Stepping Outside Trauma // My Experience With NLP

A couple of months ago, I made a new friend here in Missoula who happens to be a master practitioner of neuro-linguistic programming, otherwise known as NLP. 

NLP is a type of therapy based on the idea that we all create our own limited little “maps” of the world using our five senses. The maps are drawn with all our memories.


Photo by delfi de la Rua on Unsplash

Our memory maps can be distorted by traumatic experiences. According to  NLP practitioners, those distortions can lead to problems like chronic anxiety, depression, panic attacks, and eating disorders.

NLP practitioners can guide a client through memories of trauma to help them redraw the “map” of their life to be less personal. NLP has been said to help people disconnect from even their worst experiences so that they remember those moments as an outside observer instead of a participant.

Prior to meeting my friend, I’d heard of NLP but I’d never met anyone who practiced it. She was as curious about my work as I was about hers, so we did a professional trade.

So that’s how I ended up trying NLP and — literally — stepping outside myself.

My NLP Experience

In my first NLP session, my practitioner had me remember the most traumatic moments of my life. She said that we could trace back my anxiety to those experiences and, if we could re-code them in my mind, they wouldn’t cause me stress anymore.

So, sitting in a leather chair in her office, I lived one more time through the assault I’ve written about here before.


Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

If you’ve ever done this sort of thing, you may know how emotionally exhausting reliving trauma is.

But the next part is what fascinates me:

I imagined that my worst memory was being projected on a movie screen in a dark theater. Everything that happened to me was playing out in front of me.

But I was instructed to step outside my body, climb out of the screen, and sit myself down in the front row of the theater.

I was to watch myself — my memory — like it was any B-list indie flick. Then, I was to imagine stepping outside of my body again and becoming a second version of myself. That second me got up and sat down one row behind the first version of me, directly behind the first version. I put my hand on the shoulder of front-row me.

So I watched the memory-movie with myself. Like I wasn’t alone.


Photo by Julien Andrieux on Unsplash

For the next few minutes, I did this again and again until many versions of me were sitting rows and rows behind myself and I could fast-forward and rewind the movie and play a version of it in which nothing bad happened at all.

Eventually, many versions of me were holding my shoulders and watching a story that was no longer so scary.

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This probably sounds very strange as you read it. It felt very strange to imagine it, too. But now, in hindsight, I get it. It was a step-by-step way to remove me from my own worst memory and to give me power over it.

The Aftermath

This was just one part of my first NLP session, but I was amazed that two weeks later, I read a book with assault scenes in it that might have triggered me in the past but didn’t. My husband, who sat next to me and watched me while I read, was shocked that I didn’t have a hard time reading it.

NLP has received less-than mixed support from the scientific community because there isn’t substantial evidence that our brains work in the way NLP describes. But the latter part of my NLP session was also very similar to mindfulness training, which has been scientifically supported.

Now, I’m a devotee to hard science, but at the same time, I’ve got to tell you that I’m kind of fascinated by my NLP experience.

In fact, I’ve written and talked a lot about self-persuasion, and I think that this process of dissociation — or stepping out of the self — might be an extra tool in our toolkit for persuading the self when we need it most.

The Short & Sweet Version (TL;DR)

Neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) is a therapy program that can help clients re-code their memories and dissociate from trauma. My experience was positive and helpful and I would recommend trying it with a good practitioner.


Micah Larsen is a persuasion specialist and the queen bee at Apis Communication Science. 

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How To Be Productive

“Isn’t it hard to make yourself work when you’re self-employed?”

I get this question a lot.

The answer is … yes and no.

As I write this, there is a basket of clean laundry waiting to be folded upstairs. I should probably unload the dishwasher and shovel the snow off the front walk and I keep meaning to sort the recycling. And, man, I kind of want to take a nap.

But I will resist.

Being self-employed takes a lot of stick-to-it-iveness. No one’s looking over your shoulder to make sure you stay on track and get stuff done. There’s no boss to report to and there’s no one to wake me up if I do decide to snooze for a minute.

am the boss! And I tried looking over my own shoulder. It’s really hard.

That’s why my ears perked up when I went to an entrepreneurs’ meeting and got some really great advice about productivity.

Sweet Advice

As the story goes, Charles M. Schwab, American entrepreneur, had a man named Ivy Lee come talk to his managers about how to work efficiently. Lee said he’d give some advice and if they all stuck to the advice for ninety days, he’d come back and they could pay him whatever they thought the information was worth.

Pretty sweet deal, no?

After ninety days, they had rave reviews. Schwab cut him a check for $250,000 which, around 1918, was even more money than it sounds like today.

What was that $250,000 advice?

Well, it’s devilishly simple.

Six Steps To Productivity

Lee told the managers to do only six things.

  1. At the end of the day, write down six things to do tomorrow.
  2. Take those six things and prioritize them by order of importance.
  3. The next day, work on them starting with the most important.
  4. Work your way through the list.
  5. The next day, continue the process if you haven’t finished.
  6. Repeat.

I’ve found this list of six things very helpful. When you work from a home office, you don’t have a lot of work-life separation. I know I’m constantly surrounded by things that distract me from my work! Just this morning, I let my dogs in and out and put away dishes while I negotiated with a client.

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productivity 3.jpg

Photo by STIL on Unsplash

I get up every morning at 6:30. I do an hour of Rosetta Stone (I’m working on my German verb endings and failing miserably at Arabic), get some caffeine in my system, do a kettlebell workout or go for a run, and spend the rest of the day alternating between work and taking care of life stuff.

I’m not saying I’m not productive, but I’m looking forward to seeing what using Lee’s six steps can do for me. Self-employment has so many benefits, but there’s no substitute for productivity or focus.

If you could use a little help boosting your productivity, I challenge you to do it, too!

The Short & Sweet Version (TL;DR)

At the beginning of the 20th century, steel magnate Charles M. Schwab’s team got valuable advice from Ivy Lee. Lee told them to use a six-step strategy to ensure their productivity by helping them focus on their top priorities.


Micah Larsen is a persuasion scientist and the creator of the Apis Algorithm, a tool that gives Apis clients a personalized list of persuasion tactics to influence others. 

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“No, You Pick!” // Why Are We Indecisive?

January 1st was my husband’s birthday. He had to work all day, but I was determined to make it feel like a birthday.

Getting up and making his coffee and watching him open a gift was easy! Dropping off a scone at his office in the hospital was fun! Going to REI and helping him pick out some new stuff was awesome!

You know what the hard part was?

Deciding where to go to dinner afterward.

The place with the great dumplings?

Or that brewery he loves?

I went back and forth about it all day.


Eric and I are like most couples in that when we want to go out to eat, we have the same annoying conversation before we actually get somewhere. It usually sounds like this:

“Where do you want to go eat?”

“I dunno. What do you feel like?”

“No, you pick. I don’t care. Whatever you want.” 

“Okay, uh … How about Indian?” 

“No, not that! Something else. Pizza. NO! Thai food.” 

“Want to go get Thai, then?”

“Yeah! … Wait, no. I don’t know. … Maybe sushi?”

It’s a classic conversation between married people!

A traditional pre-dinner dialogue!

If this sounds familiar, you might have wondered why we can be so bad at making everyday choices.

Oscillation 7

The Back & Forth

These wishy-washy choices happen because of something called oscillation. Oscillation occurs when we go back and forth between alternatives.

Pizza or sushi?


Oscillation happens most often after we’ve already picked something.

Pizza. … No! Sushi! 

When we make decisions — big and small — we often oscillate because we get a feeling of regret.

Aw, man. We should have gone for pizza. 

Decisions about takeout might seem like small potatoes (excuse the pun), but we humans are programmed to be very attached to our freedom to make choices. Oscillation is a natural reaction to decision-making. Once we’ve settled on one thing, that means we’ve eliminated our freedom to choose another.

Now all I can think about is pizza. 

Usually, the choice we rejected starts to look especially attractive after the fact. 

Pizza. With extra cheese. And Canadian bacon.  

Oscillation 3.jpg

Oscillation can be super annoying. I know that I feel like I spent way too much time weighing dinner options yesterday.

It can be especially irritating when you want someone else to make a decision, like when you’re trying to persuade them.

Persuasion & Oscillation

When it comes to keeping ourselves and others from oscillating, it might help to make it seem like there is no risk involved.

We tend to oscillate between choices when we feel like we might lose out on something or when we think that there might be a better alternative out there somewhere.*

But, wait! Is tonight free sashimi night?! We should see if there’s a better sushi place in town! 

And when there’s too much tension involved, we tend to become kind of ambivalent.

This decision is taking too long. I don’t care. You pick. 

Oscillation 4

You might think that it’s a good idea to put more pressure on a decision-maker to get them to make a choice, but it might be better to try to reduce the feeling of risk instead.

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Reducing Risk

The next time you’re stuck trying to make a decision or you’d like to persuade someone else to make a decision, think about the potential risks of either choice.

It’s Monday. Is the sushi place closed on Mondays? 

I don’t even know if this pizza place delivers. 

Then, think of ways to eliminate those risks.

If the sushi place is closed, we’ll just have pizza! 

If they don’t deliver, we’ll just get takeout. 

The less risky a decision is, the less likely we probably are to oscillate.

Oscillation 5

Photo by Taylor Kiser on Unsplash

So, What?

Knowing this could come in handy when you’re trying to make a choice for yourself or to persuade someone else to do something. Whether it’s to choose which kind of salsa to put on a Qdoba burrito, to pick a place to eat dinner, or to engage in business, understanding decision-making can make us better at the things we love to do. 

Eric and I didn’t end up getting Italian or Indian on his birthday. Nor sushi, nor pizza. We went to an Irish pub where he got a hot buttered rum and we dished about our days. In the future, I want to spend less time making decisions and more time enjoying dinners like that.

The Short & Sweet Version (TL;DR)

When we make a decision and think that there might be some risk involved, we tend to oscillate or go back and forth between alternatives. This can waste time and energy. We are probably less likely to oscillate if we can resolve the risks. This is an important thing to remember when trying to persuade others.


Micah Larsen is a persuasion scientist and the creator of the Apis Algorithm, a tool that gives Apis clients a personalized list of persuasion tactics to influence others. 

Contact Micah at and find: 

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* Janis, I. L., & Mann, L. (1977). Decision making: A psychological analysis of conflict, choice, and commitment. New York: Free Press.



How To Be A Helper // Bystanders & Bad Weather

Winter has arrived.

As I write this, it’s – 6 degrees here in Montana and we have about a foot of snow on the ground. Outside, it’s white, it’s powdery, and it’s perfect.

Unless, of course, you have to drive somewhere. Because under all that pretty snow, there’s a thick sheet of ice.

Now, reader, in the past six years, I’ve lived in all these places:

Places I've lived

… and I’ve learned that in every part of the country, there are still two kinds of people:

  1. People who know how to drive in icy weather
  2. People who do not

Now, I’m not saying I’m a pro driver, necessarily (one memorable Thanksgiving, I got an offroad vehicle stuck in a snowy, desolate ditch while a turkey cooked in the oven at home), but thankfully I’ve had enough experience in those northern-most cities to be able to handle myself.

bystanders .jpg

Photo by Adam Chang on Unsplash

But sometimes the ice is ruthless. This week, I’ve seen the icy roads put at least half a dozen minivans, sedans, and SUVs off the side of the highway. Seeing cars stuck in snowdrifts and smashed into telephone poles, surrounded by flashing lights and firetrucks and EMTs, leaves my heart in my throat.

I don’t know about you, but those scenes always make me wonder what I would do if I saw the accident happen.

Would I think to stop and make sure the driver was okay or would I keep going?

Would I assume someone else would stop or would I lend a hand? 

I mean, I don’t know about you, but I’d like to think I’m the kind of person who would stop, call 911, and see if there was anything I could do. I think we all assume we’re the helping kind, but when it comes down to it, are we? 

The Bystander Effect

The bystander effect was named in 1964 after a young woman named Kitty Genovese was attacked and stabbed in the middle of the street for thirty minutes in Queens, New York City. Thirty-eight of her neighbors watched from their apartments. None of them called the police.

Social scientists wanted to know why this happened. Why do people see terrible things happen and do nothing about it? They staged a bunch of emergency scenarios to see when and why people would alert the authorities and stop in to help.

One factor determined whether bystanders would step in:

Whether they thought someone else was listening.

When the researchers staged a person having a seizure alone in a room, people came to aid 85% of the time when they thought only they heard the commotion. But when they thought other folks heard it, too, only 31% of them checked to see if they could help.

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So, What?

The holidays are supposed to be about giving, but we might still find ourselves passing up the opportunity to give when it’s needed the most.

The bystander effect is a contagious social phenomenon. It’s part of our natural instinct to protect ourselves and blend into the background when something scary is happening. But this holiday season, I challenge you to fight this instinct.

bystanders 3.jpg

One of my favorite quotes of all time is from childhood favorite Mr. Rogers:

“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”

Last week, I wrote about how making written commitments can help us stick to healthy habits. When winter weather hits and the world gets a little more dangerous, I can’t think of a better commitment to make than one to help others!

If you’d like to challenge the bystander effect and be a helper, make a public or semi-public commitment to run towards danger even when your instinct tells you not to. To be the type of person that Mr. Rogers would be proud of. To be the first to (safely) stop when you see someone who needs help in winter weather.

I think that’s one heck of a good way to spread holiday cheer.

The Short & Sweet Version (TL;DR)

The bystander effect happens when we know we aren’t the only ones who have witnessed an emergency. We often put the responsibility on others to lend a helping hand. You can make a written commitment to be a helper to overcome the bystander effect.


Micah Larsen is a persuasion coach and the queen bee at Apis. Contact her at and find: 

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Read more about social contagion and the bystander effect in Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point. Order it here.

I Stopped Drinking Coffee // How To Self-Persuade

For the past ten years, my mornings have not been complete without a cup of hot coffee.

No sugar.

A dash of milk.

Actually, not to be too high maintenance BUT I’LL TAKE ALMOND MILK but only if you’ve got it and only if it’s not too much trouble sorry sorry sorry


Especially in the winter time, making a cup of coffee is the best, warmest ritual.

Heat water in the copper teapot

Fill the coffee filter with our favorite Hygge dark roast

Pour over (as the hipsters do, but you can’t deny that pour-overs taste the very best). 

So, damn, it was hard to tell myself that it was time to give it up.

Micah, You Idiot.

If right about now you’re thinking that this sounds like raving madness, I do not disagree. But if I’m being honest, coffee wrecks me. It’s hell on my stomach and sometimes it’s (gasp) more trouble than it’s worth.

So I gave it up. I am no longer A Coffee-Drinking Person.

I am also tired. And jones-ing for a cuppa.

No More Coffee

Photo by IRENE COCO on Unsplash


If you’ve ever given something up (sugar, gluten, alcohol, tobacco, Netflix …), you know that it can be a pain-in-the-a**. And one of the hardest parts of it all is the self-persuasion.

Self-persuasion happens when you take an active role in forming your attitudes. We persuade ourselves when:

  • We know we should go to the gym instead of seeing a matinee
  • It’s time to get out of bed and we’re tempted to press the snooze button for the third time
  • We have a deadline looming and we can’t procrastinate with Stranger Things any longer
  • We try to justify eating roughly 8 lbs. of Christmas cookies

The problem with self-persuasion is that it’s sometimes easier to change our attitudes than it is our actions. For example, it often takes less effort to convince ourselves that it’s okay to skip the gym today than it is to put our shoes on and jump on that elliptical.

So self-persuasion works in both directions. It can keep us on track or it can make it easier to justify doing the wrong thing. 

No More Coffee 3.jpg

How To Stick With It

When you’re trying to avoid something, you realize temptation’s everywhere. For me, it’s at meetings. In your French press. At your friend’s house. And when I’m tempted to jump ship and drink some darn coffee, there’s a self-persuasion war waging inside my head.

Luckily, we have a natural desire to stay consistent with attitudes we’ve committed to, like when we say openly that we’re going to lose five pounds or walk to work or drink less soda.

The more public and concrete we can make our commitments, the harder they are to deviate from.

So if you’re trying to achieve a good health goal that requires some stick-to-itiveness, consider using a self-persuasion strategy called written commitment. When trying to kick a habit, I suggest:

  • writing your commitment down
  • posting it somewhere public

Watch an Apis Post-It Persuasion video about written commitments here.

We put a high value on consistency in other people, so it feels like the more publicly you can commit to something, the bigger the costs are if you break that commitment.

You can make a written commitment on a sticky note on your fridge, on your Instagram, or at a family dinner. And as you think about who you’d like to be and what you’d like to do in 2018, remember that every time you make your commitment more concrete and more public, you’re using self-persuasion to increase the likelihood you’ll stay committed.

No More Coffee 2.jpg

Sigh. Tea instead. Photo by Drew Taylor on Unsplash

At this moment in this very blog post, I am making a written commitment!

Ahem. I do decree:

Hey, world.

I’m done drinking coffee.

If you see me with an Americano in hand, judge me, for I have waivered. Take it away from me. Make me watch you pour it out.

(But first, just let me take one last sip. It’s the last one. I promise).

The Short & Sweet Version (TL;DR)

Self-persuasion can help or hurt our chances of sticking to a healthy commitment. The more concrete and public you make your commitments, though, the more likely you are to stick with them. Make a written commitment in front of others to self-persuade in a positive direction.


Micah Larsen is a social scientist, persuasion coach, and queen bee at Apis. 

Contact her at and find: 

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I’ve Got So Many Questions

At the time of writing, I just left a meeting. A meeting where I think I asked about ten billion questions. At least.

That’s kind of my style, you see. I have a way of questioning people.

Give me a conversation and I will probe it like nobody’s business!

I will probe it like the Mars Rover!

I’ll ask more questions than Barbara Walters after six espressos!

Questions & Reciprocity

If you were to ask my parents, they’d tell you that I’ve always been like this.

When I was a little kid, I wanted to know why things are the way they are.

Today, I want to know why people are the way they are.

Hopefully, I ask better questions than I did back then but my curiosity hasn’t gone away. That’s the reason I became a social scientist in the first place!

Because I wanna know why.

Questions & Reciprocity 2

Invite me somewhere and you should be prepared to answer at least a dozen probing Qs. I’m not nosy, per se, but I’m hella curious. And, more importantly, I want to get to know you and what you’re all about. 

But, okay, if I’m being honest, sometimes I feel guilty about my curiosity. In fact, just last week after my husband and I went to a business dinner, I asked him on the car ride home if he thought I was asking too many questions.

(He said no, but he’s married to me and he might be kind of biased.)

Well, folks, this week I found a reason to feel less guilty about all the questions I like to ask.

We Love People Who Wanna Know Stuff

According to a study just completed at Harvard, people love it when others ask them questions. Like, they love it.

“So, tell me. What do you do?”

“Whoa! Can you tell me more about that?”

“Oh, where did you guys meet?”

Why? Because when we ask about others, we show them that we’re at least a little invested in them. So, of course, we like a little Q&A! Talking to someone who seems genuinely interested in us is satisfying and rewarding. And, heck, sometimes we just like to talk about ourselves for a second!

Sure, you might think this is a no-brainer, but what if I told you that you could use questions as a way to influence people?

Questions & Persuasion

That study suggests that asking questions and showing interest is valuable. And when we want to influence or persuade someone, sometimes we need to give something of value.

I’ve talked before about the power of reciprocity and how we are compelled to give back when someone gives to us. People like to keep their relationships balanced, so when we give something to someone (like interest or attention), they’ll tend to want to give something in return to even it all out.

I think it’s fair to say that we can use questions as a way to influence people using reciprocity.

How To Use It

We can motivate other people to give back to us if we ask enough questions to make them feel valued and engaged! Because they feel compelled to reciprocate, we can make a request of them after a few thoughtful questions and have a better chance of compliance than we would have otherwise.

Persuasion is often about setting yourself up for the perfect time to make a request. If we assume that that Harvard study’s on point, then we know that asking questions is valuable.

It seems like questions and persuasion go hand in hand.

Questions & Reciprocity 4

What Now?

If you’re not the inquisitive type but you think this tactic could help you influence people, I suggest thinking of a list of questions you would feel comfortable asking most people in a conversational setting.

They don’t have to be deep! They just have to make your conversational partner feel like you’re interested in their answers.

My job is to help people figure out ways they can influence people better. But I also like helping people learn how to have better conversations! Questions are a big part of both connection and persuasion.

Now, I’m definitely not ready to give up my Q&A ways. Far from it.

In fact, f we sit down for coffee, please prepare yourself for questions about:

  • Your career
  • Your upbringing
  • Your pet preferences
  • Your favorite travel destinations
  • Which Harry Potter house you think you’d be sorted into
  • Which Harry Potter house you want to be sorted into
  • The costs and benefits of juice cleanses
  • Your thoughts on astrology
  • Medical maladies
  • Ghost stories
  • Family recipes

…. and an unlimited number of other topics. No guarantees I’ll stop there.

The Short & Sweet Version (TL;DR)

Research suggests that people like being asked questions about themselves. We can combine questions with the reciprocity tactic to compel people to comply with our requests.


Micah Larsen is a persuasion coach and the queen bee at Apis. 

Contact her at and find: 

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Apis Book Buzz // Sometimes Amazing Things Happen

I write (and talk) a lot about what happens inside our heads, but my focus is mostly on persuasion. There’s so much more to our brains than that.

Dr. Elizabeth Ford is an expert on what our brains can do (to us). She wrote Sometimes Amazing Things Happen about the prisoners she cared for in the forensic psychiatry unit she ran in New York. She treated prisoners from Riker’s Island, the ones that were too mentally ill to stay in jail and too dangerous to put in any other psychiatric facility.

And she did it (mostly) alone.

On a shoestring budget.

While pregnant.


I couldn’t put Dr. Ford’s book down. I love non-fiction books, but this story was one I kept having to remind myself was totally true. 

It’s not just about the scariest moments in her career, either. It’s about how she stayed committed to being compassionate and caring towards people society had forgotten about.

Apis Book Buzz - Sometimes Amazing Things Happen

If you like thrilling true stories, look for Sometimes Amazing Things Happen at your local bookstore or find it on Amazon here.

If you pick up this #ApisBookBuzz pick, take a picture and tag Apis on Facebook or on Instagram or Twitter at @apiscommscience and tell me what you think!

Apis Book Buzz - Sometimes Amazing Things Happen 1


Micah Larsen is a persuasion coach and social scientist and the queen bee at Apis. 

Contact her at