How Do You Know If Your NLP Is Working?

A common question I hear is:

"NLP is really amazing in terms of what someone who is skilled can do with it, but can I know if what I am doing is working... when I'm doing it?!"

It's a fair question .. it's a bit like someone saying "how do you know when unconscious learning is occurring?" and the other person says "because I look into your eyes and see you're getting it"... that kind of answer is of jack use to you if you don't know how to put it into practice.

What You Need To Know:

So let's discuss the three essential things you need to do in order to know if "something is working .. when you're doing it"…

Richard Bandler years ago said something along the lines of … "a lot of the field when I was starting out doing change work was fighting about WHICH therapy was the RIGHT one to use... for me my view is anything can work … but do you continue through to and can it get you to RESULTS … "

And really whenever you are doing any kind of NLP work that is the question you need to ask yourself... "Am I getting a result?"… the result being the end outcome or desired state you're going after.

You see if you want to know if what you are doing is "working" when your "doing it".. then there are only really three things you need to pay attention for …

Have A Clear Goal

In order to know if something is working .. and by that I am assuming the person means "moving you closer to the desired outcome" .. then you need to have a clear goal in mind.

For example if you are trying to persuade someone of something, are you clear before you begin of what that something is AND what would be different in behavioral terms between the way they are now vs. once the persuading has been done?

Same with creating a change for someone .. can you specify in sensory and behavioral terms how you know when the change has occurred?

For example a good way of testing this is to calibrate to how the client accesses the 'problem' before you start your work and then test throughout and after to notice if they do it differently. Someone who suffers 'panic' at the idea of socializing with others before you start .. may notice afterward that "well it's strange I just don't feel the same way, now that I think about it.."

There are several tricks you can use to do this before/after calibration but the main thing is YOU, the practitioner have some good idea up front what kind of feedback you would need to see (that naturally would have to be present) as the person changes from where they are now to the desired outcome.

Expanded Awareness And Be In Uptime

Naturally if you would like to know if what you are doing is working  … as you are doing it .. then you need to have up time awareness of precisely what is going on in front of you .. and ideally noticing in as many sensory systems as possible..

"If you want to know if what you are doing is working when you're doing it… then there are only really three things you need to pay attention for …"

For example if you and I were having a chat and I noticed as I spoke to your that your eyes began to soften and your breathing changed .. and your nose narrowed .. your facial muscle flattened and then I realized you were giving "the fifty mile stare" .. drilling those beading eyes .. right through me .. and your mouth began to drool … then I know there is a good chance … you have metaphorically 'checked out' and are not fully in-time present with me …

Of course, depending on what my outcome was at the moment that might be the precise response I want from you, but if I was demonstrating how to use the latest Xmas Razor Sharp 2 Turkey Cutting Blades .. that might be a very BIG problem.

Watch a couple of episodes from "Lie To Me" and you will get to see some very good examples of reading facial expressions .. AND.. the entire 'composite You'.

Roger Ailes in the brilliant book "You Are The Message" talks a lot about the composite You - that when you communicate you are not just using words, but that the receiver of your communication is receiving messages from your eyes, your facial expression, your body movement, your vocal pitch and tone, volume, intensity and so forth … there are multiple signals being expressed at any one moment..

So when you are trying to 'detect' or notice whether what you are doing is working you need to be fully present to the person in front of you, and read ALL messages that are being communicated to you .. like their voice tone, body posture, breathing rate, micro muscle movements, rate of speech etc ..

You don't need to become a guru at this, rather just be skilled enough to notice what is going on and if what you are seeing in terms of the state, behaviors, and the overall composite communication is what you expect it to be for that stage in the change process. And sometimes that behavioral change may not be noticeable until you have them try and re-access the 'problem state'.

As a side note: Whenever we are communicating we are always participating in a state changing dynamic .. so being aware of what states you want and what strategies you can use to achieve those states … that are the optimal choice for the end outputs .. i.e. the result we are going after .. is paramount.

Ongoing And Continuous Testing

Lastly,  one thing that every NLPer who has got good skills does .. is continuously test.

Every skilled NLPer from the founders to celebrities like Paul McKenna and Tony Robbins know that you need to continuously have a 'testing algorithm' that is going on .. asking .. "am I there yet?" .. in NLP we call this the T.O.T.E. model.

Of course, it is not as easy to say just test .. you have to know …

  • What to test .
  • .When to test ..
  • Where to test ..
  • And what else to test ..

The What is .. what test is appropriate at this point in the change/influence/NLP work .. remember when you're doing NLP you are intentionally leveraging natural human processes to create a specific outcome. So whether you are "spinning feelings" .. changing sub-modalities .. using language to induce trance etc .. there will be some contextually relevant thing you are doing to achieve a specific outcome.And of course you may need to break that outcome up into multiple smaller chunks (or sub-T.O.T.E.'s) to create the result. Each cycle through the T.O.T.E. will have its own specific test that we are evaluating against.

When To Test .. here I am referring to timing .. and the simplest rule is "test continuously and often". Once you employ some activity to create all or part of the outcome you want then test to see if it works .. have you gotten what you expected (remember the pre and post sensory based .. behavioral criteria I mentioned?) .. well if you have, then you know you can move on .. if not, you need to loop back and do something different ..

Where To Test .. for some change work, where you test can make a big difference .. being able to put a 'claustrophobic' client into a physical real small confining space can be much more effective than just having them imagine it in their mind (note this isn't always the case) but putting the 'chef back in the kitchen' of their problem context can make a BIG difference both for them and for you.

For you .. you can have the confidence of knowing without any doubt that it worked.. for the client .. they can have the 'convincer' that something has really changed and with the right suggestions begin to 'generalize' that to the rest of their lives (where appropriate).

And last but not least we have …

What Else To Test

This last type of test is an important one and often overlooked. It would be nice to think that you do a piece of change work or persuasion and it 'instantly and forever sticks' .. but the reality is .. the person you are working with is a living breathing human being .. living as part of a bigger 'eco-system' with lots of pre-existing associations and unforeseen conditions that can .. well how do I say this .. screw things up!

So if you want to do great change or NLP work then it is important that you .. think ahead and scan for all the different existing 'triggers' and influencers now or in the future in the client's life that could 'accidentally undo your handiwork'.

The kind of things you want to test for here is un-supportive loved ones, peers who are likely to unmercifully test out the clients change, environmental triggers etc and anything else you can think of ..

By doing this you can "build in" other powerful structures to counter-measure any 'messing up' that might occur.

In Closing

So to close this out .. let's go back to the beginning .. do you continue with something until you get to results? .. if you apply what you have learned here then you can be assured to take your success and effectiveness using the NLP toolset to a whole new level.

And remember .. there is no such thing as failing .. just going I'm about to figure out what I am going to try next.

Share this article:


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.

Related Article

Get NLP tips, tactics & real life stories worth sharing, delivered direct to your inbox...

By signing up you agree to NLP Times Privacy Policy.

More On NLP Times

Anthony J. Mahavorick, aka Tony Robbins is probably the most well-known NLP student of all time.

Most people's NLP smells like very overt NLP… which can be a problem when working in business contexts.

How many days a year do you think you procrastinate?


Got a burning question you'd like me to answer in an upcoming article or video?

Tell me about it here.

Would you like to

receive free training

videos about NLP?

Taught by experts.

Enter your email below to receive instant access, entirely free!

Would You Like To Receive

Free Training Videos About NLP?

Taught By Experts.

Enter your name and email below,

We use cookies to allow us to better understand how this site is used. By continuing to use our site, you consent to this policy. Check our Privacy Policy.