Clean Language Meets the 5 Second Rule

Clean Language Meets the 5 Second Rule

I’ve been cleaning out my shed.

It’s at the very back of our property and holds books, treasures, and lots of junk. You know how it goes…ten years in the same place. For me small, and not so small, things accumulate and I do the ole “I’ll get around to it…one day” routine.

Here it was – a beautiful day for working outside and I was procrastinating.

I was online looking for something I could listen to while I worked, something motivational – I am cleaning a shed after all. I got side tracked on Youtube by “greatest speeches ever given” and somehow came across a short talk by a woman named Mel Robbins.

Mel has coined a pattern-interrupt strategy she calls The 5 Second Rule. In brief, when you have an inspiration, a thought, or something you want to get done, you 5-4-3-2-1 yourself to action. It is not so dissimilar to snapping a rubber band on your wrist or taking a deep breath and exhaling hard. The important thing is that, once the pattern redirect is done, you MOVE. You get up, you sit down, you do something with your body that begins a trajectory towards what you want to have happen.

What caught my attention wasn’t the strategy of habit redirect, but that Mel came by this idea through metaphor.

In Clean Language we love metaphor. Metaphor is a primary part of a client’s language we attend to. Metaphor in its leanest explanation is simply describing one thing in terms of another.

The thing is, the more personal something is, the more complex, the more apt we are to use metaphor to describe it. And this is what Mel did.

Her marriage was having a melt down. She and her husband had lost thousands in a business venture gone bad. She was depressed, unhappy, and not doing what she knew she should. She wanted to get up when the alarm went off, go walking, look for work, and eat better – the small things she knew would help her feel better and make life function more smoothly.

One evening after a trying day she was watching TV and saw a NASA rocket launch. It was then it struck her. Everyday, pushing the snooze button she was like a rocket that was grounded and what she needed to do was to “launch her self out of bed” just like that rocket she saw on TV. For her, it was the 5 – 4 – 3 – 2 – 1 LIFT OFF. She internalized the metaphor of a rocket launch and it changed her life.

Metaphors are powerful, idiosyncratic ways we make sense of the world.

Life can be a “bowl of cherries” or a “sh*t show”  You can imagine how different the experiences of these two people might be.

OK, back to the shed.

I didn’t 5-4-3-2-1 my work, a rocket launch isn’t a metaphor that fits my temperament. I like to wind along like a slow and steady river. So that’s what I did that lovely afternoon. Walking back and forth the length of my ‘back 40’ until I had filled the the pick-up truck with things to take to the local second hand shop.

We use metaphors all the time to describe how things are, what we want from life, and even how we want our dreams to be. Sometimes they are apparent like Mel’s rocket launch, and sometimes they are more subtle, embedded so deeply in our speech we do not even hear them.

Clean Questions are designed to help elicit the metaphors we use in everyday life. What this does is give you more agency and decision making skill in your life. Not everyone has an epiphany moment like Mel. Sometimes we have it and it fades due to time or distraction.

Unless we know what we would like to have happen changing gears, redirecting habits, and making changes might be effort waisted.

Clean Language comes into play because is it is designed to help you define your Desired Outcome. Not just any desired outcome, but yours.

Desired outcomes (DO) are not the same as goals, they are dynamic reference points. As you work toward a desired outcome you adjust your trajectory as you learn more, change a bit, and try on where you are headed.

Desired outcomes begin with the question: What would you like to have happen?

Is there something you would like to have happen and can’t quite seem to make that link between wanting and doing?

Something at work? A promotion, a job change, an artistic endeavor, a love aspiration, a life tangle you can’t seem to over come?

Join me January 13-15, 2019 at Clean Convergence 2019 for the Self-Modeling Retreat

We are joined with the co-developers of Symbolic Modeling, Penny Tompkins & James Lawley, for three days facilitation toward creative solutions designed by you, for you.

Start where you are and let us help you facilitate the conditions of change that need to happen for you to get where you would like to be.


PS. Here is something you CAN try at home

This morning or sometime in the next few days, sit down for a minute and think of something you would like to have happen in your life or work.

And think about how you need to be to move towards that desired outcome. Do you need to be like a rocket launch, like a smooth and windy river, a mountain, the rock of Gibraltar? It can be anything that fits your fancy. It is only for you. And you don’t have to share it with friends – although they might find it less weird than you think.

And from there you can begin to design movements and strategies that can help you bring your desired outcome from the future to real time.

Clean Language is like… Origami

Clean Language is like… Origami

Metaphor is to the human mind what folding is to science.

Everything is made of folds – the earth, our DNA, illness and health in the folding and unfolding of protein molecules, the human brain, our clothes, the folding and unfolding of our memories, metaphors and dreams …

A few weeks ago, as I was watching a documentary about origami (Between the Folds by Vanessa Gould) I found myself thinking about Clean Language, what it means to me, my experiences with it and how I have formed a way of looking at, learning and teaching it to others.

I realized I think of it as the art of Clean Language. Although I know that Clean Language is based in a certain logic – the logic of the client, their desired outcome and the probability that a particular question will elicit a useful answer – to me it is still an art.

Origami is the Japanese art of paper folding. It originated in China in the 2nd century and moved to Japan in the 6th century. Paper was very expensive, so it was originally an art form for the rich: even the smallest scraps were saved to be used in folding.

The epitome of folding is to create intricate design, real and surreal, out of a single piece of paper.

Of course, the human mind has greater complexity than a single piece of paper. But there are some similarities between the art of paper folding and the art of Clean Language. Both were designed by individuals ahead of their time, and both result in the creation of something new: lifelike and surreal forms that are representative of the mind of the person doing the creating.

When the French sculptor Eric Joisel discovered origami he put his career as a sculptor of clay and stone aside.

“Origami is so extraordinary, so magic, that I completely stopped any type of sculpture I have done before. I throw in the trash everything, I don’t have anything to say – and I start origami.”

When I heard Eric Joisel speak of the extraordinary nature and magic of origami, I recognized his sentiments. Six years ago I discovered Clean and began to let go of all the methods I had studied before… dreams, Jungian symbolism, sand-tray, hypnosis, graphology, esoteric arts, the world’s religions… I have been captured by Clean Language the same way Eric Joisel was captured by origami.

In this post I want to highlight some of the ways that Clean Language is like origami. Of course, there are many ways in which they are dissimilar. But just as a metaphor can help to reveal new information for a client, so a look at a completely different discipline shed light on what we do as Clean practitioners…

The Innovators
Innovators are at the forefront of new ideas, either as early adopters of an idea or the creator of something completely new. Innovators tend to be different in thought and lifestyle from the majority of their peers. They are the creators of new seeds, new systems, new ways of doing and thinking about something we think we already understand or know about.

Just after 1937, Yoshizawa Sensei, known affectionately in origami circles as “The Master”, developed the art of “Wet Folding”. This was considered by many to be a paradigm shift that allowed origami to become an art form, rather than a quaint oddity of folk craft. Wet Folding gave rise to a whole new adventure in origami, allowing the artist, or folder, to mold a craft a piece of paper into more lifelike forms and representations of the world around them.

“I wished to fold the laws of nature, the dignity of life, and the expression of affection into my work.”
Yoshizawa Sensei

David Grove, a New Zealander with European and Maori heritage, was a therapist and inventor. David developed a way of working with clients that utilizes the natural metaphors and symbols that arise in a person’s verbal and non-verbal communication.

Over several decades he created new and powerful ways of working with his clients, using simpler and simpler means.

In developing Clean Language, David Grove took plain questions that might be used in everyday conversation and added, not moisture, but the vocal qualities of an Iambic Pentameter and the idea of using the client’s exact language exactly. In so doing, he created a new way of working with people that is uniquely respectful.

David Grove and Sensei Yoshizawa were innovators ahead of their time, taking what came before and changing it ever so slightly to respect the medium more fully – whether that medium is a single sheet of paper of the single system of a human psyche.

The Champions
Every system of science and art has its champions: people who are generally well connected, speak their mind and are generous with their time and resources. When they find an innovation that inspires them, they work tirelessly to bring it to members of their given field or to the general public.

“Between the Folds” presented a number of Yoshizawa’s champions:

  • Michael LaFosse, a paper maker and artist from New York
  • Alfredo Giunta, an origami designer from Italy
  • Eric Joise, a sculptor from France
  • Paul Jackson, a professor from Israel
  • Eric Demaine, winner of the McCarther Genius Award

These artists and researchers have taken Yoshizawa Sensai’s work into studios, schools, laboratories and space. Their work is on the developmental edge of origami and they all have committed more than their professional lives to that development.

Among the champions of David Grove are Penny Tompkins and James Lawley. Penny and James first met David Grove in the early 1990’s. Little did they know at their first meeting that they would go on to dedicate the next five years of their lives to the study of David and his work. From this exceedingly rich joint effort they developed a teachable model called Symbolic Modeling which incorporated David Grove’s Clean Language.

Penny Tompkins and James Lawley have not only modeled David’s methodology but also his generosity. They provide an vast wealth of material on Clean Language and Symbolic Modeling on their website and encourage others to make use of their material (providing they credit David Grove). Penny Tompkins and James Lawley continually share their new learnings and developments freely with the clean community.

The Adopters
Adopters of a scientific or artistic system usual following the lead of a champion.
They are the people who have the interest and the means to continue to cultivate, grow and enhance what the innovators and champions have discovered and promoted.

Each year over 200 academics meet to discuss origami. They are folders of a different kind. They are on the forefront of science, research, product development and more. They discuss ways in which the art and science of folding can be applied across many disciplines. Others meet around the world at different events to simply share in the art of origami – beginners and experts alike.

Similarly, each year growing numbers of people from around the globe meet at the Clean Conference to hear news of what others are doing with Clean Language, share their insights, create studies, have fun and share in their enthusiasm for this way of modeling change. The number of Clean practitioners and enthusiasts is growing around the world as information becomes more available through books, translations, the internet and global training. We meet online and in practice groups to continue learning and foster connections.

The Practice
The practice is what we do as innovators, champions and adopters. It is the application of the process to either the paper or the client’s information. Both result in the creation of something that can be viewed from the outside (as either personal creation of art in origami, or a metaphor landscape in Clean Language and Symbolic Modeling).

Here are just three of the practices origami and Clean Language have in common:
1. Keep it simple
2. Use the logic of the medium
3. Stay steady and be patient

1. Keep it simple
In both origami and Clean Language, the rules are simple and intensify the challenge:

no scissors, no tape, no glue
no suggestions, no fixes, no rescuing

In Between the Folds, origami is described as

“…a metamorphic art form. In sculpting and painting – when you add clay or paint it is an additive process. In sculpture, the chipping away at wood or stone, the cutting paper is subtractive. Origami you’ve got that piece of paper – you don’t add to it, you don’t take away from it, you change it.”
Michael LaFosse

Many therapeutic and coaching methods are also additive or subtractive.

Psychiatry is additive in its prescription of medicines

Mentoring is additive – mentors advise and make suggestions based on their personal experience.

Addiction Counseling is subtractive – the deletion of the substance of abuse is the first step to health.

And although Clean Language is additive in that we acknowledge and work directly from what a clients brings to a session, it is also, like origami, metamorphic. Where origami uses the sole medium of the paper, in Clean Language we use the exact words of the client. We are not adding in suggestions, trying to tell them a different story or trying to take away someone’s pain, suffering or concerns.

At the same time,

“When you put a crease in a piece of paper you are essentially changing the memory, if I try to unfold it, it will go back to the crease, the fold – not flat – I am essentially changing its memory.” Eric Domain, top origami theorist in the world

And when we ask a Clean Language question, we are directing a client’s attention in a certain way, and any knowledge that results from that process stays with the client. Just as creasing leaves a fold in a piece of paper, Clean questions influence a client’s thinking. In this sense Clean Language is additive:

“The repeated use of “and,” and “as” connects each question, and the response to the question, to the client’s preceding experience.”
Steve Andreas, Six Blind Elephants, vol 1

And then there is this…

“One crease – what can you do with one fold?”
Professor Paul Jackson

One question – what can you do with one question?

James Lawley tells a story where the use of one question brought about significant change for a training participant. The participants working in pairs and as James watched, the facilitator continued to ask, “And is there anything else?” until the client had quite a significant change happen. When asked about his reason for repeating this question, the budding new facilitator said that he could not remember any of the other questions.

Clever is not necessarily more effective in Clean Language or origami. Another of David Grove’s innovations, Emergent Knowledge, is intentionally based on the repetition of one question. It can be sheer simplicity that allows the paper or the psyche to give out its form.

2. Use the logic of the medium

“There is a logic and patterning needed to create the basic origami forms – and modeling after to give life to the form.”
Eric Joisel

And there is logic in the questions we ask as Clean Language facilitators – commensurate with the inherent logic within a client’s system. Using Clean Language with a client is like unfolding their metaphors and their relationships, one metaphor to another. David Grove said clients came to him with an “undifferentiated mass of information”. Perhaps information is being opened and unfolded from the recesses of our brains, which is also full of folds?

3. Stay steady and be patient

“There is something about the constraints of the medium … It always feels awkward like it isn’t going to work and this part, the part in the middle (at a juncture where he free folds his origami piece) is the part I can not write down.”
Chris Palmer

There is part of every Clean session that has that kind of feel. We have to be comfortable with not knowing what will happen next, or how a person will answer the next question. Indeed, we want to ask questions they don’t already know the answers to, we want to take someone to the edge of their knowledge. We do this by keeping track of the client’s information and sticking with the logic of that client’s individual system of thought and expression.

“Take it to the edge of something, because that’s where the interesting things always happen.”
Professor Paul Jackson

The shape of things to come

“Origami, the shape of things to come”
NY Times

Origami is being used more and more in the laboratories of science, space and technology. It is being used in class rooms in Israel to teach geometry, in car manufacturing to develop airbag technology, in space to design of folding satellite dishes, in laboratories to look at how DNA and protein molecules fold and unfold in relation to illnesses or lack of them.

As we become more individualistic and less homogeneous, Clean will be the shape of things to come whenever clear communication and sustainable change is desired. We are becoming less amenable to being put into a group or a box or a generalization. We want to be heard, listened to exquisitely and respected for our uniqueness as singular human beings.

Origami is an art form that could allow everyone to make their interpretation of the world in paper. Clean Language and Symbolic Modeling could allow everyone to make their interpretation of the world in metaphor… not just in the natural process of comparing or contrasting one thing to something else, but in a recognized restructuring of our folds, of our mind, our memory, our desires.

There is something elegant and simple in Clean Language that is like a great piece of art – without extraneous lines or medium – there to facilitate desired change(s) expressed by another human being. By learning this language – one can follow the ebb and flow of that human system, more simply, more expressively.

Whether you are an innovator, a champion or an adopter, it is the practice of folding or asking clean questions that will bring you mastery and bring out the true beauty and metamorphic qualities of the medium you are working with, whether that’s a piece of paper or the human mind.

Can you think of any other ways Clean is like origami? We’d love to know what you think!

Originally Published 22 November, 2011 with Clean Learning, UK. Clean Language, Creativity, Metaphor

Coaching with Metaphor

Coaching with Metaphor

Are you an aspirational, beginner, or advanced trainer or coach? Do you work in business, personal development or mind/body therapies? Are you a manager, director or a life long learner?

Join us for Clean Convergence 2019 and put the power of “Clean” to work for you!

Clean Convergence is just what the name implies – it is the convergence of global Clean Language trainers and participants gathering for the purpose of learning and skills development in Clean Language Methodologies. Lets just call it GOOD CLEAN FUN!

We all know that there are many models available for working with others  – yet none so powerful as Clean Language and Symbolic Modeling. Cleanis a methodology that works directly with the symbols of a persons mind and language.

In the last 25 years the research of many neuro-scientists, cognitive scientists and cognitive linguists have converged to form a new understanding about the way the human mind works. They have identified four key findings:

1. Metaphor is far more common in everyday language than had previously been realized. It is nearly impossible to describe internal states, abstract ideas and complex notions without using metaphor.

2. Usually neither speaker nor listener is aware of the metaphors being used.

3. Metaphor is more than a linguistic device; it is central to the way people think, make sense of the world and make decisions.

4. Metaphors are not used arbitrarily. They are mostly drawn from how people experience their body and how they interact with their environment.

Through the clinical and coaching experience of Penny Tompkins & James Lawley, described in Metaphors in Mind: Transformation through Symbolic Modeling, they add four findings of their own:

1. While people often make use of common metaphors and clichés, the moment these are explored (with Clean Language) they become idiosyncratic and unique to the individual.

2. An individual’s use of metaphor has a coherent logic that is consistent over time.

3. Once a person settles on a particular metaphorical perspective there are logical consequences that follow, and result in behavior that is consistent with the metaphor.

4. When a person’s basic metaphor changes so does their view of the world, the decisions they make and the actions they take.

Read the full article online:


We are excited to share this opportunity with you!

Join Penny Tompkins, James Lawley, Gina Campbell and myself at Clean Convergence 2019

What IS Symbolic Modeling

What IS Symbolic Modeling

Symbolic Modeling is the Clean Language methodology we teach at the Clean Language Institute.

Originally developed by Penny Tompkins and James Lawley, and based on the work of David Grove, NLP and self-organizing systems theory, Symbolic Modeling is an extremely effective  (more…)

What IS Clean Language?

What IS Clean Language?

Clean Language is a discipline originally developed by psychotherapist David Grove as a tool for facilitating clients to understand their behavior patterns and generate positive change in their lives. As he observed other therapists, he noticed how often they introduced their own interpretations of clients’ words, and that this caused the clients to leave their own experience as they in turn processed the therapist’s words. David developed a set of carefully devised questions that could be used to explore progressively a client’s own personal intrinsic reality, without adding any extrinsic information (such as the facilitator’s own concepts, assumptions or suggestions).

The Clean Language questions enable a trained facilitator to help their client to discover and to express more information about how they work. As the client expresses their own subjective experience, they get to experience their thought or behavior patterns in a very immediate way. That enables them to take steps towards their desired outcome.

It is not necessary for the Clean Language facilitator to understand why the client functions the way they do. The facilitator is not expected to impose any solution or suggestions. The simple process of enabling the client to uncover their own model leads to surprising, natural change.

Clean Language is an extremely flexible and neutral way of working, and has been used successfully for decades in a wide range fields including therapy, coaching, counseling, mediation, law, sales, and management. Its flexibility makes it particularly helpful as an additional tool that can work alongside professionals’ existing methods.

The Hardness Of Soft Skills

The Hardness Of Soft Skills

I have been thinking a lot about the phrase “soft skills”, and just how hard – read ‘difficult’ – they are to learn and master.

And I wonder how they were given the name soft skillswhen they are more labor intensive and difficult to learn than say doing a fishbone diagram or an excel spreadsheet. And why is there this idea that these are somehow less valuable in a business context than hardskills?

Unless you work in a vacuum, and none of us do – even solopreneur, like myself, who work on their own much of the time still have relationships with individuals and groups that shape who we are, what we do, and how we respond.

Soft skills are really hard skills.

It is fascinating to me that the most difficult things for us to learn – how to listen well, think well, and communicate with others are often referred to as soft skillsand often foo food as being silly, warm, fuzzy and just, well, soft. It is true that these kinds of skills have been used in compassion industries such as therapy and hospice. And they may be soft (even fuzzy around the edges) and yet they are not easy.

I think one of the primary reasons people tend to put soft skillsand the attention to learning, even mastering them off, is due to the very fact that they are difficult. They are hard to learn, hard to master and often times hard to implement. And that also is what makes them valuable.

Life is not black and white, linear, reasonable or rational; neither is business.

Soft skills have also been perceived as more art than science. And all science begins with empirical evidence and a persons idea or opinion of what might be so. This art to science ratio is a changing game in light of 21st century findings in both neuro and cognitive sciences. Our sophistication in scientific inquiry to the workings of the human mind and response systems has taken immense leaps over the past 50 years.

An analogy we might use is just as we had the industrial revolution in the 20th century, that changed the face of manufacturing.

What is happening is not an information revolution, although we are influenced with more information in a day than many previous generations had in a life time. It is not even a neuro-biological revolution, although the science of the brain and subtle chemicals has come a long way.

Lets call it a Meta revolution. A kind of perceptual revolution. A potatos are just as important to a meal as the steak, kind of revolution. And the Meta revolution is changing the face of interpersonal communication and human to human contact.

It is well to remember that just as the industrial revolution has not happened all over the world, but primarily in first world nations, the Meta Revolution is only just beginning. This is both a benefit and a difficulty.

The benefit is we can calibrate and change the perception of soft skills. We can learn what we need, to be very good at soft skillsand we can use new information and learning to quantify what we are doing and how.

The difficulty is the learning curve is high. The time is often longer than most either have or want to put into becoming facile and skillful and we, as human beings, tend to over rate our ability and under-rate the negative effects of our own knowledge and style.

The Meta Revolution depends on our perception, education, ability to think well, using various forms of logic and to take a meta position or larger view of what is happening outside of our own thinking and behaviors.

With this in mind, the Meta revolution is science taking many of the attributes of human communication and moving it into an arena that has a higher relationship to hard skills. Here is a definition I got from a Google search for What are hard skills?

Hard Skills are specific, teachable abilities that can be defined and measured, such as typing, writing, math, reading and the ability to use software programs. By contrast, soft skills are less tangible and harder to quantify, such as etiquette, getting along with others, listening and engaging in small talk.

In my world, interviewing is both a hard skill and a soft skill. Not just by googles definition, but by our current ability to quantify, learn and track skills that can be used in interviewing contexts.

Clean Language is on the edge of this revolution.

Wanna play hard ball? Learn soft skills

Negotiation training
Cause Evaluation Interviews
CAP program development
Team Development
Leadership Development
HR Hiring Interviews
Business Plan development
Police Witness Interviews

Join James Lawley and myself in California, January 19-20, 2019 for full two day Clean Language Interview training. You can read more about what is on offer in January 2019 HERE


Would like to read something about using Clean questions and principles in an interview context right away? Here is a link to an article: Clean Evaluative Interviewing by James Lawley & Penny Tompkins