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Future pacing and mental rehearsal in hypnotherapy

Future pacing in hypnotherapy

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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.

‘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 negative possibilities and ways that someone could possibly screw things up, what do you think is going to happen when they go out and actually try to do said thing? Yeah, it’s likely that they will go with ‘what they know’, replicating what they’ve practised, and screwing 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!


Future pacing and mental rehearsal in hypnotherapy


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 whilst 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, and the task at hand can still be completed successfully!

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.


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How do to future pacing

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 would 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 to prepare thoroughly. Then, repeat 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 is positive future pacing.


Future pacing and mental rehearsal in hypnotherapy


Future pacing in the hypnotherapy session

Obviously, when using this in a hypnotherapy 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.

The reason that future pacing is taught to hypnotherapy students less frequently than it should be, is because it is non-script based! As hypnotherapy clients all have individual goals and target events, this means future pacing suggestions will be different from client to client. As a hypnotherapist using future pacing, you will base your suggestions on the information received during your client intake and goal-setting process at the start of the session. So, though you don’t have a ‘script’, in fact, you have all the information you need in order to easily and effectively future pace your client, helping them move towards greater success!

If you’d like to learn more about using future pacing with your therapy clients, check out our online hypnotherapy course, where we cover the topic (as well as many others) in great detail:


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Future pacing and mental rehearsal are widely used by successful actors, athletes, public speakers and all sorts of other people around the world to improve performances and to develop confidence. The great thing about future pacing is that you can use it for anything; any event, any behaviour, any unhelpful thought processes, and pretty much anything else you can think of! So, when you get proficient at using mental rehearsal, you can then apply it to any areas of your life, or your clients’ lives, where you feel that a bit of preparation might lead to better results. 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 – that’s why future pacing is so effective!

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Written by
Rory Z Fulcher
Rory Z Fulcher
RZHA Trainer and Founder
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