Using NLP in Life Coaching: The VAK Model

The iNLP Center will conduct a live webinar on using NLP in life coaching.

Specifically, we’ll focus on how to explore inner mindsets with clients using the NLP VAK model. VAK stands for visual, auditory, kinesthetic (See, hear, feel).

Essentially, this tutorial is all about one question:

What do you see, hear, or feel on the inside?

On the inside. Let’s step back and look at the larger process of life coaching. We can separate how a client describes obstacles and goals into two categories

  • Sensory-based descriptions
  • Stories

Sensory-based descriptions strictly outline what the client sees, hears, or feels on the inside.

Stories are interpretations of what we see, hear or feel on the inside.

When we speak in sensory-based terms, we simply report which images, sounds, and feelings we’re aware of at any given moment.

When we tell stories, we speak about, interpret, or embellish (generalize, delete, distort) what we see, hear, or feel on the inside.

This is one of the biggest appeals for using NLP in the context of life coaching. At the right time during the coaching session, you can move beyond the client’s personal metaphor and into the specific inner experience that serves as the foundation of the story.

Here are some examples of the NLP VAK model vs. sensory-based descriptions

Story: I have a big problem with this project at work.

Sensory-based: I am looking at an image in my mind’s eye that is very bright and large, telling myself, “This project is too complex for me,” and feeling strong tension in my chest area.

Story: My father-in-law is overbearing. It’s so frustrating! He needs to back off and mind his own business.

Sensory-based: I am looking at an image in my mind of my father-in-law. The image is of his face (with a sarcastic expression) and it’s only an inch or two in front of me. I can hear his voice inside my head saying, “You’re such an idiot!” and I feel a burning sensation – like resentment – in my belly.

Story: I love potato chips! They’re mouthwateringly delicious. I can barely resist eating the whole bag if it’s sitting in front of me. I wish they weren’t so irresistbile.

Sensory-based: There is a large, bright image of some potato chips in my mind. The chips are floating in front of me. They look light and crispy, with highlights around the edges. I can hear a growling sound as well and feel my mouth watering and jaw clenching like it’s getting ready to chew.

Story: I can’t do anything right, so why bother trying?

Sensory-based: I see an image of myself in the distance. The image is a movie of a presentation I did in high school. I very clearly hear myself stumbling over the words in the speech as well as the class laughing at me. I feel a queasy sensation in my belly.

Why bother with NLP-style sensory-based descriptions?

Because they present opportunities for direct intervention during a life coaching session. For example. what happens to your “big” problem when you shrink the actual image of the problem in your mind?

Can you have a big problem when the image of the problem in your mind is small?

(probably not)

Transitioning from story to sensory-based descriptions in life coaching

When the timing is right, ask, “What do you see, hear or feel on the inside?

What makes good timing? Many factors:

  • Rapport
  • Knowing the content (stuck state, resource state)
  • Subject matter accessibility (can the client turn inside right now?)
  • Client motivation – does s/he have a good reason to turn inward?

You don’t ask clients what they see, hear and feel on the inside the moment they show up for coaching. Hi, welcome to my office. Now, what do you see, hear or feel on the inside?”


The client must be ready to turn inward, but will typically NOT do so unless prompted by the coach.

Once you are discussing sensory-based internal experience (what the client sees, hears or feels on the inside, then you alter the experience directly. Such as:

  • Make big images smaller
  • Push close images into the distance
  • Turn down volume

Etc…there are SO MANY shifts you can make to inner sensory experience! When you do shift it. you make entirely new interpretations (stories) possible!