To understand anchors in NLP you need only think about your own life for a moment. A smell can bring back memories long forgotten. A certain type of flower always makes you think about a certain person. For me, the smell of lipstick and scotch takes me back…
5 pm on a work day smells like lipstick and Scotch. Every night when my dad walked through the door after a long day at work, Mom had dinner cooking, fresh lipstick on her lips, and a freshly poured Scotch whiskey in a heavy crystal tumbler ready to go.
She would meet Dad at the top of the stairs, take his briefcase, hand him his Scotch, give him a quick “hello” kiss with her freshly lacquered lips, and then leave him to settle in with his newspaper.
The kids were under strict orders to leave him alone until dinner time (usually about 30 minutes later).
By the time I reached my teens, I thought this routine archaic and sexist. She did not care what I thought, and she felt no need to explain. She just said, “We made a deal when we got married.” Barring an emergency, she put on fresh lipstick at 5 pm every day of his working life. They have been married almost 60 years, and now that he is retired she may have relaxed a bit about that “lipstick at 5 pm” thing, but I am fairly certain that their evening routine still includes an amber glow in a heavy crystal tumbler.
Anchors In NLP Are Deliberate
Anchors Weigh, But They Don’t Have to be Heavy
According to Wikipedia, an anchor is a device used to prevent a craft from drifting. This is a pretty good metaphor for how anchors work in NLP. We use anchors to “set” an emotion or a combination of emotions so that they are easily, often unconsciously, accessible. Anchors are often at the root of an undesirable state, and in a therapeutic situation an anchor can be purposefully collapsed to help someone “let go”. We can also install anchors to help create a desired outcome.
That is the more direct and obvious use of NLP anchors. However, I invite you to view them through a wider lens. Anchors are a very natural and elemental part of the way the brain operates and they happen with or without our intention (or a “1-2-3” NLP process). Recognizing and using the brain’s natural tendency to associate external sensory input (i.e. the sight of someone’s face or the sound of their voice) with internal experience (i.e. feelings) can improve everything from how you feel when you wake up in the morning, to your relationships with loved ones, clients and colleagues.
Anchors Are People, Too
Anything can be an anchor. A smell, a taste, a sound, a location – a person. My mother was determined to be a positive anchor for my father. She made an effort to look good and make coming home feel good. What my teenage self did not understand was that Mom was making herself a positive anchor for my dad. Every day when he got home, he walked up the stairs and was flooded with good feelings at the very sight of her. She did not meet him at the door with worries about the bills or stories of how the washing machine overflowed an hour ago. She met him with lipstick, Scotch, and a kiss.
Over the years, I have worked with a lot of couples and individuals who wanted to improve their relationships. When I think back on the strategies my parents employed to sustain such a successful marriage, I realize that they were using NLP the whole time. Maybe they didn’t call it that – but by their routines they set powerful anchors for each other that have lasted to this day. So when a couple talks to me about how frustrated and tired they are at the end of a work day only to be met with a tirade of complaints from their spouse the moment they see them…I smile, and talk to them about anchors.
“Can you remember when just seeing your wife made you feel really, really good?”, I might ask the husband,
“Tell me about the first time your husband told you that he loved you”, to the wife.
“Now, what would it be like if you felt that feeling every time you saw her face? Every time you heard his voice?”, I would ask them both.
After eliciting the most positive feelings about each other that they can remember having, that last question would often produce a sigh and a wistful look, as if the mere idea was an unattainable dream.
“Don’t Bring Me Dow-ow-own…Bru-uce!”
The solution is simple, and very attainable. Our feelings are often caused by subconscious anchors and we frequently set anchors by our routines. Greet someone at the end of every day with fatigue on your face, frustration in your voice, and a “too busy to deal with you” attitude, and your very presence becomes a negative anchor for them. Greet them with a smile that remembers how it felt in the very beginning, a hug, and a feeling of relief and “coming home”…and pretty soon, those feelings are set in the brain, and seeing one another after a long day at work becomes the best present of the day!
No one is responsible for how another person feels. We DO, however, have the power to behave with intention, and interact with people fully aware that we could very well be an anchor for the other person. With that awareness comes the choice to do what we can to influence that person’s internal reality in a way that helps them feel good. Whether it is a client, the check out clerk at the grocery store, or our significant other, we can manage our own behavior to give them the best chance to feel good when they see us. If they make a different choice – well, there may indeed be nothing you can do about that…but I like to play with the possibility that I DO have ultimate power in the Universe, and using anchors effectively is just one of the magical elements in my Mary Poppin’s carpet bag of NLP tricks.
You can learn more about using NLP anchors in Keith’s free NLP Core Skills program. Look for another article coming soon that will give you 5 tips for using “soft” anchors to associate someone’s positive feelings with YOU.