What everybody should know about NLP anchoring

What is an Anchor?

Anchors can be created and fired deliberately, and they occur naturally. Either way, the conditions for setting an anchor are:

  • The subject experiences a state that is sufficiently intense to be discernible to them.
  • A unique stimulus occurs or is applied physically, visually, and/or audibly while the state is intensifying.
  • The unique stimulus stops before the intensity of the state peaks. (To create a blend of resource states, additional states can be anchored with the same stimulus).
  • When the stimulus is re-applied at a later time, the anchored state returns.

Anchors are broken using the same conditions.

  • The subject experiences a usefully resourceful state that is different from the unwanted anchored state. Additional resources can be anchored if necessary to enhance the resource state at this stage.
  • The anchor for the unwanted state is fired while the resourceful state is increasing in intensity.
  • The two states (resource state+unwanted anchored state) merge and become a new state which is different and resourceful.
  • The process can be repeated from the beginning to this stage if necessary to enhance the quality of resources.
  • When the stimulus is re-applied, the new state returns.

“Anchors can be created and fired deliberately and they occur naturally”

We can learn to set anchors with ourselves and others using any of the senses to create the stimulus. We can also invoke internal images, sounds, or sensations (representations) to create our own anchors, and elicit others’ representations, and anchor those. Creating and breaking anchors is a valuable skill when coaching. Many of the difficulties people experience in their lives come from their responses to unconsciously generated internal signals in their internal representations. These signals are anchored responses, often to something which is no longer relevant to the person’s life. When the signals are experienced consciously, the anchors can be traced and broken, thereby freeing the person to respond freshly in the present.

A teacher experienced a real-life example of breaking an anchor. She had a very large, strong 12-year-old boy in her class. He used to stand too close to her and loom over her and she felt threatened by him. A friend asked her to imagine the boy as something ridiculous, and her unconscious mind presented the image of a giant Donald Duck, complete with voice. The next time the boy approached her, the image of Donald Duck flashed on her internal screen, and she almost laughed out loud. The boy unconsciously detected the change in her demeanour and subsequently became her greatest fan and supporter.

Anchors are used in public life to influence individuals and groups to further the outcomes of business, political and other organisations. In TV advertising, jingles, ambience, colour schemes, branding, and the style of voiceover are all designed to create a mental link with the product and its apparent benefits. Salespeople have been eliciting buying states and using anchors for years to exert influence with prospective purchasers, and marketers routinely use visual and auditory anchors to elicit approving and acquisitive states in prospective buyers. There is plentiful evidence in the world that an effective marketing machine can produce copious quantities of revenue even when the product is derisory.

Given the amount of public exposure to influence through anchoring as well as the benefits of using it in change work, learning to detect anchors, set anchors, and break them is a valuable skill to have. Kinaesthetic (touch) anchoring is usually learned first, for practical reasons. It is easier to keep track of students’ accuracy, timing, and refinement when you can see their actions and their partners’ responses. They can feel their actions and see their partners’ responses. After they have become proficient with kinaesthetic anchors, it is a simple matter to move to setting auditory and visual anchors and to recognise when anchors are being used.

Imagine a child on her way to her first term at boarding school. She is scared, unhappy and definitely wants to be somewhere else. When the bus stops at the school, she can see a riot of wallflowers in bright sunlight outside the school buildings. The doors open and a rush of warm, fresh air, richly scented with wallflowers enters the bus. The child takes a deep breath and feels a moment of joy as she smells the flowers. Then she takes a mental step back and observes herself in the context of starting boarding school. She catches the wallflower moment and places it safely outside the context to keep it special (and not anchored to school). With a little alertness we can redirect anchors while they are forming, provided we catch them in the moment of creation.

Setting an Anchor – The Process

Outside of formal training, auditory and visual anchors are more practical to use. For a start, cultural norms have changed, and touching others has become a high-risk activity. You would also have to be within arms length and could only anchor one person at a time. If you are making a speech and you want to whip up a crowd to vote for your candidate, you can elicit and anchor states of enthusiasm and excitement with your gestures and voice tones while you use artfully vague language patterns. The chances are you will engage enough of your audience for the rest to be swept up in the influence of the crowd.

The conventional NLP classroom method of teaching anchoring is to start people setting and firing kinaesthetic (touch) anchors in pairs. One student anchors their partner and then they swap roles. The instructions are:

  1. Sit or stand where you can be comfortable and have a hand on an acceptable yet unusual part of your partner (in the classic code, they use knees, forearms, and shoulders).
  2. Place your hand lightly on the chosen site and leave it there.
  3. Elicit a state with your partner that they find pleasing and resourceful.
  4. When you see the state begin to intensify (change your partner’s physiology, skin tone, and/or breathing), add pressure with your hand (for subtlety, increase your pressure at the rate of increase of the state).
  5. Keep up the pressure as the state intensifies.
  6. Release the pressure, but not your hand, before the state peaks in intensity.
  7. Keep your hand lightly in the same place on your partner and shift their attention with a question or distraction.
  8. When your partner is distracted, test the anchor by applying the same quality of pressure with your hand as you did creating the anchor.
  9. If your partner enters the resource state with the same physiology as before, you have created an anchor.

If nothing happens, start again from the beginning.

  • Maybe you need to elicit a more distinctive state.
  • Did you keep your hand in exactly the same position all the way through? If not, attend to that. Accurate placement is easiest to manage by leaving your hand on your partner all through the exercise.
  • Did you increase pressure before the state started? This time, increase the pressure as you watch the state manifest.
  • Did you leave the pressure on for too long? If so, you anchored a declining state. Take the pressure off before the state peaks in intensity.
  • Did you choose a part of your partner’s body that they or others touch frequently? If so, there will be too much noise in the system to respond well to your anchor. The uniqueness of stimulus is important.

If you want to bring the anchor within your partner’s aegis so they can fire it themselves in the future,

  • Ask your partner to choose a unique gesture or touch for themselves, for example, an ear or the back of the other hand.
  • Ask your partner to apply pressure or squeeze the chosen area at the same time and rate as you apply pressure with your hand to fire the anchor.
  • Break state and distract.
  • You and your partner fire the anchor again, simultaneously.
  • Break state and distract.
  • Your partner fires the anchor by themselves to test it.

These exercises use kinaesthetic (touch) anchoring, but the principles apply across the senses. Most naturally occuring anchors happen when we see or hear a stimulus in our daily life. The song of the cuckoo is a cultural anchor for the promise of spring in England. The chimes of an ice cream van in the street brought children running to buy treats. Drivers stop at red traffic lights without thinking about it. What does the scent of roses or grass clippings mean to you?

Breaking an Anchor

A business client came for coaching. Her job was negotiating high-value business deals, and she had a reputation for creating reliably advantageous results for her employer. One day, she was introduced to a man with whom she felt intimidated. This was unusual for her, and she found herself unable to negotiate effectively, so she sought coaching before any damage was done. In the session, she discovered that unconsciously, the man’s presentation reminded her of her father’s behaviour, voice tones, and facial expressions. She was still carrying an old anchor to those expressions, which triggered an age-regressed, disempowered state. Unsurprisingly, this state made successful negotiating unlikely. After an intervention in which the client’s ample adult resources were deposited back into her childhood, the anchor was gone, and the woman’s normal capacity was back in play. She was free of the sense of intimidation she had experienced previously and was able to conduct the negotiation with her usual flair.

“Creating and breaking anchors is a valuable skill when coaching.”

To break an anchor:

  1. Prepare a resourceful state you would prefer to have in the context where the unwanted anchor fires.
  2. Anchor the resource state yourself, using a gesture, a sound, or a reliable internal or external image.
  3. Test your resource anchor.
  4. Imagine entering the context, or wait until you enter the real context.
  5. Fire and hold your resource anchor as you detect the first hint of the old anchor.
  6. Keep the resource anchor running until you feel settled with it (20 seconds to 2 minutes).


  1. When you feel the first hint of an anchored or habitual unresourceful state, step out of yourself into a clean, curious observer position outside yourself where you can feel comfortably disengaged from the action.
  2. Watch yourself and the other people in your context. This is often sufficient to break an anchor.
  3. When you step back into yourself, your state will be different.

The essential elements for creating, changing, and breaking an anchor are:

  • Uniqueness of stimulus.
  • Timing: the anchor is placed, held, and released within the period of increasing intensity of the state.
  • Quality of response: the state to be anchored is distinctive and detectable by the subject.

Formal anchoring as a skill in NLP was developed by John Grinder and Richard Bandler in 1970s.

(Note: If you would like to learn more about the New Code of NLP, you can get a copy of our latest Kindle book, ‘AEGIS: Patterns for extending your reach in life, work & leisure’ by Jules Collingwood, NLP Trainer. For only $4.99 here).

By Jules Collingwood, NLP Trainer at INSPIRITIVE Pty Ltd.

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