Easing Fears Conversationally & Installing A New Strategy

"Ladies and Gentleman can you please take your seats"

Recently I was on a flight with my partner between Las Vegas and San Francisco and the plane went through a long period of bad turbulence. Thump, bump and shake were the physical experience for the passengers. You could see the colour draining away in many people's faces and shallow breathing.

I love flying, and my partner is normally a very good flyer, but this level of turbulence kicked off in her a fear "program." The more the turbulence continued the more the feelings of dread and definite doom were being (self) amplified in her. She had both a reinforcing and feed forward loop in operation for those of you familiar with systems thinking.

So what I could I do? What would you do?

Know The Limitations Of Your Tools

If your first thought was to run the fast phobia cure you would be unlikely to be very effective. Why?

Before I answer that, have you ever tried to hypnotize a young child whose imagination and focus is flying all over the place? The first rule of good hypnosis is to absorb attention, and a person who is very scared is already in a trance .. but not the kind that you want them in. In actuality they are most likely fully associated in to their movie and amplified the sound levels to the max. If they are good at it and able to get into that state quickly, unless you powerfully interrupt them you will have a hard time trying to get them to follow your instructions.

Trying to overlay a "see yourself there looking at yourself" disassociation technique will not work effectively if the chemistry is wrong in the individual ... which it was in this case. Furthermore, the person in this case had a fear and not a phobia so running a phobia cure would not have resolved it.

Set Yourself A Clear Outcome:

So first off I set myself the two outcomes:

1. Have fun and try something different

2. Have my partner quickly become really calm and for the experience of time in the flight to "flyby"

By tonally marking out the commands and hypnotic themes I wanted her unconscious mind to pick up on, she soon was breathing deeply.

So I began to talk to tell her a story about the rabbit, the wolf and the lonely man in the forest. The content of the story is not so important but rather the process I used. My partner knows quite a bit about NLP so I knew if I approached her conscious mind and asked her to breath in, relax and focus on a good memory she would be "resistant" to any such direct suggestions ... so I started a conversation with her conscious and unconscious mind through telling nested stories, using hypnotic themes, hypnotic voice and embedding various commands designed to draw her attention inward to the story, relax completely and feel great.

I made up each story on the fly letting my own imagination drive the detail of the story ... starting initially telling her about a lonely man in the forest who was tired, hungry and in need of a friend, working with just two characters and then expanding to describe the forest, the community and then the villain and hero situation that existed within. I used my voice tone and accent to create different little characters.

Within a few minutes she was fully engrossed in the stories and by tonally marking out the commands and hypnotic themes I wanted her unconscious mind to pick up on she soon was breathing deeply and falling asleep, yet saying please tell me more as she wanted to know what happened to each of the characters she has developed an emotional bond with. I didn't need to break her state in an overt way or get her consciously to follow my commands. Such is the power of embedded commands.

Embedded Commands In Storytelling

Embedded commands are a very powerful aspect of hypnosis and NLP when used skillfully. They allow you to communicate two or more messages to a person at the same time and if the themes of the stories you use and the commands you give are very different from each other yet fit within the story you're sharing it will be very difficult for anyone to pick up on them, yet the unconscious mind will know.

I decided I didn't just want my partner to be more relaxed and indeed after a little while into the story she became totally oblivious to the increasing turbulence around her, which for a time had my internal state jumping until I directed myself, but I wanted to give her a strategy for feeling calm when she faced turbulence again, which I did through the voice of Oscar the friendly rabbit in the story.

Strategy Installation:

Installing a strategy is a process of linking specific parts (in terms of activities distinctions you need the person to make and operations they need to do) together to create a particular outcome and then testing after you have done your work. In my early days of NLP, I thought strategy installation was a very complex thing, yet while there is a strong skill component required to it, NLP has many means of installing strategies from storytelling to chaining anchors while seeding beliefs.

The best way I've found to do this is to work in chunks and simply focus on doing one aspect of the strategy a time.

So for example I needed her to get accustomed to when she should run the strategy I was about to install in her so I had the voice of Oscar talk to another character in the story about the ground shaking and the trees blowing and described over an extended period of time (so as to avoid any conscious awareness) the physical feelings of fear that one might experience. Then I broke using a hard loop into a new story describing a character who went through such a situation and accessed specific resources in a specific sequence. Repeating this process over a number of sub-stories conditioned a set of steps or strategy her unconscious mind could now use to "re-interpret" the events around her and any future situations of turbulence.

Safe Landing:

35 minutes on and we cleared the turbulence and both our experiences of time had "flown by". My partner was very calm at this point and looking forward to exploring San Francisco, unaware of any change work or indeed that I had done anything other than tell her some stories that made her feel good.

Practical Application:

Take a specific action today to practice any one of the following skills below. Practice makes for improvement and little improvement will make for dramatic increase in your skills for incremental work.


Storytelling is the foundation of elegant hypnotic change and leveraging many of the powerful tools in NLP. Everyone is telling stories all the time, so next time you catch yourself telling a story look to achieve a specific outcome like elicit an anchor a useful state that you can fire when you want.

Embedded Commands:

Come up with three ways that you will practice using embedded commands in your communication. For example, you could:

  • tonally mark out your commands by slightly shifting your tone downwards as you give the command. The key is to do is consistently and systematically in order for it to take effect. Remember one or two suggestions are typically not enough for the unconscious mind to pick it up.

  • spatially mark it out by gently and gracefully leaning to one side as you drop the commands into your communicationalization

  • look at the left eye consistently every time you want to "place" an embedded command for the person's unconscious mind.

Come up with three more for yourself and then pick your best two and use them today.

Have fun!

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I'm Tom.

Everyone has something they’d like to change in their life. I’m here to help you transform the behaviours that get in your way so you can have the life you really want.

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