what is anchoring?

Anchoring can help you feel younger!

Ellen Langer, in her study of two groups of 75-80-year-old men at                
Harvard University, discovered anchoring can make you feel and act younger.

Both groups were given a series of tasks to encourage them to think about the past. Group A was given tasks that encouraged them to write an autobiography of their Whole life, and Group B engaged in a series of tasks to anchor them to a time in the past when they were younger.

For example, Group B wrote an autobiography up to 1959, describing that time as, “Now.” They watched 1959 movies and listen to music playing on the radios, and lived with only 1959 artefacts. Both groups were studied on a number of criteria associated with ageing before the study.

The study found that the people in Group B who were anchored back to the year 1959 by sights and sounds experienced dramatic improvements in their physical health measures, compared to those who thought of the 50s as the past. (Langer 1989)


Anchoring refers to the practice of associating an internal response with some external or internal trigger so that it may be accessed more quickly and covertly.  For example: pairing physical touch with a feeling or behaviour you want to have at your disposal. This technique was first developed by Nobel Prize-winning psychologist Ivan Pavlov.

Anchoring can be used to increase the likelihood of behaving in a desired way, by associating the desired behaviour with something that feels comfortable and familiar.

Does Pavlov ring a bell?

Ivan Pavlov was a Russian physiologist who won a Nobel Prize in 1904 for his work on digestion. He did not receive the Nobel Prize for the famous research of conditioning (the Pavlov reaction), but for his work on food and digestion.

He wanted to measure the saliva production of dogs when different types of food were administered, but he found that the dogs were already producing saliva even before he had given them the food.

Pavlov would take a dog and put it in a cage. He would ring a bell, open the hatch and give the dog some food. However, after five or six times, he rang the bell, opened the hatch and gave the dog no food. What happened? The dog started to drool.

He concluded that the dog created a strong connection between ringing the bell and the expectation of food, resulting in the production of saliva. Even though the dog did not receive any food, it raised its expectations when hearing the bell.

This is called Classic Conditioning.

Ivan Pavlov classic conditioning is the foundation of anchoring within NLP
Ivan Pavlov

Ivan Pavlov was a physiologist who is most famous for his study on classical conditioning. Pavlov’s work has been found to be an effective tool in a variety of behavioural therapies, clinical environments, in the classrooms as well as for treating phobias.

So, what is NLP Anchoring?

Anchoring involves eliciting a strong congruent experience of the desired state. This can be done using some notable stimulus (touch, word, sight) such as making a fist. Repeating the stimulus (making a fist) will help to re-associate and restore the experience of the state.

You can think of an Anchor as a stimulus-response pattern. Examples include:

  • When you hear your name spoken in a certain tone of voice, it’s an anchor that tells you that there is trouble ahead.
  • Beans mean… 
  • Nice to see you, to see you…
  • What company has a big yellow M? 

 If you answered, “Heinz,” “…to see you nice,” (admittedly this is a UK thing) and “Macdonald’s,” these are examples of stimulus-response.

Anchoring refers to the tendency for any one element of an experience to bring back the entire experience. (Richard Bandler & John Grinder July 1981)

Anchoring is the way we naturally link things that happen at the same time. This knowledge gives us a way to take resources from one area of our lives and apply them in broader ways for our well-being. (Steve Andreas & Connirae Andreas, 2000) 

NLP Techniques: Basic Anchoring in 5 Simple Steps

Here are the 5 Steps in the Anchoring Process:

  1. How do you want to feel? For example, more confident, motivated, relaxed, VA VA Voom, happy etc. 
  2. Remember a time when you felt really confident. It can be any memory, no matter how old or recent it is, when you felt great about yourself. Let a good memory come to mind where you felt truly confident.
  3. Choose an anchor to anchor the feeling. For example, touching your knuckle or making a fist.
  4. Remember the confident memory you had and use it as a guide to activating your anchor. Relive the memory until you feel confident again, then use your anchor to keep that feeling going.
  5. Every time you feel more confident, touch your knuckle. If the feeling decreases, release your knuckle. If everything goes well and there’s no reason why you shouldn’t feel more confident, anchor set!
  6. Test the anchor. Touch your knuckle in the same way as before and see if you naturally access that confident state. If so, allow yourself to stay in that state.

NLP Anchors can come in many forms, including verbal phrases, physical touches or sensations, certain sights and sounds, or internally, such as words one says to oneself or memories and states that one is in. Some people believe that almost everything we perceive acts as an anchor for some thought or feeling.

NLP Anchoring can have a positive or negative effect on decisions depending on how strongly it is anchored and what is associated. People may react emotionally to a loud voice because they associate it with an angry voice. This is the first thing that comes to their minds, and the anger perceived by the listener is due to anger being anchored in the listener’s mind to a loud voice. All loud voices trigger a fear reaction because of this deep association.

There are certain criteria that are helpful to keep in mind before an anchor can be properly formed. 

1. It should be TIMED just as the state is reaching its peak.

2. It should be linked to a STATE that is cleanly and completely experienced.

3. The anchor should be UNIQUE and easily REPLICATED.

4. The person needs to be ASSOCIATED and the experience intense.

It is important that a trigger be repeated to reinforce the association between it and the desired response.

What emotions can be anchored? 

Any emotion or thought can be anchored. Here are some examples of positive emotions: 

Amused Amorous Aroused Abundant Amazed Awesome Adventurous Alright Autonomous Bemused Brilliant Bountiful Blooming Beguiled Clever Celebratory Careful Cosy Comfortable Carefree Calm Charged Cheerful Chipper Confused Congruent Creative Crafty Curious Delicious Delightful Deep Delectable Dreamy Elated Elegant Excellent Ecstatic Easy Energetic Energised Enigmatic Empowered Free Fine Fantastic Frivolous Funny Feminine Funky Grand Great Gregarious Glad Gigantic Good Giddy Giggly Gobsmacked Glutted Happy Horny Healthy Heady High Hopeful Immense Important Intense Infallible Joyous Jubilant Kind-hearted Kissable Kooky Knowledgeable Kingly Loving Light-hearted Limber Loose Luminous Magnificent Magnanimous Magical Masterful Marvellous Masculine Nice Needed Natural Normal Nurtured Nurturing Open Passionate Playful Peace of mind Pleasure Powerful Proud Primed Peaceful Prayerful Protected Quiet Quixotic Queenly Quenched Ready Right Restless Rested Silly Sexy Surprised Tasty Tempted Together Triumphant Titillated Ten times better Trusting Understood Unbelievable Unstoppable Velvety Vibrant VaVaVoom! Vivacious Well Wonderful Wacky Way-out Weird Wild Wicked Xtra good today Young Youthful Zen

How to Anchor State

As an NLP Practitioner, you help someone access feelings and emotions by guiding them into a full associated and lived state. 

Example of language you could use: 

“Take a moment to recall a time when you were calm and relaxed. As you go back to that time now, step into your body and experience what you experienced then.”

Even people who think they have not experienced the emotion or feeling can access the state in a different context:

“To get the feeling you want, you can imagine yourself having it or act as if you already have it?”


“Can you think of someone who has the state you wish to experience? Step in and become that person, feel what they feel, see what they see and hear what they hear”

Types of anchors

Anchors can be visual, auditory, or kinaesthetic.

  • Visual Anchors: flags, logos, shapes, colours
  • Auditory Anchors: sounds such as trains, motorbikes, music, tone of voice 
  • Kinaesthetic Anchors: warm, cool, happy, being touched.

NLP Anchoring Techniques 

Here are some examples of anchoring NLP techniques you can put into action. 

Before we dive into the techniques let’s remind ourselves of the meaning of a couple of bits of jargon:

  • Kinaesthetic: Feel, touch or emotion. In the contents of the NLP techniques, we mean touch.
  • Resource: Any thought or feeling that creates a positive outcome for the situation i.e. Feeling motivated at work, feeling charismatic on stage or feeling confident on a date.
  • State: A mix of someone’s mental and physical condition. I.e. having positive thoughts and feeling is the state of being Positive.
  • Break State When someone ‘breaks state’, they are suddenly interrupting their current state, and moving into a different one. For example: You have just anchored Confidence and wish to test the trigger. You would break the state of Confidence into a neutral state (feeling) and test the trigger. Does the feeling of confidence come back?

Stacking NLP anchors

In order to make anchors more powerful or to broaden their scope, it is possible to stack more than one experience on the same anchor. They may consist of different examples of the same resource, or experiences relating to different resources.

Stacking NLP anchors

To do this kinaesthetically:

1. Ensure that the experience to be anchored first is cleanly experienced, powerful, and is  
    accessed in an associated way.

2. Anchor the experience just before the peak with a specific touch.

3. Test the anchor by applying exactly the same stimulus and hold it until the person shows
     by their physiology that they have accessed the state.

4. The subject decides what other experiences he/she would like to have to reinforce the
    resource. Or what other resources it would be useful to have, and identifies examples of
    experiences that bring back those resources.

5. Anchor these additional experiences on exactly the same spot as the first one.

6. Break State

7. Test by firing the anchor.

Chaining Anchors

Chaining is a technique, which is used when the desired/resource state is significantly different from the present state.

1. Identify the undesirable present state.

2. Decide on the positive/resource end state.

3. Decide on intermediate states to lead to the end state.

4. Design the chain:

Present          Intermediate       Intermediate         Intermediate         End State

State 1          State 2                 State 3                  State 4                   State 5

5. Elicit and anchor each state separately, beginning with the present state through to the end state. Make sure that the subject is completely out of the previous state before anchoring the next one i.e. break state.

6. Fire the Present state anchor 1 and when it is at its peak, release and fire the Intermediate  
    anchor state 2.

7. Test. The subject should go into the Present state 1 and then into Intermediate state 2.

8. Fire the Present state anchor 1. Watch the subject go into the Present state 1and then into
    Intermediate state 2. When at peak, add Intermediate state 3.

9. Add each Intermediate anchor in the same way.

10. Fire the Present state anchor 1. The subject should go through all the Intermediate states
      and finish up in the End state 5.

11. Break state.

12. Test and future pace.

Circle of Excellence

1. Think of a situation in which you would like to behave/think differently.

2. Make an imaginary circle on the floor. This is the Circle of Excellence.

3. Think of the resources that you would like to have so that you can behave/think in the way
    that you want to in that situation.

4. Take each resource in turn.
     Remember an occasion in which you had that resource:

  • place yourself into that memory – associated – see, hear, feel, smell, taste
  • take the state into the Circle of Excellence
  • stay there for a few moments fully in the resourceful state, then step out.

5. Break state.

6. Test the anchor by stepping into the Circle of Excellence – notice what happens. Step out.

7. Future pace by stepping into the Circle of Excellence and noticing how you will be
   different in future, in the way that you behave/think, in the situation that you wanted to

8. Remember to pick up your Circle of Excellence and take it with you so that you can use it
    when you need it!

Circle of Excellence NLP technique

How to remove an anchor

If you have unhelpful anchors that you want to get rid of, you can do this. For example: Your boss reminds you of some else you dislike, when you see them, it triggers dislike.

It may be worth changing your response i.e. remove the negative anchor. 


This technique should not be used for resolving trauma, but be used to get rid of negative anchors. 

1. Decide which negative state is to be collapsed.

2. Decide which positive resource states are needed.

3. Get the person into the specific positive state by remembering an experience where they
    have had that positive state. Make sure the subject is in a fully associated, intense,
    congruent state. Anchor the state kinaesthetically on a specific part of the body. Stack a
    number of positive experiences in this way. It is important to make the positive anchor
    stronger than the negative one.

4. Test the anchor.

5. Anchor the negative state on a different part of the body.

6. Fire each anchor in turn, a little of the negative one, then the strong positive one to cause
    confusion.  Then both together to collapse the negative state into the positive one.

7. Release the negative anchor. Hold the positive anchor for a few seconds, and then release.

8. Fire the negative anchor – if the process is successful you will see either confusion or the
    positive state. If you still see mainly the negative state, you will need to add more positive
    anchors and repeat the process.

9. Future pace.

What is a Future Pace?

Future pacing is a form of anchoring. It is used to trigger a response in the future. For example, if you have just worked with someone about healthy eating, and they have told you that the ‘fridge calls out to them every night at 8 pm saying, “Come and get the cake,” you may wish to anchor the new behaviour of eating fruit at that moment. (The fact that the ‘fridge is talking to them is a different matter!) 

Here are the steps to a future pace: 

1. Determine future scenario i.e. the ‘fridge at 8 pm
2. Decide on the trigger – opening the ‘fridge 
3. Using your imagination, go out to the future time to be associated, and trigger the new behaviours. Notice the differences – taking out the fruit .
4. Come back to the present (now) and see yourself trigger the new behaviours. Notice the
    differences – see yourself eating the fruit.

We have just scratched the surface of what you can do with anchoring. We have explored what an anchor is, looked at NLP anchoring techniques, and what language to use to help someone when setting an anchor state. The key is practising NLP anchoring. 

We cover this topic in detail in our NLP Practitioner training. I would love to hear how you have used anchoring or if you have any questions? Please post them below.  


  • Richard Bandler and John Grinder, Trance-Formations, Real People Pr, Reprint edition July 1981
  • Steve Andreas & Connirae Andreas, steveandreas.com, 2000
  • E. Langer, Mindfulness, Boston: Addison Wesley, 1989.

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