NLP Techniques: Break State

Submitted by Craig on Tue, 04/25/2017 - 01:15

The Idea:

Breaking State, or applying a Break State is useful for times in life and in NLP work when we simply need to say "STOP!" because the present state is taking us nowhere, or in the wrong direction.

A Break State pattern is also used often to build repetition into an NLP intervention, where the client will learn by repeatedly getting into and out of a state. A Break State provides that repetition. And sometimes saying "stop" to an inappropriate state will work, but often not, because most states have a momentum of their own... like a flywheel on an engine. When is the last time you tried to ask a child to stop crying, or a person with depression to stop feeling that way? Were the results good?

So when we want to interrupt an unresourceful state in our selves or in a client, we need better tools. The best tools have an element of surprise, shock or unusualness to them. A child will almost always stop their crying if candy is presented to them out of the corner of their eye. Hearing a coin hit the ground will cause most people to pay attention if only for a second or two. Good humor is based on some kind of surprise in an otherwise predictable stream of words or circumstances.

Pattern interrupts or state breaks happen naturally around us all the time. Whenever we notice a very attractive person, or a very ugly person, even if we look at them through our peripheral vision, they captivate our attention. Seeing a bald eagle, or a fighter jet in the sky will distract most people, and so would the sound of screeching tires.

Notice as you go through the day how many times state interrupts occur, and then pay attention to what happens next. Do you go back to the previous state, or are you on to a different one entirely?

The Pattern:

NLP Break State

1. Name the current state

  • Welcome your mood, state of mind and emotions? What are they saying? What state are you in now?

2. Introduce some surprise into the state, focusing on the submodalities that matter most

  • What are the modalities of the current state? Visual? Auditory? Kinesthetic?
  • What are the visual submodalities, i.e. brightness, color, size, and distance?
  • What are the auditory submodalities, i.e. volume, direction, timbre, and tone?
  • What are the submodalities, i.e. locus of feeling, positive or negative, speed, and direction?

3. Deliver the interrupt

  • Do something sudden and very unusual, and for maximum effect, play on the submodalities from the prior step.
  • If a person's problems are "looming large" interrupt by pointing to that flock of birds in the far distance.
  • If a person's inner voice is negative and anemic, interrupt by mimicking Jim Carrey saying "AAAAALRIGHTY THEN!!!!!!"
  • If a person is feeling a weight in the chest, interrupt by deeply gasping in surprise at something going on behind them, even if it was nothing special.
  • For less dramatic effect, you could simply motion a "T" with your hands for a time out, or motion with your hand to wipe clear an imaginary screen.
  • You might also just raise or lower your voice by an octave, or speak in a sexy tone or an accent from some other country.
  • A famous NLP verbal interrupt that is also subtle and works in most situations is to ask, "do you smell popcorn?"

When To Use This Pattern:

Use a Break State pattern whenever you need to to jar or deliver a mild shock to your consciousness or that of a client. When the conscious mind is momentarily distracted and trying to make sense of the surprise, can a new pattern be introduced.

Pattern interrupts can also be delivered during an NLP intervention, while repeating shifts from one state to another. This repetition trains the client to be able to interrupt themselves on cue, and move to the new, more resourceful state.


Richard Bandler, John Grinder, Michael Hall, and others.