour and then set the brain towards a new behavior.

An example:

In the mornings you have promised yourself to jump out of bed and go for a 5 mile run followed by 20 sit ups.  However, the morning comes, you are wrapped within the comfort of a warm duvet and you think to yourself “I could have another hour’s sleep.” Instead of taking the promised healthy exercise you regularly turn over and sleep on. Now, to change this habit we can use the Swish to change the thinking to affect a change in behaviour.

Sending the brain in a new direction.

I once worked with a young woman who ate some 10-20 bars a chocolate a day and rightly wanted to change this behaviour to something healthier.  Using the Swish Pattern we repeatedly said to the brain:

“see chocolate – I want apples……see chocolate – I want apples”.

The process took just 5 minutes and she did not eat another bar of chocolate for 6 months. She then had just1 or 2 bars occasionally and that’s fine because I believe you should have choice.

As the Swish Pattern had been designed to send the brain in a new direction, here’s actually what happened:

  • For the first 3 weeks, she was eating between 10-20 apples a day.
  • Then her diet naturally changed to a much more balanced diet of healthy fruit and vegetables.
  • Because of the healthy food, she started to exercise.


The Swish Pattern is a practical application of NLP Sub modalities [1]and it is recommended that you attend a live NLP Training Programme to fully understand and get the most from how to apply this simple and yet powerful NLP tool.

Here are the basic steps for the Swish Pattern.

(i) Identify a behavior or habit that you want to change.

(ii) Identify what triggers that behaviour e.g. if someone wants to give up smoking, the trigger point may be seeing a packet of cigarettes, or lighting up, or seeing the cigarette coming towards the face.

(iii) Make a picture of that trigger or cue – associated (i.e. seeing it through your own eyes). Emphasise the sub modalities to make it more compelling – i.e. increase its size, brightness, and colour. Break state (i.e. interrupt that unresourceful state).

(iv) Think of the person that you want to be when you have given up the habit or behaviour. Create a picture of that outcome – dissociated (i.e. look at your body in the picture from the outside) in which you see yourself achieving what you want to achieve and being the sort of person that you would like to become. Check for ecology[2]. Break state.

(v) Take the cue picture – bright and large – and put in one corner of it the outcome picture making it small and dark. Then, very quickly, saying aloud SWISH, swap over the two pictures so that the outcome picture becomes large and bright and the cue picture becomes small and dark in the corner of it. Clear the screen, then repeat the exercise about five times getting even quicker.

(vi) Test by trying to get back the original cue picture. How do you feel about the habit or behaviour that you have changed?

Have you used the Swish pattern?

What results have you had?

[1] Sub modalities: The special sensory qualities perceived by each of the five senses.

[2] Ecology: the consequences and effects of those actions on a larger system.

It's only fair to share...Print this page
Share on Facebook
Share on LinkedIn
Tweet about this on Twitter
Pin on Pinterest
About John Cassidy-Rice

NLP Master Trainer

Speak Your Mind


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.