Neuro-Linguistic Programming
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by Jeff Napier, copyright 2011-2013

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An Introduction to Eye Movement

It has come to my attention that many people who have attended introductory NLP courses have been shown the interesting phenomenon of eye movement, often called 'eye accessing,' that occurs when you ask a subject to think about something. Then, the introductory course offers no additional information about eye accessing, so it remains an interesting curiosity. As it turns out, there is much to be gained from working with eye accessing, to help learn about the subject's map, to unlock hidden memories, and to create strategic interventions. Let me tell you all about it!

You may already know that when you ask the subject to remember the color of the car her family had when she was 16 years old, the eyes will almost always shoot up to the the subject's upper left for a split second. When the eyes glance into this quadrant, the subject is remembering something visual, called "Visual Remembered." Visual Remembered is often shortened to "VR."  Ask the subject to make up something visual, like, "can you imagine a cross between a cat and a zebra?" Chances are, you'll notice the subject's eyes glance to her upper right. That's the "Visual Construct" or "the VC" quadrant.

If you ask about sounds, you'll notice the subject's eyes move directly to one side or the other horizontally. For instance, you might ask, "Do you remember your favorite song?" That will bring an "Auditory Tonal Remembered, or "AR" response, horizontally to the subject's left. "If cats didn't meow, but made some other sound, what would it be?" will bring an "Auditory Tonal Construct," or "AC" response - you guessed it - horizontally to the subject's right.

Another important eye access is "Kinesthetic," also known as "K." The subject's eyes will look low and to her right. This typically indicates the subject is having an emotional memory.

Gustatory (taste) and Olfactory (smell) responses are uncommon, but are generally glances straight down. 

We also have "Auditory Digital," or "AD" which in this case, means 'self-talk,' or internal dialog. When the subject is composing what to say, or considering words, you'll see the eyes shoot to the lower left. If you watch movie actors, you'll see a lot of this access, as they focus on their lines.

Another fairly common eye access is called "Hail Mary" and is a glance (or sometimes a long stare) straight up, as if consulting the higher power. This is invoked by asking a question that is 'big' or cumbersome to answer, or covers a lot of territory. For instance, "What's it like being 48 years old?" will probably bring on a Hail Mary.

The final eye access is called "Synesthesia." It is a defocused stare straight ahead, or a little bit downward. The subject is generally feeling something emotional, and may be overwhelmed. The subject's current thought may have a visual or emotional component, but is going to be mostly kinesthetic. Unlike visual or auditory accesses, people can stay in synesthesia for quite a while. Synesthesia is typically a fairly unresourceful state.  Synesthesia is also known as "watermelon synesthesia," because it's as if the subject is staring at a watermelon a few feet ahead. 

So, you went to an introductory course, and may have been quite surprised to discover that people so often and so reliably glance in certain directions when they are engaged in specific mental processes. But what do you do with this information?

Here are a few ways eye accessing is used.

Probably the most common use is to elicit subconscious memories that are interfering with current behaviors. Let's say you have a subject who has been speaking with you about irrational spending habits. He wants to save money, and has enough income, but somehow, he doesn't save a penny. You may suspect the subject has a block. So you ask something like this: "So, you'd like to start saving money. What stops you?" The very instant you say 'what stops you?' watch for an eye access. And, let's say that your subject does glance directly, horizontally, to his left.

OK, so, you interrupt your subject, and ask him to look again to the left, probably using your finger to point out the exact spot. Note that you may need to ask the subject to keep his face pointed straight ahead, and just point the eyes to the left. And, it may be a bit physically uncomfortable for the subject to hold the eyes there, but the subject will usually be quite happy to cooperate for a reasonable amount of time.

Then, you ask your subject, "What are you hearing?" because you know that horizontally to the left is AR or Auditory Remembered. The subject may need some prompting, some assistance, in knowing that there is an auditory memory there. We'll talk about ways to help the subject elicit the eye access in a bit.

For this discussion, let's say that all goes perfectly, and your subject says something like, "You'll think this is crazy..." (they always say that), "...but I hear my mother."

And you ask, "What is she saying?" And after some discussion, you have a regressed subject, who is clearly hearing his mother's ideas or instruction about frugal responsibility, or lack thereof. And from there, you can help the subject reframe the meaning made from that auditory memory. You can then install a new strategy, because you know that the subject has been subconsciously hearing his mother's words every time the opportunity to start saving comes up. 

In addition to this passive use of eye accessing, you can actively direct the subject to look in a certain direction to accomplish a task. For instance, for future pacing, you can ask the subject to move his eyes to the upper right quadrant before you have him build a dissociated picture of himself doing better in the future. 

You can change the dominant modality of a state by asking the subject to look in another direction. For something that has been sad or creepy, you may note that you subject is looking down and to the right. If you have the subject hold the thought, but move the eyes to the upper left, the whole feeling of the memory brightens. 

Noticing eye accesses can be difficult. At first, it is hard to remember to look at your subject's eyes at just the right moments. Once you develop the habit, you'll start observing eye accesses from the moment you sit down with your subject. Then, when you ask a key question, such as "What stops you?" you'll have corroborating evidence - you will have seen your subject look in the the same area at other times when the same subconscious memory may have been elicited. 

Until you've cultivated this habit, you'll find that it is easy to restage the eye access as many times as needed. You can converse for a minute or so, and then ask again, "So, what stops you?" 

People generally use a strategy series of eye accesses. The most common is called VAK, which stands for 'Visual,' 'Auditory,' 'Kinesthetic.' This means that they looked into VR for a split-second to get a visual memory, then they think of some words to describe it, and then they noticed how the situation felt. They may use other combinations as well, but almost always, a visual or auditory (remembered or constructed) will come first. And, as luck would have it, that's generally the most fleeting. They'll look for a tiny split-second into VR for instance, then spend more time in AD and K. With practice, you'll see the strategy, and be able to notice the first eye access, which is the one you'll want.

When people are in kinesthetic or synesthesia, you may notice their pupils pulse two or three times. That's almost the same as if they accessed VR or VC. Their brain is seeing pictures.

If you're like me, you may have trouble differentiating right from left, especially when there's your right and left, and your subject's right and left, which are, of course, reversed. So, there you are, on the spot with a subject. Was that an AR or AC? Well, the good news is that in many cases you don't have to know. You can just know that if it is above the midline, it is visual, if it is on the midline, it is auditory, and if below, it's not something that will bring strong picture or sound memories.

Let's say you saw what was either a VC or VR. You can simply ask the subject to tell you what she's seeing, and you'll find out soon enough whether it's constructed or remembered. 

Sometimes people store particularly important remembered pictures in VC. It's as if their brain wants to keep an eye on those pictures. The critter brain is saying, "hey, keep that picture handy, where it will be noticed, in VC, so that we can always instantly remember the threat." Your subject may be seeing an adult hand raised, ready to spank, for instance, and although that's very much a remembered event, it is in VC, where it is more accessible. If you're working in a situation where it might be appropriate to move that back to VR where it belongs, you can simply do that. Just ask the subject to step into that memory, notice it in VC, and drag it, as if dragging an icon with a mouse, to the upper left, where it belongs. Sometimes a subject will have a cloud of such things stored in VC. Moving them all individually to VR can allow the subject to become inventive again. Although this only works in specific situations, and doesn't always work, it can occasionally create a wonderful life-long change.

When you want a subject to construct a picture, such as during future pacing, you can gesture with your hand into the subject's upper right quadrant. 

When you want someone to go deeper, maybe even to quit lying, you can squat down on the floor to their right, into their kinesthetic region, and ask, "Now James, is there anything else about that incident you'd like to tell me?" 

So, if when the eyes go to the subject's upper right they are making up pictures, does this mean they are lying? No! It means they might be lying, but they may be simply constructing pictures. For instance, they may be putting together the pieces so they can tell you clearly what happened. Unfortunately, many police departments and others learned this 'fact' in the early days of NLP, and still believe it. 

Quite often, you've seen a beautiful eye access, and have asked your very cooperative subject to hold his eyes in that direction, but the subject doesn't have any information for you. The beginning NLP practitioner may be inclined to assume there is no information there.

The experienced practitioner will stay with it for awhile. Here are some things that will help the subject bring the subconscious item to the conscious mind:

* You can say something like, "This technique helps people remember things from long ago and far away." It helps when the subject has some idea of what you are seeking. 

* You can expand rapport, let the subject know it is totally safe to regress.

* You can move into a hypnotic tonal pattern - generally slower, quieter, lower, and a monotonous speaking pattern.

* You can allow a lot of space. Don't say much, if anything, for as long as 20 seconds. Let the subject venture to fill the quiet space.

* Use some hypnotic suggestion. For instance, "What are you hearing?" works far better than "Are you hearing anything?" And, "Who are you hearing?" works better than "What are you hearing?" You can  presuppose for the subject that she's hearing someone, as opposed to just any old sound.

* You can use some metaphorical intervention. For instance, for a visual eye access, you might say, "OK, forget about the wall and the clock over there. Imagine that's just a dark movie screen. What movie would you like to play on it?" 

* If your subject has volunteered something that's too recent, or too present, you might try the window shade technique. "Imagine we have a window shade over there. And in a minute, I'm going to pull on the bottom, and let it suddenly roll up. And it will suddenly roll up, revealing something underneath. Ready? Snap!"

* If your subject is deeply stuck in one modality and you're not getting rich enough data, you might ask the subject to move his eyes to another location. For instance, if your subject has been in K, and has stated, "It's scary, just scary," you could then ask the subject to slowly move up to VR, and then tell you what he sees." 

* If your subject adamantly states that there's nothing there, you can simply ask the subject to make something up. You'd be amazed how often they make up what's really there. Or, better yet, they'll make up a story that offers all sorts of true and useful metaphorical handles.

This article is for information purposes only. The above techniques probably shouldn't be practiced without additional knowledge. Have fun, and please use this information only in respectful and honoring ways! - Jeff 


image of Barack Obama

You might enjoy the VAK Game
to learn eye accessing positions,
starring Barack Obama.