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Toward or Away

In this Meta Program, a person's attention is directed either toward what they want or away from what they don't want. It also applies to a person's ability to know what they want in the first place.

A person with a toward sort is primarily focused on the attainment of their goals. They tend to be good at managing priorities and are always clear about what it is they want out of life. Therefore in order to influence, motivate and build rapport with this person you will need to focus their mind on the process of goal achievement. Inform them about the importance of achieving specific goals and outcomes and how this will benefit them long-term.

A person with an away-from sort is primarily focused on problems and/or the things that must be avoided before moving forward. They are good at troubleshooting, solving problems and pinpointing possible obstacles. They may set goals, however, they have difficulty prioritizing their actions and are often distracted trying to fix crisis situations. Therefore in order to influence, motivate and build rapport with this person you will need to present them with a problem that needs to get fixed and then hold them accountable for solving this problem.

Problems related to the overuse, or context inappropriate use, of an "Away-From" Meta Program include:

  • If a person has an away-from goal, once the things they want to avoid have been avoided, there's no more goal.

Example: a person whose goal is to "not be poor." As soon as the person evaluates that they are not poor, they lose a significant portion of their motivation to make money -- until they no longer have enough, at which time they'll be motivated again. So away-from goals tend to produce inconsistent, on-off, see-sawing motivation.

  • The "Away From" Meta Program, were it conscious, might be stated as a loose theory of "process of elimination" wherein a person posits that if they keep eliminating what they don't want, eventually they'll find something they do want. The problem here is that they may not recognize what they do want when they finally encounter it because their mental processes are preoccupied with identifying what they don't want.

    Additionally, if a person assumes that there is more of what they don't want out there in the world, and less of what they do want, then away-from thinking is the least efficient mode of attentional selection since they would have to sort through the larger number of negatives in the hope of finding a positive. It would be more efficient to perceive and identify the positives -- selecting them directly.

  • In order for a person to keep moving away from what they don't want, they have to continuously notice the negatives they wish to move away from because if they didn't notice them, they couldn't avoid them. The downside of this process is that it directs a person's attention consistently to the negatives in their experience, filtering out the positives in the process, causing them to draw appropriately (given their perceptions) pessimistic conclusions.

    So, by looking for what they don't want, a person will keep finding what they don't want. If a person's goal were to make themselves unhappy, this would be a good way to do it.

  • The "Away From" Meta Program not only affects perception and thinking, it also affects memory and imagination. A person who is using this Meta Program may have difficulty remembering positive experiences and select, from all their past experiences, only those which are negative, thus constructing a life history which presents a very sad or unsatisfactory story, despite the fact that many good things did occur. Likewise, they may come to expect negative events to occur in the future (e.g., they may adopt the "Worst-Case Scenario Thinking" Meta Program ).

  • The Law of Attraction: "Energy flows where attention goes." According to this "law," if your attention is overly focused on negative things (as away-from thinking requires), you will actually attract more negative events and experiences to yourself.

The Brighter Side of "Away From"

Away-from thinking also has a great deal of value in certain contexts and for certain purposes.

Example - a professional whose job is "quality assurance." ("QA"). Most products benefit from a thorough and critical review which seeks to find, identify and fix problems before the product goes to market. People with strong skills in the use of the "Away From" Meta Program are ideally suited to such work, and often excel at it.

Another example would be military combat planning which necessarily includes considerable away-from thinking. In "Operation Iraqi Freedom", a combat pilot interviewed on television reported that his first priority during a combat mission was always, "Don't shoot our own guys," so as to avoid any "friendly fire" incidents.

Any task that requires keen critical thinking can also benefit from the appropriate use of away-from thinking. The NLP "Disney Planning Strategy" is the result of Robert Dilts' modeling how Walt Disney designed and conducted creative teams to rigorously separate the functions of dreaming/envisioning, planning/realism, and critic/approval. This powerful "envisioneering" process explicitly recognizes the positive and essential use of the "Away-From" Meta Program in the "critic/approval" stage of the process.


As an overall approach to living a happy, productive life, the adaptation of a default "Toward" Meta Program is highly attractive.

When clients who have been using away-from thinking as a default for many years switch to toward as their default and "try it on" for a number of weeks, they frequently describe it as if "a huge weight" has been lifted from their shoulders. The positive, life affirming effects of this level of change are profound.

For setting goals and direction, the "Toward" Meta Program is clearly the most appropriate choice. Toward thinking is, in fact, so important to setting effective goals, that one of the primary conditions for "well formed goals" in NLP is that they be stated in positive language. When a person is sorting for what they positively want, they are enabled the freedom to fully imagine it, design for it, set direction for it, follow through, achieve it, and experience its rewards.

The downside of overusing the "Toward" Meta Program, or using it in inappropriate contexts, is that it can lead a person to make decisions which are naive and potentially risky, not perceiving or recognizing pitfalls and obstacles which could prevent a goal from being reached.

An example would be the giddiness of 'blue sky' corporate board retreats where the participants get very creative about the company's future direction, products or organization without fully vetting the ideas with necessary away from critical thinking. In such cases the executives may return to the offices with directives which make little or no business sense and insist that employees execute them. If employees make rational objections to the new plans, they may be told somewhat ominously that they are not "thinking positive" enough.

The "Toward" Meta Program, as used in NLP, is distinguished from simplistic encouragement to "think positive" by several important factors: it is understood to be desirable only in appropriate contexts, a full ecology and contextualization is elicited before it is adopted, and when it is activated it operates automatically without the need of a person to attempt conscious imposition -- that is, the pattern itself changes, rather than merely one's judgment that a "more positive" outlook should be adopted.


Whatever a person's preference in terms of "Toward or Away-From" Meta Programs for any particular context, the NLP Presupposition that "Choice is better than no choice" applies, and this is true of other Meta Programs, as well. The ability to choose and run a given Meta Program intentionally as most appropriate to the circumstances is a powerful addition to anyone's personal skill set.

In cases where the Meta Program is the only pattern at issue, it can literally make the difference between a happy or miserable experience of life.

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