Sleight of Mouth

A few words can change a person's life, e.g., by transforming a limiting belief into a broader view that opens up more possibilities. The right word at the right time can have a tremendously positive effect. But words can as easily confuse and restrict us as they can enrich us. The wrong word at the wrong time can be very painful and harmful.

With the help of the Sleight of Mouth pattern, central beliefs can be established, altered or transformed. These patterns can therefore be referred to as verbal reframes for beliefs.

Introduction to Sleight of Mouth

The term Sleight of Mouth is derived from the term Sleight of Hand.

The word Sleight comes from an Old Norse word meaning "smart," "artistic," or "skillful." Sleight of Hand is the kind of magic art card magicians show us. Typical of this type of trick is the apparent disappearance of things, as expressed in the phrase "Now you see it, now you don’t." For example, someone puts an ace of spades on top of a deck of cards, but when the sorcerer picks up the card, it "transforms" into a queen of hearts. The verbal patterns of Sleight of Mouth have a similar "magical" quality because they often lead to dramatic changes in perception as well as the assumptions on which certain perceptions are based.

Sleight of Mouth patterns can be used to help the partner to more closely examine his unchecked assumptions or to take a closer look at the validity of an alleged universality. By doing so, each belief loses much of its limiting power and new perspectives and opportunities emerge. Often it's not so much about what you cannot do, but about what you've never even considered.

The Sleight of Mouth patterns include fourteen distinct types of verbal reframing, which allow us to reconnect our generalizations and mental models of the world to our experience and to the other aspects of the meta-structure (inner states, expectations and values) of our beliefs.

The various Sleight of Mouth patterns help us by driving us:

  • to punctuate and “chunk” our perceptions
  • to identify and appreciate different perspectives and models of the world,
  • to discover the inner strategies by which we judge reality and through which we develop and update our beliefs,
  • to explore how we develop the mental maps that we use to develop expectations, find causes, and give meaning to our experiences of the world,
  • to recognize the influence of internal states on our beliefs and attitudes
  • to pace the natural process of changing beliefs,
  • to better understand the effect of language and beliefs on different levels of our experience,
  • to become aware of the potential thought viruses and unspoken insinuations and presuppositions.

By applying some examples of limiting beliefs, the individual patterns are shown below in their different dimensions.

Limiting Belief:

  • "Person X has done something more than once that has hurt me. Because this has already happened, it will happen again, Person X intends to harm me, and I'm in danger."
  • "Cancer leads to death."
  • "I've had that belief for so long that it's going to be difficult to change it."

Introduction of the individual patterns

1. Intention

What positive purpose or positive intention underlies this conviction or belief?

  1. There are many ways to develop a sense of power and control when worried about your own safety. (Intention: to develop a sense of power and control)

  2. It is very important to take all possible steps to ensure that people behave ethically. (Intention: take all possible steps to ensure that people behave ethically).

  3. I know that it is your intention not to raise false hopes, but it may be that in this way you are generally preventing hope from arising.

  4. I greatly admire and support your effort to be honest with yourself. (positive intention: honesty)

  5. It is so important to be realistic about changing one's beliefs. Let's take a realistic look at this belief and think about what would be needed to change it. (positive intention: be realistic).

2. Redefine

The behavior is assigned other meanings. The general formula for this pattern is: It is not A, but....

Which other word means something similar to one of the words used in the belief statement, but has more positive implications?

  1. I believe that you should do everything in your power not to become a victim. ("Person X intends to harm me and I am in danger" -> "I am a victim".)

  2. Such challenges are needed to learn to face difficulties with courage, constancy, and wisdom ("being in danger" -> "a challenge").

  3. Ultimately, cancer does not cause death but rather the failure of the immune system. Therefore, we should try to find a way to strengthen the immune system
  4. Of course, our feelings about cancer can cause anxiety and loss of hope, which can make life much harder.

  5. Yes, it can be hard to let go of something that you have so stubbornly held on to. ("what you had for a long time" -> "what you stubbornly held on to", "hard to change" -> "hard to let go").

  6. Of course, initially it can feel strange to cross familiar boundaries. ("Conviction" -> "familiar limits", "hard to change" -> "feels strange at first, to cross")

3. Consequence

This pattern is about making the speaker aware of what consequences such an assertion can have. At a higher logical level, it is a question of equivalence between two logically non-equivalent categories (outer behavior and inner state).

What is the positive effect of the belief or the relationship defined by it?

  1. It will be much harder to hurt you in the future because you now know how to recognize dangerous situations and ask for help. This is the first step in the path of transformation from victim to hero. Now that you realize that, it will be difficult to fool you again.

  2. Unfortunately, beliefs like these tend to become self-fulfilling prophecies because they cause people to give up looking for other possibilities.

  3. The expectation that something will become more difficult often makes the matter in question appear easier once it has been done.

  4. If we really allow us to experience our worries, we can better dispose of them afterwards and then focus on what we want.

4. Chunking down

A more specific statement that contains information implicit in the original statement. Chunking down leads to differentiations and distinctions between things; there is a narrowing down of the elements about which something is said.

Which smaller elements or chunks are implied by the belief, but have a more diverse and positive relationship to it than those actually expressed in the belief?

  1. To deal effectively with the situation, one must first determine whether the risk of an injury or damage is now greater, or whether you are still at the same risk today as at the time of the first injury.

  2. When you say that Person X "intends" to harm you, do you mean that Person X mentally develops a picture of how he will harm you? And if that is so, which part of the image is most dangerous then, and how does person X actually act in accord with the image? What do you think created that image in the mind of Person X?

  3. I have often wondered how much "death" each cancer cell may contain.

  4. Since a belief that has only recently been developed is much easier to change, you can try to remember what it was like when you acquired your belief in order to imagine that you had changed it then. (long time -> short time)

  5. If you did not try to change the whole belief all at once, but instead gradually more and more parts of it, that might seem easier and give you pleasure. (Changing a belief -> gradual change of belief in parts)

5. Chunking up

A higher level of generalization, a statement containing the old statement as a special case.

Which larger elements or classes are implied by the belief that have a more multifaceted or more positive relationship to it than that expressed in the belief itself?

  1. Intense feelings are always the foundation of our motivation to change. C. G. Jung said that without pain there is no realization. "(Harm -> "intense feelings"," pain")

  2. Coping with the unpleasantness we experience when dealing with life-threatening risks is one of the ways to become stronger and more competent ("damage" -> "unpleasantness" / "danger" -> "life-threatening risks").

  3. Are you suggesting that a change or mutation in a small part of the system must always lead to the destruction of the entire system?
  4. The future cannot always be predicted based on the past. Knowledge can evolve very quickly if it stays connected to the processes that naturally adapt it to the current situation. (Belief -> a form of knowledge; will be difficult -> future).

  5. All change processes go through a natural cycle that cannot be accelerated. The question is how long the natural life cycle of your belief is.

6. Analogy

With analogy / metaphor I tell something about a fact to make another - analogous - circumstance more understandable or to change it. The metaphor assumes a structural isomorphism of the elements and relationships of the two states

What other relationship is similar to the one defined by the belief (and therefore a metaphor for it), but has other implications?

  1. We learn to master interpersonal relationships just as we learned how to ride a bicycle as a child: when we fell, we immediately got back up on our own, ignored our scraped knees, and proved our resolve by immediately making further attempts until we were finally able to keep balance while riding. Getting angry at the bike in such a situation because it hurt us does not help us much.

  2. Dealing with the intentions of others is somewhat akin to the action of a bullfighter. In the interest of our own safety, we need to be clear about how we draw the bull's attention to us, focus its attention as we please, and learn to avoid it when we see it readying itself to attack.
  3. Cancer is like a meadow where the weeds are beginning to get out of hand because sheep are not keeping them cut short. The white blood cells of our immune system are the same as sheep. When stress, lack of exercise, poor diet, etc., reduces the number of sheep, weeds overgrow the grass. If you manage to increase the number of sheep, they will restore the ecological balance of the meadow.

  4. A belief is like a law. Even very old laws can be changed quickly if enough people decide on a new law.

  5. The dinosaurs were probably quite surprised how quickly their world changed, though they had been living in it for a long time.

7. Change in Frame Size

Which longer (or shorter) timeframe, which larger or smaller number of people or which broader or more limited perspective would change the implications of the belief for the better?

  1. Dealing with the suffering of others is one of the most difficult problems our species still must solve. Unless we do so with wisdom and compassion, there will be violence, war and genocide on both individual and global levels

  2. Everyone must learn to deal with the downsides of human existence. Looking back on this incident at the end of your life, you will realize that it was just a small pothole on your life’s path.

  3. If all people were of this conviction, we would never find a cure. Would you want your children to believe this too?

  4. In a few years you probably will not remember that you ever had that belief.

  5. You probably are not the first or the only person who has this belief. If more and more people are able to change it over time, it may also be easier for others to change that kind of belief in the future.

8. Another Result

What other result or problem might be more relevant than that, which the belief expressed or implied?

  1. The result is less about how to avoid being injured or harmed by a particular person, and more about developing the skills needed to live safely, no matter what other people may think or do.

  2. In my opinion, it is not so much about what intentions someone may have had, but rather about what can bring a person to change his intention.

  3. Actually, it's less about what causes death than about what makes life worth living.

  4. It is not necessary to change the belief. It just needs to be adapted to the current situation.

  5. It is not necessarily about changing beliefs, but about reconciling your map of the world with your current situation.

9. Model of the World

Which other model of the world would make this belief appear in a completely different light?

  1. Sociobiologists would say that the evolutionary state of development of the hormones of Person X is the cause of your peril, not what you or he considers his or her conscious intention

  2. Imagine the people around the world who constantly had to deal with the reality of social oppression, for example in the form of racism and religious persecution. You would probably welcome a situation in which you would only have to deal with the negative intentions and actions of a single person known to you.

  3. Many physicians believe that we all have a few mutated cells in our bodies all the time, and that this can only become a problem if our immune system is weakened. Thus, degenerate cells would only be one of several factors - including diet, attitude, stress, adequate medical treatment, etc. - that determine how long a person will live.

  4. You can consider yourself lucky. Many people do not even realize that their boundaries are conditioned by beliefs that can be changed.
  5. Artists often use their own inner struggles as a source of inspiration for their creativity. I wonder what kind of creativity might emerge in your effort to change your beliefs.

10. Reality Strategy

This pattern is about questioning the perceptual process that underlies this statement.

Which other model of the world would make this belief appear in a completely different light?

  1. If you think of any injuries or damage that you have experienced, do you then experience each individual situation separately or all interconnected? Do you remember them from your own associated perspective, or do you all see them in a kind of compilation, as if you were watching some kind of documentary about your life?

  2. Do your memories of events that are already past, give you the strongest sense of danger, or rather your notions about events that might occur in the future?

  3. How exactly do you represent this belief? Do you think of cancer as an intelligent intruder? What kind of internal representations do you have, and how does your body respond? Do you think of your body and your immune system as smarter than cancer?

  4. What makes you so sure that you have had this belief for a long time?

  5. What specific qualities of what you see or hear when you think about changing that belief makes this seem difficult to you?

11. Counterexample

Counterexamples serve to shatter the evidence of a belief and thereby open up new opportunities to expand one’s model of the world and recover deleted information. A good method is to choose counterexamples from the speaker’s history.

Which example or experience is an exception to the rule defined by the belief?

  1. If only we would not need not worry about anything happening just because it has never happened before. We are most likely to face the greatest danger from events that have not yet happened; therefore, we should be prepared for every possibility.

  2. To be really sure, we need to remember that people who have the best intentions and who have never done us any harm can still put us in great danger. Just think of those who accidentally kill others in car accidents. We also say: "The road to hell is paved with good intentions."

  3. Today, more and more cases are known in which people demonstrably survived cancer and enjoyed many years of excellent health.

  4. I have often witnessed how beliefs came about and then changed. The prerequisite for this was that the person concerned was subjected to the necessary experience and received support while undergoing it.

  5. Most other mental processes seem to gradually fade and, over time, not become stronger, but rather more susceptible to distortion. Why should beliefs be so different in this respect?

12. Criteria Hierarchy

Find a higher criterion that has not been considered in the statement. This directs attention in another direction, towards another equivalence of greater meaning or intensity.

What criterion not yet considered may be more important than those expressed in the belief?

  1. I have repeatedly found that it is more important to find out what resources I need to succeed in the chosen path rather than to worry about the temporarily harmful effects of other people's intentions.

  2. Do you not think that it is more important not to become a slave to your own fears than to try to avoid the ultimate inevitability that we will be occasionally injured?

  3. Perhaps it is more important that we focus on the purpose of our lives and life’s mission rather than how long our lives will last.

  4. Personal congruence and integrity justify every effort that you must make in order to attain them.

  5. The degree to which a belief is consistent with and supports one's vision or mission is more important than how long one has had that belief.

13. Apply to Self

In this pattern, the criterion of the statement is applied to the statement or to the speaker himself. In other words, the speaker’s behavior or statement is an example of what he blames in another.

How can we judge the statement of belief itself according to the relationships or criteria defined by belief?

  1. Because negative intentions are so hurtful and so dangerous, we must be very clear about how we understand our own intentions and how we behave in relation to them. Are you really sure that your own judgment is based on a positive intention?
    When our beliefs about the negative intentions of another person serve as a justification for us treating that person as he treats us, we become like that person.

  2. It can be quite dangerous to think that we are threatened only by those who have injured or harmed us in the past. If our beliefs force us to relive past injuries over and over again, it can cause as much pain as the actions of a real person with negative intentions.

  3. This belief has spread like cancer over the last few years; and it seems quite deadly, too rigid to hold on to it. Surely it would be interesting to watch what would happen if it were to die out.
  4. For how long have you thought that the ability to change beliefs depends mainly on the duration of its existence?.

  5. What do you think about how difficult it would be to change your belief that a long-standing generalization is hard to change?.

14. Meta - Frame

In this pattern, we are chunking up into a larger context or into a larger frame of meaning.

What belief about this belief might change one’s perception of it?

  1. Scientific research indicates that it is only natural for us to be afraid of others and their intentions until we have developed enough self-esteem and confidence in our own abilities.

  2. As long as you insist that you remain stuck within a problematic framework with regard to the behavior and intentions of person X, you will inevitably suffer the consequences of this attitude. Once you are ready to switch to a results framework, you will find many possible solutions.

  3. An overly simplifying belief like this can come about if we do not have a model that allows us to examine and test all the complex variables that contribute to the process of life and death.

  4. Perhaps you have this belief because you lack the tools needed for change and because you, as you are not, benefit from it in some way.

Sleight of Mouth Pattern


" If you say mean things, then you are a bad person."

IntentionYou want people to treat each other with more respect.
Redefine BehaviorI do not say mean things, but I am very clear.
Redefine EquivalenceI'm not a bad person, just honest.
ConsequenceWhat would happen if it turned out that this belief is very mean?
Chunking downHow exactly do you define "mean"? Is it the words, the emphasis or the volume?
Chunking upI understand that it is important for you how I communicate with you. How do you know that anyone who says “mean” things is automatically a bad person too?
Analogy / MetaphorA dentist may sometimes say things to his patients that sound mean, but I cannot imagine that you would want your dentist to lie to you.
After all, it's his job to make you aware of the actual state of your teeth or to tell you that you eat too many sweets.
Change in Frame SizeThis may sound uncomfortable now, but in a year you will look back and be glad that someone has given you such feedback.
Another ResultI'm just saying that to give you feedback so that you can improve.
Model of the WorldThat may be true for you, I experience it quite differently.
Reality StrategyHow do you know that this person is mean?
How do you know that mean things prove that someone is a mean person?
CounterexampleCould someone be a mean person and not say any mean things?
Criteria HierarchyIs not it more important to be open (honest, clear, etc.) than to tell others only kind things?
Apply to Self
(applied to the speaker)
I think it's mean to say that. Does that mean that you only look for signs of meanness in a person and overlook all the other aspects of that person?
Only mean people consider others to be mean.
Meta-FrameYou only say that in order to control yourself better.

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