Anchoring in NLP

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    Think of a time when you felt the happiest, the most at peace, or your most confident self. Now, imagine whenever you feel anxious, scared, or nervous, you can instantly use a chosen trigger to replicate feelings of happiness, peace, or confidence. That is exactly what anchoring in NLP can do. So, what is anchoring, and how can you use it to control your responses? Come find out! 

    What Is Anchoring In NLP?

    In NLP, anchoring is another name for classical conditioning. Anchoring is associating internal or external triggers with an internal response. Mastering this technique allows you to change your response quickly and even furtively (if required) when in contact with specific triggers.  

    Just like anchors keep ships from floating away, giving them stability to stay in one particular area in the sea, anchoring allows you to tap into a specific feeling or memory to control your responses.

    Anchors can occur naturally, like a smell reminding you of home or setup. In NLP, anchoring is used as a self-empowerment tool where you deliberately establish a connection between the desired state and a stimulus and use it when you feel nervous or anxious.  

    Types of Anchors

    Since anchoring is usually a natural reaction, it can positively or negatively impact your behavior. But, in NLP, you learn to use different types of anchors, in other words, stimuli or triggers, to recall a pleasant or desired state whenever you like.

    There are a multitude of anchors that you can associate with a euphoric feeling.

    Verbal Phrases

    Anchors can be verbal phrases; a particular sentence or word takes you back to the desired state. Vocal phrases are a type of auditory anchor, like a line from a song that takes you back to a time when you felt sad or happy. 

    You can condition yourself to feel confident whenever you hear a particular verbal phrase. For example, if you are in a professional setting where you have to frequently present in front of other people, you can anchor an expression like “you can do this!” to a feeling of sheer confidence. Say the words, and you can immediately get rid of stage fright. 

    Therapists and NLP practitioners often anchor the word “relax” to feeling calm and at peace. 

    Physical Sensations

    You can also use physical sensations as anchors to reach a positive state or control internal responses when required. For example, if you press your left thumb every time, you feel happy or at peace; repeating the physical sensation often when the feeling arises can set it as an anchor. Thus, you can press your left thumb to recall the peaceful and happy state whenever you are in a high-stress situation. 

    Other physical sensation anchors include warmth, touch from another person, holding an object in your hand, etc. 

    Another example of using physical sensations as anchors would be to put yourself in an enchanted calm state, immediately followed by holding an object. Later, you will feel relaxed and gain clarity whenever you hold the object.

    Sights and Sounds

    Sights and sounds also prove to be excellent anchors. You can associate a powerful state with visual or auditory cues. For example, a natural anchor can associate anger with someone speaking loudly, even if they are not angry. Or pictures of celebrities and religious symbols can also elicit internal responses. However, you can use NLP techniques to associate sounds and sights with positive feelings. 

    Let’s say you’re a salesperson; you can anchor feeling your most charismatic and confident self to the phone’s sound or the doorbell ringing. 

    Sights such as looking at old photos can be anchored to feeling happy as you were in the photograph.

    Internal Dialogue

    One of the most significant parts of NLP teachings is to understand how we communicate with ourselves. Our internal dialogue results from all our experiences and how we view the world. It shapes our thoughts and responses to situations and other people’s behavior. Thus, we can anchor positive internal dialogue to the desired feeling. This will allow you to associate happy thoughts with positive sentiments. 

    Moreover, if you have a nagging voice in your head that makes you feel anxious and nervous with, let’s say, changing behavior, you can collapse an anchor. This basically means replacing a negative anchor with a positive one.


    Memories are a powerful gateway into our minds. We can feel happy, sad, or even embarrassed when thinking about a particular memory. You can use happy memories as triggers to relive and recall how you felt at that moment at any given time. All you need to do is successfully access the happy memory and use it as an anchor to your desired state. 

    Sometimes even unpleasant memories can be used as anchors to kick bad habits. For example, you can associate bad memories with smoking to quit the habit.

    The Five Keys to Anchoring In NLP

    nlp anchoring

    We know that anchoring is a natural process, but one we can replicate to use it for our benefit. However, for an anchor to successfully establish, you must follow the 5 keys. Otherwise, the anchor will elicit a different response than you desire or none at all. 

    1. Intensity of Experience

    First and foremost, when consciously associating a visual, kinesthetic, olfactory, auditory, or gustatory anchor with an experience, choose an intense state. The anchor is only likely to work later if you or your client are experiencing something powerful.

    There must be a solid connection to your desired state or experience. The stronger the state, the easier it will be to call back on the experience using your assigned anchor. 

    This is essential in establishing an anchor, so choose the desired state carefully and ensure it is impactful.

    2. Timing of the Anchor

    The timing of when you set the anchor is also crucial. You need to look at verbal and physiological cues (shallow or rapid breathing, etc.) to assign the anchor to associate with the most euphoric and potent feeling of the experience rather than a fading one.

    It can be tricky to find the right time to apply an anchor but aim to introduce it just as the state peaks so have the most impact. This, again, is easier when you keep a close eye on physical cues to time the anchor just right.

    3. Uniqueness of Stimulus

    You want the trigger or stimulus to be unique. Choosing an anchor that may be replicated on accident can be detrimental. For example, you can associate a hand wave with feeling confident, but it won’t be a good anchor since you wave on various occasions, where you’d not need to tap into the desired state. 

    Similarly, everyday actions and phrases like standing up or a usual greeting will set off the trigger unwillingly. Thus, choose something simple but unique, an act or smell, for example, that you don’t normally encounter in your daily life.

    4. Replication of Stimulus

    While the uniqueness of the stimulus is important, you must keep in mind that it should also be easily replicable.

    Intricate acts can deviate from when you first set the anchor, like a change in the tone of voice or the wrong point of pressure, and thus, do not set off the trigger.

    So, ensure you decide on something simple that you can replicate time and again to trigger an internal response of your choice. For example, pinching your left pinky finger is a good stimulus since it is unique but easily duplicated.

    5. Number of Times

    Test out an anchor several times to make sure it works. This is especially true if the stimulus is not intense enough or if you’re trying to associate an anchor to a particular internal behavior. Furthermore, everyone is different; a more sensitive person may find anchors work much more quickly for them than someone who is not as sensitive. Thus, it is best to repeat the anchor often, breaking the state in between to ensure that it sticks to the outcome you want.

    How To Use Anchors For Your Benefit

    Anchors are potent tools when established and used properly. For example, you can use an anchor to reach a state of instant confidence on a tough work day, connect to a peaceful moment at a single touch to manage anxiety, or use an unpleasant experience to get rid of a bad habit.

    The ability to control your internal response to various triggers and decide on a stimulus to bring on chosen responses can help manage stress and make you more confident.

    Final Thoughts On Anchoring In NLP

    Anchoring is an excellent self-improvement technique to master, but it is crucial to understand that it can take some time before you can successfully use it. Thus, if you do not get the desired results early on, keep at it. The choice of your stimulus and state both matter when establishing an anchor. 

    Furthermore, there may be times when you need to learn other NLP techniques before you can attempt anchoring.

    NLP strategies like anchoring can help change your life. Find out how you can start your NLP certification journey here.

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    Sebastien Leblond

    Sebastien Leblond is the Founder of NLP Top Coach, a leading NLP Coaching and Leadership Development Company. He is among an exclusive group of American Board of NLP Certified NLP Master Trainers in the world. More than 40,000 individuals across 30+ countries have been trained and certified by Sebastien to become world-class coaches and trainers. Sebastien is originally from Québec, Canada, and now lives in Bangkok, Thailand with his wife and children.

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