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Mirroring - Pacing, Lock On & Leading


[Note: Simple web editor, hence sketches not loaded - draw your own from descriptions given.] For the purposes of this study I have modelled a human entity as two simple 'potato' shapes joined at a mutual tangent as illustrated in Fig 1). In this simple model, the lumped 'mind' of a hypothetical entity X is shown as being attached to 'body' X, mind being denoted by X' and body as X'' respectively, the whole comprising 'Entity X'. This may seem a peculiar division, but it is made in order to facilitate a rudimentary investigation of kinesic awareness. The reader's attention is drawn to the fact that although this note is confined to human behaviour throughout, striking examples of group kinesic/ 'instinctive' behaviour are common throughout Nature.
One might indeed ask (as many have before) what does mind comprise? I don't intend to address that question other than to say that as far as the present exercise goes, the model of mind used represents 'a scratchpad of conscious awareness which is subject to sensory input in the form of sight, hearing, smell, taste and touch, and reaction to said sensory input by means of the response of pre-existing memory patterns'. The latter includes reaction to reaction taking place in the scratchpad by means of internal vocalisation either to non-verbal memory pattern and verbal memory pattern (the latter being internal dialogue). In the diagram, conscious awareness occupies the right (blank) half of the upper 'potato': the subconscious the remainder of the two ellipses. Note that the model does not mimic a physical head/body model since the head has tactile awareness and evidence exists that the body can also stores 'memory' patterns.
Nevertheless, for simplicity in explanation, the 'head' part of the model throughout this text receives external Visual (V), Audio (A), Olfactory (O) and Gustatory (G) sensory inputs - since the it houses the sensory organs for those functions - and it also 'detects' internal sound (Ai), internal visual (Vi) and word modulated 'sound' (Aid, or internal dialogue). The 'body' part of the model represents the principal seat of Kinesic or Kinaesthetic (K) activity and proprioception.

Mirroring (or Pacing)

Fig 2) depicts mirroring, sometimes known as pacing, in action where entity 'A' observes and copies, to a greater or lesser extent, the behaviour of entity 'B'. The process, and many students of psychology and NLP have developed the skills necessary to do it adroitly, can be deliberate and conscious as in 'Pacing' - which means purposely, and covertly, emulating the (usually unconscious) behaviour of another in order to build rapport. Alternatively, mirroring at an unconscious level may take place - often in the natural way that close friends or relatives may unknowingly emulate one or more aspects of each others behaviour.
Other forms of mirroring - some deliberately contrived, some unconscious - also occur in the behaviour of:
a) organised groups
(marching in step/uniforms/behavioural norms and routines, etc) or
b) not so organised crowds and audiences
('spontaneous' cheering and noises/chanting/applause/panic, etc).
I will deliberately confine the remainder of this section of the discussion to purposive one-to-one mirroring or pacing since this is a necessary predicate for what follows.
Pacing - the emulation of the behaviour of one 'target' person by another - may be executed in numerous ways, some obvious, some not so obvious, although what might appear 'obvious' to the operator will, more often than not, exist below the level of conscious awareness of the target. Some examples of pacing techniques follow:
*matching posture
*changing posture as subject changes posture
*copying individual head/body/limb/digit actions
*observing and emulating mannerisms/'live' activities - smiles, nods, mouth, hand and finger movements
*emulating habits (long term)
*matching blink rate
*matching voice intonations
*matching vocabulary, rate and figures of speech
*copying dynamics of target's movements (in direct and cross mirroring)
*matching breathing rate
*dress (usually long term)
This list does not present all the possibilities, but the reader should note that the kinaesthetic mode provides the best means for pacing in most cases and that the vast majority of people remain blissfully unaware of the K mode and the dynamics of their bodies. In the author's experience, the closer the operator's dynamics (velocities/accelerations/start and stop times) of kinesthetic mirroring match those of the client, the more rapidly the building of rapport: more on this later.
So what happens during pacing? How does the building rapport of rapport actually take place - because take place it does, as can be testified to by any number of NLP practitioners, hypnotists, sales people and so called 'speed-seducers'. Those who presently have a 'theory' on this, and as far as I am aware no formal academic psychological theory exists, assert that the target unconsciously 'senses' the pacing activities of the operator then 'says/knows/assumes' that 'this person is like me in a lot of ways', and feels some kind of physiological/psychological/tribal affinity and security in the operator's presence. The broad term for this is rapport.

Lock On:

Now to get controversial. I have experienced what I am about to describe personally, and I know that several others have had similar experiences. One or two have found them sufficiently disturbing for them to give up mirroring altogether, so be warned that THIS IS NOT A GAME.

If the operator pursues the pacing adeptly enough and for long enough, a new situation develops. The pacing behaviour of the operator (by observation) becomes automatic and 'locks on' to the behaviour of the subject to such an extent that both move together in an effortless, smooth, synchronous 'dance'. The smoothness and effortlessness of the operator's movements indicate that some form of learned, subconscious behaviour is at work in both the operator and the subject. Note that synchronous movement that occurs under lock on is not a hypothesis: it is an observation that can be replicated by any operator with a reasonable amount of persistence, sensitivity, pacing and observation skills. Don't take my word for it, try it and see - but be mindful that the target must remain unaware of your intentions and behaviour such as to avoid conscious interference.


Beyond lock on, lies the area of 'leading'. In this process, the operator acts deliberately - often by anticipation of the subject's movements at first - in an endeavour to lead the actions of the subject. Many NLP practitioners can bear witness that the phenomenon occurs, and it occurs without the target's conscious knowledge. Once satisfactory leading has been initiated, the operator can forget about making 'conscious' actions - a process that started during 'lock on' anyway, and merely allow the target to follow - with occasional checks back to make sure this is the case and to re-initiate (by re-pacing) the leading process as required. Leading, since it is well known to most NLP activists, is essentially a reciprocal subset, or extension, of the 'lock on' phenomena, is not discussed any further in this note.

So How Does Lock On Work?

During lock on, and any subsequent leading, the covert emulative behaviour of the operator will lie outside the sphere of conscious awareness of the subject as will his/her own physical responses (although one must assume some deep, vague sense of awareness of psychological response since the subject at some point begins to feel rapport with the operator - which after all is one of the fundamental purposes of pacing). The operator, although consciously aware of their own emulation of the target's behaviour during the initial pacing process, becomes progressively more and more 'in tune' with the subject to the point where the matching becomes so complex and synchronous that significant elements of it CANNOT REMAIN CONSCIOUS. The postulate is that some form of communication is taking place between the operator and the subject at some intangible subconscious level possibly, and I hesitate to say this - but in the light of evidence that the physical body does have 'intelligence', and that matter itself may have so - at a 'physical' level. Those who have experienced this know of a strange feeling, a feeling that the bodies of both are engaged in some kind of synchronous, 'knowing' dance with shared proprioception. Some would assert that the lock on scenario represents a purely kinesic 'body to body' communication, others that the process 'merely' (a useful, dismissive word) demonstrates a subconscious activity using peripheral visual input as an extremely sophisticated feedback system for body movements - this should be simple enough to prove either way by formal experiment. [Note that ultimately ALL modalities resolve to kinesic in that all VAGO inputs physically stimulate various groups of nerves, which be they in ears, eyes, nose, mouth, ultimately create a physical sensation.] A number of the strange phenomena reported during 'mirroring' activities are related below.

Curiouser and Curiouser: Strange Things During Mirroring

People have reported the following 'strange' events during ad hoc experiments in pacing by mirroring:
* Locked on synchronous movement across a room (several reports)
* Operator becoming acutely sensitised to people approaching from behind & out of range of vision (not due to observable sound or shadows either)
* Operator spontaneously 'knowing' things about subject (and getting confirmation)
* Operator 'feeling' someone breathing, which they could barely detect visually, from twelve feet away. Experienced with such great certainty that the unsettling effect of experience made the operator have done with mirroring for good
* Operator consciously & deliberately 'feeling' rapport with subject across a room & getting response from subject, plus spontaneously 'knowing' things about subject
* Operator partially leading from behind & out of eyeshot of subject

To Close

It would seem there is a potential whole field of research available on mirroring/pacing and leading. One wonders has anything formal been done in this area, or is the topic the Cinderella daughter of the Cinderella art/'science' of NLP?


If you have any interesting tales on mirroring or abnormal physical rapport at a distance, kindly email me & let me know if I can post them in this article.


Readers who have had the fortune to interface with actuality in a 'non-dual' way may find it interesting to consider the phenomeneon of resonant, dynamic 'lock on' from that perspective: indeed, experimenting with the behaviour can and does cause the phenomenon of apparent unity to partially manifest in that the attention required t bring about the necessary state spontaneously negates any occurence of internal dialogue.

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