Anchoring: The Easiest Self Improvement Tool 

 January 19, 2023

By  Kristin Rivas

What Is Anchoring?

The term 'anchoring' is used by Neuro-Linguistic Programming practitioners, and was originally developed by John Grinder and Richard Bandler. It refers to the internal process by which the brain forms a connection. These random associations happen constantly throughout a lifetime, and they can have powerful ramifications, positively or negatively. The NLP technique of anchoring is about making them happen on purpose for a specific intention.

In the cases of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, or phobias - where very strong negative thoughts, feelings, or behaviors are triggered — this kind of anchoring is unwanted. In a case where you feel warmth because of remembering an encouraging mantra or affirmation from a loved one, the anchored associations would be more desirable and beneficial.

Anchors can be subtle but powerful, especially when they are attached to a strong emotion. The stronger the emotion, the stronger the anchor. You can intentionally harness, to your own advantage, this natural ability of your mind to create associations.

Any desirable state you've experienced at any time in your life can be deliberately linked to a distinctive gesture, action, item of clothing, smell, and so on. The process of creating an anchor is very simple and easy to learn.

You can create new anchors by automatically associating any great feeling that you experience spontaneously with something else you choose, like a gesture or a phrase. The trick is to remember to anchor it despite being caught up in the present moment, rather than having to wait until the same
set of triggers recur by chance. You can create anchors using any of your senses.

✦ Kinesthetic anchors — work by using using feelings, touch, or movement.

✦ Visual anchors — work by seeing, imagining, or remembering specific images.

✦ Auditory anchors — work by imagining, remembering, or listening to sound, music, or words.

✦ Olfactory anchors — work by using your sense of smell.

✦ Gustatory anchors — work by using your sense of taste.


“The hippocampus is the part of the brain largely responsible for the formation of new memories and directly interacts with our sense of smell. The actual ability to smell is highly linked to memory. Research has shown that when areas of the brain connected to memory are damaged, the ability to identify smells is actually impaired. In order to identify a scent, you must remember when you have smelled it before and then connect it to visual information that occurred at the same time. According to some research, studying information in the presence of an odor actually increases the vividness and intensity of that remembered information when you smell that odor again.” - Herz R.S. & Engen T.1996. Odor memory: review and analysis. Psychonomic Bulletin and Review 3, 300-313.


The NLP Technique

The Neuo-Linguistic Programming technique of anchoring is about creating a neuro-association, or a conditioned response, between two separate elements where none existed before.

Anchoring, as a naturally occurring phenomenon, can happen randomly or without intention in human beings. An anchor can also be defined as an association between events. Here are some examples of naturally occurring anchors a person could experience which would be tied to a past event or events:

✦ Walking into a house and smelling something baking. The smell immediately brings a feeling of visiting grandmother's house as a small child. The associated feeling could be warm and nostalgic, or depressing depending on the situation.

✦ Sobbing your way through a family member's funeral, many people come by and put an arm around your shoulders as a show of sympathy. Years later, whenever someone puts an arm around your shoulders in a very similar way, you feel an inexplicable wave of sadness.

✦ You and your high-school sweetheart labeled a billboard hit 'our song' as you danced the night away. Many years later when you hear the song on an ‘oldies' station, you instantly remember their smell and what it felt like to be held by them as you danced to the song.

✦ You loved chocolate milkshakes as a child, but you haven't had one in years. You’ve had a bad day and decide to treat yourself by ordering one at a local cafe. The minute you take your first sip, you recall hanging out with your friends at the old snack bar, guzzling milkshakes in your school uniforms.

✦ You stand on a hillside, and watch the waves below pound against the beach as you smell the salty air. Suddenly you're back on another beach where you sat, decades earlier, on a similar hilltop and gazed at a similar combination of surf, grass, and clouds.

Anchoring and it's effect in decision-making

The Following Are A Few Examples:

✦ You could anchor a specific posture, way of breathing, and facial expression to a thought you can think or a move you make. You can anchor it at times when you are feeling energized in order to use it when you need to move more quickly, easily wake up or feel motivated again on demand.

✦ You could capture a peak performance state to make sure you bring your best game to a sport

or the workplace.

✦ You could set up an anchor to feel calm and use it during a stressful conversation or situation, like using aromatherapy and taking a deep breath while smelling a relaxing essential oil.

Tips To Remember When Anchoring

✦ The anchor (or anchors) should be fired in exactly the same way every time you link them to the resourceful experience.

✦ Always anchor at the point of whatever feels like the most intense part of the resourceful state.

✦ If you do not experience your desired state when future pacing (imagining a future scenario you’d like to use the anchor in), or if you experience anxiety, stop attempting to anchor. You don’t want to anchor a negative state instead! Ask for assistance with this exercise from a trusted friend or professional if you need help to elicit the feeling you want or capturing a feeling to the intensity you need.

✦ There is a knowingness which makes anchoring work that is established by the unconscious mind.

✦ You can strengthen your anchor by repeating the recommended process below over several days.

✦ If you are in a situation where you experience the desired state in reality, remember to re-establish the anchor so you can continue to reinforce its strength.

Installing Anchors

1. Decide on the state you want to anchor (e.g., being calm and relaxed).

2. Choose an anchor (or anchors) that you wish to use to trigger the resourceful state (e.g., taking a diaphragmatic breath while making a sigh, imagining a certain image, reciting a certain phrase, clapping, etc.). You may find it helpful to use several anchors for different senses simultaneously.

3. Recall a memory or imagine a situation where you can experience the state you’re going to anchor. Remember or imagine a time when you experienced the state before (e.g., floating along a lazy river and staring up at beautiful sky).

4. Begin using the anchor, or anchors, when your recalled experience is at its most vivid or intense peak. making sure you really feel the desired state.

5. Release the anchors when the experience begins to fade. If you keep applying the anchor when the experience is fading, it could have the opposite effect, or simply not be as effective and powerful (i.e., you could end up anchoring a drop in calmness and relaxation rather than a rise of it).

6. Do something else — open your eyes, and count down from 10 to break state and distract yourself.

7. Repeat the steps several times, each time making the memory more vivid. You can strengthen the anchor by establishing it at the high point of several such experiences. It’s okay if you need more references to work with in order to make the anchor as powerful as possible.

8. Now, without remembering the previous experience of the desired state, but rather in a neutral state, test the anchor to notice whether your desired state occurs to the degree you want. Repeat the previous steps if necessary.

9. Next, imagine a situation where you want to experience the desired state. As you’re imagining being in the situation where you could benefit from the anchor, fire off the anchor to check that it creates a sufficiently resourceful state.

10. Check the anchor the next day to ensure it is a permanent anchor. You may need to practice these steps over time to reinforce the power of the anchor so it becomes permanent.


“Some things don't last forever, but some things do. Like a good song, or a good book, or a good memory you can take out and unfold in your darkest times, pressing down on the corners and peering in close, hoping you still recognize the person you see there.” ― Sarah Dessen


Let me know what you think of this post by making a comment below. Contact me if you have any questions you'd like me to answer or if you're interested in my NLP and Hypnotherapy services. If you found this information to be helpful, go ahead and share it on social media or with a friend who could use it.

Kristin Rivas

Kristin Rivas is a certified Brain Health Coach, Hypnotherapist, and NLP practitioner who helps people to feel, think, and live better. Specializing in behavior change and goal achievement, she empowers clients to live to their full potential & foster their own wellness. A former TEDx presenter, she is also a highly sought after speaker.

Kristin Rivas

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