How to start a modelling project

Keeping your opening question clean
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When you want to enhance your own state-accessing and emotional flexibility – say, “I want to feel curious” – by finding out how others do it, is it OK to start off semi-clean with the outcome first and get the ‘client’s’ metaphor to your proposition – and then map the landscape? For example:

So when you felt curious, what kind of curious was that?


And when you feel curious, that’s like what?

The short answer to Christopher Townsend’s interesting (paraphrased) question is: ‘yes’. Assuming you get the person’s permission to start with, I think it is clean to ask these kinds of questions for the propose of finding out how they do what they do.

Christopher is referring to is what David Gordon would call ‘exemplar modelling’ since the facilitator holds the desired outcome. This contrasts with ‘therapeutic modelling’ where the client’s desired outcome is the reference point for the session.*

I have two suggestions about the proposed starting questions:

(a) I recommend asking the question without the word “feel” since this will remove a presupposition that you don’t need to make. Many people will “feel” curious but that doesn’t mean everyone does. If the exemplar uses the word “feel” then it can be used it an an entry point into a metaphor landscape. Our generalised version of David Grove’s ‘Feeling to a Metaphor’ vector (he devised in the 1980s) is designed for such situations and is described below.

(b) I suggest keeping the question in the present tense (as in your second example) e.g.

And when you are curious [Clean Language question]?

My aim here is to encourage the exemplar to experience the required state, to self-model their in-the-moment experience, and to describe that – inevitably using metaphor.

As you suggest, exemplar modelling is a great way to enhance our emotional and cognitive flexibility.

Identifying a Metaphor from a State

Use when a client says something equivalent to “I feel [  ]” or “I am [  ]” or “I [  ]” where [  ] is the name for a feeling or a state, e.g.

I feel hot / excited / frustrated / good / light / awake / open / ready
I am confident / angry / aware / loving / alive / skillful / kind / mean
I know / realize / notice / sense / understand / believe / hope / trust

The facilitator continues with the following three-step process (also known as the ‘State to a Metaphor’ vector:**

1. Locate the feeling/state by asking a ‘where’ question three times, e.g.

  • And when you feel [  ], where do you feel [  ]?
  • And when you (are) [  ], where is that [  ]?
  • And whereabouts [location of state]?
  • And whereabouts

    [location of state]?

2. Develop the form (attributes) of the feeling/state using:

  • And when [  ] is [location of state], …

what kind of [  ] is that [  ]?
is there anything else about that [  ]?
does that [  ] have a size or a shape? ***

3. If the client has not yet described a metaphor, invite them to identify to a metaphor by asking:

  • And when [attributes of state] is [location of state], that’s [attributes of state] like what?

Once a metaphor has been identified, usually its form will be further developed, i.e. more of its attributes are identified using the What kind of …? and Is there anything else about …? questions.

This format is based on David Grove’s ‘From a Feeling to a Metaphor’ process devised in the 1980s.

Example of identifying a metaphor from a state

Client:At my best I feel confident.
Fac.And at your best and you feel confident. And when you feel confident, where do you feel confident?
Fac.And when confident, inside, whereabouts inside?
Client:In my stomach.
Fac.And when confident, inside, in your stomach, whereabouts in your stomach?
Client:In the centre [touches stomach]
Fac.And when confident, in the centre of your stomach, what kind of confident is that confident in the centre of your stomach?
Client:It’s important to me.
Fac.And it’s important to you. And when confident, in the centre, is
important, is there anything else about that confident in the centre?
Client:It’s soft yet firm.
Fac.And when it’s soft yet firm does it have a size or a shape? 
Client:Yes, it’s round.
Fac.And when confident is round, and soft yet firm, in the centre of your stomach … it’s round and soft yet firm … like … what?
Client:Like a rubber ball.

In a few questions the client has progressed from a conceptual label, “confident” to an embodied knowing that’s “like a rubber ball” that’s “soft yet firm in the centre of my stomach.”


* For more on the distinction between exemplar and therapeutic modelling see our article: What is Therapeutic Modelling? and for a detailed description of an exemplar modelling project Penny and I undertook, see an extensive case study: Modelling Robert Dilts Modelling.

** For more on vectors see: Vectoring and Systemic Outcome Orientation.

*** And does that [  ] have a size or a shape? is one of the more commonly used specialised questions used when a client/exemplar refers to their experience as a thing or an ‘it’. It’s a clean question in these circumstances since one of the characteristics of things is that they have a size or a shape.

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