Timelines in NLP – Article of the month

October 14, 2013

Yes, there are many different labels for timeline processes including Timeline Re-patterning, Timeline Therapy, Time Based Techniques and I’m sure the list goes on and on, but what is true for all the above is that they are incredibly powerful tools for change work. There are similarities and differences in the different models, but for the purposes of this article for simplicity we will simply call them NLP timelines.  NLP timelines are a technique where the Practitioner utilises a client’s metaphors of time, with the intention of allowing the unconscious mind to access ‘past’ representations and to move on from ‘stuck patterns’ that have a history.  We are not searching for ‘truth’ when we use a timeline, there is no truth in the past, it’s all a heavily filtered representation. Often the client’s representation will be of an event they have long forgotten, we are not saying the recalled representation is accurate we are saying the perception it creates in the current consciousness is relevant.

Now what is important to remember is that a timeline is a construction, a timeline, as we said earlier in this article is a metaphor. It is a metaphor that most people resonate with because it is isomorphic to the linear construction called time.  We perceive life in a linear format and in increasingly technical world the measure of duration is becoming increasingly digital and thus even more linear. Human beings as organisms are not digital, we function in an analogue manner with simultaneous representations that are past, present and future orientated overlapping to create immediate experience.  If this immediate experience is overwhelming there is value in creating this artificial construct called a timeline thus separating past present and future.

An example of memories that change over time and are heavily distorted and deleted is when a group of friends/family recount a particular tale from the past, and each person tends to have differences in how they remember the event. Similar things occur with our own memories. The intention of doing this kind of process is not to delete the file or past representation, it is to gather the learnings and allow the client to move on from being stuck and simply learn from the past. This often gives people a sense of freedom, relief and closure. As a Practitioner we are looking at the structure of the historic representation, not the content. For example what specific sensations is the client experiencing? Are they associated or dissociated? Any other driving submodalities? Is there a pattern? Sometimes we explore a historic experience at a point just before it came into the person’s experience. This creates an interesting example of how in nanoseconds a map can change and the on-going consequences can really impact a client in the future. To experience the past, in the now, creates new choices for the future.



  • There is no such thing as a timeline, a timeline is a metaphor, a conscious construction utilised as a very effective intervention.

  • Memories change over time, what comes up may have happened or it may not, for the purpose of the intervention it really doesn’t matter as long as it helps the client/self.

  • Not all timelines are visual, they can be spatial or auditory.

  • We do not always need to work with past events in order for someone to get the difference of experience in the context they are working with.

  • Root Cause – we have no way of knowing the root cause of anything, given that human beings are dynamic organisms the notion of cause/effect is a myth.



This is incredibly varied; I (Jack Carroll) have never just used a timeline process in a session on its own. In my humble opinion they are best utilised when complemented with other techniques, particularly after the intervention. A New Code game is a great way of building present and future resources after cleaning up a past event. This type of intervention is an excellent pattern identifier, what I mean by that is if the same thing keeps cropping up time and time again we will be able to calibrate this through a timeline, identify the secondary gain from the behaviour and get to work with it! Timelines are excellent when a client continually references the past, abuse, addictions, smoking, drinking etc… What it enables us to do is pinpoint when specifically did the person first represent themselves as a ‘smoker’, addict ect… this is often before they took their first drag on a cigarette, sip of alcohol…..


A timeline process can take as little 5 minutes or a lot longer. Patience is key here as it will take as long as the client needs, what is integral is that the practitioner elicits a representation that the unconscious signals (through an established signal) that this is the one to work with to let go of what it is the client is experiencing. In most cases it’s the first or a very early representation of what is the client is working through. We will never know this for sure and that is why we use the signal. I (Michael Carroll) do not buy into the notion of root cause in this type of work and cause effect does not really work in a living system. Work with correlations, patterns and relationships in experience and your work will be much more generative.

A Timeline release can be quite an emotional procedure so act with empathy and stay with the client throughout. This is not an intervention we would recommend to anyone who is not already a trained NLP practitioner as calibration is key here in firstly getting the change and secondly and most importantly ensuring the clients emotional and physical safety. Building a safety anchor may help, so if the client goes into an unwanted, unresourceful state you can utilise a safety net for them.


I hope this has been of some use to you, if you wish to learn more about timelines the best place really is a Premier Practitioner and Master Practitioner course where you will learn various timeline models, expert training all in a safe environment to really ensure that you are ready for when you use this with other people. It really is an incredible technique to have at your disposal and one that has helped so many people all around the world.

Until next time

Latest insights from our experts

Blog Derren Brown, placebo, pills and psychology April 22, 2024
Videos The Impeccable Inception – the birth of NLP March 29, 2024
Videos The Impeccable Inception – the birth of NLP March 29, 2024
Videos The Impeccable Inception – the birth of NLP March 29, 2024
Videos The Impeccable Inception – the birth of NLP March 29, 2024
Videos The Impeccable Inception – the birth of NLP March 29, 2024
Videos The Impeccable Inception – the birth of NLP March 29, 2024
Videos The Impeccable Inception – the birth of NLP March 29, 2024
Videos The Impeccable Inception – the birth of NLP March 29, 2024