How anchoring works in NLP

In neuro-linguistic programming (NLP), anchoring describes the process through which particular psychological reactions are programmed to occur in response to specific stimuli. Stimuli can be conscious or unconscious, and the response can be either negative or positive.

The stimulus could be a particular word, or a sight, sound or sensation, for instance. By providing the stimulus at a time when the desired state is most fully realised, an anchor can be established. The association is then cemented through further repetition.

By providing the stimulus when this state is at its peak, a neurological connection between the state and the stimulus is encouraged.

Some thinkers have suggested that all things we perceive function as anchors, because there is almost always some form of reflex-response to things we become aware of, whether that response is physical, emotional or intellectual.

As such, anchoring can be seen as natural process that can be harnessed in powerful ways when one wishes to elicit a particular state in certain circumstances. Anchors fall into two broad categories – negative and positive. Negative anchors include things like phobias, and positive anchors include instances where we find something instinctively funny.

Anchoring is all about the way in which memory works. We can all understand the idea that if there was an activity you enjoyed as a child, thinking about or participating in that activity as an adult will help recapture that sense of enjoyment. By the same token, leafing through old family photos can evoke the feelings associated with the events they depict, whilst familiar smells can vividly evoke memories and the emotions connected to them.

There are some basic rules with anchoring as an NLP approach – triggers must be specific, intermittent, and the programmed response must be distinct and immediate. It is also important that there are intervals between reinforcement of the anchor to ensure the conditioning works as intended.

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