NLP - Visualisation

NLP - Visualisation

Sep 20, 2021


Visualisation refers to the process of forming mental images. From the NLP perspective, visualisation involves purposefully directing the activity of the visual representational system. Visualisation may utilise memories, fantasy, or a combination of both. In practice, ‘visualisation’ can involve all the senses, including especially seeing, hearing and feeling. It is one of the fundamental processes through which people build their inner models of the world.

The ability to form visual images has many uses. Visualisation, for example, is one of the core tools used by NLP and other applied psychological methods for the purpose of planning and "programming" changes in behaviour. It is also the basis of the ability to "dream", create and innovate. For many people, visualisation is the primary component of imagination.

Because visualisation is an activity of the body's nervous system, it can influence the body in several ways. For instance, visual images of goals and outcomes can form a focal point or "attractor," around which behaviour becomes cybernetically self-organized. Thus, visualising future outcomes and consequences can stimulate and mobilise the activity of the nervous system (both conscious and unconscious) in the present. 


Your memory of your life is stored in one straight line, the timeline, which connects the past, the present and the future. It starts with your birth and ends with your death. Our perception of past experiences determines who we are and how we act. By changing the events on our timeline we can change ourselves.

You can discover your timeline by thinking of something in the past and pointing to it. Then do the same for the future. Are you actually on your timeline? Or does it pass in front of you or behind?

If you know how someone’s timeline flows, you can anchor ideas and events in their past or future, for example by referencing your left or right hand when referring to something. In exercises you can make a physical representation of a timeline by laying out along the floor.

Future Pace

A future pace is where we have someone go out into his or her future and imagine something happening. With goals we do this to ensure that they are congruent and believe they can achieve the goal. When we have done change work we do this to have the client experience that things will be different in the future before they actually get there.

You can use future pacing to "embed" change into the future – to give the person an experience of dealing positively with a situation before they get into the same situation again. This is based on visualisation: the mind cannot tell the difference between a scenario that is real and one that has been clearly visualised. The idea is that, having visualised positively, when they are again in the situation the previous experience will serve as a model for how to behave, even though the previous experience was imagined.


We can combine visualisation, future pacing and timelines to explore and reinforce an action plan. Lay down a timeline along the floor and walk along it towards your goal. As you reach each critical stage in your plan, stop and experience what it will feel like, what you will see and hear. Note especially what you will learn and what resources you will collect. When you have reached your goal on the timeline, turn around and look back. What is it like to experience this success? What were the key learnings? What were the challenges? You could also walk back towards the present, experiencing how each of the stages will be now that you have taken on the resources and learnings.