NLP and “Anchor Hunting”

Reading time 7 mins

So what made me feel bad just now???

Anchors are a big issue in the world of NLP.

They ought to be a big issue in the wider world because they help explain instant mood changes – how we suddenly and for no apparent reason find ourselves in bad moods.

Dealing with unpleasant or ‘negative’ anchors

NLP shows now negative anchors operate unconsciously i.e. no thinking is involved, which means that they can cause instant and often quite powerful mood swings.

It’s as if you’re out of control. One minute you feeling fine and happy – next moment you’re down in the dumps or feeling furiously angry.

Treat this article as a tool kit for getting to know how these ‘hot buttons’ work and for recognising how to deal with them. (By the way there are links at the end of this article to lots more information on NLP and Anchors)

The NLP Anchoring Phenomenon

When I worked as a counsellor people would ask me: “How is it that I eat well, exercise regularly, enjoy my job, love my partner, think positively – yet frequently find myself in negative moods such anger, panic, guilt, dread, depression, etc.?”

The NLP Anchoring Phenomenon and the way in which anchors work so quickly and ‘automatically’ help explain this. We call it a ‘phenomenon’ because it is a universal process in which we unknowingly create these negative hot buttons and, once created, they can trigger negative moods – forever. Or until we learn how to defuse them.

So, what is an anchor?

It’s an NLP term for what occurs when your mood changes in response to some trigger or stimulus.

Let’s say you’re watching TV. You see an advert for a snack food and you head for the refrigerator form some ‘comfort food’. That’s an example of anchoring.

The advert (stimulus) triggered a desire for food (response). This did not happen by accident. You have been educated by the snack food industry to respond in this way. They spend lots of money making us into couch potatoes by setting up anchors such as these to get us to feel a need for their products.

Automatic hot buttons

An anchor is a irresistible signal that it is time to get into a certain state. The anchor will automatically and instantly propel you into the emotion, without your being able to do anything about it! The two main pieces in anchoring are

  1. the trigger or stimulus or anchor
  2. the response – the automatic or unconscious mood change the occurs as a result of the trigger.

For example

Here are some common pleasant anchors:

  • The smell of freshly cooked home-made bread evokes instant childhood memories for some people
  • Hearing a tune they used to hear when they first fell in love – their ‘our tune’ – instantly brings back wonderful memories for many couples
  • Hearing your loved one using your name in a warm tonality normally evokes delightful feelings

And a few unpleasant anchors:

  • A stranger making a certain type of ‘insulting finger gesture’ in your direction can evoke anger or humiliation in many of us
  • Driving on the motorway (highway), nearly home, and on rounding a corner you see long lines of stationery traffic…
  • Envelopes in your morning that you recognise contain bills, especially those from the taxation authorities…
  • Waking up during the night and smelling burning or hearing strange sounds in the house
  • The emotionally bored and empty feeling that sends you rushing to the kitchen to binge eat
  • The little irritants and upsets that cause you to fumble for the packet of cigarettes
  • The interpretation you give to an unguarded comment which instantly dampens that light-hearted mood you were enjoying
  • The actions of other drivers that send you into the red-fug of road-rage

Anchors are learned programmes

NLP is an acronym for Neuro-Linguistic Programming.

The ‘programme’ part of the name refers to your mind-body programmes for doing things. And ‘anchors’ are an important type of programmes – they are your programmes for responding instantly, often powerfully, and usually unconsciously to triggers or stimuli.

Your anchored responses are not inherited; they are learned.

A phobia are a good example of an anchor. If you are phobic of something you know it’s ‘silly’, you know you shouldn’t have such a strong response – yet each time you encounter the stimulus you have the response.

But you had to learn to have this response.

Similarly the parent with the fiery temper has spent years (unconsciously) developing his or her automatic programme to explode with fury at their child’s behaviour.

The salesperson has spent time developing her or his programme to lose their nerve at the first sign of rejection in the prospect’s behaviour.

The nervous public speaker has learned to lose his or her nerve at the first sign of restlessness or disagreement in the audience.

Why anchors can make us feel out of control

Anchors work almost instantly and usually within 60 seconds. And they operate unconsciously, bypassing rational thought. Positive thinking and positive intentions has little impact on anchors unless it is continued over a long time.

Once an anchor has provoked a negative mood in you the best you can do is to, as quickly as possible, reduce the unpleasant state that gets triggered.

So what can you do, other than give up and remain a victim of the myriad of negative anchors that you already have?

Quite a lot, actually. If you are trained in NLP you can use the Swish pattern to neutralise the anchor stimulus.

Even without NLP training you can begin discovering the anchors to which you have a negative response. Just doing this significantly weakens their impact.

Start uncovering your un-useful anchors!

If you would like to feel more in charge of yourself and your moods begin by anchor-hunting – watching for the anchors that catapult you into unpleasant emotional states.

As long as these anchors are operating out of awareness you will not feel in charge of your own moods. Uncovering them will not, in itself, get rid of them. It does take you in that direction and, more importantly, it provides you with a clear understanding of how  you have been getting into those unwelcome moods by enabling you to recognise the triggers that provoke the unwelcome moods!

Do something about your keyboard…

Imagine walking about with a keyboard hanging around your neck and connected to your nervous system. Each button on the keyboard can put you into a different mood.

Some buttons trigger negative moods and others trigger wonderful moods. But the keys are not colour coded. What’s more the keyboard is turned away from you so that only OTHER people can press the buttons – and they do not know which buttons they are pressing – or which moods they are likely to evoke.

That’s a bit like it is until you begin to uncover your negative anchors! And if you have lots of negative anchors each day it’s like (mixing metaphors) a walk down a lane which has been planted with landmines.

You don’t know where they are until they explode in your face. And other people around you don’t know what you’ll be like from one moment to the next – it’s tension for all!

When you begin uncovering anchors it’s as if you turn the keyboard round so that you have more say in who presses which buttons.

Go Anchor-Hunting!

There are a number of ways of dealing with these un-useful anchors. We will look at one – seeking out your negative anchors so that you can recognise them.

Recognising an anchor will not instantly neutralise it but it will weaken its power. It will also make it less likely that you’ll unwittingly be at its mercy in future. And remaining very aware of your negative anchors will systematically weaken them.

Anchor hunting may not be the quickest way of neutralising negative anchors but it does not require effort or preparation or training – and you can begin today, just as soon as you’ve finished reading this!

Let’s begin…

Your starter question is: “How did I know it was time to do that?”

Each and every time you find yourself in a negative mood stop, momentarily shake off the mood, and then ask yourself that question.

You know that a while ago you were fine. But now you’re in an un-useful mood. How did your brain and neurology know that it was time to switch moods. There had to be a signal or trigger that it was time to change moods – otherwise you’d have stayed in the original mood.

Inner Triggers

The inner triggers can be physical (low blood sugar or hyperventilation are common triggers for panic, for instance), or visual (a sad image from the past or a jealousy-provoking image of the  person you love being with someone else), or auditory (the sound of someone’s voice or a negative self-mantra such as ‘you’re useless, they won’t like you, you couldn’t do that!’)

Outer Triggers

The look that someone gave you or the appearance of a room (sight), the pitch or tonality of a person’s voice or what they say (sound), or a change in temperature or someone touching you in a certain manner (physical).

Voice tones in particular are very effective anchors because we do not tend to notice them as much as we notice overt things such as gestures or expressions

Put your negative anchors to good use

When you go hunting for negative anchors you are in effect making each time that you experience an unpleasant state a wonderful opportunity to reduce your likelihood of entering into that state again (or, at very least, of unwittingly doing so) and you are taking charge of your life by deciding you have had enough of being at the mercy of these old, programmed, learned responses.

So, remember, next time you find yourself in a negative mood ask “How did I know it was time to do that?” Then back-track until you come to the moment when the mood changed and ‘bingo!’ another negative anchor is uncovered!

Find just one a day and you’ve uncovered and weakened 30 in a month. What’s more, you’ve reinforced your attitude that ‘I’m in charge of me- I’m not prepared to be a victim of my conditioning any longer!’

We may not have had much say in how we acquired our negative anchors but we can decide whether or not they continue to influence our moods.

More about negative anchors or hot buttons:

The Swish Technique is one of the best way of defusing a negative anchor

How negative anchors operate in families and close relationships

Why ‘positive thinking’ doesn’t work with negative anchors

NLP and anchors in the supermarket…

An NLP technique for regaining your sense of perspective

Negative anchors – they are not our fault

Other articles related to NLP Anchors

Negative anchors and self esteem

Poor weather can be a negative anchor for some people

Anchoring and brands – how marketing uses anchors

Insomnia: the part anchoring plays in staying awake instead of being asleep

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