How to Leverage NLP Anchoring, the Most Important Skill You Need for Your Career, Period.


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If I were to ask you to list all the skills you have learned up to now in your life, how many do you think you could list? (Psst – we’re going to add anchoring to this list.)

What is a Skill?

Well your answer will depend on how narrowly or broadly you define the word “skill”. Many people limit their skills to things they have learned in school or on the job or maybe sports they have played.

But now reflect back to how many skills you learned between birth and your first birthday. What about by your fifth birthday? Where did all those skills go? Or do you just now think of them as “Me”. Aren’t all the skills you learned in the first 5 years of life, the main skills that keep you alive and functioning today?

Learning New Skills

Have you ever injured your arm, hand, or leg or foot to the point that you had to use other parts of the body or use an aid of some kind to achieve a function (skill) that was quite easy and on automatic prior to the injury? If not you, you can try the following to simulate the experience. Try brushing your teeth with your non-dominant hand. Notice how that feels. Is it an odd experience? If so, how come? Also notice where it feels odd. Is it only in your hand? Is it in your mouth? Is it in your elbow?

The odd or maybe even uncomfortable feeling you are feeling is the experience of learning a new skill. It hasn’t been normalized. You are currently in the phase of learning called “conscious competence”. You are wanting the skill to become unconscious like most of your other skills so your conscious mind can attend to other areas of your life.

How many skills do you have access to that are unconscious? How do you access them? When do you access them? Is it via conscious choice? Is it in response to some stimulus? What triggers the skill?

Understanding Stimulus and Response or How Anchoring Works

Most people have learned a specific response to a specific trigger and it gets compartmentalized. For example, you are walking down the street or in a mall and someone gives you a look (stimulus or trigger) you don’t like and you mutter to yourself, “asshole” (response) and keep on walking. Something this insignificant could happen any day — no big deal. Life goes on. One trigger, one response.

Now you may have many triggers tied to this one response box. For example, somebody cuts in front of you unexpectedly while driving and you mutter to yourself, “asshole”. They mess up your food order – asshole. The person in front of you stops at a yellow light – asshole. Most people have a lot of triggers tied to their “asshole” box. 😜

But what if you wanted to have more than just one response? What if you wanted to have flexibility in responding to the exact situation you are experiencing? What if you wanted to get out of this “stuck state“? What if you could tap into more than just one box? Wouldn’t that be an amazing skill to have at your fingertips?

Well fortunately, with “NLP Anchoring” you can have exactly that.

What is Anchoring?

Everything is anchoring. Anchoring is the ability to make associations. Your child whines, you respond. You see a sofa which is a color you like or don’t like, you respond. You have made associations to everything in your life. Hence, you have an opinion about everything in your life.

And every response you have to any stimulus is a skill. You learned the response through the course of your life. Everything you have learned is a skill. Whether or not that skill is useful depends on the context in which you use the skill.

Yelling is a skill. Yelling at your child is one response, one skill you have learned to use in this context. How many other skills could you use in this context?

Background of Anchoring

Anchoring (or as many of the followers of Tony Robbins call it “associative conditioning) originally comes out of NLP or Neuro-linguistic Programming. It is considered one of the foundational NLP techniques. The co-founders, Richard Bandler and John Grinder, of NLP expanded on Nobel Prize winning psychologist, Ivan Pavlov’s work on Classical Conditioning. Together, they realized the potential of conditioned response outside of the laboratory and used with humans instead of salivation in dogs.

NLP Anchoring as originally taught focuses on creating a resource state often with a kinesthetic anchor so that when an external stimulus triggers an internal response, you access a more resourceful feeling.

It focused on unwanted feelings or stuck states and the use of positive anchors to break free from them. However there is much more to anchoring than this.

NLP Co-founders Richard Bandler and John Grinder

Going a little deeper, NLP anchoring is the process of utilizing your sensory system to build new or modify existing neural associations. Humans experience the outside world through their fives senses. The five sensory input channels for humans is via seeing, hearing, feeling, smelling, and tasting. Any time you are setting an anchor (making associations), it’s happening in all five systems (more to come on this).

Whatever taste you have in your mouth, smell in the air, whatever you are feeling within, sounds you are hearing (including external voices and internal voices plus their voice tones), and what you are seeing (external and internal image) are all being anchored in. This anchored in experience you call, “making memories” which is filed away in your brain. An effective anchor will activate all five sensory channels.

Everyday old anchors or associations are being triggered and you are responding in accordance with the response box those anchors are connected to. However, whether external or internal triggers, they trigger the internal feeling so fast, that most people only become aware of it in midst of their emotional response. In fact, most people’s day are composed of bouncing from one triggered response to another. It feels very normal to them. They call it “living”.

There is a saying that if all you have is a hammer, every problem appears as a nail. If you only have one response box tied to a trigger, you will only have access to one way of responding.

By using NLP anchoring, you can integrate multiple skill or response boxes together so that the same stimulus or trigger can access one bigger box which consists of many different skills (responses). Then you can choose how to respond to the situation at hand.

How to Do Anchoring?

The simplest way to do anchoring is to use a touch anchor. If you recall from above, that all five sensory channels are connected to your brain via the central nervous system. To access the memories or skills catalogued in your brain, you need only jump on the networked highway built by your nervous system. All you need is an access point to your nervous system. Any of the five sensory channels can get you access. Touch is a very easy and straightforward way to achieve that.

Naturally Occurring Anchors

Before we get to touch anchoring, let’s consider some natural anchors that exist in your life. If you have watched basketball players taking a foul shot, you will see a short ritualized pattern they engage in before shooting. It could be bounce the ball twice, spin it in the hand once, adjust the feet, bounce again, take a breath, and then shoot. For atheletes, these rituals are strong anchors. Now this is a more structured example.

Natural Anchors occur even more readily than this. What happens when you smell freshly baked cookies, brownies, or bread? Or simply recall a happy moment? What happens when you hear a ding on your phone? What about when you see popups on a webpage? Do your eyes immediately start sorting for that little “x” button?

How to Use Touch Anchoring?

Touch anchoring requires eliciting a memory to activate your nervous system. When the memory is accessed and the nervous system is engaged, all you need to do is use the finger from one hand to touch the knuckle (on the back of your hand) on the other hand. This is called “self anchoring”.

The touch anchor is telling your nervous system when I touch this knuckle access this memory from the brain. Let’s give it a real world test.

For example, think of closing a big deal or getting your first client or customer. Recall what that felt like. What were others around you saying? What were the expressions on their face? Did you get to ring the sales bell? As you fully access that happy memory, reach over and touch one of your knuckles. Apply gentle pressure. And then remove your finger from your knuckle and let the memory fade away.

Next blink a few times and shake it off. Then go back and touch the same knuckle with the same pressure and for the same length of time and notice how quickly does the memory return.

Do this a few times with a few different memories. Use a unique knuckle for each memory. You are training your nervous system to create these roads between these specific points. Think of it as new off/on ramps to your own personal superhighway.

Now comes the really powerful part.

How to Integrate or Collapse Anchors?

Let’s first understand what you have been anchoring. The memory are the responses (skills). The stimulus or trigger has been the touch of the knuckle. You are basically taking a naturally occurring phenomenon (getting triggered) and deliberately using it to achieve an outcome.

Each memory has been in its own box and you might have had multiple different triggers that are connected to it. In our example above, you may have this memory reactivated every time you hear the sales bell ring or see an expression on someone’s face as you saw on that day. Those triggers activate that memory. When activated you re-experience or re-live that moment in time. The feelings intensify as you remember what you heard and saw that day. With the above exercise, you deliberately created a new stimulus to activate that memory via the touching of that knuckle.

So let’s take it a step further.

Consider the following analogy first. You have four different documents each saved in their own folder on their own device. Document 1 is saved in folder 1 on your phone. Document 2 is saved in folder 2 on your tablet. Document 3 is saved in folder 3 on your laptop at home. Document 4 is saved in folder 4 on your laptop at work. How difficult is it to get work done when the information you need is so fragmented or compartmentalized? How much easier would it be to consolidate all those files in one place in the cloud so you can access all of it from any device at any time?

Now we are going to self anchor just as before. Once you set a number of these anchors, one on each of your four knuckles, you now have access to four different memories or boxes each with their own experiences and skills (behavioral response). However, they are all separated. We can unify them or integrate or collapse them together by touching all four points at the same time with the same amount of pressure and for the same length of time.

When you do this, it may feel strange at first as you’ve never had all four memories, each with their own emotions and feelings, all experienced at once. However this will soon pass.

Done correctly, touching any one of the knuckles should take you to any one of the memories. You have essentially moved those memories to your own personal cloud making it easier access them.

This new box has all the resources of all four boxes. So if we go back to an earlier example, and take your yelling box and combine it with three other boxes like question-asking box, curiosity box, and laughing box, how many more choices do you have to respond to your child now? Now substitute child for boss, co-worker, prospect, customer, etc.

Now go try this for yourself.

Positive Anchors or Negative Anchors?

This is an important point to address. Traditionally, NLP Anchoring focuses on positive anchors and negative anchors. This isn’t accurate. The brain stores the memories or experiences. What is an experience? An experience is simply what happens. If you pick up a pencil, your brain records the experience of picking up a pencil. The evaluation of the experience is a separate activity. You can evaluate whether picking up the pencil was good or bad after the experience.

If you ever watch young children, you will see them have an experience and then look at the parents to assess how they should evaluate it, was it good (parental approval) or bad (parental disapproval). When it comes to anchoring, positive anchors or negative anchors is irrelevant. What is important though is the intensity of the emotion or feeling (whether that be a happy moment or a stuck state) associated to the experience. This will activate the sensory channels and make for an effective anchor. The more intense feeling, or some may call the powerful anchor, will dominate.

Steps to Integrate or Collapse Anchors

Step 1: Elicit a memory.

Step 2: Touch a knuckle to set the anchor building the association to that memory

Step 3: Set one anchor on each knuckle. Make sure to shake off the feeling before setting the next one.

Step 4: Touch all four knuckles with the same pressure and length of time as when you initially set the anchor. Then take a few minutes to let the integration happen. Then shake it off.

Step 5: Test by touching anyone of the knuckles and notice what comes to mind.

Ideas on When to Use Anchoring

Learning a new skill like anchoring is great. The best thing you can do from this point forward is to start practicing and further developing your new skill. Having some ideas on how to get started help to get a jumpstart on this. Hopefully the example and ideas below will help get you started.

EXAMPLE: Feeling call reluctance (usually wanting to avoid rejection)

  • Set an anchor when you access this feeling
  • Then on subsequent knuckles anchor the following
    • A time you laughed uncontrollably
    • A time you felt absolutely certain, no doubts
    • A time you had to go to the bathroom really bad but couldn’t find one or the line was really long to access it
  • Then integrate all four anchors together.

If needed (especially if the emotional intensity was significant), you can repeat this several times. One knuckle is the remaining feeling of call reluctance, the remaining knuckles are some other memories.

Other memories could be:

  • Time when you were hungry
  • Time when you had that best meal ever
  • Time you got drunk
  • Time when you said no and stood your ground
  • Time when you said yes to something that was a bit scary
  • Time you partied past 4am
  • Time you felt exhausted and went to bed really early
  • Listening to your favorite song
  • Recalling your favorite movie
  • The first time you kissed someone
  • Seeing your newborn baby for the first time
  • The curiosity you felt when you got a present as a child and wanted to guess what was inside
  • Going to your first concert
  • The first day at a new school or class

Other times you may want to use anchoring

  • Feeling like an impostor in your role or company
  • Having a rough week
  • Not feeling like you are connecting with a prospect or client
  • Getting nervous about an interview or presentation
  • Learning a new technology
  • Concerned about hitting quota
  • Worried about making payroll
  • Asking for a promotion or raise
  • Feeling like you are in a rut

So as embark on advancing your career, acquiring more skills, add NLP anchoring into your toolbox. Anchoring can also easily get you out of a stuck state or bad feeling and into more pleasurable feelings. More importantly, understanding the concept of anchoring will help you identify external anchors and internal anchors that trigger your emotional reactions so you can start choosing your behavioral responses.

Plus by deliberately using anchoring, you are training your brain to sort for information with an intent. And over time, it will become easier to access vivid experiences and more intense experiences resulting in your mental processes and faculties performing better.

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