This article discusses the foreground background switch of neuro linguistic programming nlp. The foreground background switch is a variation of the classical swish pattern of nlp.

Suppose you have client who has a problem. Say they have trouble dealing with a co-worker. Get the client to think of a time that they experienced this issue. Where were they? What were they seeing, and hearing and doing (representational systems in NLP terms)? What precisely did they notice at that time? Let’s say they noticed the other person’s eyes. What exactly was it about the eyes that they noticed? Be specific as possible.

These questions direct the client to think inductively.

Now as they notice the other person’s eyes, what are they not aware of when they are aware of the other person’s eyes.

This will direct the client to think inductively.

What they are not noticing will include at the least all the other objects in the room they are in when they are with the other person. At most it may include everything in space and time that existed, will exist, may have existed but didn’t and may exist but won’t.

Now let those things which they are not aware of (the background) switch to the foreground, and everything that they are aware of (the foreground) switch to the background, in a classic "swish" style. Many clients may experience this as a “flattening” of the foreground and background rather than a switch. This really doesn’t matter.

You will notice this step is similar to the swish pattern of neurolinguistic programming nlp. The effect of this switch is widen the client’s attention from what they were paying attention to what they are not paying attention to. As a result, the things they were paying attention to seem less important, and their problems seem less important.


Now suppose we have a well formed outcome (in NLP terms) from the client before we begin. What about the client’s outcome under this model?

By getting the client to state their outcome before we do the switch, this acts as an “attractor”. What does this mean? When we ask the client about the things they do not pay attention to when they are paying attention to the problem, this brings in the whole of the rest of the universe of actual and possible experiences. By asking the client about their outcome before the exercise, we prime the unconscious mind to set up a filter that will attract things that are supportive of this outcome.

When we do the switch, at a minimum the client’s issue will seem much less serious than before the exercise. However, by using an outcome to directionalize the client’s attention can create a positive state using the foreground-background switch.

Perceptual Positions

We can also combine this exercise with perceptual positions.

"Now float into the other person. Look at the you over there. What do you see? Where are you drawn to? As you focus on THAT, what are you not noticing? Now, allow the background to rush to the foreground, as the foreground recedes into the background…"

Author's Bio: 

Shawn Carson is Director of the International Center for Positive Change and Hypnosis in New York City, NY. Shawn is an NLP Trainer and Master Practitioner, certified hypnotist, and Clean Language Facilitator.
Offering offer NLP Practitioner and Master Practitioner Training in New York. Also Coaching and personal change, hypnosis.