What is a Negative Anchor in NLP?

In NLP we talk a lot about anchors - positive anchors and negative anchors. And we give them a lot of attention because they have such a powerful and immediate affect on one's mood.

What is an anchor in NLP?

An anchor in NLP is the relationship between a trigger and a change in mood - it's a type of a stimulus response pattern.

Positive anchors evoke pleasant feelings such as, for example:

Chocolate: If you are passionate about chocolate the sight or even the thought of chocolate will cause your mood to change i.e. you begin wanting chocolate.

Favourite song: when you hear this your mood or, in NLP terms, your state changes. Couples often have an 'our sing' which when they hear it evokes feelings of closeness.

A baby's smile: for many people the sudden beaming smile that you get from a baby is an anchor for warm feelings.

NLP anchors can also be 'negative'

These are examples of 'positive' anchors which are so described because, of course, they evoke positive and pleasant feelings.  Negative anchors have the opposite effect but work in the same way:

Patronising attitude: being spoken to in a patronising manner is a red-light trigger for many people and evokes inner fury.

Spiders: For many people the sight of even a tiny spider evokes a powerful fear which they know is irrational.

The wet-fish handshake:  Reaching out to shake hands and getting that limp, lifeless, and clammy hand...

Being tail-gated whilst driving: having someone drive too close behind you can can evoke fear in some people - anger in others.

Whether the anchor is positive or negative a key feature of anchors is that they work instantly and do not involve rational thought. We see or hear or think about something and then go onto automatic mode - instant mood change whether we want it or not!

Because anchors are so critically important to happiness, peace of mind and personal effectiveness we give them special attention them in all of our in-depth NLP courses and provide a range practical methods of dealing them. These practical techniques are graded according to the severity of the anchor.

(By the way there are links to more information on NLP and Anchors at the end of this article).

3 things about negative anchors 

There are three things to be aware of with negative anchors

(1) They are instant

They are like 'hot buttons' and once the button is pressed our mood takes a dive no matter how much positive thinking we do

(2) They are automatic or 'unconscious'

The work very quickly and often our mood takes a dive before we realise what is happening

(3) They are immune to 'positive thinking'

Because the operate so quickly positive thoughts do not protect us against negative anchors - we need techniques to defuse them before they occur.

How is a negative anchor different from a negative thought?

They can be the same – some thoughts are anchors. However the difference is in the speed. An ordinary everyday negative thought can result in a negative mood if we dwell on it for long enough. But with a ‘proper’ negative anchor there is no delay – the mood change is immediate!

For example, let's say you're at home resting after a day at work and you begin thinking about how your work colleague Jack spoke to you in a disrespectful manner that morning. Continue dwelling on this and re-running the incident and talking to yourself about it - and, yes, your mood will crash dive. But it’s not a ‘real’ negative anchor because you’ve had to work at getting yourself into the bad mood!

However, let's say things occurred differently and the moment Jack spoke to you in this manner you felt upset or angry. Here there was no need to dwell upon it and think about it - your mood changed instantly. This is the kind of negative anchor that can change your day and make you feel like the world is out to get you!

The negative anchor minefield

If you have lots of these negative anchors your day can be a bit like a minefield.  You set out for work in the morning feeling fine but it only takes a "funny look" from a friend or stranger for your mood to change.

And then...

Your bus or train is delayed

Someone jostles you as you go through the doorway and doesn't apologise

A friend is moody and shows no real interest in what you have to say

A colleague using the ‘wrong’ tonality or facial expression

The person you phone is rude and cuts the conversation short by ending the call

(And if you drive a car you'll probably a whole set of additional hot buttons such as other people's driving habits, traffic conditions, red traffic lights, traffic wardens, etc.

The effect of all this is that you’ll feel like you’re at the mercy of events - anyone and everyone can be driving your mood!

Yet traditional positive thinking doesn't work...

Having lots of powerful negative anchors can be quite demoralising. We know we "shouldn't" be so easily affected by circumstances and by people. We want to feel more in charge of our moods. We want to think more positively. We read books about how easily other people seem to be able to achieve these results – yet we can't seem to get to grips with our own mood-shifts!

And, as mentioned above, the reason is quite simple: positive thinking methods simply do not work with negative anchors of this kind - because the mood change is too quick and too intense. There’s no gap between the trigger and our emotional response to it in which to insert some positive thinking!

The solution?

There are two stages to dealing with negative anchors:

1.  Discover your frequent triggers

2.  Defuse these mentally before you encounter them again

(1) Discover your common triggers:

Once you recognise that your mood has taken a dive think back over the last few minutes, or hours, to when you felt fine. Now come forward again to discover the point at which your mood changed. That’s where you’ll find the trigger.

Recognising that you have responded to an automatic button is quite an important part of driving your own bus. Yes, you may still be feeling wound up or put down. And, yes, you’ll likely get triggered again.

But… recognising that it’s ‘just an anchor’ takes some of the power out of the anchor and out of the mood. The process is now no longer occurring outside your awareness. And knowing that your mood changed because of a negative anchor, rather than because you are weak or temperamental or have ‘the wrong genes’, means that it’s not you or your personality that’s at fault - you simply have developed a negative anchor which needs dealing with.

(2) Defuse these mentally and in advance:

The best technique for this is the NLP Swish technique. and, like many NLP techniques, this can be learned from a book or from our web article on the Swish Technique

Obviously the results will not be as powerful as if you have learned it ‘live’ as part of a interactive workshop such as our NLP Core Skills course - but if you go through the steps a few times and on successive days you will almost certainly take quite a bit of the sting out of the trigger.

From The Pegasus NLP Newsletter 


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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