Much of the foundation for all NLP rests on our powers of perception, and on what we do with those perceptions. Light and shadow, rhythms, melodies and harmonies, feelings of all sorts, scents, flavors, textures and contours, figure and ground and movement serve as inputs into our mind, which then filters, distorts, and generalizes minute changes in perceptions as they update the maps of our minds. The sharper and more trained our perceptions become, the richer the world becomes, while muted or damaged perceptions lead to a very dull, experientially impoverished place.
Our human neurology is a fantastic perceptual instrument tuned and optimized to our world... and the essence of perception lies our ability to sense change from moment to moment. If our world did not change from moment to moment, there would be no perception... no news of change to our minds... the vital news that we depend on for all that we notice, for survival, and pleasure.
In NLP, we place a major emphasis on developing ever greater sensory acuity, also known as making distinctions, or becoming educated. But good NLP focuses less on academic knowledge, and more on utilizing and sharpening sensory acuity in real time. It's all about the noticing. It's about pattern detection, interpretation, and the meaning we make of it. NLP is about noticing something we did not notice before, or that was perhaps not noticed by anyone before. NLP is about paying attention, and lowering our perceptual thresholds to notice more and more... about less and less.
Speaking metaphorically, you can thing about sensory acuity as tuning our neurology to perceive a symphony, where we might only have heard a drone before. Sensory acuity is about tuning our neurology to see perceive explosion of color and movement where there was only a fog before. It's about tuning our neurology to perceive a way through where there was only a wall before.
1. Tune up your visual acuity
Re-acquaint yourself visually with something completely mundane, such as your car dashboard, or the contents of your most cluttered drawer, or with a stock chart, or with your partner. Do not assign words or meanings to anything you see.
- Moving your eyes from left to right, notice the way the light falls on every object.
- Notice cast shadows, core shadows, and highlights.
- Notice shapes, outlines and fills.
- Notice ground and figure, or object and space.
- Notice colors and combinations of colors.
- Repeat the exercise, scanning with your eyes from right to left.
- Repeat the exercise, scanning with your eyes from top to bottom.
- Repeat the exercise, scanning with your eyes from bottom to top.
2. Tune up your auditory acuity
Take some time to dedicate all your attention to your auditory channel in a crowded public place, or in complete solitude. Close your eyes, and begin to pick out discrete sound sources from around you and just notice the following.
- What rhythms can you detect?
- Can you follow slight changes in volume, and range of volume that you can hear.
- Follow along with changes in pitch, and notice any overtones.
- What is the tambor of the sound source? What instrument does it most approximate?
- Notice the direction from your sound source, and any changes in direction. Left and right are pretty easy, followed by front and back, and most difficult is up and down.
- With changes in volume, can you also discern changes in distance?
- With voices, notice any emotion, and how that manifests in terms of the aforementioned submodalities.
3. Tune your kinesthetic acuity
Some people live in their heads, regarding their bodies as transportation for their heads. Other people never know true hunger, and so they are constantly eating, and are never really satisfied. Still other people rely on drugs to bring relief to symptoms they can't quite put their fingers on. Our body speaks to us all the time, yet we don't know how to listen. Take a moment to listen deeply and compassionately to your body. It really is your best friend.
- Notice the first bite of food, compared to the second and the third. Which bite is the one that finally brings satiety or satisfaction?
- Notice where good feelings start and move to, and in which direction and at which speed they may spin.
- Notice where bad feelings start and move to, and in which direction and at which speed they too may spin.
- Notice if you were to interrupt a bad feeling and spin it in another direction, faster and faster, what might happen?
- Notice when you are really fatigued, versus just bored. What are the differences?
- When was the last time you brushed your teeth? Could you sense when your breath might be overpowering someone else before they do?
- Think of someone you trust, and how does your body tell you they are trustworthy?
- Think of someone you could never trust, and how does your body tell you they are not trustworthy?
When to Use This Pattern:
Suffering two bouts of polio, Milton Erickson was dyslexic, color-blind, tone-deaf and confined to a wheelchair during much of his professional life, yet as a hypnotherapist he was able to compensate exquisitely, masterfully and artfully through continuous development of new distinctions in the people he observed. His ability to notice changes in his clients from moment to moment, as well as nuances in in his environment were legendary... but he had to work at it.
I suggest that you work on this pattern in all kinds of contexts for the rest of your life. It's in the noticing, that choices are born, and changes can be made.
Richard Bandler, John Grinder, and adapted by Craig Pinegar