How to Master Skills of the Inner World so that you Achieve Results in Life, Business and Relationships.

I got ‘triggered’ (in a good way) today by an email talking about Polyvagal Theory. Porges approach to the theory appears to be highly popular with certain practitioners but tends to also, just like neurolinguistic programming, get criticized by those who are strictly research oriented. If you know me, you’ll understand my love for the grey line between these two areas. Dogmatic researchers are going to miss the ability to achieve results, while dogmatic practitioners will refuse the valuable information from research.

So, I dug through the jargon and will attempt to unpack the tedious technical babble that researchers often use. This will probably serve general readers as well as the hundreds of licensed NLP practitioners I have certified, and many thousands more who have been trained in my various personal development, business and leadership trainings based on NLP.

Thomas Pinna and Darren J. Edwards, researchers at Swansea University indicate:

“Awareness of one’s own bodily feelings and vagal activation seem to be of central importance for the effective regulation of emotional responses.”

In case you are unaware of the vagus nerve, it connects the brain our organs and digestive system, simplistically speaking. The implication is that if you know how to manage your signals, you can manage your well-being. It is common fact that when you get into a fight/flight/freeze mode, your digestive system shuts down to allow for energy into your larger muscle groups.

Regulation can be through two broad categories of strategies.

Category 1: Suppression and Avoidance

These approaches seem linked to negative psychophysiological outcomes, increased intensity of negative emotions and decreased positive emotionality and life satisfaction. Those with depression and anxiety whilst spontaneously using avoidance end up with lower heart-rate variablility, a biomarker of mental wellness. If you constantly utilize this category of strategies, you might be among the 7 in 10 people who don’t seek help for mental health issues. This number may be mitigated by the COVID-19 pandemic now, but it is likely that people will use commonplace approaches to deal with issues, and at the root, some of them may be caused by underlying and unprocessed trauma. If you are not sure, you ought to seek professional help before it gets worse.

Category 2: Awareness and Selection

It seems that awareness of one’s internal signals (interoception) appears to account for significant capacity to adjust to external stimuli. There are three key categories of interoception, and for the geeks out there you can check out this research paper. By increasing inner awareness through objective (tension, heart rate) and subjective markers (beliefs and cognitions), meta awareness (meta cognition), one can then chart the pathway for personal change.

It was also suggested that mental well-being is better managed when one is able to adjust more adaptively to situations and cultures. This calls for an augmented awarenes of multiple strategies to achieve goals, contingency strategies for uncertainty, and recovery strategies for getting back on track.

To do this, we need to begin to increase awareness of body-signals. Soma scanning methods help you to attune yourself to your own body. After this becomes a regular practice, utilizing the emotional management framework, you can work on identifying triggers and responses. 

Triggers can be managed through the Swish Pattern, reframing or anchoring. Effective new responses require a clarity of well-formed outcomes, behavioral sequencing and effective installation of new behaviors. I cover all of these strategies and more in my NLP certification training, and will be happy to speak to anyone who wishes to develop competencies in this area, especially if you want heightened capabilities to help other people.

How to Emotionally Regulate Yourself and Responses

Stanford Researcher James Gross did an integrative review of emotional regulation strategies. According to him, emotional regulation can happen at five key points.

1. What situation you choose to select.

There are situations you can elect to participate in. Avoiding them can remove stressors, but inadvertently you need to learn to manage them in the event where these situations cannot be avoided. From an NLP perspective, this is the choice of when and where to engage in your behaviors, also known as the Environment level in Dilts’ neurological levels model.

2. How you decide to modify the situation. 

You can choose certain elements of the situation to participate in. For instance, if socializing is stressful, you can go with a friend and interact only with that friend. Similarly, this modification is applied to the environment. If you don’t like the way an apartment is arranged and is giving you stress, you could rearrange it by layout, or give it a serious renovation.

3. What you choose to attend to.

You can pay attention to specific things in any given situation. In the case of public speaking, it is well known that attending to a friendly face and response tends to keep you going rather than those that are expressionless or emotionless. This goes into the choice of focus that many personal development gurus talk about. You can’t change the situation but you can change the way you focus on the situation. It might be raining right now, and that you dislike wet weather, but you can attend to the fact that it is cooler, and you can save on your airconditioning bills, or that there are less bugs due to the drop in temperature.

4. Ways to change your thoughts.

The average person seems to change their thoughts mainly by either reappraisal, distraction or avoidance. In a prior video, I shared the idea of distress tolerance over distress relief. In many instances, distress tolerance is favored because it builds skills. In this sense, tolerance is not about condoing, but rather accepting the limits of what is happening, and then learning to increase one’s capacity to handle that load. Relief is just about getting rid of that stimulus.

In NLP we have multiple ways to manage our thoughts. We can change our perspective, use reframing, update our limiting beliefs, identify higher intention, use creativity to generate new resources. Sometimes, we can shift through a form of distraction, including break states, physiology changes and pattern interrupts. But longer term ecology dictates that you ought to connect with the difficulty and examine the state through parts work and inner activation methodologies so that the goal you are aiming for is more specific and yet actionable, or that your meaning behind the triggers have changed significantly so it no longer affects your functioning.

5. Approaches to modulate your responses.

When you are able to modulate your responses, you can either turn up or turn down behaviors. If you were stressed and used to get angry and lash out, you can turn down that response.

In NLP, we can turn to submodalities to do the same thing systematically. We can also apply anchoring (in particular, collapse anchors). We could also ensure that people are able to improve their capacity to adjust their responses through hypnotic relaxation inductions, future pacing positive well-formed outcomes and connecting to higher functioning responses.


It is a fascinating new world now. We have information at our fingertips but often do not have the means to process that information effectively. When I read that email about Polyvagal Theory, I realized that most people would have absolutely no clue (nor interest – the term even sounds like a technical turn-off) how to use it even if it were forwarded. Instead, I think I continue to function as a theoretical interface between what works in the research world and the practitioner’s world.

Gone are the days where you simply learn a technique from NLP. If you’re still chasing those things, you forget that NLP begins with the attitude of modeling through curiosity rather than a fixed approach of technique-based learning. If you really want to learn NLP to improve your results in leadership, sales, business or your personal relationships, you still need to master this wonderful capability of emotional regulation.

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See also  Handling Bitterness

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