The Timeline: A Neurolinguistic Tool to Get to Know Yourself Better

Do you think you're completely free in the decisions you make and what you do? With the Timeline self-discovery tool, you can discover how the past conditions you and what you can do to get rid of its limitations.
The Timeline: A Neurolinguistic Tool to Get to Know Yourself Better
Elena Sanz

Written and verified by the psychologist Elena Sanz.

Last update: 21 December, 2022

You’re rarely aware of your subjective conception of time, but it’s always there. In fact, it’s essential for you to build and give coherence to your identity, life history, and to project your own future. Furthermore, discovering how you represent time at the mental level allows you to heal your past and reduce uncertainty about your future. The Timeline is a powerful tool to carry this out.

When you remember your first day of school, not only do you have the certainty that it actually happened; you also know that this event is no longer taking place in the present. In the same way, when you imagine yourself five years from now, you’re aware that this reality is yet to come.

Temporally organizing events and experiences allows you to have the idea that you possess a consistent identity.

The timeline

The timeline is a frequently used technique in the field of neurolinguistic programming. You might not have heard of this approach to personal development. However, its objective is to help you reprogram any beliefs and behaviors you may have that are dysfunctional.

In fact, the timeline is a resource for exploring what kinds of events, ideas, and limitations are preventing you from moving forward satisfactorily.

Your way of thinking, feeling, and acting didn’t appear from nowhere. Indeed, to a great extent, they’re the result of your past learning. Furthermore, what you experienced, and how you process it today, continues to influence your present attitudes and decisions and your conception of the future.

The timeline lets you access the information that continues to act on your unconscious and allows you to modify it if necessary. For example, it can help you decrease the intensity of pain associated with a negative memory.

Man thinking

What does your own timeline look like?

It’s important to emphasize that with this tool your timeline isn’t created, but rather it’s discovered. That’s because this temporal conception is already ingrained in you and you use it to organize your experiences. In fact, it’s rather like the whiteboards many offices have for arranging pending tasks in temporal order.

The timeline technique requires that you become more aware of your own timeline. As an example, before continuing reading, carry out the following steps:

  • Close your eyes and imagine yourself having breakfast. Observe the elements, the colors, perceive the sounds and smells… Soak up this image.
  • Now, think of yourself having breakfast five years ago. Where in space would you place that scene? In other words, on the physical plane, where’s that image placed with respect to you?
  • Keep going. Imagine having breakfast three years ago, six months ago, yesterday… and see where you perceive those scenes on your own timeline.
  • Now, do the same with the future. Think of yourself having breakfast tomorrow, in two months, in four years… What position do these images occupy on your timeline?

The main types of timelines

Although each person is different, for most people the above exercise usually yields two results. Consequently, we can describe two types of timelines:

  • Through time. In this case, the person perceives their timeline as an external observer. The present is in front, the past to the left, and the right represents the future.
  • In time. These people have the perception that their timeline runs through them. In this way, their own body reflects the present, while the past is arranged backward and the future is placed in front of them.
Woman with closed eyes outdoors

How to work with this tool?

The timeline is a self-discovery tool. Therefore, the results of the previous exercise will help you get to know yourself better and determine your unconscious tendencies.

For example, people who draw their line “through time” tend to be more thoughtful and better able to put their past and future into perspective. On the contrary, those who perceive it “in time” are more likely to live in the present. This means it can be difficult for them to distance themselves from events and be objective when judging them.

In addition, you can detect other problems by analyzing your timeline. For instance:

  • If the past is too close to you in spatial perspective and the future is too far away, you may have to work on certain events that were unprocessed and are still intrusive.
  • It’s not only the position of events on your timeline that gives you clues. There are other nuances. For example, if you perceive the past or the future as dark, opaque, gloomy and without brightness, you’ll need to work on these thoughts. Perhaps some previous events might be continuing to hurt you deeply or maybe your future looks bleak.
  • If you’re unable to project the future clearly, you can work by setting goals and modifying your ideas of uncertainty in a way that helps you move forward with enthusiasm and purpose.

In short, this is a simple, fast, and effective method to internally affect your past, present, and future. In this way, the changes are reflected in your attitude and in your reality. Furthermore, any anomaly in the spatial-temporal arrangement of the images can be a good starting point to work on.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • James, T. (2017). Time Line Therapy and the Basis of Personality. Crown House Publishing Ltd.
  • Bin Ahmad, K. Z. (2011). Alternatives to simply forgiving and forgetting: Comparing techniques in hypnosis, NLP and time line therapy™ in reducing the intensity of memories of stressful events. Stress and Health27(3), 241-250.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.