What’s The Purpose of an Anchor?

What’s The Purpose of an Anchor?

What’s The Purpose of an Anchor?

In one of our recent trainings the following question arose:

What’s the purpose of an anchor?

And we’re talking here about the NLP jargon folks, in which the definition of an “anchor” an anchor is simply a connection or a link between a certain stimulus and a certain emotional response.

So, defined formally Anchoring is a neuro-linguistic programming term for the process by which a person recalls a memory in which they felt a certain emotion, while a particular stimulus (visual, auditory or kinesthetic) is simultaneously applied. In this way that emotion and the stimulus become linked. Therefore memory recall, state change or other otherwise automatic or reflex responses become associated with (anchored to) a specific stimulus. Moreover, once this link has taken place, you can then reproduce the emotional experience at will. This means that you can put yourself at will in a positive, happy, resourceful state regardless of how you feel. This knowledge gives you a way to take resources (emotional or otherwise) from one area of your life and apply them in a controlled way somewhere else to improve your overall well-being.

Now This Is Useful!

Of course all these remind us of the experiments done by the Russian physiologist Ivan Pavlov known primarily for his work in conditioned reflexes. His experiments with dogs are legendary. He would ring a tuning fork just before feeding dogs a piece of meat. He noticed that when showing them the meat they would automatically salivate. He did this several times until the dogs were conditioned (anchored) to the sound of the tuning fork. At some point he would ring the tuning fork and notice that the dogs would salivate even without showing them the meat. This was one of the first set of experiments done on conditioned reflexes if we leave out the American Edwin Burket Twitmyer, Professor of Psychology and Director of the Psychological Laboratory and Clinic at the University of Pennsylvania whose work did not get the recognition he deserved.

Now, anchors can be naturally occurring (something happens, for example a hug, or listening to a specific piece of music, or looking at a certain image while you’re in a certain emotional state, and that particular “something” becomes linked to that state). Also an anchor can be set up deliberately. An example of an anchor for a particular set of responses is what happens when you hear a particular song that puts you without any reason in a happy state.

Think of how many times you have been anchored unknowingly in your life. Let’s say someone gives you a certain look, and because of the “anchor” set up years ago you react the same way you used to react to your father. Or someone uses a certain tone of voice when talking to you and you perceive it as an “angry” voice and thus you react as when your 5th grade teacher scolded you in school.

A big yellow M, drawn in a certain way, on a red background is an example of a visual anchor. Depending on you it could either be an anchor for cheap, fake food-replacement meals giving you a bad feeling, or maybe a good-value and tasty burger giving you a good feeling. Nevertheless you respond to the big yellow M, drawn in a certain way, on a red background. It is an anchor. And what about the music associated with the words “I’m loving it!”? You immediately know what it is all about.

What about traffic lights? Red could be “Oh, no, I missed the light” mild annoyance state or could lead even to intense frustration.

Of course there is something you can do to change all these automatic “reflex” reactions. You can change all these negative anchors so you instead of responding automatically with negative emotions (like frustration, pessimism, or feeling “down”) you can respond positively for example feeling happy, optimistic, or even downright fabulous whenever you choose. So the issue here is choice. Yes, the NLP Anchoring process gives you choice over otherwise automatic – reflex reactions.

The process is relatively simple once you understand it – it contains certain subtleties and intricacies.

So when the question “What is the purpose of an anchor?” came about, another student answered: to elicit a state.

Technically this is not correct. You can re-elicit a state through an anchor but only if that state has been already anchored. Otherwise, the purpose of an anchor is to capture a certain emotional state and link it to a certain stimulus. The elicitation of a state happens through the usage of a certain question called the “State Elicitation Script”.

This is the State Elicitation Script

Do you remember a time when you were totally Xd? (X meaning motivated, or happy or ________insert your choice state here).

Do you remember a specific time? As you go back to that time now, step into your body and see what you saw, hear what you heard and feel the feeling of being totally Xd.

So, What’s The Purpose of an Anchor?

To link a state and a stimulus together in a way that allows you to replicate that positive state. In other words, to capture an emotional positive state in such a way that later on it can be used whenever it is needed. And all of us can use as many positive states as we can get!

Until next time, be well.

Adriana James

About the Author: Adriana James

NLP Master Trainer, Hypnosis Master Trainer and NLPCoaching Master Trainer. She is the author of the book Values And the Evolution of Consciousness - a book about how to take advantage of the massive changes which the world is going through and  Time Line Therapy® Made Easy - an introduction to Time Line Therapy® techniques easy to master by everyone. To read more about Adriana go here.



  1. NLP NEWSLETTER | ISSUE 239 - […] What is the Purpose of an Anchor – This week’s second article is by Dr. Adriana James and it…

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