Anchoring in neuro-linguistic programming is a term used for the process by which you apply a gesture, touch or sound at the peak of a state, either in oneself or someone else. The said anchored state can then be recalled or re-activated by reapplying the gesture, touch or sound.

Anchoring is a neuro-linguistic programming term for the process by which memory recall, state change or other responses become associated with (anchored to) some stimulus, in such a way that perception of the stimulus (the anchor) leads by reflex to the anchored response occurring. The stimulus may be quite neutral or even out of conscious awareness, and the response may be either positive or negative. They are capable of being formed and reinforced by repeated stimuli, and thus are analogous to classical conditioning.

Basic anchoring involves in essence, the elicitation of a strong congruent experience of a desired state, whilst using some notable stimulus (touch, word, sight) at the time this is most fully realized. In many cases, repetition of the stimulus will re associate and restore the experience of the state.

There are refinements and sophistications in setting anchors this way, and subtleties involved in order to both set them with precision, and to avoid accidentally neutralizing them in the process of setting them up.
There are different definitions of anchoring; here are a few versions from different well known people in the field of NLP:

Tony Robbins: Anchoring – The process by which any representation (internal or external) gets connected to and triggers a subsequent string of representations and responses. Anchors can be naturally occurring or set up deliberately. An example of an anchor for a particular set of responses is what happens when you think of the way a special, much-loved person says your name.

Robert Dilts: Anchor: Stimuli that will consistently produce the same internal data in an individual. Anchors occur naturally. Bandler and Grinder discovered old modeling that you can deliberately set-up a stimulus with a gesture or a touch or a sound to hold a state stable. Where an external stimulus is paired with an internal state.

Michael Brooks: An anchor is a representation–either internal as with a picture or feeling, or external as with a touch or sound–that triggers (elicits) another such representation. It’s a sensory stimulus paired with either a response or a specific set of responses or states.

Leslie Cameron-Bandler: In the same way that certain external stimuli become associated with past experiences (thus recalling the past experience) you can deliberately associate a stimulus to a specific experience. Once this association has taken place, you can then trigger the experience at will. It works in the same way that language does.

Bandler & Grinder: Anchoring refers to the tendency for any one element of an experience to bring back the entire experience.

Sid Jacobson: …it [is] an NLP way of talking about classical (Pavlov’s) conditioning, but it made a lot more sense.

Steve Andreas: The way we naturally link things that happen at the same time. This knowledge gives us a way to take resources from one area of our lives and apply them in broader ways for our well-being.

Terry Elston: People represent their inner worlds to the outside via a series of built in anchors, Andrew Salter remarked that we just jump from one reaction to another. What that means is we code our meaning via the associations we have made with them. If a certain look someone gives you is the look your father used to give you when you did something wrong, unless you have cleaned that up, you are likely to respond in the same way as you did with dad!

The first documented mention of Anchoring was from a man called William Twitmire from his work on the knee jerk response (Bill Twitmire doesn’t get into the history books much, mostly because of a non-status name). The well named Ivan Pavlov is the one everyone remembers because of the dogs and bells (albeit he was using a tuning fork really).

Basic anchoring involves in essence, the elicitation of a strong congruent experience of a desired state, whilst using some notable stimulus (touch, word, sight) at the time this is most fully realized. In many cases, repetition of the stimulus will re associate and restore the experience of the state.
There are refinements and sophistications in setting anchors this way, and subtleties involved in order to both set them with precision, and to avoid accidentally neutralizing them in the process of setting them up.

The notion of using anchoring was refined by Bandler and Grinder and uses the powerful unconscious resources of others to get the responses you desire.

It is a natural process that usually occurs without our awareness, and may have positive impact, or be maladaptive. For example, a voice tonality that resembles the characteristics of one’s perception of an “angry voice” may not actually be as a result of anger, but will usually trigger an emotional response in the person perceiving the tonality to have the traits of anger.

However, consciously creating an anchor means a resourceful state can be recalled at will. For example, touching the knuckle of the left hand after the anchor has been established so that this action produces the resourceful state.

Types of anchors

Anchors (the “trigger“, or stimulus) can come in an infinitude of possible forms: verbal phrases, physical touches or sensations, certain sights and sounds, or internally, such as words one says to oneself, or memories and states one is in. An extreme view is that almost everything one perceives acts as an anchor, in the sense that perceiving it tends to trigger reflexively some thought or feeling or response.

Anchoring is a natural process that usually occurs without our awareness, and may have positive impact, or be maladaptive. For example, a voice tonality that resembles the characteristics of one’s perception of an “”angry voice”” may not actually be as a result of anger, but will usually trigger an emotional response in the person perceiving the tonality to have the traits of anger.

There are certain speculations as to what criteria must be met before an Anchor can be properly formed. Most agree that the trigger must be
Specific – otherwise the subject will not begin to sensitize to it
Intermittent – if it were constant then desensitization would eventually occur
Anchored to a unique, specific and prompt reaction – otherwise the anchor will fail to elicit and reinforced any one single response due to many different reactions being associated to the trigger.

It is also important that reinforcement of an anchor (in other words, repeated formation with the aim of reinforcement) should have a “break” between each repeat, since the neurological ‘lesson’ is quite capable of working either way, and only one way is desired. This is an example of where precision and structure may create a difference between success and failure.


If, when young, you participated in family activities that gave you great pleasure, the pleasure was associated with the activity itself, so when you think of the activity or are reminded of it you tend to re-experience some pleasurable feeling.
Flicking through an old family photo album stirs pleasant memories and some of the feelings associated with them. A child’s comforter in an unfamiliar situation.
An old love song re-awakens a romantic mood. The smell of freshly baked apple pies brings back memories of a happy carefree childhood.
Phobias in this sense can be studied as one example of very powerful anchor – see spider, feel terrified and nauseous. Revisiting an old school or a place with powerful memories.

An unusual use of anchoring was studied by Ellen Langer in her study of two groups of 75-80 year old men at Harvard University. For 5 days, both groups were isolated at a retreat, with one group was engaged in a series of tasks encouraging them to think about the past in general (to write an autobiography, to discuss the past etc), and the other group engaged in a series of tasks which anchored them back into a specific past time – they wrote an autobiography up to 1959, describing that time as “”now””, watched 1959 movies, had 1959 music playing on the “”radios””, and lived with only 1959 artifacts. Before and after the 5 days, both groups were studied on a number of criteria associated with aging. While the first group stayed constant or actually deteriorated on these criteria, the second group dramatically improved on physical health measures such as joint flexibility, vision, and muscle breadth, as well as on IQ tests. They were anchored back physically to being 50 years old, by the sights and sounds of 1959. (Langer, “”Mindfulness””, Addison Wesley 1989)

How does an anchor develop?

The anchor develops when both of the two of the events happen together on a regular basis for a certain number of times; for example if every time you eat while watching television you may find yourself getting Hungry on watching television.
An overly sensitive person is more likely to develop an anchor faster than anyone else, if two people experienced something while one of them were overly sensitive, the overly sensitive person may develop an anchor faster than the other person. For example if two people work as field engineers in a mining company, the overwhelming work experience may be anchored to the work place in the overly sensitive person’s mind and so he may find himself unable to continue work and he may even he quit, on the other hand the other person whom is not that sensitive to external conditions may find work tolerable. Anchors are not a bad thing, they can be used to your side to enforce positive behavior or to help you in quitting bad habits, for example you can create an anchor that generates bad feelings on starting to smoke, and that way you can help yourself to quit smoking just by using an anchor.

How to remove an anchor

If you have some bad anchors that you want to get rid of, its still possible, for example if you feel bad whenever you workout you can easily remove that anchor, removing an anchor can simply be done by repeating one of the events alone without the other event being prevented by time, your subconscious mind will separate both events and so the anchor will be removed.


NLP-style anchoring is a process that goes on around and within us all the time, whether we are aware of it or not. Most of the time we are not consciously aware of why we feel as we do – indeed we may not realize we have responded in some cases, which makes it a much more powerful force in our lives.

Anchoring is used in NLP to facilitate state management. In this sense an anchor is set up to be triggered by a consciously chosen stimulus, deliberately linked by practice to a known useful state, to provide reflexive access to that state at will. This may be used for exam nerves, overcoming fear, feelings such as happiness or determination, or to recollect how one will feel if a good resolution is kept. In Brief Treatment and Crisis Intervention Karin Jordan (2006) states that “”after the preliminary assessment has been completed, the therapist should help the client develop an anchor. The anchor concept is rooted in neuro linguistic programming (Bandler & Grinder, 1979) and can serve as a tool used by clients to get a break from the traumatic event. To help the client work through traumatic events, an observable/concrete resource should be used as an anchor.””

Anchoring is also used by skillful film makers to evoke suspense in the audience. Think of your own psychological changes that occurred when you heard the soundtracks amplified, pounding heartbeat rhythm in the moments leading up to each of the appearances of the huge killer shark in the movie Jaws. What anchor was established in you by the crescendo of the sound of the music meeting the shark? Did your heartbeat increase? Did your palms begin to sweat? Did you have to see the shark, or was the thumping music enough to start your slide to the edge of your seat? Likewise the finale of classical symphonies, or “”mood music”” such as romantic, climactic, or apprehensive in films. Leitmotivs recurring themes in music and literature also serve to re stimulate a previously established response.

For trauma victims, sudden noises or movement can serve as terrifying anchors capable of recollecting the traumatic experience. In this case, amongst other approaches, NLP might be used in a slightly different way – to desensitize the stimulus and perhaps instead also sensitize it to some more neutral or positive feeling.

How to use anchoring


The desired outcome for this section is for all participants to be able to anchor a specific state in a person, at any time in any modality.


Definition: An Anchor is an internal state that is triggered by an external stimulus. Any time a person is in an associated, intense state, if at the peak of that experience, a specific stimulus is applied, then the two will be linked neurologically

Anchoring can assist you in gaining access to past states and linking the past state to the present and the future.


The Four Steps to Anchoring:

  1. Have the person recall a past vivid experience.
  2. Provide a specific stimulus at the peak (see chart below)
  3. Change the person’s state
  4. Set off the anchor to test.

The Five Keys to Anchoring:

  1. Intensity of the Experience I
  2. Timing of the Anchor T
  3. Uniqueness of the Anchor U
  4. Replication of the Stimulus R
  5. Number of times N


State Elicitation Script

The best states to anchor are naturally occurring states. Next best are past, vivid, highly-associated states. Least preferable are constructed states.
Can you remember a time when you were totally ______X’d______?
Can you remember a specific time?
As you go back to that time now … go right back to that time, float down into your body and see what you saw, hear what you heard, and really feel the feelings of being totally _______X’d______.

States for stacking anchors

To stack anchors elicit several instances of states and anchor them in the same place. The state chosen for a particular stacked anchor can be the same or different. (In collapse anchors, the states stacked should be different and in chaining anchors the states used for each stacked anchor should be the same).

A time when you felt totally powerful.

A time when you felt totally loved.

A time when you really felt you could have whatever you wanted, a time
when you felt you couldn’t fail, when you could have it all.

A time when you felt really energetic, when you had a ton of energy.

A time when you fell down laughing.

A time when you felt totally confident.


Get into rapport with the client.

Tell the client what you are about to do: “”In just a moment I am going to do a process called Collapse Anchors (explain), and that will necessitate that I touch you. Is that O.K.?””

Decide on which Positive/Resource States are needed, and decide on the Negative State to be collapsed. Make it clear which states specifically are involved.

As you elicit the Positive States get into each one before you elicit it in the

Make sure that the client is in a fully associated, intense, congruent state for each of the states you anchor.

Anchor all the positive states in the same place, I.E. a knuckle or other easily identifiable place.

Anchor the negative state once.

Fire anchors at the same time until they peak, and the integration is complete.

(Watch the client; they will usually exhibit signs of asymmetry until the integration is complete.)

Release the negative anchor

Hold the positive anchor for 5 seconds and then release

Test: “”Now how do feel about that old state?””

Future Pace: “”Can you imagine a time in the future when you might be
in a similar situation, and what happens?””

In Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP) classical conditioning is usually referred to as anchoring. Think about the anchors in your life: alarm clocks, picture of your friends and loved ones; that look from your mother, etc. There are many examples of anchors we have in our lives, yet we still don’t use this powerful techniques in our favour. Imagine the following scene: Man comes home from work, in a very bad mood, and the woman, as a response rushes to hug him. If she does that often enough, he will get the same bad feelings just from hugging her. Although this might not be her intention, it just happens.

So, how exactly does anchoring work? So, someone goes has an intense experience (positive or negative), and at the peak of that experience a specific stimulus is applied. This forms a neurological link between the emotional state and the stimulus…an anchor is born. Now, every time the stimulus is applied, the emotional response will be triggered.

Anchors can come in all shapes and sizes. They can be visual, verbal, gustatory, olfactory, or kinaesthetically. Ever heard a song that took you back in time to some memory, or smelt something that reminded you of that time you….all these are anchors. And now that you know how anchoring works, let’s look at how to produce one consciously.

In NLP there are several criteria that determine the strength of an anchor. The first one is the intensity of the state the person is experiencing. The more powerful the state, the more likely the anchor is to work later on. Next is the timing of the anchor. It will only work if applied before and until the height of the emotions.

If applied afterwards, it won’t be as strong, but also might not work. The stimulus applied should also be a unique one, which is easily identifiably and reproducible. The final points are the replication of the stimulus (the anchor should be reinforced at times to keep it fresh) and also the number of times the anchoring has been done.

Sometimes once already is enough, sometimes you have to do it more often. In case this seems less than easy to remember, the mnemonic I TURN, coined by Tad James, will help (intensity, timing, uniqueness, reproducibility, and number of times).”