Updating the “Submodaility” Model

Workshop Handout

New Breakthroughs & Exciting Refinements
About (So-Called) “Submodalities”

Presentation – Association of NLP in the UK – November 21 –22, 1998

Submodality Secrets Revealed

L. Michael Hall, Ph.D.

What are Submodalities?
Do submodalities actually comprise a lower logical level than VAK modalities?
Does “the difference that makes a difference” really refer to submodalities?
Would Bateson have approved that usage of his phrase?
Why don’t “submodality mapping across and shifting” always work?
What mechanism actually explains how submodalities work?


NLP began when the genius of Bandler and Grinder constructed the Representational Systems of the VAK modalities with their qualities (“submodalities”). This provided a language for describing & modeling human experiences.

A great deal of the magic of NLP has arisen from the genius of recognizing the components of “thought,” consciousness, and “mind” as made up of the sensory modalities of sight (visual), sound (auditory), and sensation (kinesthetic) (the VAK). A great many of the magic-like processes in NLP that creates transforming change and new meanings emerges from our use of the distinctive features of the modalities–what we have labeled as “submodalities.”

Yet how do submodalities really work? What mechanism or mechanisms explain the effects? What skills does a person have to have in order to effectively work with making submodality shifts?

Current research and exploration into The Submodality Model questions many of the things that we have assumed about “submodalities.” In this workshop I want to share some break-through discoveries about this domain of submodalities. Knowing and utilizing these secrets of submodalities will powerfully enrich your understandings of what drives and governs and thereby puts a turbo-charge to your selection and use of them.

In this workshop we will offer several refinements for the Submodality Model as we recognize that the qualities of the VAK modalities operate at a meta-level. We have to go meta to detect these structural elements. We have to go meta to play, shift, alter, and “map them across.” We have to go meta to recognize them as setting frames of references for our thinking. This creates Meta-Programs and Meta-States. And this meta-level framing then, in turn, governs and organizes the thinking-emoting system as a self-organizing attractor

Learn about key Secrets of Submodalities will open up new understandings about this domain of NLP and correct some current misunderstandings about submodalities. Distinctions of Genius will present these and other refinements in the Submodality Model in 1999.


1) Think about a pleasant experience (your home, a grassy meadow, a beach by the ocean, any time when you felt creative, confident, relaxed, or resourceful).
2) Now pick out some of the qualities (i.e. “submodalities”) of your internal pictures, sounds, or sensations and notice them.

Visually: What qualities characterize what you see?

Where do you see the experience?
How close or far?
Color or in black-and-white?
Bordered or panoramic? Clear or fuzzy, etc.?

Auditorially: What qualities characterize it?

Where do you hear the sounds, noise, music, or voice in the representation?
Volume, Tone, Tempo, etc.?

Kinesthetically: What qualities characterize it?

What do you feel in terms of sensations?
Where do you feel these?
Pressure, Tension, Movement, Rhythm, etc.?

3) Notice the process of how you become aware of these qualities of the representations.

Do you go into the picture, sound, or sensation more and more?
Or do you step out of the VAK so that you note the structure or form of it?


  • To detect, identify, & work with “submodalities,” you have to Go Meta.
  • An uncommon skill. More typically people have to learn how to identify, detect, and develop awareness of their modalities and their qualities. Why? We get caught up in content and have not learned how to stepped aside (go meta) to notice the structure of thoughts. Detecting such necessitates a meta-level perception.

  • What we call “submodalities” actually are Modality Distinctions detected at a Meta-Level (hence, Meta-Modalities).
  • How could we have submodalities that are also Meta-Programs if this weren’t so?


VAK Associated/Dissociated
Kines. Associated/ Dissoc. Thinker/ Feeler
Global/ Specific
Match/ Mismatch
Options/ Procedures

So-called “Submodalities”

Associated/ Dissociated
Thinker/ Feeler
Zoom in/ Zoom out; Close / Far
Two similar V/ One Visual at angle to another
Multiple Pictures / One Motion Picture or a series of still pictures

  • Detection & Awareness involves a meta-level and meta-state structure–namely awareness of the structure of one’s thinking (a Meta-State).   Structure (or process thinking) exists at a higher level than content thinking.
  • By “Consciousness of Representation” –a meta-level awareness, we detect the Qualities and Features of the VAK.


  • We not only Detect submodalities. At Meta-Levels, we run “submodality” patterns at Meta-Levels as well.
  • The difference between a Thought and a Belief
  • :
    Can you think a thought that you do not believe?
    What keeps a thought from becoming a belief in that case?
    Then turn up and use every submodality. Shift you can… see if you can “believe” it.
    What keeps a belief a belief and not a mere thought?
    Try it. Turn the belief into a mere thought.

  • Gregory Bateson (1972) introduced the phrase, “the difference that makes a difference” at the Nineteenth Annual Korzybski Memorial Lecture, January, 1970. He explored anew the classic Korzybskian formulation, “The map is not the territory.” He asked, “What gets onto a map?” And then answered, “Difference.”

“Differences are the things that get onto a map.” (p. 451).

“What is a difference?”

It involves “an abstract matter” because we have “entered into the world of communication, organization.” (p. 452).

This new world leaves behind the world of forces, impacts, & energy exchanges. This psychological world of communication, involves “information” or “news of difference”–

“the elementary unit of information– is a difference which makes a difference, and is able to make a difference because the neural pathways are themselves provided with energy…” (p. 453)

“The territory never gets in at all. The territory is Ding an sich [Thing in itself] and you can’t do anything with it. Always the process of representation will filter it out so that the mental world is only maps of maps of maps, ad infinitum. All ‘phenomena’ are literally ‘appearances.’” (pp. 454-455).

“The difference that makes a difference” lies in information coding or “news of difference” — the qualities and properties of representations, the meta-levels that govern or modulate the lower levels.

“All communication has this characteristic–it can be magically modified by accompanying communication.” (p. 230 emphasis added).

This alters the received knowledge about submodalities wherein we have inappropriately applied this phrase to submodalities.

“The difference that makes a difference” operates at the higher logical levels.

  • “The difference that makes a difference”
  • (Bateson) involves Meta-Levels and various frames- of-references. Linguistically these show up as beliefs, values, and presuppositions. Conceptually we speak about assumptions, domains of understandings, categories of knowledge, and our learning history.

Bateson argued (i.e., the double-bind theory, Levels of learning, etc.) that meta-levels always govern and modulate lower levels. This explains how and why “submodality” shifts work when they do –they set a new meta-level Frame.


  • Submodalities & Frames Applied to “Trauma
  • ” (Emotional Hurt)

Suppose a person has established a meta-level frame (an understanding & belief) about himself, “time,” how to cope, a value.

“Whatever has happened, no matter how unpleasant and distressful, no longer exists.”

Invite this man to recall a memory of a very unpleasant situation. Have him “recall it fully and completely. Step in there and be there seeing what you saw, hearing what you heard, and feeling what you heard….”

Will this re-introduce trauma? Will it re-traumatize? Will he go back into the state?


With that meta-frame prevents the man cannot make his pictures so close, vivid, three-dimensional, etc. or his sounds so life-like and vivid, or his sensations that he would become re-traumatized. The meta-frame protects him from such. “In the back of his mind” he would have, consciously or unconsciously, a presuppositional “reality” that would not permit it.

Conversely, suppose a person operates from the meta-frame:

“Whatever pain and distress you have experienced in your life will always be with you, will always determine your identity and future.”

Invite this man to step out and away from a memory of pain, to put it up on the theater of his mind, and to “just observe it from a distance” (the V-K Dissociation Pattern). He will probably find that very difficult, if at all. He will tend to keep stepping back into the memory. His frame drives that response. Ask him to step out from the movie theater where he watches the old movie and to move back to the projection booth– a double dissociation. More difficulty, again, it violates his frame. And even if you do and he begins to watch the movie –he may start having traumatic feelings way back thereabout the movie. What gives here? The meta-frame. The person has the ability to feel bad and traumatized about the trauma!


Trauma State

Can NLP not do its magic in such cases? Of course it can! Any proficient practitioner will simply keep interrupting the old program (meta-frame), re-inforcing new frames of dissociation, comfort, and resourcefulness, and eventually go faster than the person in outframing. When the gentleman outframes himself with pity, shame, guilt, being a terrible person, hopelessness, etc., the NLPer outframes that and jumps another logical level faster than a speeding train,

“And as you look at that sad pitiful wreck of a man for the last time in your life knowing that change has begun to occur, and will continue to occur even when you don’t know it consciously, you can begin to wonder, really wonder, about what learnings you can make from this so that you never have to repeat it, but can turn around and face a brighter future than you could have even imaged before … now…”

When we have a person with those kinds of rigid, limiting, dis-empowering, insulting, and traumatizing meta-frames–working with such a person becomes a frames war to the end. Who will get in the final outframe?

Our experiences result from our established frames. These meta-level frames identifies our more abstract and conceptual maps of reality and our meanings about self, others, and the universe.

  • Submodality Failures:

“Mapping over submodalities” & “submodality shifts” do not always work. In the traumatic experience, note the quality of the cinematic features of your internal representations that cue your brain and body about how to respond. When we code a painful memory associated, close in image and sound, bright, three-dimensional, loud, etc., we encode it with a structure that says, “Enter into that experience again and feel distressed, angry, fearful, upset, etc.” Associate into it.

Here the submodalities encode the higher evaluative frame that essentially gives the Behavioral Equivalent for: “Real, Close, Now, Associated.”

In this, the quality of submodality distinctions works as if “the switch” to experience. But it does not do so because “the difference that makes a difference” lies in submodalities.

If associative processing moves us to think, feel, and act as if in an experience and dissociative or spectating processing moves us to step out and only think, feel, and act about the experience, then this submodality (i.e. associated/dissociated, also a Meta-Program) provides an off/on distinction. Experiencing as if “in” the event; experiencing as if “out” of it. Step in, step out. Step in and go through the trauma again and feel terrible; step out and take another perceptual position and feel more resourceful about it.

Notice that associate and dissociate not only describe a submodality, but also a Meta-Program. Consider that. How could a submodality distinction, something that supposedly exists below and under the level of the modalities also exist above them, and have a meta relation to them?

When we think about and work with submodalities, we never actually operate at a sub-level (such doesn’t exist). We have moved to a meta-level. Thinking about, detecting & shifting these qualities works with structure and process, not content.


  • Mis-Labeled:
  • We actually have a mislabeled term that falsely sends our brains in unproductive directions.

Whoever attached the label “submodalities” to the qualities that make up the VAK representational systems, mis-labeled it. The features that distinguish our VAK do not exist at a sub-level to the Modalities.

Mis-Leading Metaphor:

The term generates some false-to-fact conclusions.
Not a “sub” level.

“How could the quality of a picture like having movement like a movie or still like a snapshot, or having color or coded as black-and-white, close or far, fuzzy or clear, etc., exist as a ‘smaller part’ of the whole?”

“How could the quality of a sound like the quality of volume (quiet to loud) exist as a ‘smaller part’ of the sound?”

There’s no such thing as submodalities.

Qualities of the sensory modes (visual, auditory, kinesthetic, etc.).In fact, the VAK cannot not have various qualities and properties. How could they? Try to visual any picture without some quality of distance, clarity, color, etc. These properties of pictures, sounds, & sensations lie within the modalities.

To have logical levels, a higher level has to arise as an abstraction of the lower level. Thus, wheels, doors, and steering wheel exist below the abstraction “car.” These pieces make up a “car.” They make up the class members of the class of “car.” Likewise, car, plane, train, etc. comprise the members of the class of another even higher abstraction, “transportation,” or “human technology.”

Dr. Bodenhamer: “A car door can exist apart from a car as a separate entity. Therefore the car door exists at a lower logical level to a car. Also, transportation exist at a lower logical level from existence, and as such transportation can exist as a separate conceptual reality, but not so with submodalities. Color cannot exist separate from a visual representation. A loud sound cannot exists as a separate entity from sound for without sound you could not have loud or soft, high pitch or low pitch, etc. Therefore submodalities exist as part and parcel to the representations. It can do no other.”


  • Submodality Shifts
  • only work with they happen to set the right Meta-Frame.

The absolutely marvelous & “magical” interventions in NLP that involve “submodalities” (i.e. the Phobia Cure, Reframing, the Swish Pattern, Grief Pattern, Allergy Cure, Re-imprinting, Time-Lines, etc.) actually work due to meta-levels frames that get set.

  • Submodality mapping across often do not work often because the structure of the problem lies in higher level conceptual states.
  • Meta-states govern and control lower level states and therefore the modalities and submodalities within those primary states. This means submodalities operate under the governance of meta-levels. So to do effective submodality work, we need to understand this modulation of the higher over the lower levels. Doing this also brings to awareness submodality distinctions that we can utilize at meta-levels.

  • Submodality chunking down and mapping across can eat up lots of time and trouble and never get to the structure of an experience.
  • To tear down the structure of a building brick by brick that has a metal structure may, at best, reveal the over-arching structure and, at worst, take up a lot of unnecessary time and trouble without ever touching on the real problem. This can leave people feeling very frustrated and hopeless. Breaking down a structure into small chunks without paying attention to its larger structures uses up precious energy that could better be devoted to the meta-levels.

  • Making changes at the lower level of submodalities, though they may shift a person for awhile, will typically shift back.
  • Many people have experienced a shift in belief, understanding, decision, etc. for awhile, and then suddenly find themselves back in the same old mess. The intervention worked temporarily, but couldn’t “stick.” Why not? If we do not attend to the higher level Meta-States that solidify a “reality,” set up an attractor for a self-organizing system, and thereby give it coherence, the old structure will bounce back.

  • This explains why you can’t change Beliefs by mere submodality shifts or mapping across. Try to do so.
  • Nor can we turn Confusion into Understanding. How many learn to “Understand” things by using the submodality mapping across procedure?

And so, conversely,


  • Submodality Magic Works When It Activates Necessary Meta-frames V-K Dissociation magic works to cure phobias, panic attacks, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, etc. because we get a person to bring calmness, distance, choice, re-editing of old movies, disorientation, new resources, etc. to bear on the old anchored (stimulus-response) programs of fear or panic.
  • This describes a Meta-State Process– bringing various thoughts-and-feelings and distinctions to bear on the primary experience. Herein lies “the difference that makes a difference.”

Meta-Level “Submodality” Pattern For Changing Limiting Beliefs
The 10 Minute Belief Change Pattern



Do you know of any enhancing & empowering beliefs that you would really like to have running in your mind-and-emotions?

Do you have any limiting beliefs that get in your way?

1) Get a good strong representation of saying “No!” to something. Make sure that the person’s “No” looks, sounds, and feels congruent and that it truly fits with the person’s beliefs and values. Anchor this resource experience of congruently, firmly, and definitively saying “No!” to something. Invite the person to stand up and utter the “No!”

2) Get a good strong representation of saying “Yes!” to something. Repeat as in step one, only this time with all of the internal representations and neurology of “Yes!” Once you do, reinforce it by asking about it, and amplifying it so that the person has an intense experience of his or her “Yes!” Anchor with a touch, the way you say “Yes!,” where you gesture to, etc.

3) Ask the person to identify the limiting belief that they no longer want to run their programs. Meta-model the limiting belief to assist in deframing it, loosening it up, and preparing for the belief change. Find out how it has not served them well, how it has messed things up, etc. As you notice how they represent the belief, pace its positive intentions.

4) Meta “No!” the limiting belief. As the person accesses the limiting belief fully and have it, invite him or her to go meta to that belief. Then, about that belief, have them utter their strong and powerful “No!” Have the person do it congruently, intensely, and repeatedly.

“And you can keep on saying No! to that limiting belief until you begin to feel that it no longer has any power to run your programs.”

“And how many more times and with what voice, tone, gesturing, do you need to totally disconfirm that old belief so that you know –deep inside yourself–that it will no longer run your programs?”

5) Fully elicit from the person an enhancing belief that he or she wants in the head. What specifically will the person think and say in the new belief. Write out the language of it. Get several versions and make sure that the person finds the expression of it compelling

6) Meta “Yes!” the enhancing belief. After the deframing of the old belief, now let the person’s mind swish to the content of what to believe. Have the person fully re-access the enhancing belief and then to go meta to it and validate it with a great big Yes! Have them repeat it with intensity and congruency.

7) Complete with future pacing the new empowering belief.

Cinematic Quality of VAK
Representational Systems
The Form & Structure of Thought
Evaluative States/ Processes
Thinking Patterns About Our RS Evaluations
Higher Meanings @ Thought
Conceptual & Semantic States
Higher Level Evaluations
Visual — Representation System: VAK
__Focus/ Defocused
__Color/Black & White —
__Distance: close or far —
__Foreground/ Background
__2D (flat), 3D (holographic)–
__Speed: fast, slow, normal
Chunk Size: General/Specific
External Referencing


Real, Current
Old, Past


__Volume: loud/soft


Toward/Away From Values
Goal Sort: Optimizing/Perfectionism
Value buying:cost, Time, Convenience
Time Tenses: Past/Present/Dependent/

Convincer/Believability–VAK or Words




Kinesthetic MO: Impossibility–Possibility
__Location & Extent


Presenter: Michael Hall, Ph.D, International NLP Trainer, author of numerous NLP works (Spirit of NLP, Meta-States, The Secrets of Magic) has co-authored several works with Bob Bodenhamer (Figuring Out People, Mind-lines, Time-Lining).

L. Michael Hall, Ph.D.

Institute of Neuro-Semantics™
P.O. Box 9231
Grand Junction CO. 81501 USA
(970) 523-7877
www.Neurosemantics. com


Bandler, Richard; Will McDonald. (1988). An Insider’s Guide to Submodalities. Capitola, CA: Meta Publications.

Bateson, Gregory. (1979). Mind and nature: A necessary unity. New York: Bantam.

Bateson, Gregory. (1972). Steps to an ecology of mind. New York: Ballatine.

Bodenhamer, Bob. (1998). “The Meta-Yes-ing Pattern.” Anchor Point. May.

Hall, Michael L. (1995). Meta-states: Self-reflexiveness in human states of consciousness. Grand Junction, CO: ET Publications.

Hall, L. Michael (1996). The spirit of NLP: The process, meaning, and criteria for mastering NLP. Wales, UK: Anglo-American Books.

Hall, Michael. (1997, 1998). Series on Belief Change Pattern. Anchor Point (Nov, Dec. 1997, Jan, Feb. 1998). Salt Lake City, UT: Anchor Point Associates.

Beliefs #1 “Recognizing the Meta-Levels of Beliefs” November 1997, Vol. 11 No. 11 pp. 13-19.

Beliefs #2 in Dec. 1997

Beliefs #3 “Transforming Beliefs at Meta-Levels” in January 1998, Vol. 12 No. 1 pp. 21-26

Beliefs #4 “The B.S. Belief Change Pattern” in February 1998, Vol. 12 No. 2 pp 33-38.

Weakland, John; Fisch, Richard; Jackson, Don; and Watzlawick, Paul. (1974). Change: Patterns of problem formulation and problem solution.