Words and thoughts can place us in a "good
or bad state". They are anchors to a complex
series of experiences within us. They have
the power to evoke images, sounds and
feelings in the listener or reader or in
ourselves. They can start or break up a
relationship, server or serve diplomatic
relationships and provoke or defuse fights.
Yet for most of us, language is used without
thought of its consequence. This often leads to
distorted patterns of thinking not
associated to the event itself.
So what is it about our thinking that leads
us to that place that we either misinterpret
the event or distort our perception of the
events or spoken language only to create
stories in our minds that may or may not be
true. To answer this questions lets look at
how we think and how that impacts what
choices we make about our thoughts.
Maps & Filters
The world is an infinity of possible sense
impressions that we perceive only a very
small part. The part we do perceive is
often further filtered by how we think in
relation to our unique experience of life.
Everyone lives their unique reality built from there individual
experiences of life and as such act on the basis of what we
perceive in regards to our internal model of the world. Our
culture, our language, our beliefs, our values, our interests,
our assumptions and the choices we make all influence what part
of that information brings meaning to our experience. Think for
a moment what "beauty" means to you. No doubt you will
have memories, internal pictures, sounds and feelings that let
you make sense of that word. Equally, someone else will have
different memories and experiences and will think about that
word in a different way.
Considering we only process a very small amount of
information that the world offers us, there are other processes
in play that allow us to notice and respond to
much more without being aware. As mentioned, our conscious mind
is very limited and seems to able to keep track of a maximum of
seven variables (approximately 134 bits of information out of
2,000,000) or pieces of information at one time. This is
outlined by the American Psychologist, George Miller in his
book, "The Magic Number Seven", Plus or Minus Two". So the
conscious mind is therefore limited to small pieces of
information either form the internal world of our thoughts or
from the external world of experience.
unconscious mind, by contrast, is all the life-giving processes
of our body, all that we have learned, our past experiences, and
all that we might notice, but do not notice in the present
moment. The unconscious is much wiser than that of the conscious
mind. The idea of being able to understand an infinitely complex
world with a conscious mind that can only hold about seven
pieces of information at once is obviously ludicrous yet as
human beings we persist in the possibility. Therefore the notion
of conscious and unconscious is central to understanding our
loop of understanding our thinking has a beginning it starts
with our sense. Our eyes, nose, ears, mouth and skin are only
point of contact with the outside world. Even these points of
contact are not what they seem. Take your eyes for example. It
would appear they are the windows to our world though if look at
what is happening in the process of sight we will come to
realize the complexity of the process which ultimately leads to
an image that is uniquely yours.
eyes are made up receptors, rods and cones of the retina, that
respond not to light itself, but to the changes or differences
in the light. Consider the apparent simple task of looking at
the words in a book. If your eyes and the book where perfectly
still, the word would disappear as soon as each rod had fired in
response the initial black or white stimulus. In order to keep
sending information about the shape of the letters, the eye
flicker minutely and rapidly so the rods at the boundary of
black and white keep on being stimulated. In this way we
continue to see the letter. The image is them projected upside
down onto the retina, coded into electrical impulses by
the rods and cones and reassembled from these by the visual
cortex of the brain. The resulting picture that you perceive is
then projected out in front of you, but in essence is wholly
created inside the brain.
actual fact we see through a complex series of active perceptual
filters. The same is true for our other senses. The world we
perceive is not the real world. It is a perception made by our
neurological make up which is influence by and filtered further
through our beliefs, interests and preoccupations.
Our Representational System
are thoughts? There are many scientific answers, yet everyone
knows intimately what thinking is for them. They remind us of
the past, help us evaluate the present and plan for the future.
When we think about what we see, hear, feel, smell and taste we
can recreate these sights, sounds, feelings and experiences
inwardly which engage our neurology to re-experience or create
an experience without even being there.
Therefore, one way we think is to consciously or unconsciously
remember the sights, sounds, feelings, tastes and smells we have
experienced. Through the medium of language we can even create
varieties of sensory experiences without even having the
experience. If you consider describing to someone eating a lemon for example,
the very act of that thought and description can elicit
neurological and physiological responses as if the fruit was
right there in front of you even though the fruit is not
present. It's these same neurological pathways to represent our
experience inwardly that we use to experience our world
directly. The way we take in, store and code information in our
minds (seeing, hearing, feeling, smelling, and tasting) are
known as representational systems.
Understanding these representational systems allows us to begin
to discover the many aspects of how we think and how it
influences not only process within our mind but also the
selection of language we use to describe our personal experience
of the world both internally and externally to others.
(V), auditory (A), kinesthetic (K), gustatory (G) and olfactory
(O) are the five primary sensory modalities that we use to
experience the world around us. As mentioned these modalities
are also known as representational systems as they are the
primary ways we represent, code, store and give meaning or
language to our experiences.
Often, we work with three representational systems which include
visual, auditory and kinesthetic. The other primary senses,
gustatory and olfactory do not normally play a major role and
are often included with kinesthetic as a part of our experience.
However, if you are a person who uses and relies on your
gustatory or olfactory senses to a large degree, you will often
develop thinking in such a way that your senses separate your
internal process from a generalized experience of kinesthetic to
a considerable more complex representational system which
incorporates gustatory and olfactory. For most of us, they often
serve as powerful and immediate links to sights, sounds and
pictures associated to them. For some individuals, the auditory
presentational systems will divide into two components. These
are auditory tonal, which is a preference for sound and / or
auditory digital for those who experience their world and
thinking in words such as discrete verbal symbols or digits.
Generally it is considered that visual, auditory and kinesthetic
are the primary representational systems used in Western
Preferred Representational Systems
all of our senses and depending on the circumstances may focus
on one or more of them. For example, when listening to a
favorite piece of music, we may close our eyes to more fully
listen and to experience certain feelings.
While saying that, each of us have preferred representational
systems. For example, when learning something new, some of us
may prefer to see it or imagine it performed, others need to
hear how to do it, others need to get a feeling for it, and yet
others have to make sense of it. In general, one system is not
better than another. However, depending on the context, one or
more of the representational systems may be more effective. An
example of this might be a: landscape painter preferring visual,
or a musician preferring auditory tonal, or in the case of
athletes their preference may be kinesthetic and finally a
mathematician may find a preference auditory digital. People at
the top of their profession typically have the ability to use
all of the representational systems and to choose the one most
appropriate for the situation.
Depending on your preferred representational system(s), you may
exhibit certain behaviors or characteristics. Before exploring
these behaviors, please note that depending on what is going on
in your life, or the context, you may change your preferred
representational system(s). Hence, it is more useful to notice
the representational system a person is currently favoring,
rather than pigeon-holing a person.
The following are generalizations on the characteristics of
people with a preference for visual, auditory tonal, kinesthetic
or auditory digital. Remember, with all generalizations, there
are always exceptions.
People with a visual preference will tend to:
Be organized, neat and well-groomed. Why? Because
they want to look good. And what do they expect from
you? Yes, the same thing!
Use visualization for memory and decision making -
often getting insights about something.
Be more imaginative and may have difficulty putting
their ideas in words.
Speak faster than the general population. Why?
Because they have a picture(s) in their mind and if
it is a moving picture, there is a lot to tell in so
Prefer in-person interactions - to see the other
person and his/her reactions.
Want to see or be shown concepts, ideas or how
something is done.
Want to see the big picture.
May not remember what people have said and become
confused if you give them too many verbal
instructions. However, if you can draw a map or
picture for them, then they can see what you are
Remember faces more easily than names.
Be distracted by visual activity and less so by
People with an auditory tonal preference will tend
Be more aware of subtle change in the tone of your
voice and be more responsive to certain tones of
Perceive and represent sequences and are able to
remember directions or instructions more easily.
Learn by listening and asking questions.
Enjoy discussions and prefer to communicate through
spoken language rather than the written word.
Talk through problems and like to have someone
available to serve as a sounding board for their
Need to be heard.
Be easily distracted by noise.
People with a kinesthetic preference will tend to:
Speak slower than the general population. Why?
Because they need time to get in touch with how they
feel about the topic.
Be more sensitive to their bodies and their feelings
and respond to physical rewards and touching.
Learn by doing, moving or touching.
Dress and groom themselves more for comfort than how
Make decisions based on their feelings.
Stand closer to other people than those with a
visual preference - to feel the other persons
energy, whereas the person with a visual preference
will stand back to see more of the other person
(body language, etc.).
Auditory digital is devoid of the senses. People
with an auditory digital preference will tend to:
Have a need to make sense of the world, to figure
things out, to understand.
Talk to themselves and carry on conversations with
you in their mind. Often they will say they remember
discussing something with you, when you actually did
not have the conversation. They did, however, in
Learn by working things out in their mind.
Not to be spontaneous, as they like to think things
Have logic play a key role in the decision process
as do facts and figures.
Memorize by steps, procedures, sequences.
Can you see yourself in one or more of these representational
systems, or does one sound better than the others, or do you
feel one is a better fit than another or does one just make
sense to you?
We use language to
communicate our thoughts, so it's not surprising that the words
we use reflect the way we think. Lets now examine the various
language differences for the different representational systems.
So what is it you first notice about the following sentences?
shown me a bright idea on how to proceed and I would
like to look into it further.
told me of a way to proceed that sounds good and I
would like to hear more about it.
handed me a way to proceed that is on solid ground
and I would like to get more of a feel for it.
provided me with a way to proceed that makes sense
and I would like have more details.
If you examine the sentences carefully, the first sentence uses
visual words, the second auditory, the third kinesthetic and the
fourth uses words that are not sensory based (auditory digital),
yet all four sentences convey the similar generalized meaning.
If the words we use describe our thoughts and those thoughts are
internally represented of how we think, then if your thoughts
are generated by mainly pictures, then you will tend to use more
visual words when describing your thoughts. If your thoughts are
based on logic or making sense of something, you may tend to use
words that reflect the logic of your thinking. Likewise, for
auditory and kinesthetic. The words you use reflect your
internal thought processes. This is a very important point as
this reveal internal thoughts and thought processes to others
through the words they choose to use or not use.
The terms, visual, auditory, kinesthetic and auditory digital
words are often referred to as predicates. The predicates that a
person uses will provide you with an indication of the persons
preferred representational system. The table below gives you a
general idea of some of the different predicates. Notice that
some words like fuzzy could appear in more than one column
depending how they may used and in what context.
sight for sore eyes
take a peek
birds eye view
paint a picture
rings a bell
quiet as a mouse
voiced an opinion
clear as a bell
give me your ear
loud and clear
purrs like a kitten
on another note
get hold of
pull some strings
sharp as a tack
get a handle on
get in touch with
hand in hand
hang in there
describe in detail
figure it out
make sense of
pay attention to
word for word
without a doubt
as we have preferred representational system for our conscious
thinking, we also have a preferred means of bring information
into our conscious thoughts. A complete memory would contain all
sights, sounds, feelings, tastes and smells of the original
experience and while saying this we prefer to go to one of these
to recall it. Think back to your holiday. What came first? A
picture , sound or feeling?
is the lead system, the internal sense that we use as a handle
to reach back to a memory. It is how the information reaches
conscious mind. For example, I may remember my holiday and start
to be conscious of the feelings of relaxation I experienced, but
the way it comes to mind might be initially be as a picture.
here my lead is visual and my preferred system is kinesthetic.
lead system is rather like a computer start up program that
searches and opens up programs you wish to use so as to think
about the request consciously.
easy to know if a person is thinking in pictures, sounds or
feelings. There are visible changes in our bodies when we think
in different ways. The way we think effects our bodies and how
we use our bodies effects the way we think. Have you ever
noticed that peoples eyes move when they are thinking? This is
valuable information that can provide us with clues as to
whether they are thinking in pictures, sounds, feelings or
talking to themselves. Or in other words, information about
their lead and preferred representational systems.
According to neurological research, eye movement both laterally
and vertically seems to be associated with activating different
parts of the brain. In the neurological literature, these
movements are called lateral eye movements or eye accessing cues
because they give us insights as to how people are accessing
information. To get an idea how your eyes move, ask a friend to
consider the following questions. For each question, as they
think of the answer, notice the direction their eyes move (up
down or to the side) or if their eyes do not seem to move notice
if you have a sense that you are looking in a certain direction
(even if only for a fraction of a second).
What is the color of your front door?
What will you look like in 15 years?
What does your favourite music sound like?
What would your voice sound like if you had marbles
in your mouth?
When you talk to yourself, what type of voice do you
What does it feel like to be in a nice warm bath?
What you will notice is their eyes having a tendency
to look up for the first two questions, to the side
for the next two questions and down for the last two
questions? In general, if you are making a picture
in your mind your eyes will tend to go up to the
left or the right, for sounds laterally to the left
or right, and down to the left or right for feelings
or when you talk to yourself. More specifically, if
you are right-handed, you may have noticed the
following (for people who are left handed,
interchange left and right in the following text):
Eyes up and to your left. This is a question about
something you have seen before and hence you
remembered it -- visual remembered (VR).
Eyes up and to your right. This is a question about
something that I assume you have not seen before and
hence you constructed this picture - visual
Eyes on the horizontal plane to your left. This is a
question about something you have heard before -
auditory remembered (AR).
Eyes on the horizontal plane to your right. This is
a question about something you have not heard before
- auditory constructed (AC).
Eyes down and to the left. This is a question about
your self talk - auditory digital (Ad).
Eyes down and to the right. This is a question about
your feelings- kinesthetic (K).
It's important to note that the above eye patterns are how
your eyes would move if you are right-handed. The following
picture describes the eye patterns for a right-handed person
as you look at them. Please note this distinction. These
patterns are fairly consistent for most people with odd
exception. For many left-handed people, the chart is
Other Accessing Cues
movements are not the only cues that reflect the internal
process of thinking. As the mind and the body are inseparable,
how we think always shows somewhere, in particular it shows in
breathing patterns, skin colour and posture. A person who is
thinking in visual images will generally speak more quickly and
higher pitched than someone who is not. Images happen fast in
the brain and you have to speak fast to keep up with them.
breathing will also be higher in the chest and more shallow.
There is often an increase in muscle tension, particularly in
the shoulders, the head and face with face becoming a little
who are thinking in sounds breathe evenly over the whole chest
area. There are often small rhythmic movements of the body and
the voice tonally clear, expressive and resonant. The is
normally well balanced on the shoulders or slightly at an angle
as if listening to something. People who are talking to
themselves will often lean their head to one side, resting it on
their hands or feet. Some people repeat what they have just
heard under their breathe. You will often see their lips move.
Kinesthetic accessing is characterized by deep breathing low in
the stomach area, often accompanied by muscle relaxation. With
the head down, the voice will have a deeper tonality, and the
person will typically speak slowly, with long pauses. The idea
of representational systems is a very useful way of
understanding how different people think and reading access cues
is an invaluable skill for anyone who wants to communicate
better with others.
we have talked about three main ways of thinking, visual,
auditory and kinesthetic. These we have referred to as
representational systems or modalities. Though this just the
first step to understanding what is actually going on in our
brain at the time of thought for each of these modalities has
example, if you wanted to describe a picture, we could describe
a picture as being black and white or colour, or it could also
be bright or dim. Sounds could be loud or soft, or coming from a
particular direction. Feelings could be in different parts of
the body or have different temperatures. As mentioned, we
generally we work with only three of the modalities -- visual,
auditory and kinesthetic.
is a list of the most common submodality distinctions:
Black & White or Colour
Near or Far
Bright or Dim
Size of Picture
Associated / Dissociated
Focused or Defocused
Framed or Unbounded
Movie or Still
If a Movie-Fast/Normal/Slow
3 Dimensional or Flat
Loud or Soft
Near or Far
Internal or External
Stereo or Mono
Fast or Slow
High or Low Pitch
Verbal or Tonal
Strong or Weak
Large Area or Small Area
Weight: Heavy or Light
Texture: Smooth or Rough
Constant or Intermittent
Temperature: Hot or Cold
The visual submodality associated / dissociated is very
important and refers to whether or not you can see yourself in
the picture (visual internal representation). If you are
associated you can not see yourself in the picture. Often we
refer to this as looking through your own eyes. If you can see
yourself in the picture, then we say you are dissociated.
If you are associated in a memory, then your feelings about that
memory will be more intense. If you are dissociated, this is
more like watching a movie of your life rather than being there
and any feelings will be less intense or not at all.