NLP Anchors Explained

By Charles Steed

What Are NLP Anchors?

With reference to hypnosis and NLP, anchoring is a simple yet extremely powerful persuasion technique. But to limit its use exclusively to persuasion would be a mistake. Anchoring is a fundamental part of NLP that is the primary ingredient for many useful rapid-change procedures.

The roots of anchoring run throughout human history but were probably officially identified and explained with Pavlov’s experiments with dogs. During the 1890s scientist Ivan Pavlov was conducting gastric function experiments with dogs to gather information on digestion.

He discovered that dogs would produce saliva when in close proximity to meat, no surprise there. He then began to ring a bell as the dogs drooled. And finally he only needed to ring the bell to get the drooling response without offering the dogs any meat at all.

In Pavlov’s experiment the bell was the anchor that produced a predictable response, in this case, drooling. The same principle can be used for persuasion and many other desired outcomes for people seeking rapid behavioral changes. Obviously we don’t have time for days of conditioning with a subject, but we don’t really need a lot of time, only keen observation skills and understanding how anchoring works.

Build Rapport First Then Anchoring

Let’s say you’ve managed to establish rapport with someone, perhaps someone under your care in a hospital setting, though it could easily be almost anyone in any setting. You’re chatting away and notice the individual becomes particularly agreeable or open to direction when talking about a particular time, event or person in their life. It’s obvious that they just seem to give way to a resourceful state in another place in time. This is the perfect situation to set an anchor where you’ll be able to have access to that ‘cooperative’ internal resource in the future. Here’s how you might go about it.

When you notice a behavior you’d like to access in the future, you’ll want your subject to continue with it so you can set the anchor. In other words, you’re going to want to encourage the state with supportive conversation. While the individual is at the height of the desired state, you might tap them on the forearm or tug on your ear, or use a slightly unusual phrase with a different tonality than your usual voice.

What this does is creates an association from the anchor (the tap, unusual voice, etc.) to the desired state. And it’s important to make it somewhat unique so it’s not diluted by being something common or expected in the normal course of interaction. Then, in the future, when you’d like to access that agreeable or cooperative state of mind you simply need to employ the anchor you’ve set previously. If you’ve done a good job of anchoring that state, you’ll be amazed that your subject will revert almost immediately to the related state of mind or behavior.

I realize that tugging on your ear or tapping the individual’s forearm is not using verbal language to produce the desired result but with hypnosis and NLP, the term language is rather flexible. In fact, language is nothing more than a form of communication whether it be verbal or otherwise. Anchors allow NLP practitioners to access resourceful states in people and substitute or “install” those states in areas where an individual needs help.


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