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TOTE Model: Trigger Operate Test Exit [Strategy how people work]

TOTE Model: Trigger Operate Test Exit [Strategy how people work]

What is the TOTE model? The model stands for Trigger (Test) – Operate – Test – Exit. In this article, let’s take a look at how to spot this TOTE strategy in people and how to use it.

What is the TOTE analysis? It’s an attitude to life

Let’s start with the shortest possible, simplest explanation: the TOTE model means that you start by testing (trying) something. This can be, for example, a method, a technique, an action or a lesson. Then there is an action and you discover whether that has worked . You double check this with yourself and / or with others before you decide whether or not something works .

If what you’re doing doesn’t work, test something else.
“And if that doesn’t work?” “Then you make up another way.”
“And if that doesn’t work?” “Then you make up another way.”
“And if that doesn’t work?” “Then you make up another way.”
“And if that doesn’t work?” “So it will always work.”
– Lil ‘little (rapper) in an anecdote by Michael Pilarczyk

You don’t have to see this model as 4 precise steps, but as a general philosophy to tackle things. It is also a way of experiencing life: the inductive, discovering attitude .

Think of ANNA: Inquire Everything, Accept Nothing.

What exactly does TOTE stand for? We will discuss this in a later section.

What else is the TOTE analysis? It is also an analysis model!

The TOTE analysis answers the question: ‘How do you do it’? This consists of a set of internal and external experiences that consistently produce a particular outcome. In other words, it is a pattern .

You use this analysis, for example, to chart the excellent behavior, successes or worthless behavior of the other.

An NLP person asks: “How do you do that?” “How specific?” ‘How do you know that?’

You decompose it into behavior that any other human could reproduce. Take one specific context here! Pay close attention to the (changes in the) internal condition. Immediately copy everything yourself. This way, more questions may arise that you can think of.

“I always drive myself crazy!” ‘How do you know it’s time to drive yourself crazy (T) ? What do you do next to drive yourself crazy (O) ? How do you know you managed to drive yourself crazy (T) ? What is the end result (E) ? ‘

How do you elicit someone’s TOTE strategy?

Actually, the word ‘strategy’ is a paradoxical name for this NLP principle. With an NLP strategy, we are going to analyze every operational step very precisely,  while in our general language the word strategy stands for big thinking. Anyway, the word ‘strategy’ has been chosen. Now let’s see how to elicit a strategy …

Every NLP technique is also a strategy.

It is good to know that there are two ways to elicit the strategy.

tote model analysis

Method 1: ask

The first way is to simply ask. Use the questions below for each corresponding step in the TOTE model. During this process you ensure that you yourself are in a state of excellence, uptime and report. You also associate the other person in the experience all the time (congruent and intense) as you ask the questions, and you participate yourself. You speak in the present tense.

Use the questions below to arrive at the strategy. You are most efficient if you let the strategy consist of four to seven steps. Before asking the questions, allow the person to associate in the goal ability. When you’re done, go through the entire strategy together a number of times, because then more information will become apparent.

Associate. So don’t say, “How did you see yourself then …” But keep it in the present tense as if you were in the experience: “You’re looking at the menu. The waiter has just asked, Do you want salad? “

Below you will find steps to question an ability or behavior.

  1. Start by establishing the context in which the wealth takes place, as strategies are context dependent. Associate in it.
  2. Trigger / Input / Test , aka an anchor : how do you know it’s time to start? What are the criteria (for example: movement, sound, something you see or a value)? Why should you start at all? What do you pay attention to? What do you think, feel and do (exactly)? What is your goal, so what do you want to achieve with the strategy? What are you responding to? What is the stimulus that triggers the strategy? The signal?
    Did you see anything? Did you hear anything? Was it the touch of someone or something? ‘
  3. Operate: what actions do you take? What are you doing inside? Internal state: emotional. Internal representation: which representation systems, strategies and submodalities does he use? D (s) V (oelen) D (oen)?
    Do you have an image in mind? Or do you hear something? Or do you say something to yourself? Or do you have an emotion or feeling? And what do you do afterwards? ‘
  4. Test: how do you know that the goal has been achieved? How do you evaluate that? What is the evidence? What is most important to you at that moment? In other words: which values ​​(criteria) must be satisfied? How does he know whether that criterion (at the ‘trigger’ step) is met or not? Does the result meet the criteria? Is it good enough? What do you think, do and / or feel?
  5. Exit: is there a difference between the desired and current situation? How do you know you’re done? Then what are you gonna do? In other words, what are you paying attention to around you? What are your concerns? What was the end result? What convinces you that you succeeded or that you are good at something? What also happens inwardly? What do you think, do and feel?

Method 2: observe & calibrate

The second way is by observing: you pay attention to eye movements and physiology, predicates, tonality, breathing, etc. You can identify strategies in three ways by observing and  calibrating whether something changes, for example in terms of:

People are often unconsciously competent in a particular strategy

For the most part someone does a strategy unconsciously . ‘I hear my alarm clock (Trigger) and then I get up, take a shower and go to work (Operate). However, there are a lot of intermediate steps that the person does not mention because he / she is doing them unconsciously.

That is why observation is perhaps more important than questioning. Eye patterns, predicates and physiology provide an entry point for discovering steps in the strategy that someone is not aware of:

“So you reach with your hand for the off button on your alarm clock. And what do you do afterwards?” After asking this question, you don’t necessarily have to listen to the content of the answer. The other will reveal the next step of the strategy through physiology and eye patterns, for example by looking to the bottom left. That is the direction of the internal dialogue. So you may come to the conscious conclusion: “I remember what I have to do that day.”

As you question the strategy, take a few steps back regularly to make the other person aware of all the steps in between that are unconsciously taking place.

The tote-analysis reframes undesirable behavior as an expertise (and deconstructs it also)

request tote model for problems

Do you question the strategy of an unwanted behavior? By definition, this is a reframing of a problem: it is a fun, positive presupposition that someone can teach the problem , so that you reframe it as if the problem were a talent .

Learning implies that you can also unlearn it. Now it is also implied that you are an expert in your problem. If you can explain it to someone as if you were an expert at it, it implies that you have so much control over it that you can also deconstruct it.

Teach me again! How exactly do you do the problem? Teach me how to do your problem. Suppose I could exchange a day with you. Suppose I would need and want to activate {problem state of mind or behavior} at some point during the day. Can you teach me how I experience what you experience? What should I do? And what else? And what after?

You can deconstruct someone’s problem strategy even more fun by using humor, exaggerating submodalities and also giving indirect suggestions. It sounds a lot, but  by doing an NLP Practitioner Course , you learn to experiment with these techniques yourself. For example as follows:

  • Ask the client: can you teach me how to do the problem? What is happening and what do you see? Question the TOTE strategy and the submodalities .
  • Do the strategy wrong on purpose. For example: Coach: “So is it a mini-image on the back wall?” Client: “No, it is very close!” Coach: “Is it true that the feeling comes from my big toe?” Client: “No, from my throat!”
  • Now use a conversational postulate to let the client experience the wrong strategy as well: “Could it be a mini-image on the back wall and still work?” The client has to try to do that in order to answer the question.
  • Does it also work like {change submodality so it becomes a bad strategy}?
  • So it doesn’t work if {changed, bad submodality is active}?
  • Get the first step of the client’s strategy wrong: ‘So you already do the phobia when you’re in the hotel lobby? Oh, in the parking lot then? ‘ “No, only in the hotel room.”
  • Use a subliminal message: I don’t want to mess it up. I wouldn’t forget … NOW …
  • Suddenly divert the conversation on a funny topic that just happens to pop up in the client’s representation.
  • Does it also work as {change another submodality}?
  • So it doesn’t work if {all changed submodalities mentioned so far are active}?
  • Also have the client try the wrong strategy from the previous steps.
  • What if you forget the first step? Or as the first step {very crazy submodality change}?
  • Continue until the client has completely changed their state of mind, then suddenly ask, “What was the problem again?”
  • If necessary, top it off with Timeline Therapy, by doing the Root Cause intervention.
  • Replace new behavior for unwanted behavior.

Make the strategy as crazy and funny as you want! After the client has heard the crazy reframing, it is impossible for him or her to experience the problem in the old way: crazy connections automatically arise again and again.

A client may have a phobia of parking garages. The coach may say something such as: “I would like to learn how you are doing your problem. Teach me to experience it. The DOE (with the word “doing” for chassis is you created the problem) you ??? !!! ” Do this with curiosity. ‘Can you teach me cause I FORGET THINGS OFTEN, DEBBIE. It is normal to forget about feelings. I forgot to water the flowers this morning. I really wouldn’t FORGET that problem, DEBBIE (note the embedded commands ). So, I’m driving my car on my way to the parking garage, and I’m listening to Justin Bieber, is that right? Am I having fun and singing and thinking “young I like parking garages! Is he right?”

How do you write down the TOTE model?

tote model

You can use the following signs to work out the inner strategy:

  • VAKOG : Visual, Auditory (digital), Kinesthetic, Olfactoir and Gustatoir
  • ie : internal, external
  • cr : constructing, remembering
  • + – : positive, negative
  • / : a comparison between two steps in a strategy. This is useful to get out of a loop in which no evaluation can be made to go to an exit. For example, if you are a designer and you measure the result against your criteria after creating a folder (operate phase) to assess whether you are going for the exit, the following notation may be used: Ve / Ad.
  • ⬑: a ‘loop’. For example, when the result of the test is that you start over and try something else.

Example of a strategy for getting up in the morning:

Trigger : The alarm on my phone rings and says, “Wake up, wake up, wake up!” Ad

Operate : I open my eyes and I become aware of the room in which I wake up. Ve

Operate : I reach for it with my hand to turn it off. Ke

Trigger : I think about what I’m going to do today. I can see my to do list, it is always present in my mind. Ad & Vr

Operate : I feel energized when I look at that list. Ki +

Test & Exit : Did I actually get up? Does the result meet the criteria? The proof that I got up is that I got changed and was having breakfast.

How can you use someone’s TOTE strategy to sell something?

First ask for the buying strategy / decision strategy from when the customer once bought something else. Then use this strategy in your sales pitch. If the customer first compared the appearance of the model with other models, and then thought to himself whether he could afford it and finally heard a confirmation from his partner, then you can incorporate that decision strategy into your sales pitch. Bonus: this works extra well in combination with meta programs and values .

As soon as you know someone’s TOTE strategy for a certain context, you also have another part of someone’s  modeling profile  , which gives you new information on how best to communicate with this person. For example, you know how to deliver an intervention or in which order of representations you can best return information.

How can you change someone’s TOTE model or install it in another person?

You can install a new strategy – or an adjustment to the current strategy – in the following ways :

  • With chaining anchors.  Because the T in TOTE stands for Trigger, or an anchor. And you can change anchors. You can link a different mood to an existing trigger, or stimulus.
  • By practicing the strategy.
  • With a Swish .
  • Mentally perfect and rehearse the strategy with the Behavior Generator.
  • Shake things up with a Fast Phobia Technique.
  • With metaphors (implicit way).
  • Other implicit and explicit NLP techniques are also suitable for installing new strategies.

Strategies reflect almost all NLP principles: representation systems, eye movements, metapograms, criteria, predicates, submodalities, goal setting, anchors, contrast analysis for effective and ineffective strategies …

The History and Future of TOTE Analysis

The topic of “TOTE analysis” and “strategies” was first introduced in the book “Plans and the Structure of Behavior,” in 1960 by George Armitage Miller and Karl H. Pribram. Using the TOTE model, they sketched how people process information and create complex behavior. Bandler, Grinder and Dilts referred to this in the book Neuro-linguistic Programming, Volume I.

John Grinder stopped working with strategies (TOTE analysis) early on, because working with mood is the most effective for learning from an expert. He even states that the TOTE analysis does not work and is automatically taken over as soon as the mood is taken over. It does not work the other way around: if you adopt the strategy, the state of mind will not automatically be taken over.

This was the article about the TOTE model! Now you know everything about this attitude to life and analysis model.

About The Author


Hello! Thanks for reading these articles. My intention is to make happiness as simple and clear as posssible. By the way, excuse my English. I am not a native English speaker since I live in Amsterdam. Much appreciated if you use the comments to make suggestions on my grammar. See ya in another blogpost!


  1. Minjau

    What you’re saying is clear scientifically researched theory, and although I’m a woman, UNlp is completely different from all that emotional nonsense that some female coaches tell and sell, their emotional nonsense that you just have to want to think hard enough. and visualizing, and that it will then come, has already brought many a person to the brink of the abyss, because if something does not go as it should, there is something profoundly wrong in the person’s yourself, which is exactly what you do, you find the cause, of the wrong behavior / thinking, and program the right behavior in the person.
    Hence congratulations on your work, too bad that we live far away, I live in Belgium, otherwise I would come for a consultation a few times, as I would like to reverse a few obstructing habits, and I have not succeeded on my own to date , and I’m not talking about addictions or anything, no, just a lack of belief in one’s own abilities, discipline, and standing up for myself.
    Ps / i am 63.

    • Rubin Alaie

      Thank you for your comment 🙂