The NLP Swish Technique

The NLP Swish Technique

Reading time 6 mins

With the NLP Swish Pattern you can quickly deal with negative thoughts – so they no longer get in your way.

This article teaches you how to do this.

(By the way, we use the terms Swish Technique and Swish Pattern interchangeably).

Use the NLP Swish to weaken negative thoughts

You can the Swish Pattern to reduce, of even remove, the power of persistent negative thoughts about

Past: events which happened in the past e.g. embarrassing or irritating memories

Future: events which happen in the future e.g. anxiety about how you will handle a forthcoming event.

The really clever thing about the Swish

With the Swish (as with many NLP techniques) is that you don’t have to struggle with negative thoughts.

Nor do you need to fight with them.


Because you can use the Swish Pattern to point your thinking in a new direction! You actually teach your brain a new way of responding to the negative thought (or trigger).

By running the Swish Pattern a few times, you are teaching your brain to use this old Trigger to produce a new line of thinking and feeling.

(We’ve described a simple version of the Swish below. This does work for many people but please bear in mind that it is a one-size-fits-all version rather than the comprehensive version taught on our NLP courses which can be tailored to suit anyone. So if this one works for you – great. If not it may simple be that this version isn’t right for you – rather than the Swish does not work for you.)


In the scenario below, Doug has been off work for some months and he is very apprehensive about returning in a few days’ time.

He knows this is irrational since everything has been arranged with his employer. But still the doubts and scary thoughts make his life misery.

With the Swish he is able to teach his brain to feel enthusiastic and confident the moment the thought of walking into the workplace occurs to him.

How to use the NLP Swish

In this example, we’ll use Doug’s negative thinking about returning to work.  To use this for yourself follow the same steps as Doug.

(1) The preparation

To run the Swish Technique Doug (or you) needs four pieces of information

1. The Unwanted Thought (or Trigger): this is the negative thought plus the feeling which it evokes

2. The Unwanted Feeling: The feeling evoked by this thought or Trigger

3. The Replacement Thought: How he’d like to be thinking and feeling instead of dwelling on the negative thought.

4. Clarity that no action is required: The Unwanted Thought must be something which does not require you to take practical action.

So, in Doug’s case these are as follows

1. Unwanted Thought (or Trigger)

Doug images walking into the workplace on Monday next and meeting people and feeling nervous and apprehensive of how they’ll be towards him.

2. Unwanted Feeling

Every time thought pops into his head he gets a churning stomach, sweaty palms and panicky feelings.

3. Replacement Thought

He’s had great moments at work before is absence – moments when he’s been successful, has fun, felt enthusiastic.  So he picks one: a memory of a particularly successful day working as part of the team. (This is the Replacement Thought).

4. Clarity: this is not an action issue!

The NLP Swish Technique is very powerful. It is important to use it only on silly or irrational thoughts – ones which do not require practical action.

Doug knows that his negative thinking about returning to work is irrational. There is nothing to worry about: everything has been arranged with his employers and his old team is looking forward to having him back.

Time to run the Swish Pattern

These are the steps Doug now needs to run through.

(A)  Check the preparation

1. Unwanted feeling: the nervous feeling that he wants to replace

2. Trigger: The image which evokes the nervous feeling i.e. walking into the workplace

3. Check re practical action: Doug makes a final check that there are no further preparations he needs to make for the return to work.

4. Replacement thought: instead of the old nervous feeling, he wants to feel confident and enthusiastic about being back in the team.  (Ideally, he will ensure that this is a ‘dissociated image’ i.e. a movie of himself enjoying his Grand Return next week!)

(B) Running the technique

These are the instructions I would give Doug (to run the technique for yourself replace ‘Doug’ with yourself).

Think of the Trigger image and…

Place a tiny version of the Replacement image somewhere on the Trigger image and

Instantly have the Replacement image get bigger and clearer – as the Trigger image disappears behind it

‘Break state’ briefly – i.e. look around you, check your watch, etc.

That’s Round No. 1 done.

You need to do about 5-7 Rounds to wire-in the new programme.  Do it a bit quicker each time e.g. first round in about 5 seconds then 4, 3, 2, and 1 seconds and a final two or three Rounds at 1 second each.

(Yes, that is fast. Increasing speed is a key ingredient of the Swish Pattern.  And there’s no need to get your images to change perfectly – just quickly. Again, aim for speed rather than accuracy.)

(C) Test it – to make sure it works

Having done his 5-7 Rounds Doug ‘changes state’; he stands up and walks around for about a minute.

Now he tries to bring back the original Trigger image.  If it’s difficult to bring back – or if the negative feeling is no longer evoked by it – he’s done.

If it does come come back he’ll do another 2-4 Rounds

If that doesn’t work he will find a more powerful Replacement image – and then run the whole Swish from the beginning.

What would happen of none of these steps dissolve the negative image and thought?

What if the Swish Technique doesn’t work?

No NLP technique works for everyone, all the time!  That’s why we have so many other techniques – and more in-depth processes in NLP.

We run the Swish for the whole group on the final afternoon of every NLP Core Skills course so that everyone gets to experience it for themselves and on a real issue.

That’s with over 150 groups – and it works for most people. When it doesn’t ‘work’ there is always a reason and an alternative course of action.

Reason 1: Not enough Rounds/repetitions.

Solution: Repeat for a few more Rounds

Reason 2: The Replacement Though isn’t powerful enough for this particular Trigger.

Solution: Select a more powerful Replacement Thought and start from the beginning.

Reason 3: The ‘negative’ thought is really a motivation to do something i.e. to take practical action rather than think differently.

Solution: Re-examine the issue and see if there is something you need to do about the situation.

Reason 4: The matter is too complex or the strength of the emotion too strong.

Solution: Use other NLP Techniques such as Parts Negotiation, Phobia Fix Techniques, Change History, or Reimprinting.  These techniques are best done with the guidance of an experienced NLP Practitioner or Master Practitioner.

Develop your skill with the NLP Swish

Like all NLP techniques the Swish Pattern is best learned in a live workshop where you are able to interact with the facilitator and with other participants, and where you learn the background steps before you get to actually do the Swish. That said, you are likely to get good results if you carefully follow the above tips.

The version above is based on the traditional NLP Visual Swish and is ideal for people who are ‘good visualisers’ i.e. can those who can clearly see and easily manipulate their mental images. It works especially well if it is directed by a coach or trainer who uses NLP language patterns, anchoring, and who is skilled in recognising non-verbal responses – or, for self-use, if you have had NLP training.

(To make the benefits of the Swish Pattern more widely available (i.e. to people who do a lot of their thinking in feelings or sounds or self-talk) we have developed the Pegasus Diamond Swish.  Because there are a few more steps and refinements in it we teach this version on our NLP Core Skills course.)



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More about negative anchors or hot buttons:

The Swish Technique is one of the best way of defusing a negative anchor

How negative anchors operate in families and close relationships

Why ‘positive thinking’ doesn’t work with negative anchors

NLP and anchors in the supermarket…

An NLP technique for regaining your sense of perspective

Negative anchors – they are not our fault

Other articles related to NLP Anchors

Negative anchors and self esteem

Poor weather can be a negative anchor for some people

Anchoring and brands – how marketing uses anchors

Insomnia: the part anchoring plays in staying awake instead of being asleep

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