Tracking Down The Right Memory With 3 Questions

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A central tenet of EFT / Tapping is that most of our emotional problems have a history. We learn unhelpful feelings and limiting beliefs in situations that are embedded in our memory and play out in our current lives, long after the original experience is over.

One of an EFT Practitioner’s jobs is finding and neutralising the memories of where problems start, thus neutralising the unhelpful feelings that came out of that experience.

There are lots of ways to identify these formative memories.

Practitioners may ask their clients:

  • What does this remind you of?
  • When did this problem start?
  • etc

These are all good questions, and I’d like to introduce you to a sequence of three questions that are an easy and effective way of finding the ‘original memory’ of that feeling.

In 2007 I attended an Integral Eye Movement Therapy (IEMT) training presented by its creator: therapist and trainer Andy Austin 1. Although IEMT is a completely different model of therapy to EFT some of Andy Austin’s methods turned out to be very useful in my EFT practice.

In the IEMT training he introduced a three question sequence to help a client identify the source memory of problem feelings.

The sequence is:

  1. On a scale of 0-10 how strong is this feeling?
  2. ..and, how familiar is this feeling?
  3. ..and, when was the first time that you can remember feeling that feeling now  it may not be the first time it ever happened, but rather the first time that you can remember now

The first question is probably very familiar to anyone who knows EFT/Tapping.

The second question may seem almost banal, however it is this question that makes the whole sequence so powerful.

The third question probably looks over-complicated but it is carefully and subtley constructed to help the client to remember what they need to remember.

Let’s unpack each of these questions in turn and then look at how to use them.

Please note: this is my interpretaion of the structure and purpose of Andy Austin’s sequence of questions, there may be other facets of these questions that I have missed.

Q1: On as scale of 0-10 how strong is this feeling?

This is a very familiar question to anyone who knows EFT. It’s used to estimate how ‘strong’ a feeling feels to the client on a 0-10 SUDs scale.

However, in this sequence of questions, the 0-10 answer to the question is almost irrelevant. The main purpose of the question is to have the client tune in to the feeling as clearly as possible.

What links the current problem to the original memory is the ‘feeling’ of it. The stronger and clearer the client can feel the feeling, the more accurate the link. The question invites the client to tune into the ‘signal’ as fully as they can, once they are tuned in, the next question can work its magic.

Q2: ..and, how familiar is this feeling?

This looks like a throwaway question, but (in my opinion) it makes the whole process of finding the process memory so much easier.

Let’s use a simple, non-tapping, example.

Imagine you are listening to a tune on the radio which strikes a chord (pardon the pun) and a friend asks you “How familiar is that tune to you?”

To be able to answer that question you have to:

  • Sift through all your memories of listening to music.
  • Evaluate if you are listening to this music (or not).
  • Make a mental note of all the memories where you were hearing that tune.
  • If the total number of memories where that tune was playing is enough then you answer “Yes, it is familiar”, if not, you answer “No, it’s not familiar”.

This process of indexing and cross checking a huge number of memories happens very quickly and unconsciously. This inner search and cross referencing is so fast that you could probably answer the question in a couple of seconds.

Let’s go back to the uncomfortable feeling that the client has tuned into.

”..and2, how familiar is this feeling?”

To answer this question (and we all love to answer questions, don’t we?) your client has to sort through all the memories where they felt feelings like this, ‘tagging’ the memories where they did feel this feeling.

At an unconcious level they will have extracted a collection of memories that feature this feeling, this makes two things possible:

  1. They can answer the question yes or no. (If the client has come to you with a problematic feeling that interferes with their life, the answer is probably going to be yes).
  2. More importantly: they now have, at an unconscious level, a ‘tagged’ collection of memories that include that unhelpful feeling.

Think of this collection of ‘tagged’ memories as a trail of breadcrumbs that could be followed back to the first memory.

Q3: “… and when was the first time you can remember feeling that feeling …”

This is the question that ‘invites’ the unconscious mind to track back through those tagged memories to access the first memory. Since these memories have just been accessed to answer the ‘how familiar’ question they are readily available, so finding the first is relatively straightforward.

The full question: … and, when was the first time that you can remember feeling that feeling … now … it may not be the first time it ever happened, but rather the first time that you can remember now …, is a bit daunting so lets break it up into two more digestible parts.

Part 1: …and when was the first time that you can remember that feeling … now …

This is a question and what, in NLP or hypnotherapy, is called an embedded command.

  • The question: “When was the first time you can remember feeling that feeling?” is straightforward enough. It’s an invitation to track back through all those ‘tagged’ memories to find the first one.
  • The embedded command (which would be identified by a slightly different intonation) you can remember feeling that feeling … now … Is an ‘instruction’ to the unconscious mind to remember the feeling.

The emphasised … phrases … elipses … indicate different tone of voice and pauses which add meaning to the sentence.

“it may not be the first time it ever happened, but rather the first time that you can remember now …”

  • The instruction the first time you can remember now is about what is to be remembered.
  • The embedded command the first time you can remember now.. once again directs the unconcious mind to do the remembering now.

After this question the client’s unconcious mind sorts through the ‘tagged’ memories and identifies the first.3

This process may take some time, perhaps 20 – 40 seconds, during which time the practitioner must remain quiet, neither offering guidance or advice (how could you advise someone else to search their own unconscious minds?)

At the end of this process the client will have identified the first memory and you can use EFT/Tapping to resolve that memory.

In the vast majority of cases where I have used this question sequence the client has been able to identify the originating memory within 60 seconds of asking the first question.

How does this work in practice?

The most important part of making this work are not the three questions.

For the best results, you need to have established good rapport and a safe environment for your client because the answer to the third question may provoke some distress.

You also need to ask the question with a lightness of touch; your aim should be to help the client ride the feeling back into the past, not to extract a confession.

With that in mind, here is the question sequence again:

The client has a troublesome feeling in the present which is a problem for them in some way.

“On a scale of 0-10 how strong is that feeling?”

When they have answered that question ask them:

”…and how familiar is this feeling?”

Wait quietly, giving the client a chance to process this question.

If it’s been a problem for a while the chances are they will answer yes.

When they say yes, immediately ask them the ‘remembering’ question:

… and, when was the first time that you can remember feeling that feeling … now … it may not be the first time it ever happened, but rather the first time that you can remember now …

Wait quietly for the client to do the necessary processing.

The memory (or memories) will be strongly connected to the original feeling, and can be processed using all your tapping skills.

Top Tip: If they say something like “this makes no sense” – pay particular attention to that memory. The unconscious minds are often far more astute than the conscious mind that thinks its got everything figured out.

There are two ways I use this question sequence:

  1. If the client talks about a problem feeling as part of their description of the problem, I may use the three question sequence to get to the original memory.
  2. More often, during the course of the session, when the client tunes into a distressing emotion (which I suspect may come from an early experience), I ask the client “How familiar is that feeling?” followed by the “and when was the first time …” question. Because the client is fully tuned into the feeling in the session I don’t need to ask the first scaling question.

Note: Question 3 can be a lot to say without practice. I recommend you practice it a few times before using it, but if it still seems a bit too cumbersome you can ask the question “and when was the first time you can remember feeling that feeling … now as a shortcut. It’s not quite as powerful as the full question but it can still get good results.

Contraindications

Like all powerful tools this sequence of questions needs to be used with care.

Because finding the earliest memory and processing it is one of the core approaches of EFT it’s easy (especially for newcomers) to start looking for the first memory as soon as possible to get quick results for their clients.

However, some first memories could be very difficult to handle, without the necessary skills and relationship building.

If the problematic feeling the client describes is intense and painful, for example: terror, acute shame, intense anxiety, etc then there is a good chance that the originating memory will be very traumatic to recall. These kinds of feelings should only be worked with by experienced practitioners in later sessions when a safe therapeutic relationship has been established.


  1. Andy Austin is a phenomenally talented therapist who has created two therapy models: Integral Eye Movement Therapy and Metaphors Of Movement ?
  2. Questions 2 & 3 start with ”…and”, in this case and is a joining phrase to make the sequence of questions more hypnotically compelling. ?
  3. In NLP this process is known as a ‘kinaesthetic transderivational search’ ?

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