Future pacing is a behavioural hypnotherapy approach that is used to prime clients to successfully accomplish a future goal (or goals). Often referred to as ‘mental rehearsal’ or even ‘future progression’, future pacing means taking someone, in their imagination, to a time in the future in order to experience a specific situation where they’d like to respond differently. This commonly used hypnotherapy technique is fantastic at ‘programming’ new behaviours and responses, and for helping people to overcome their own ‘negative future pacing’.
Negative future pacing
Unfortunately, most people don’t spend much time mentally rehearsing how they want things to go, but instead, they rehearse all of the many different ways that things could go wrong. For example, a businessman giving an important speech to his colleagues may negatively rehearse stumbling over his words, getting poor reactions from the audience, forgetting what to say, getting interrupted, and so on. However, often it’s not just ‘reasonably possible’ things that are mentally rehearsed, as our minds can often go wandering off down a trail of exaggeration, building on existing fears and worries, and creating ridiculously unrealistic potential possibilities and rehearsing them using future pacing. So, as well as not doing the speech well in a number of different ways, what if the electricity cuts out half way through the speech? What if his trousers decide to fall down as he walks out in front of the audience? What if a bear somehow gets into the office and starts mauling people just as he makes his big pitch? Exaggeration and over-worrying are key components of negative future pacing. The mind is a very creative thing, however, at times when your (or your clients) are engaging in mental rehearsal, it’s important to ensure that what’s being rehearsed is positive and helpful.
The ‘Laws of Suggestion‘, come into play here. When future pacing, you’re relying on the law of concentrated attention and the law of repeated effect. Basically, this means the more you concentrate on an idea, the bigger and more intrusive it becomes, and also, the more you repeat your future pacing process, the more likely what you’ve rehearsed will actually happen when it comes to doing the real thing (well, maybe not the bear bit, but you get what I mean). So, if future pacing is being used to repeatedly practice all the ways you could possibly screw things up, getting really familiar with exactly how you might screw things up, what do you think is going to happen when you go out and actually try to do the thing that you’ve rehearsed screwing up, over and over? Yeah, you’ll probably go with ‘what you know’, replicating what you’ve practised, and screw it up! So, as you can probably guess, it’s far better to focus the imagination towards a positive outcome and rehearse doing that, rather than future pacing something going badly.
Positive future pacing
The idea with positive future pacing is that you run through the entire ‘event process’, whatever that process is, in order to get practice with what is going to happen in real life, when that event happens. Now obviously, most of us probably aren’t psychic, so we can never know exactly what will happen within any given event process, so you have to give it your best guess (remembering to keep away from those exaggerated potential additions, that are unlikely to occur in real life).
Because things may not go as planned, for added effectiveness, it’s a great idea to run through a number of different ‘options’ in the future pacing process. You might mentally rehearse the ‘expected’ scenario, or the ‘ideal’ scenario, but it’s also worth running through a scenario that is ‘just OK’ (because it’s true, things very rarely always go perfectly)! As well as that, it can be very useful to run through some scenarios where there are ‘realistic foreseeable challenges’ (key word there being ‘realistic’) or where things don’t go as planned. That way, if there’s a problem ‘on the day’ it’s already been prepared for, and strategies can be put in place so that the problem can be dealt with appropriately, allowing you to move on with completing the event process!
Also, it’s most common to use future pacing for just the ‘event’ itself, however a great way to ‘ramp up’ success is to also mentally rehearse what’s going to happen before the event (the preparation phase) and after it. By mentally rehearsing experiencing the positive results and success gained from doing a great job, we’re more likely to want to succeed in order to reach our pre-practiced end point of feeling good afterwards.
So, as a brief example, I’d like you to think about an upcoming event that is significant to you, or that has you worried. Whether it’s a speech, a test or exam, a presentation, a ceremony, even a challenging conversation or human interaction. Imagine what you need to do in order to be better prepared for that event. Imagine preparing now, in your own way. Connecting to exactly what you’d need to do, and repeating this preparation process in your mind, over and over, in order that you’ll be ready for the main event when it happens. Now, I’d like you to imagine that you’re about to go through the event itself, and imagine you’re going into it with a positive mindset, knowing that you will be able to cope, and do your very best. Imagine yourself now, experiencing what it is that you’ll be experiencing when that event is happening. Imagine doing everything that you need to do, in order to make it the best possible experience that it can be, now. Connect to any feelings and sensations in your body that help you to feel comfortable and confident as this event, as this scene unfolds. Picture yourself dealing with any potential challenges in your own way, and in a way that’s appropriate for the situation and for you. Now fast forward, and imagine that the event has come to a successful end. Imagine how satisfied you feel that it went well. Also, connect to what you did well, and imagine congratulating yourself on how you did, reflecting on all of the positives of that event and your performance within it.
That’s positive future pacing.
Obviously, when using this in a therapy session, you’re likely to include a lot more specific details within the future pacing and mental rehearsal process. You’re also likely to repeat the process a number of times in order that it truly ‘sinks in’. Unfortunately, future pacing is a massively underused (and under-taught) tool for many hypnotherapists, even though it’s one that’s super easy to do, and especially because it can dramatically increase your success and your clients’ success.
If you’d like to learn more about using future pacing with your therapy clients, check out our Hypnotherapy 101 online course, where we cover the topic in detail (as well as many others). Or, if you’d prefer to use future pacing for your own self-development purposes, we also cover the topic in our Learn Self Hypnosis online course. Future pacing and mental rehearsal is widely used by successful actors, athletes, public speakers and all sorts of other people around the world to improve performances and to develop confidence, so use it, and make a habit of using it. In fact, why not start by future pacing yourself to imagining using future pacing? The more you rehearse using this process in your mind, the more practice you will be getting, and practice in your imagination is just as good as the real thing. Finally, the great thing about mental rehearsal is that you can use it for anything. Any event, any behaviour, any unhelpful thought processes, and much more. So, when you get proficient at using mental rehearsal, you can then apply it to any areas of your life where you feel that a bit of preparation might help you succeed!
We hope that you enjoyed this blog on future pacing and mental rehearsal in hypnotherapy. If you have any questions about this topic or anything else for that matter, do please get in touch, because we’re always happy to help!
– written by Rory Z Fulcher