The NLP Pattern of the Month:

Hierarchy of Criteria Technique

The following technique was developed by Robert Dilts in the mid-1980's as a means to identify and work with conflicts related to different levels of criteria. Criteria at different levels of one's "hierarchy of criteria" often bounce back and forth between "self" and "others," and move to successively higher Neuro-Logical Levels. That is, behavioral level criteria (e.g., "to do or achieve something for others") are often overridden by those related to capabilities (e.g., "to learn something for myself"). Criteria at the level of capability are overridden by those at the level of beliefs and values (e.g., "to be responsible to others," or "follow the rules"). Beliefs and values, however, will be overridden by criteria at the level of identity (e.g., "to be a certain type of person," or "to maintain personal integrity").

Different levels of criteria are also often associated with particular representational systems, submodality characteristics, or cognitive strategies. Knowing about these different aspects of criteria can help you to 'pace and lead' or 'leverage' various levels of criteria in order to overcome conflicts and achieve desired outcomes more effectively. In the following procedure, spatial sorting and the counter example process are used to identify different levels of criteria, and their representational characteristics, in order to help transform inner resistance to establishing a new pattern of behavior.

Before beginning, lay out four different locations, side-by-side, as shown in the diagram.

  1. In Location #1 identify a behavior that you want to do, but stop yourself from doing.
    e.g. Exercising consistently.

  2. Step into location #2 and identify the criteria that motivate you to want the new behavior.
    e.g. I want to exercise in order to "be healthy" and "look good" .

    Identify the strategy, meta program patterns and/or submodalities used to decide each criterion.
    e.g. "health" = Ad/Vc "look good" = Vc

  3. Move to Location #3 and elicit the criteria that stop you from actually doing the desired behavior.
    (NOTE: These will be higher level criteria because, by definition, they override the criteria for motivation.)
    e.g. I do not exercise consistently because there is "no time"and "it hurts".

    Elicit the strategy, meta program patterns and/or submodalities used to decide each criterion.
    e.g. "No time " = Vr/K "It hurts " = K

  4. Step to location #5 and elicit a higher level criterion that overrides the limiting criteria of step 3. For example, you could ask, "What is something that is important enough that I can always make time for it and would do it even if it hurts? What value does that satisfy that makes it more important? "
    e.g. "Responsibility to my family"

    Elicit the strategy, meta program patterns and/or submodalities used to decide this criterion.
    e.g. "responsibility to family" = Vc/k

    Spatial Layout for Hierarchy of Criteria Technique

  5. You are now set up to use the following sequence of techniques:
    1. Leveraging - Go back to location #1, anchor the behavioral content, then walk around locations #2 & #3 to location #4. Apply the highest level criterion to the wanted behavior to override the limiting objections. For example, you can say, "Since my behavior is a model for my family, wouldn't I be showing more responsibility by finding the time to keep healthy and look my best:?"

    2. Pacing the limiting criteria - Step from location #4 into location #3. Find a way to achieve the desired behavior that will match the criteria on all three levels and doesn't violate the limiting criteria. For example, "Is there some kind of consistent exercise program that doesn't take much time, wouldn't be painful and in which I could involve my family? "

    3. Strategy/Submodality Utilization - Adjust the strategy, meta program and submodality features of the criteria of the desired behavior and the limiting criteria to match the strategy, meta program and submodality features of the highest level criterion.


Beliefs: Pathways to Health and Well-Being; Dilts, R., Hallbom, T. and Smith, S., 1990.

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