Nested Loops Demystfied

There seems to be a lot of confusion within NLP about Chaining States, Stacking Realities, and Nested Loops. Many people mix them up with each other or treat them as the same approach. They may share some conceptual DNA but in actual fact are very different processes for very different purposes:

Chaining States

NLP spends a lot of time working with our state, it is because our state dictates our behaviour. Sometimes it is not as simple as getting from the Present State to the Desired State in one step and you have to use a series of “stepping stones”:

1. Present/Problem state

2. 1st step towards desired state

3. 2nd step towards desired state

4. Solution/Desired state

For example:

1. Present State – Certainty about limitations

2. Step 1 – Doubt

3. Step 2 – Curiosity

4. Desired State – Magic(k)al possibilities, freedom and choice.

Set the direction and consider what intermediary states may be useful (what would be a natural and easy step from the previous state?), if you are in doubt, it is worth having a conversation with the client and asking them what they think would be useful.

Stacking Realities

The first time I saw Richard Bandler on my NLP Practitioner training back 1999, I didn’t really know what to expect. Other than listening to some audio tapes of him I had no clue about what he looked like, his style of delivery or what sort of person he was. So, when he was introduced by Paul McKenna and stalked onto the stage, I was somewhat taken aback. He had long hair tied in a pony tail that was dyed purple, he was wearing big rings, painted fingernails and cowboy boots with flames up the side. When he reached the stage (to the tones of “Voodoo Chile” by Jimi Hendrix!) he didn’t introduce himself, he just launched straight into a story about Milton Erickson, I think it went something a bit like this, “The first time I met Milton he looked me straight in the eye with that stare of his and said “I once found a white horse roaming free on the road. I didn’t want to let the horse continue to wander around so I caught hold of it’s loose reigns and jumped on it’s back. I began riding it down the road…”

Now, that is a simple and obvious example of “Stacking Realities”, I started talking about my experience (reality 1), of Richard telling a story (reality 2) about how Milton gave him a metaphor for change (reality 3).

Stacking realities are first and foremost a way of creating an altered trance state and can be placed in the bracket of “confusional induction” where the conscious mind cannot keep track of who the “speaker” is and naturally goes into trance.

Nested Loops

Nested Loops were developed to, and are fantastic way of, delivering large quantities of information easily and quickly, whilst keeping the attention of the person or people you are working with. A Nested loop is story within a story. The difference between Nested Loops and Stacking Realities, is that, whereas Stacking Realities is a linear approach, Nested Loops is circular. In Stacking Realities you would start with Story 1 and finish with Story N. In Nested Loops you Start with Story 1 and end with Story 1.

You break each story part way through (other than the last one which you complete in full) and start the next story, until you reach the final loop (how many loops you use depends on the context) then you reverse out, completing the stories in reverse order, something like this:

Start Story 1


Start Story 2


Tell the Complete Story 3


Complete Story 2


Complete Story 1

Each story should contain a state or meaning appropriate to the desired outcome.

These three processes are  very useful approaches but have very different applications; Nested Loops would be useless at getting someone who is stuck to being unstuck. For that you would be better off using the Chaining State approach, if you used Nested Loops, you would just end up taking the client back to where they started (the unwanted state!).

This article contains excepts from “Nested Loops Demystified”, available now in paperback and on Kindle.

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