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Do you walk into an examination room wanting to feel confident? Do you wish you could step into a meeting room without sweaty palms? This desire can be actualised. Have you noticed your mood uplifting as soon as you hear a certain song? Is there a movie that makes you feel greatly motivated? Your answer to most of these questions would have probably been a strong yes. Unconscious links are always being established in us. That is why certain stimuli always produce certain responses. Now with this knowledge, do you think it is possible to create these links to make us feel the way we want to? Most certainly, and this forms the basis of the concept of anchoring in neuro-linguistic programming (NLP). Click here to read more about the origin of NLP.

What is Anchoring?

Before we dive into what anchoring is, let us understand what an anchor is. What comes to your mind when you think of a traditional anchor? What is the role it plays? For most of us, an anchor might be that heavy object that is suspended by a chain or rope, a common sight at docks by a ship. It’s function is likely to be that source of weight that helps the vessel remain unfazed by tides or waves. Now you might be wondering what link this tool has to our lives and more specifically to NLP. As humans, we too use metaphorical anchors on a daily basis, knowingly or unknowingly (Saxena, 2019).

In NLP, anchoring is the practice of incorporating a certain external event into an event which is occurring within us (internal event). For example, touching a certain part of your hand, such as your knuckles could bring about a state of relaxation. In this case, the relaxed state is anchored by touching your knuckle. NLP training defines anchoring as the process of associating an internal response with some external or internal trigger so that the response may be quickly, and sometimes covertly, re-accessed (Tools, 2019).

The History of Anchoring

Ivan Pavlov’s discovery of conditioning was one of the most influential findings in the field of psychology, despite being an accidental finding. It paved the way towards how learning occurs and set the stone for the behaviourist school of thought. You might be very familiar with this experiment, but if not here is the gist of it. Ivan Pavlov, a Russian physiologist was conducting experiments pertaining to the salivary production in dogs upon introducing various kinds of food. This was when it was noticed that the dogs began to salivate even before the food was introduced. To come to this conclusion, he conducted the experiment that is illustrated in the image below. Initially the dog was given food. Then the bell was sounded in the absence of the food. Then, these two stimuli were administered in conjunction. Eventually, it was observed that the dog started to drool by merely listening to the sound of the bell. This went on to show that the salivation was a learned response (Cherry, 2020). This capability of living beings to learn responses forms the basis of the concept of anchoring in NLP Practitioner Course.

Anchors in Our Daily Lives

Anchors are all around us. We use it all the time; knowingly or unknowingly. Let us consider a simple example. When we are at a shopping mall, more often than not we use an escalator. Right when the person standing ahead of us gets off the escalator, we prepare ourselves to do the same. In this context, the act of the person ahead of us getting off the escalator serves as the stimulus for our preparatory response.

Another example that most of us encounter on a daily basis is crossing at a traffic light. When the traffic light shows the red light we stand still. However , the moment it changes to green we automatically start to cross the street. These are just a peek into numerous instances where a certain stimuli produces a certain response (Tools, 2019).

The Technique of Anchoring: A Step-By-Step Breakdown

Anchoring can be performed quite simply by following a process that involves a few steps. The following are the list of steps one should follow in order to induce any state of desire. In this breakdown, let us assume that the state to be induced is a feeling of relaxation.

  1. Identifying - The first step is identifying the state you wish to induce, which in this case is that of relaxation.

  2. Invoking a memory - Think of a time when you felt extremely relaxed and let this memory fill up your mind. Focus on your breathing whilst immersing yourself in the state of relaxation.

  3. Deciding on an anchor - This is the step where you decide the type of grounding physical anchor you would like to use. This could be any natural touch such as touching your left index finger’s knuckle with your right hand or even folding both your left and right hands together.

Re-experiencing - Think of that memory you thought of in step 2. But this time, do not just think of it, experience it, live through it once more. Do not let the thought be limited to your mind. Immerse yourself so much in it so as to involve all your senses in the memory. Think of all the visuals in that memory, hear all the sounds in that memory, breathe in the smell associated with that memory, intensify the tactile sensations and any other sensations that help strengthen the originality of your memory. Do not rush the process and let yourself relive the memory slowly. Remain in this moment until you experience your desired state of relaxation, in this case. Whilst building on this state of relaxation, incorporate the anchor of your choice. If pressing your left index finger’s knuckle is the anchor of your choice, now is the time to do that. Repeat the pressing until you feel the relaxation building up. When you feel extremely relaxed, press the knuckle and release when this state of relaxation subsides. Repeat this numerous times and if done correctly, the process of anchoring would have reached completion by the end.

After this relaxation technique, you can carry on with whatever you have to do for the day. Later on, you can check if you are being able to induce this relaxed state by using the formed anchor. If you are able to feel the relaxation, you have successfully anchored in the state. If not, there is nothing to worry about. All you have to do is repeat the steps above (Saxena, 2019).

This article on 'Anchoring' has been contributed by Alita Maria Stephen, a psychology major student at the State University of New York at Buffalo. She is part of the Global Internship Research Program (GIRP), which is under the leadership and guidance of Anil Thomas. GIRP is an Umang Foundation Trust initiative to encourage young adults across our globe to showcase their research skills in psychology and to present it in creative content expression.

She has a passion for forensic psychology and criminal justice. She takes a keen interest in politics and international relations too. She is an avid reader who loves to travel. New knowledge is something she’s always on a constant lookout for. She is also a delegate at the 2021 Harvard National Model United Nations.

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