NLP Glossary – Submodalities (detailed)

Submodalities are like mind codes. The way it is explained is that it is a “sub” element of a modality, comprising visual, auditory and kinesthetic modalities of perception.Past
Creative Commons License photo credit: h.koppdelaney

What do I use submodalities for?

Generally, submodalities are used to change the way we represent or perceive information in the mind. While this can be quite heavy to understand, think of it as a new software that you want to install into a computer.

Your mind carries a “template” of thought. This “template” is filled with your experiences based on certain codes in your mental template. This template of codes can be found in this submodality checklist.

What parts of experience are coded by submodalities?

Situations represent the context of your experience. Submodalities are the structure of our experience. Submodality Techniques are the process you use to change your experience.

I’ll give a variety of examples to illustrate this.

Do you realize that there are movies that give you a different feeling, simply based on the lighting they use in the movie? For instance, a dark movie that brings out more mystery would be “Batman: The Dark Knight”. notice the visual effects bring out a much darker, ominous feeling.

However, looking at a much more lively and vibrant scene in a show like “Sex In The City”, you’ll discover the colors are much different. The mood and rhythm of the entire movie is different, bringing out a different flavor in the movie.

How do I use submodalities?

Since we know that submodalities are like the elements that movie directors use in order to shift the way we experience the movie, then it is clear that by creating these changes in our mind, we literally become our own movie directors.

Using The Submodalities Checklist I have on this site, you can easily compare and contrast the effect within the submodalities in your mind. So I’m warning you ahead of time, until you have received proper NLP Practitioner training, it is highly unlikely that you will be able to fully grasp the way submodalities can work, even though I’m giving a detailed description here. You’ll need supervised practice most of the time in order to gain the maximum benefit out of using the submodalities.

Submodality Comparisons

First of all, submodalities are a way to understand the way we think, and how we construct our reality. For instance, taking two different emotional states, you can discover their differences through contrastive analysis.

Contrastive analysis is the process in linguistics to compare sentences and to identify the difference it makes to our mental representations.

  • Statement #1: Happy young boys play enthusiastically.
  • Statement #2: Colorless green ideas sleep furiously.

Notice both statements follow the exact same sequence grammatically, but one makes sense and the other does not, thereby enabling a linguist to determine the effect of syntax (structure of the sentence) versus the semantics (meaning).

In the case of linguistics, we use contrastive analysis with sentences. In submodalities, however, you use situations and contexts. Think of the time you are working at your office and compare the time when you were stressed and the time you were energized. You will be able to detect the difference between two experiences quite easily, and therefore know how they were coded.

“So what?”

By understanding the way they are coded, you can:

  • change the way you perceive and therefore experience a context.
  • shift a negative experience in that context and adjust it so that it appears more positive.
  • shift a positive experience in that context and adjust it to become even more positive and powerful.
  • utilize processes that make change more habitual and natural

Example: Submodality shifts

I had a client once who had a build up of panic just prior to doing a presentation. In his mind, the audience was bright, loud and big. All I did was to get him to adjust the audience in his mind so that they were of the appropriate size and volume that made him comfortable to speak to them. He reported that he could not change the size of the audience, but said he could make himself turn into a giant in his mind so that the audience was in awe of him. This shifted his emotional state when speaking on a stage.

Example: Submodality utilization

A client once asked me how to be more motivated. So I asked what kind of pictures and sounds she made when she feels motivated. Generally, it seemed that she made brighter and closer pictures (compared with less motivated ones) and said “yeah!” in her mind whenever she was motivated.

The client has just accessed a resource state, which I can now utilize.

In this case, I got her to think of the context in which she was not motivated, or in a place where she had to be more motivated. She said it was her work. As a result, all she had to do was to perceive the workplace as brighter and closer in her mind, and as she was about to get things done, say to herself “yeah!”. This created a very obvious change in her physiological state: face flushing, smiling, and posture shifted to become more upright.

Example: Submodality Process

Another client had a phobia of snakes. Taking the image of a snake, she freaks out and goes into a phobic state, tearing and screaming. After the image is taken from her, she regained her composure. We first shifted the representation of snakes by thinking of a way to represent the data in a more comfortable way. She changed the snake to feel smooth to the touch (instead of slimy) and her favorite color. We even got her to imagine that the snake was like a baby she could cuddle. We brought in a real snake and she embraced it like a baby with little effort, because now the perception of snakes (domesticated pythons) was much different than before.


There are many other ways to utilize submodalities, and even in this post, I’ve barely scratched the surface. To be able to become masterful at submodalities, the processes and strategies you learn to shift a person’s emotional state must be learnt. In NLP, many people have invented dozens of useful and powerful strategies that can be applied in different situations. I’d advise you to learn how to model.