In the early part of the 20th Century, Dr. Pavlov discovered what he called “conditioned reflexes” by studying behavior in dogs. Each time he fed the dogs he would ring a bell. After a while, he discovered that he only had to ring the bell and the dogs would salivate and anticipate food.
Although not quite as simplistic as dog behavior, we of the human race have a tendency to form behaviors by association. For example, if you once became violently ill from eating pizza will probably avoid all pizza for a long time. The old saying “Once spurned; twice shy.” is another example of how we model our behavior on our associated experiences.
If you have an especially intense pleasant experience in a certain setting, for example a romantic time in a mountain cabin, you will tend to associate pleasant things with the mounts and cabins.
A pleasant experience can also eliminate or change unpleasant associations. Anyone thrown from a horse is usually urged to get right back on in order to avoid developing a fear of riding. Getting back on the horse and having a successful ride brings pleasant associations that replace the fear and bad feelings experienced earlier. The rider is left with the experience and learning that it is possible to fall off a horse but the bad feelings and limiting behaviors (never getting back on a horse) are gone.
Associations and anchors are the same thing. An anchor is anything that constantly elicits a certain experience or set of experiences within us. We form thousands of anchors throughout our lifetimes. Some lasting; some fleeting.
- Christmas trees
- Cotton candy
- Helium balloon
- Warm summer evening
- Warm sand
- The sound surf
- Yellow, number 2 pencils
- Clean sheets
- Soft puppy
- Purring kitten
- Church bells
- Bees buzzing
- Teddy bear
- Rain on the roof
- Orange blossoms
- Crackling fire in a fireplace
I could list hundreds more but these will give you an example of how strong anchors can be in our lives.
The universal anchors above will elicit different feelings in each person. For example, the words “bees buzzing” can, in some people, bring feelings of contentment, warmth, peaceful happiness, or fear and apprehension and memories of pain in others.
We form anchors according to our experiences in life and they tend to remain throughout our life unless changed by counteracting experiences.
Emotional States Through the Representational Systems
To use anchors with yourself and others, you need to create anchors to specific emotional states through the representational systems (visual, auditory, kinesthetic).
You want to help someone in overcoming procrastination when it comes to housework. We’ll call her Susan. You need to draw on two experiences, one when she procrastinates, and one when she doesn’t.
First, ask her to think about a time when she put off her housework. Have her experience it as fully as possible, using all the representational systems—seeing herself in the situation, hearing what sounds were there externally and internally, and feeling the emotions and tactile sensations present at the time.
You can ask, “How do you feel about this? What are you seeing and experiencing? Get the experience described in as much detail as possible. When you see that the experience is intensified to peak, anchor it with touch, sound, or a visual anchor. An auditory anchor can be set by using words or sounds.
Visual, Kinesthetic, Auditory
A visual anchor can be set by a hand gesture, shifting in your chair, or something she can see.
To use a kinesthetic anchor, lightly touch the back of her hand, or on the knee. Just make not of exactly where you touched and how much pressure you used. Release your touch after a second or two.
An auditory anchor could be a simple word such as “yes” or “okay.”
Ask her to think of a time when she did not put off housework, when she did it right away. Have her experience it fully. Get a description in as much detail as possible using visual, auditory, and kinesthetic experience. When the experience has intensified, anchor it in the same representational system as the first one, but in a different place.
For visual, you could gesture with the other hand or shift another way in your chair. For kinesthetic, touch the other knee, hand, or arm. With auditory, use another word such as “That’s right.” Or “Hmm Hmm.”
Now separate this part of the process from the next with a “separator state.” Talk about something else for a moment, perhaps “Are you comfortable?” or “Nice weather, isn’t it?” Have the subject take a deep breath and suggest relaxation then fire both anchors at once.
For visual, if you can’t do both at once, do one then immediately follow with the second. For kinesthetic, touch both spots at once. For auditory, use both words as a phrase. For example, “Yes…that’s right.”
She will experience a strong reaction to this. You will see it reflected in her eyes, muscular tension, breathing, and body movements. She will integrate the two experiences and the preferred one will emerge triumphant. The wanted experience will prevail or the subject will become neutral to both. The unwanted experience will never take over.
Hold both anchors until you see the integration is complete. For auditory and visual anchors, you can repeat your words or gestures.
This will be immediately effective but to make it permanent, you need to “futurepace” it. Have her imagine herself in a future situation when she is will be facing the job of housework. Have her fully experience the new behavior.
Do this three times for different future scenarios. Be sure she experiences it fully each time.
With this process, you have successfully helped someone permanently change her behavior with the space of a few minutes. This is a powerful and effective technique.
Anchors are most effective if they are outside the person’s main representational system. For example, if someone primarily uses his visual system, a kinesthetic or auditory anchor would be more effective.