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Foreground-Background Technique

By Roger Ellerton Phd, ISP, CMC, Renewal Technologies Inc. www.renewal.ca

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As you think about a current problem/issue, what are you focusing on? If the issue involves another person, in your mind you may well have a big, bright, close-up (in your face) picture of him or her. And if you were to replay his or her voice in your mind, you may hear it loud and clear with a specific tone that results in feeling angry, dismissed or violated. All of this is in the foreground of your thoughts/mental images. Other things, including resources, are present in the background that you choose not to see, hear or feel as clearly or at all. What do you think would happen if you put less focus on what is in the foreground and more focus on what is in the background? Perhaps the problem would not seem so big or the person so overbearing and as a result you would be more resourceful.

This is the idea behind the foreground - background technique from NLP, which can be used in a variety of situations - to be more resourceful/comfortable when addressing a perceived problem, in the presence of authority figures, when receiving criticism, when in a situation that may generate anxiety, when feeling lost or disoriented or when responding to a need to eat, smoke or gamble in excess. Often in these types of situations, we have difficulty because we are focusing on a small subset of our experience - the part that is not working at the exclusion of other information or resources. That is, the problem is big and bright or loud and threatening in the foreground of our mental pictures/sounds and other resources and possibilities are in the background, not immediately accessible to us.

The foreground - background technique is a simple process that assists us to be aware of what is in the background and give it more or all of our attention and hence be more resourceful or be conscious of other choices. As with any change technique, you must be prepared to respond differently. If there is secondary gain or beliefs that restrict you in some way, these need to be addressed first.

The process:

  1. Think of a current issue in which you would like to be more resourceful and have more choice in how you respond. Notice what you see in the foreground as you think of this issue. Also notice what sounds and feelings are in the foreground (i.e., those that you are paying attention to). Now look, hear and feel beyond that which is in the foreground to the background and become aware of what you have not been paying attention to. Is there other useful information there?

  2. We will begin working with the pictures you make in your mind and then attend to any sounds and feelings that are present. Often changing how you see the situation is all that needs to be done.

  3. Start with your focus on the images in the foreground, as has been the case up until now. As you do, make these images smaller, duller, with less clarity; and at the same time quickly bring the background forward to be big, bright and focused. Notice what you now see that you had not clearly seen before. You may even be more aware of what is going on all around you.
  4. Enjoy this new awareness and notice what else is possible. Perhaps, the issue is not as important or does not affect you as much as it did before.
  5. Break state by stretching, taking a deep breath or briefly looking around the room you are in.
  6. Repeat steps two to four at least three times (nine times if you do not do steps six to thirteen). Speed is important when interchanging the foreground and background.
  7. Up to now, you have worked only with the visual modality. Here you will include any sounds. Notice what sounds are in the foreground and if they support you or not. If the sounds do not support you, have these sounds become less audible or less harsh as supportive sounds or simply quiet from the background rush forward to replace them. At the same time repeat step two so that the changes in what you see and hear are in alignment.
  8. Enjoy this new awareness and notice what else is possible.
  9. Break state by stretching, taking a deep breath or briefly looking around the room you are in.
  10. Repeat steps six to eight at least three times (six times if you do not do steps ten to thirteen).
  11. Notice what feelings are in the foreground and if they support you or not. If the feelings do not support you, have these feelings become less intense or disappear altogether as other supportive resourceful feelings (e.g. confident, playful) or simply a sense of calmness or control rush forward to replace them. At the same time repeat step six so that the changes in what you see, hear and feel are in alignment.
  12. Enjoy this new awareness and notice what else is possible and how you can choose to respond differently in the future.
  13. Break state by stretching, taking a deep breath or briefly looking around the room you are in.
  14. Repeat steps ten to twelve at least three times.
  15. If you are looking for more balance in your response (rather than putting your previous response 'out of the picture'), then in the above have the foreground fade and shrink as the background comes up to be about the same size, brightness and focus.

By focusing on the foreground, we make the problem or issue seem larger and do not see it in the full context. By making the foreground smaller and putting more attention on the background, we put the issue in perspective and can see, hear or feel it as something we can overcome.

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Author: Roger Ellerton is a certified NLP trainer, certified management consultant and the founder and managing partner of Renewal Technologies. The above article is based on his book Live Your Dreams Let Reality Catch Up: NLP and Common Sense for Coaches, Managers and You.

Copyright © 2006 Renewal Technologies Inc. All rights reserved.

Books and ebooks by Roger Ellerton

NLP book: Live Your Dreams NLP book: 5 step action plan NLP book: Parents' Handbook NLP book: Win-Win Influence Self-publish your books NLP and Personal Growth Thoughts Volume 1 Book: NLP Techniques Anyone Can Use

You can view all of my books on one page at Amazon or use the links below to take you to a specific book on your country's Amazon site. My books are also available through other fine online book retailers.

For additional information on these books, please see renewal.ca/product.htm.