• Hugo Menard

Learn how "Tapping" works

Tapping (aka: emotional freedom techniques) is very powerful for creating change and paving the way for sustainable high performance. But it can seem a bit odd. Therefore, knowing how it works and the science to support it can not only give you more confidence in using it, but also help you get better results because you'll understand the "why" behind each element. In this blog, you’ll first learn the core elements and some science that supports the effectiveness of Tapping, then we'll put it all together so that you can see the bigger picture.

The basic idea

The basic principle of Tapping is to focus on something that causes you distress and combine it with a self acceptance statement, while tapping on acupressure points on your body. This releases stress around the problem you're facing. And if done strategically, you can dramatically change your life. You are able to reclaim your power and focus, have more resilience, and move through challenges with more ease and confidence.

Whilst science continues to uncover new insights, and volumes are written about how the brain and body work, there are three main elements to Tapping (drawn from three different therapies) which can help frame the most crucial pieces to understanding how and why Tapping works. The brilliance of these three elements is that when they are used together, they become greater than the sum of their parts.

The first element is exposure therapy.

Exposure therapy does just that, it exposes you to something that's a challenge for you. It does so in a therapeutic manner, so that you can overcome it. For example, if you have a phobia of needles, a therapist might start by placing a needle far away from you and gradually bring it closer and closer. This allows you to develop courage and be more accustomed to the needle at a closer range in manageable steps.

In Tapping, you're able to use this same principle of exposure by mentally and emotionally focusing on a problem. You might think about an argument you had that's still affecting you, or a presentation you have to give in a week's time - which may cause a sense of anxiety at the mere thought of it . Whilst it is most common to simply focus on a problem, you can also put yourself in the real situation as in the needle phobia example above.

Note that there are ways of using the element of exposure therapy that are very gentle and don’t require you to relive something with all the gory details right off the bat.

When you focus on something distressing, there's a part of your limbic brain called the amygdala (don't worry, you don't have to remember the names of the different parts of the brain) that sounds the alarm, sending you into a "fight-or-flight" response of varying degrees. This was fantastic in helping our hunter gatherer ancestors get out of danger. However, in the modern world, we rarely encounter life or death situations such as a close encounter with a tiger. Yet this mechanism is still there, and so it occupies itself with imaginary threats: your bills, an annoying person, emails, projects etc. But your body doesn't know the difference between a real tiger, and a tiger in your mind.

When you're in fight-or-flight, you have more blood going to your limbs (so that you can run or fight) and less blood going to important parts of the brain for higher functions such as creativity, problem solving, logic, patience etc. Put simply: you become more reactive and stupid.

Additionally, when your limbic brain looks out for danger, it uses past experiences to gage what's safe and what's not. This means, if you were bullied at school by someone with black hair and brown eyes, you may feel uneasy around people with black hair and brown eyes (even if you're not conscious of why).

Initially exposure therapy can be a bit daunting. After all, we spend most of our lives trying to avoid negative situations and experience positive things. We're told to "not dwell on the past" to "move on" and "focus on what you can be grateful for".

But if you face the problems in your life (internally and externally), the things that are preventing you from working at your best, and overcome them, there can often be great power that comes from that. And when you see the ease of results you can get with Tapping (and other methods) by facing your demons, you start to want to go into the darkness, into the things that are scary, the things that are holding you back from performing at your best - because you know that that is where the gems lie.

The second element is cognitive therapy.

Like exposure therapy, cognitive therapy is an approach drawn from modern psychology. It focuses on how we see the world. The way we think affects the way we feel and this in turn affects how we act. To give a broad example of this, think about how you would feel and act if you thought "the world is a scary place and I have to always be on the lookout". Now think about how you would feel and act if you thought "I am safe in this world and I have plenty of friends who are here to help me.” It’s clear that these two perspectives will give you a vastly different life.

With Tapping, this is used in the last part of what's called "the set up statement" (you'll learn exactly what this is in a little bit). In brief, it's where we state the problem, but place it in a frame that is helpful. For example, you might say:

"even though thinking about standing in front of everyone tomorrow to give my presentation makes me feel fear, I deeply and completely accept myself".

This places the problem in a frame that is helpful. It allows us to see that we will have to give a presentation, we do feel fear, but we can still accept ourselves. Oddly enough, it's often once you accept yourself with the problem that the problem dissolves.

The third element is acupressure.

Acupressure is similar to acupuncture, but instead of inserting a needle, you lightly tap, rub or hold certain points on your body using your finger tips.

The principle behind the ancient system of acupuncture is that we all have energy flowing through our bodies. This energy flows along pathways called "meridians". When that energy is blocked, we develop physical or psychological problems. Inserting a needle or applying pressure on certain points along these pathways allows you to decongest that flow of energy. Thus your body can come back to a centred state. This principle is also seen in the bigger picture of Tapping, in that rather than trying to use more effort to make something happen and achieve a goal, we remove the blocks that are in the way.

Not only does acupuncture have a track record of 2,500 years, modern science is now also showing a growing list of symptoms for which it is effective and the mechanism behind it. For example, science shows that stimulating acupuncture points sends signals to the brain (especially areas of the brain that deal with the fear response). By tapping on these points we can essentially deactivate the ‘fight-or-flight’ response, releasing stress both psychological and physical.

This soothing signal counter conditions our response. If we think of something that always makes us feel fear, but then at the same time send our brain and body a signal of safety, we're able to change our conditioned response (often very rapidly).

This is different from doing yoga or meditation, because you're releasing stress specifically around what is bothering you. When done correctly, this is a permanent change. You may have had the experience of going to a yoga class and feeling wonderful afterwards, but the moment you think about a stressful situation, your whole body feels that stress. This is where Tapping specifically on that situation can be a game changer.

Rather than trying to think "I am relaxed" or trying to relax your body, Tapping allows you to go directly to the source, acknowledge the reality, and affect change. You're accessing your nervous system and your subconscious mind. This makes it particularly useful when combined with exposure therapy because rather than simply repeatedly experiencing a distressing situation, you do so while physically sending a soothing message to your body, to ultimately create a lasting change.

This highlights an important point about the power of mind-body connection methods. Because, you may intellectually know that someone at work didn't mean to make a particular mistake that now affects you, you may logically know that giving a public speech isn't threatening to your physical safety, and yet, that mental knowledge doesn't always translate to our physical bodies and emotions. We can still resent the person for the mistake or have our hands shake and our minds go blank when standing at the front of a room. So having a method that works with the body in this way is extremely powerful. To be able to directly access the reaction happening on a physical and emotional level tends to give you faster results than thought and reason alone.

How does it all come together?

The first thing to do in Tapping is to identify something distressing. It's best if this is a specific moment in time eg: "when John yelled at me and said 'you're pathetic'". Second, we rate the emotional intensity we feel on a 0-10 scale (0 being no intensity at all, 10 being maximum intensity). You can also see if you feel anything in your body when focusing on the problem eg: a tightness across your chest, a pit in your stomach etc.

Here you can see the element of exposure therapy. Because not only do you have to find something negative to Tap on, you also measure the level of intensity. You're fully acknowledging the problem and how it makes you feel rather than trying to ignore it or pretend that it doesn't affect you.

Side of hand point

In the third step you repeatedly tap an acupressure point on the fleshy part of the side of your hand below the little finger (see left) while repeating a simple phrase three times. This is known as the "set up statement". The phrase you repeat is generally:

“Even though_____________(insert problem), I deeply and completely accept myself”.

eg: “Even though I’m stressed by this project, I deeply and completely accept myself”.

(Note: If the last part of this statement feels off, you can try using “I accept I’m feeling this” or “I’m OK right now”).

Tapping on the side of your hand not only gives your brain and body a calming signal, it also creates a state where change is more likely to happen. Much like a battery, the human body has polarity. If you insert a battery in a torch the wrong way, it won't work. If the polarity in your body is going the wrong way, it's going to make change much harder (and sometimes impossible). This comes from the principle of energy flowing through your body. By tapping this point, you ensure the polarity of your body is the right way around. That's why this part is called "the set up statement", because it sets you up for the change to come.

After you have repeated the set up statement three times, you move on to tapping through the 8 acupressure points described below

Tap each point about 7 times each, using your finger tips while repeating a brief phrase that reminds you of the problem at each point. You can focus both on what is causing you the distress and on your personal reaction to it. For example "he yelled at me" is an example of the reminder phrase focused on the thing causing the distress. Conversely, "I'm feeling stressed" is an example of a reminder phrase which focuses on how you're reacting internally to the external situation.

It's useful to intermingle both the external stressor and the internal experience created by it as you tap through the points.

Here is how you can accurately find each tapping point. You can also refer to the image where the points are shown with black dots:

The 8 tapping points: Top of head, Eyebrow, Side of eye, Under eye, under nose, Chin, Collarbone, Under arm. For the points that are mirrored on both sides of the body you can tap either one or both. It is recommended that for the collarbone point, you use your whole hand to tap both points at the same time.

Top of the head: imagine drawing a line from the top of your ears directly up to the top of your head. Tap the spot where both lines would meet. (Using four fingers of one hand: index, middle, ring and little).

Eyebrow point: Where your nose meets your eyebrow, (using index and middle finger).

Side of the eye: Not the temple, but closer to your eye on the bone, (using index and middle finger).

Under the eye: On the bony part of the eye socket, under the pupil (using index and middle finger).

Under the nose: Between your top lip and your nose (using index and middle finger).

Chin point: Not on your chin, but in the crease between your lower lip and your chin (using index and middle finger).

Collarbone point: Roughly where the knot of a tie would be (there are actually two points here, I recommend you use your whole hand to tap both points at the same time).

Under the arm: About 4 inches below the armpit (using four fingers: index, middle, ring and little).

Once you have tapped through each point, take a pause, and recheck the level of intensity on the 0-10 scale. Has the intensity gone up? down? stayed the same? Does it still feel the same in your body? By asking yourself these questions you can see if what you're doing is working or not. You then adjust and repeat the process until the intensity is a 0 and you have freedom from the problem. (keep in mind that these are the basics of Tapping. More advanced understanding may be required to resolve the problem you're working on).

While Tapping can easily be used day to day to deal with life's challenges, set clear goals, and be more on top of things, it can be used for far more than that. You can radically change your perception of the world and affect change at a deep level. There is an ever growing body of research showing its effectiveness for things such as sports performance, depressions, anxiety, PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder), pain, many different aspects of health and more.

So remember those core elements: acknowledge the problem (rather than trying to ignore it or push past it), tap on the stress relieving points (rather than trying to toughen up or use more force), and frame it in a helpful way (rather than making things impossible to solve and out of your control).


The EFT manual by Dawson Church

Cover image by Hal Gatewood on Unsplash

Side of hand photo adapted from Andrik Langfield on Unsplash

Tapping points photo adapted from Albert Dera on Unsplash