NLP Concepts

Anchoring – The Power of Association

By 24th December 2012 No Comments


What is an Anchor?


In the 1920’s an experiment was carried out by John .B. Watson and Rosalie Raynor called the little Albert experiment. The experiment involved taking an 11 month child (named Albert) and putting him through a series of emotional tests.


The experiment began by sitting Albert in a chair while one of them secretly snuck behind him and struck a suspended steel bar with a hammer. Right at the point that Albert started to cry (with shock from the loud noise) the other one flashed a white rabbit into his field of vision.


The experiment was then repeated at regular intervals until all the psychologists had to do was flash the white rat in front of Albert and he would instantly start to cry.


What they had succeeded in doing was to transfer the feelings of shock and fear associated with loud noises to the sight of a white rat.


Now aside from the fact this has to be one of the most unethical experiments I’ve heard of, it does demonstrate an important and useful phenomena…the power of association. 


Probably the most famous example of this ‘conditioning process’ is an experiment carried out by the Russian psychologist Ivan Pavlov.

Pavlov was interested in how these ‘conditioned responses’ were acquired and he made the breakthrough while carrying out different experiments on dogs. (The now famous ‘Pavlov’s dog’ experiment).

As we know dogs tend to salivate quite a bit when a plate of food is placed in front of them so every time Pavlov fed his dogs he would ring a bell in the background. He then repeated the process over and over again until all he had to do was ring the bell (without the food) and the dog would salivate.

Pavlov had created a link, an association a ‘conditioned emotional response’ in the dog. He had linked the sound of a bell with a feeling of hunger in the dog.

Many years later NLP drew from this research and developed the process now known as anchoring.


Anchoring is the process of associating an internal response with some kind of external trigger so that this response can be quickly re-accessed when needed.
Anchors come in many shapes and forms. For example, many people feel strong feelings of patriotism when they look at their national flag. The sight of can act as an anchor for those strong feelings.

Another common everyday anchor can be found with married couples. Most couples have what they describe as ‘Their own song’. When they hear it they’re catapulted back to when they first met and feel the feelings they felt back then.

For me every time I smell candy floss I’m instantly taken back to when I was 10 years old going to the fare.

Anchors are a tremendously powerful part of our life. Its how the brain makes connections and they really can literally make or break your day.
Whether you realise it or not you’ve been involved in the anchoring process all your life.


By learning NLP you start to become consciously aware of this process so that you can use it to more to your advantage.



Different Types of Anchors


Generally speaking there are five different types of anchors. You can find these five types with examples below:


Visual Anchors


A flag, traffic lights, friendly face, a smile, certain colours, symbols,


Auditory Anchors


Music, an alarm clock, scraping nails down a blackboard, the sound of your parents voice, an ambulance/police siren.


Feeling/touch Anchors


Slipping into a warm bath, a hug from someone, feeling of soft sheets, comfort of a chair, warm fresh clothes against your skin.


Smell & Taste Anchors


Candy Floss, the smell of a favourite food, perfume, aftershave, Mum’s home cooking, the taste of our favourite food, chocolate, sucking on a lemon.


Creating an Anchor


There are three main aspects when it comes to creating an anchor:


  • Intensity
  • Timing
  • Uniqueness

  1. Intensity: In order for the anchor to be effective you must produce a powerful emotional response in the person you are influencing. The more powerful the response the more likely the anchor will work later on.
  2. Timing – When a person experiences a strong emotion they do not experience it in a linear fashion. The intensity of the emotion tends to operate in a wave-like form. It is therefore important that the anchor is applied when the person is experiencing the emotion at its peak. If it is applied before or after the peak the anchor may still work but it will not be as powerful.
  3. Uniqueness – Once you have produced a significant emotional response in someone and the intensity is at its peak, it is time to create your anchor. In order to achieve this you must apply some form of external stimulus that is unique. This may be a gesture, a unique sound or touch. Whatever it is it must also be easily identifiable and reproducible. Examples of unique stimuli are as follows


  • Raising an eyebrow.
  • Biting your bottom lip.
  • Making a hand gesture.
  • Whistling.
  • Tapping a pen on the desk.
  • Saying a word in a unique tone of voice.
  • Touching someone on the shoulder.
  • Standing in a particular place on the floor.


So how do we use anchoring?


Well the simplest way is to link pleasurable feelings to you and your message.


If you have happen to notice a time when a person is feeling a particular emotion strongly, then you can anchor it and then use it to get them to feel that emotion at a future time.


This is particularly effective when you are motivating someone. Imagine you had a friend, work colleague or member of your team who, from time to time, is completely motivated, driven and excited with life.


However the rest of the time they feel sluggish, de-motivated and lethargic. If you catch them when they are at the peak of their motivated state and anchor the feeling, you can then fire the anchor off at a later date and make them feel motivated again.


There are lots of ways to use anchoring both day to day and in the therapeutic sense. Generally speaking though, if you just make an effort to experience positive emotions with people then those feelings will eventually, through time, becoming linked to you…to your face, your tone of voice and your general demeanour.


For more information on how to use anchoring check out our NLP Introductory Day or our Licensed NLP Practitioner Course.