Martin Messier

April 5, 2023

A Bit More On Anchoring In NLP

When you start learning NLP, one of the terms that will soon come up is anchoring.


New word!

What could this possibly mean?

John Grinder and Carmen Bostic St Clair, in their book “Whispering In The Wind”, state the following:

Grinder and Bandler were alert enough to appreciate that the choice of terms in this new universe of discourse for the meta discipline NLP had to meet certain criteria. First of all, these terms had to be relatively transparent to the user.1 Secondly, if they were to use terms already associated with some of the phenomena in psychology and more specifically, in clinical psychology, they would drag along with them unwanted and undesirable associations.

For example, we would be hard pressed to argue convincingly for the term anchoring in lieu of the term conditioning except for precisely the unwanted and undesirable theoretical baggage the term conditioning has attached to it. [[the bolding of terms is mine]]

Grinder and Bandler’s solution was the creation of a vocabulary (in some cases) wholly unassociated with previous work to allow a fresh perspective on the patterning being coded. History will determine whether this was an effective solution to the issue they confronted.

What Grinder and Bostic St Clair reveal here is that, essentially, anchoring = classic conditioning, at least in the co-founders’ minds when they set the term.

I’m sure you’ve heard of Pavlov’s famous experiment with dogs.

Anchoring works quite the same way. Perhaps a bit more sophisticated, since human beings are more sophisticated than dogs.

In a nutshell, we use anchoring in NLP to elicit desired responses from people. When I say “desired”, it can be either by the subject or by the practitioner, depending on the type of relationship developed.

OK, so what exactly is anchoring?

Anchoring, generally speaking, consists in associating an external stimulus to an internal response.

Wow, jargon. Let’s go with concrete examples…

Example 1: associating a touch on the shoulder with the person’s feeling of happiness

Example 2: associating a certain look on your face to the person’s state of laughter

Example 3: associating a certain song with a moment in a person’s life

Starting to figure it out?

External stimulus —> Internal response (which can be a feeling, a thought, a belief, and so forth)

An anchor is like a button you can push to summon back specific states. It’s kind of like an icon on the desktop of your computer. All you have to do is double-click on it to bring forth the program with which it is associated.

Same goes with a link on a webpage. Click on it and you’ll bring forth the webpage to which it links.

How does anchoring work exactly?

Anchoring happens naturally and constantly in our lives.

Stop for a second and think of a song you’ve heard a lot in your life.

If you have it, stop reading for a second, go listen to it and then come back.

What happened?

Your mind started drifting back to the times when that song was playing, didn’t it? Could you remember one of the first times you heard that song?

That’s a great example of anchoring. We do all the time. As one of my trainers said, “You cannot not anchor.”

Any external stimulus can summon back memories and associations. Songs, specific smells (like freshly baked bread or pies), temperature, textures, among others, are common examples of anchors that operate in your life.

Hmmmmm, anchoring and calibrating are really close…

Yes they are.

If you’ve read any of my previous posts on calibration, or have previous experience with NLP, you know that calibrating consists in observing the association between an external cue in someone’s behavior and an internal process.

Close, isn’t it?

Calibration enables you to take note of already established internal anchors within someone.

It also enables you to get the timing right in effectively setting an anchor.

Before you can master anchoring, you’ll need to have mastered calibration.

Some practice drills

OK, let’s try some exercises, shall we?

  1. When you hang out with a friend, pay close attention to the shifting of their states. Pick one empowering state, such as laughter. When you see them laughing out loud, open your eyes, mouth and face wide open while looking at them in a playful way. Do this naturally, without really forcing it or trying to call their attention to it, otherwise you might interrupt their pattern. The next time (s)he laughs, do it again. Then a third time. Afterwards, do a quick test… Open your eyes, mouth and face widely and observe if you can get the laughter response.
  2. Watch George Carlin clips on YouTube. Carlin, and many other stand-up comics for that matter of fact, use anchoring to elicit laughter from their audience. Watch a few, identify the anchors he uses and post the link and the video time when he uses an anchor in the comment section of this post.
  3. Create an anchor for yourself for laughter. Figure out a way to make yourself laugh on command. Then tell us how you do it so we can make you laugh as well!

In closing…

Anchoring is an essential part of your toolkit. It takes playing around to figure out how it works.

I fidgeted a lot with anchoring at the beginning. Didn’t really get it. I tried to copy other people’s style of anchoring without success. It took me some time to understand that each of us anchors others naturally and in our own way.

Take all the time you need to figure out yours.

You’ll be glad you did.

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