What Are Submodalities?

Today we’re stepping out of our boxes. We’re going to experience some things you wouldn’t think had anything to do with your self-concept. I’m going to make it abundantly clear just how important this information is to you. So let’s begin…

hack your self conceptThe Building Blocks of Experience

Today we’re stepping out of our boxes. We’re going to experience some things you wouldn’t think had anything to do with your self-concept. I’m going to make it abundantly clear just how important this information is to you. So let’s begin…

As human beings we have 5 major systems that our experience is filtered through. They are the visual sense, the auditory sense, the kinesthetic sense, the olfactory sense (sense of smell), and the gustatory sense (sense of taste). In NLP, we call these the “modalities” of experience. While we’re not necessarily or modalities, in the realm of NLP, we’ll stick to these five. We can make even finer distinctions in these five modalities. For example, in the visual modality you can make distinctions such as brightness, size, magnification, color or black and white, location, distance, contrast and much more. We call these finer distinctions “submodalities“.

Let’s do an exploration exercise. Think of a pleasant experience that you’ve had. Select a submodality from the list below to experiment with. Now change that submodality from one extreme to the other to find out how that impacts your experience. For example, if the submodality is brightness, try varying the image from very bright to very dim, noticing what happens to your response as you do so. Notice particularly the following as you change the submodality: do any other submodalities automatically shift with it? Does your feeling change, in either quality or intensity? Ask yourself, “In what context might this submodality be useful?” Stop reading and do this exercise for about 5 minutes. Pick at least one submodality in the visual, auditory and kinesthetic modalities. Do this now.


What did you learn? Did you notice how simply by changing the way you represented the experience in your mind you could change how it affected you? And did you notice that your memories aren’t static or never-changing but pliable and easily manipulated? Can you imagine how this might be useful in the future?

How might we use our submodalities to enhance our self-concept? We could try the submodality of location? Let’s try this. Close your eyes and imagine something you are certain of — something that’s a fact. For example, you will brush your teeth tomorrow. Now, notice where that image of you brushing your teeth is located. Is it front of you, is it more to the left or to the right, is it high or low? Or is it panoramic. Do this now.


Now, imagine something that you are uncertain of, but you would like to have happen, like eating your favorite meal for dinner tomorrow. Close your eyes and imagine where this image is located in your mind. Is it in the same place as the earlier thought? Probably not.

Next, take the uncertainty of eating your favorite meal tomorrow and put it in the same location as the fact you used earlier. Do you notice that a different level of certainty is now associated with this goal? If you’re like most people, this future event has a new level of certainty.

Now try this with your self-concept. Pick a quality you would like to embody. Fill in the blank: I am _____. As you say this to yourself, where is it coming from? Where is it’s location? Is it from the location of certainty or uncertainty? Say it to yourself again. This time, imagine it coming from the same location that you defined as having a greater sense of certainty. How has your self-concept changed? Do this again an hour from now. Imagine it coming from the location of certainty and see what happens. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

When you have more time, experiment with the different submodalities and take notes on how they affect your experience. You’ve just been given a greater palette of distinctions to guide you on your journey of self mastery.

Submodality Distinctions


Brightness, size, magnification, color/black and white, saturation (vividness), hue or color balance, shape, location, distance, contrast, clarity, focus, duration, movement (slide/movie), speed, direction of movement, 3-dimensional/flat, perspective or point of view, associated or dissociated, foreground/background (self/context), frequency or number (simultaneous and/or sequential) (split screen or multiple images), frame/panorama (lens angle), aspect ration (height to width), orientation (angle, tilt, spin, etc.), density (“graininess” or “pixels”), transparent/opaque, strobe, direction of lighting, symmetry, horizontal or vertical hold, digital (words), sparkle, bulge,…


Pitch, tempo (speed), volume, rhythm, continuous or interrupted, timbre or tonality, digital, associated/dissociated, duration, location, distance, contrast (harmony/dissonance), figure/ground, clarity, number, symmetry, resonance with context, external/internal source, monaural/stereo, flow/continuity, dynamic range,…


Pressure, location extent, texture, temperature, movement, duration, intensity, shape, frequency (tempo), number,…

One useful way to subdivide kinesthetic sensations is the following:

  • Tactile: the skin senses.
  • Proprioceptive: the muscle senses and other internal sensations of posture, breathing movement, muscle tension, etc.
  • Evaluative meta-feelings ABOUT other perceptions or representations, also called emotions, feelings, or visceral kinesthetics because they are usually represented in the abdomen and chest or along the mid-line of the torso. These feelings are not direct sensations/perceptions, but are evaluative representations derived from other sensations/perceptions.

Olfactory and Gustatory (Smell and Taste)

The terms used by psychophysics experimenters (sweet, sour, bitter, salt, burnt, aromatic, etc.) probably won’t do you much good. The fading in or out (changes in intensity and/or duration) of a particular taste or smell that are relevant in your experience may be quite useful, since odors and tastes are very powerful anchors for states.