Anchoring is the process of associating a past state or response with a particular stimulus. The stimulus, or “anchor,” could be anything from a specific touch, sound or smell.  Remembering and re-experiencing a positive or resourceful past state and anchoring it to a unique stimulus can make it available on demand. This idea is similar to when you hear a song and it immediately brings you back to a past moment when it originally played. You can relive the full experience and feel the same intense emotions as previously just from hearing the song. The same rules apply for anchoring.

Anchoring is how we get into the right state for what we want to do. You connect a symbol with the desired state, or resource state. It’s called a resource state, because you are more resourceful when you are in that state. Of course, the state must be a good resource state for what you have in mind. If you have intense confidence and desire for opportunity as a resource state, it would be very good for a job interview, and maybe not so good for being a grief counselor.

You’d want to be in a somewhat different state for that. And you would benefit from yet another state to fully enjoy a Greek wedding.

Once you have your symbol, you fire the anchor in order to trigger the associated resource state. This will be clear once we have covered some examples. Perhaps the most commonly used anchor for personal use is a hand position, but you can get very creative will all aspects of anchoring. You can quickly induce a state when you have anchored that state in advance. Firing an anchor that you have established in connection with the state activates the anchor and, as a result, the anchored state. Anchoring is one of the most well-known NLP techniques, and it is used in many patterns.

How Does Anchoring Work?

Anchoring is related to something called behaviorism. Behaviorism tells us how to do behavior modification. This is the collection of methods used to train animals to do tricks; animals like dolphins in a water park that do back flips, and dogs in movies that put their paws up over their eyes. The amazing thing about behavior modification is that it does not require a conscious mind in order to work.

After all, it works on all sorts of animals. This means that it uses very powerful and primitive aspects of your nervous system in order to work. Yes, it works very well on human beings as well, because we have the same brain components as animals do, though we have more. That’s why were training them instead of the other way around. When an anchor is fired each time you are in a certain state, your body associates that state with the anchor. At first, the anchor is a neutral stimulus. It doesn’t do anything much. But once that anchor is associated with the state, you can trigger that state by firing the anchor. The trick, as you will see, is to get that anchor associated with the right state.

In behavior modification, this is called associative conditioning. Conditioning means that you create a response that happens every time there is a certain stimulus.

Associative conditioning means that the response comes to be associated with another stimulus, in this case, an anchor that you can use to your own benefit.

Behavior modification is at the heart of problems like procrastination. That’s why we combine communication with understanding the nervous system. With that, we can create solutions that run themselves. If you had to use your conscious mind in order to do every strategy that you use for excellence, you’d run out of brain power before you got very far. That’s why people don’t usually get very amazing changes out of a self-help book or TV show.

What people don’t realize, is that anchors are constantly influencing our behavior. Being in your workplace becomes an anchor for workplace behavior. Being downtown may trigger your desire to visit a favorite watering hole or ice cream parlor.

Parents help their children get to bed and fall asleep by having an “evening ritual” during which certain things like music happen at during the evening. Rituals, by the way, are anchors that help to trigger states. The soldier who pulls out the locket from his girlfriend back home and looks at her picture is firing an anchor. It gives him some feelings of security and warmth. The non-technical word here is solace. It gives solace.

So an object can be an anchor. There is the action or ritual of manipulating it, there is the visual impression, the kinesthetic aspect of how it feels, and perhaps the sound.

Can Anchors Be in Any Sense Mode?

Yes, visual, auditory, and kinesthetic anchors are all used in NLP. Kinesthetic anchors involving a physical position or point to touch are very common, because you don’t have to have anything with you in order to use it. Mental visual symbols or mental pictures are also convenient, as are inner verbal  statements. Anchors can be external or internal. External visual anchors can include a ring or bracelet. However, they may be diluted by the fact that you may look at them a lot without being in the desired state. So when  it comes to visual symbols, we recommend using an internal one. If you need to feel grounded, you might visualize a circle that appears to have been created by a Zen calligrapher.

The nature of the symbol makes it easy to establish and recall, and it is not one that you would think of at random; it has a special purpose. A person such as a great historical or religious figure might serve the purpose. You would put them in a special frame or something so that the image is specialized just for this purpose. You might come up with special objects or places that have sentimental or symbolic value. When using sound as an anchor, again we recommend internal use. You can imagine any sound that you would not normally hear. If you go digital, a special phrase can do the trick. Prior to doing something that arouses anxiety, you might say, “Piece of Cake!” meaning, it’s as easy as eating a piece of cake.

Kinesthetic anchors can be especially powerful. When you are going into a situation where you need to feel supported, you might imagine a hand on your shoulder, a hand that belongs to a historical or religious figure who is significant for compassionate leadership. You can lace your fingers opposite to the way you would normally do it, so that it feels different. You can make a pattern such as a circle with your fingers. You can touch a specific point that is not too awkward­ looking to reach. You can even create combinations such as having a phrase and a hand position at the same time.

Is Ice Cream an Anchor?

This brings up the difference between a direct physical effect of a substance, and the associative conditioning involved in an anchor. You might be doing both with ice cream.

Certain foods, including ice cream, trigger a reward center in the brain and create other physiological rewards directly. Chocolate contains a very pleasant stimulant, and the rise in blood sugar and the fat can be very satisfying. When a stimulus, like ice cream or a loud noise, cause an innate response, the behaviorists call this an unconditioned response. But an anchor is a conditioned response. If someone jumps when they hear a loud noise, the loud noise is not an anchor unless it is made into one. The automatic jumping when hearing a loud noise is an unconditioned (innate) response.

Let’s briefly talk about turning an unconditioned response into an anchor. Let’s say your mother gave you ice cream when you had a sore throat, or you had ice cream with birthday parties and friends. Associations like this mean that ice cream, as an anchor, can trigger feelings of being nurtured, of being loved, or of celebrating.

The main difference is that an anchor works because it is associated with a certain state, not because it chemically causes that state or because it triggers a natural response that is typical without creating an anchor, like an animal hearing an loud noise and startling. Such an unconditioned response can be useful for priming a desired state, but it is not an anchor.

It’s too bad more people don’t know about creating anchors. Instead of using food or drugs to create feelings of an improved mood, there are many alternatives, and anchoring is one of them. The less resources people have to manage their states, the more risk there is of food addiction or drug abuse. In psychology, self-soothing is considered an ability that many people lack. Anchors can help those who lack self-soothing abilities. But ice cream is not a desirable anchor; it is high in fat and sugar and hard to carry around. Consider independence when selecting anchors.

Anchoring  With Intention

Intention is an important aspect of anchoring. Intention can amplify the effect of anchoring. When rats are conditioned to associate a light with a loud, frightening noise, they learn to startle when the light goes on. But when they become used to the loud noise and no longer startle, they stop reacting to the light. To prevent such degradation (called extinction in behavioral psychology) of your anchors, give them significance. Use your intention to amplify the state. This keep the anchor fresh. To achieve this, don’t just do the anchor and passively let it work on its own. Instead,

use a state management skill to enhance the state. You can also think of the higher purpose that you are pursuing by firing the anchor. This reinforces the anchor and prevents   extinction.

Anchors can go as far as your inventiveness can.

NLP-trained people have come up with countless patterns that use anchoring. Many of them are simply variations that practitioners, sales people, motivational speakers, ministers, supervisors, politicians and other people have come up with on the fly, to use as needed. Many of them have actually been published. Speakers and other who must use state presence can actually use their position on stage or their gestures or other things as anchors to promote the needed state in the audience as a whole.

Not only are anchors being used in such a case, but emotions or states tend to be infectious in a group setting. If the speaker or presenter can just get that state going, it will kindle as part of the group process. You can even use positions on a stage to chain anchors. Imagine moving an audience from skepticism or apathy, to motivation and wanting more. Add to this your ability to model the desired state by triggering it in yourself, and you can have a profound effect on an audience. This method of positioning on stage has even been imported to the television environment. There is a famous political ad in which a frightening criminal was established on one part of the screen, with the politician on the other side. Then the ad placed the politician’s opponent in the same spot that the fearsome criminal had just occupied. This is the infamous Willie Horton ad used by George Bush Senior against Michael Dukakis in 1988.

In this case, they went beyond anchoring as NLP teaches it, and used human neurology in a cynical move to damage another person. This is a big reason why the public should understand NLP; everyone should know when they are being manipulated so they can take countermeasures and hold perpetrators accountable.

How long is an anchor effective?

Anchors can be effective for the rest of your life. The better formed they are, the longer they last. The better you maintain them, the longer they last. If you only use an anchor when you feel bad, it can lose its power to help you feel good. A good  way to maintain an anchor is to use it when you are in the state it is intended to trigger. You will learn how to do this during the next section where we teach you how to anchor.

Step #1. Select a state and decide which trigger to use.

Select a state that you want to have access to in the future. Select the anchor trigger you would like to use. As you’ll recall, this can be a hand position, a point on your body that you touch, or a word or phrase that you say mentally, among many others, or some other UNIQUE action that you can dedicate to this state. That means it must be specific, such as pulling on you little finger.

Step #2. Elicit the state.

For instructions on how to elicit the state, see the State Elicitation pattern. Make the state fairly strong.

Step #3. Calibrate.

If you are doing this for someone else, have them tell you when they are in the state, and observe their physical cues such as body language, so that you can better calibrate them.

Step #4. Anchor  the state.

Once the state is fully active and at its PEAK, anchor the state. Anchor it by doing the behavior that you selected in step one as your trigger. At this point, you are associating the trigger with the state, that is, anchoring the state to the trigger. In the future, activating this trigger will help you activate the state. Never use this trigger for anything other than this state from now on, and when you activate this state in the future, continue the practice of associating the trigger with the state in order to make this association even stronger.

Step #5. Test.

Think of situations in which you will want to trigger this state, and make a reminder to yourself in your calendar so that you ’11 remember to practice using it and reaping  it’s benefits.

Additional Advise

It is important to remember the basic principles. Be sure that your anchor is unique so that other states and situations don’t dilute it. Make sure that when you create an anchor, that the state is as intense as you can get it.

An intense state creates the strongest anchor. The more pure the state is, without other things going on, the better. The more precisely you focus that state, the better. You can use redundancy  in order to make triggering more powerful.

Do this by anchoring in multiple sense modalities.

You can fire them simultaneously or in close succession. If your first efforts do not work adequately, you may need to sharpen your observational or problem­ solving skills as you seek the reason.

Does the anchor have another meaning?

Did you adequately associate the anchor with the state?

Repetition may help. Although some NLP materials make it sound like magic, it is a behavioral method that utilizes our nervous systems to create an enduring change. In many people, this may require experience and creativity.

Since one way of creating an anchor involves touching your client in order to establish the anchor, remember to explain this and get your client’s permission first, so they aren’t surprised. And, of course, you will want to use spots that aren’t too intimate.