Soft Eyes: how to use your eyes to relax yourself - and others

NLP and ‘Soft Eyes’

Reading time 5 mins

Which is the best technique?

On our NLP Core Skills course we are quite spoilt for choice through having so many techniques and insights to choose from, over 30 in fact. Because of this some wonderful little techniques can easily get overlooked after the course.

Take “Soft Eyes”, for instance. This is the blend of detailed vision and peripheral vision that we experiment with on the second day of NLP Core Skills and which can be used to:

  • Simultaneously pay attention to what is in front of you and what’s off to the sides
  • Be better able to recognise subtle non-verbal communication – with individuals or when in groups
  • Reduce the amount and intensity of internal self talk
  • Feel more relaxed when driving while paying better attention to what is going on around you
  • Improve your performance in team or combat sports
  • Relax your facial muscles, shoulder muscles, and chest muscles
  • Breathe more easily and comfortably
  • Reduce or even prevent eye strain or tension headaches
  • Feel more at ease when communicating with people and put them at ease, too
  • Enter a generally more calm and “chilled out” state

Not bad for something to which we normally allocate about 30 minutes of course time – and which, with a little practice, takes up no time at all to use.

How to use ‘soft eyes’

Because some readers will have done core skills five or six years ago it might be useful to have a reminder of the how the technique works.

(1) Peripheral Vision

First spend a few days practising using your peripheral vision. Without focusing on anything in particular, look straight ahead and as you do this pay attention to what you notice simultaneously off to both sides i.e. out of the corners of your eyes. The “simultaneously” bit is important. You not trying to look first to one side and then to the other – that is simply using foveal vision. Instead you are looking straight ahead, without moving your eyes to one side of the other, while noticing what is off to both sides of you.

The best place to practise peripheral vision is out of doors since there is more likely to be movement here than if you are sitting quietly at home. You could sit in a cafe and casually gaze ahead while noticing the movements of people off to the sides. Or sit in a park and use peripheral vision to pay attention to the movements of trees or people.

(2) Foveal Vision

In foveal we are using a tiny area of about 2.5 millimetres on the retina or back of the eyeball. Foveal vision which is sometimes called central vision, is great for paying attention to minute detail which is why it involved in so much of our daily activity; reading, threading a needle, peering at a computer screen, looking intently at somebody while communicating with them, etc.

As you may remember from Core Skills, it also encourages eye strain, tension in the area around the eyes, jaw, shoulders or chest – as well as breath-holding or mild hyperventilation.

(3) Soft eyes

After practising peripheral vision for a little while it’s quite easy to graduate to using Soft Eyes since this is merely a blend of both ways of looking.

The aim is to look at detail while maintaining peripheral vision. You are looking at an object without staring at it intensely because you are also paying attention to the wider field of vision. At first doing this can feel slightly “spacey” but with a little practise it can become a normal way of looking at things.

Incidentally, it’s useful to consider Soft Eyes to be a varying process rather like a continuum between foveal vision, at one extreme, and peripheral vision at the other. So sometimes your Soft Eyes will be almost sharp focus and at other times it will be almost full, wide peripheral vision.

Make techniques like Soft Eyes a habit

Why is using Soft Eyes so beneficial?


Specialising in using foveal vision creates tension and since most of us will have been doing this from schooldays we become so used to this tension that we think it’s the norm. Develop your Soft Eyes skills and notice what difference it makes to your overall state.

Non-verbal messages

Soft eyes enables us to become much more aware of movement in front of us and around us. So, when communicating with other individuals are groups we can quickly pick up non-verbal indicators of interest, lack of interest, discomfort, etc.

Self Talk

For some reason Soft Eyes tends to significantly reduce sub-vocalising – the internal self talk – and this can reduce worrying, self criticism, etc.

Putting people at ease

If you’re tense the people with whom you are communicating tend to become tense, too. It’s a vicious circle. When communicating one-to-one soft eyes enables us to feel more at ease which then creates a benign circle in which others feel more at ease, too.


If you question highly skilled drivers you will find that they naturally use Soft Eyes all the time because it enables them to pay attention to what is going on in front of them, to either side, and in the mirrors at the same time. (Incidentally, it’s wise to only apply this to driving once it has become second nature to you).


It goes without saying that chronic tension is not healthy. Overuse of foveal vision causes eye strain as well as tension in then head and neck and torso. Importantly it also tends to interfere with relaxed, easy reading. It’s a good idea to introduce frequent 1-2 minute Soft Eyes’ breaks into your working routine to give your body a break from tension…

And finally…

As with all techniques introduce this gradually – doing it for just a few minutes a few times daily.

Incidentally, many people find that they start off practising techniques such as this with enthusiasm – only to find a few days later that their “new start” was quickly buried under a mountain of various demands on their time!

One way of avoiding this is to create ways of automatically reminding you to do the technique. If you are very systematic, and work at a computer, you can set up a “reminder”. Or simply put your watch on the other wrist. Or wear an elastic band on your wrist. Or make doing a particular activity (tea break, switching off car engine, putting phone back on cradle, etc) a reminder to practise the skill.

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