A few years ago, our family became U.S. citizens. At the oath ceremony, we got to swear our allegiance to the United States while facing the American flag. I remember feeling intense emotions like joy and gratitude during this experience. Nowadays, I feel those same emotions any time I see an American flag. You see, the American flag became an anchor for me—a sensory stimulus linked to a specific set of emotional states. I have neurologically linked the flag with the emotions of gratitude and joy.
When something is anchored, we react without thinking. This type of response happens all the time. For example, you may see certain people and immediately enter a state—good or bad—depending on the feelings that you have associated with them. Can you think of someone who, whenever you see them, makes you upset or perhaps even cringe? Can you think of someone who warms your heart?
Perhaps there have been times when you smelled or tasted a particular food and experienced an instantaneous change of state. I used to work at a popcorn store at a mall, and every time we popped a new batch, we’d get what seemed like a flood of people coming to buy some popcorn.
Certain phrases can also immediately trigger an emotional response. For instance, if I said to you, “finger-lickin’ good!” chances are that you’ll automatically think about Kentucky Fried Chicken. These examples are all the results of powerful anchors.
What exactly is an “anchor”?
The term “anchor” comes from the field of neuro-linguistic programming (NLP). It simply refers to a connection or a link between a certain stimulus and a certain emotional response. Anchors are built by repetition and association.
When an individual is at the peak of an experience—either positive or negative—if a specific stimulus is applied, a neurological link is established between the emotional state and the stimulus. For instance, when I saw the American flag while feeling intense emotions, I neurologically linked the flag (stimulus) and those positive emotions (state).
“Anchoring is the most effective technique I know for constructively channeling our powerful unconscious reactions so they’re always at our disposal.”
– Tony Robbins
You may have heard of Pavlov’s experiment with dogs. By repeatedly associating the sound of a bell with the act of giving food to his dogs, Pavlov found that he could simply ring the bell and the dogs would salivate, even though no food was given. He created a neurological link between the sound of the bell (stimulus) and dogs salivating (state). That is the power of anchoring. We learn by making links and associations.
It is important to note that we all anchor on a regular basis. In fact, we cannot avoid anchoring because we do it unconsciously. For example, you may hear a particular song or look at a particular image when you’re in an intense emotional state, and that sound or image would become linked to that emotional state. For example, when my eldest daughter was two years old, a neighbor’s dog barked loudly and frightened her, and she felt frightened every time she saw a dog for the next year until she gradually became comfortable being around dogs again.
Using Anchoring to Boost Your Success
In addition to occurring naturally, anchors can also be set up deliberately. You can make or break neurological associations deliberately. By consciously creating an anchor, you set up a stimulus-response pattern so that you can feel the way you want any time. One way to do that is by using anchor phrases. Anchor phrases are proven methods of self-improvement because of their ability to rewire our brains. Much like exercise, they raise the level of feel-good hormones (e.g., dopamine) and push our brains to form new clusters of “positive thought” neural networks. A few common anchor phrases for feeling supported and empowered are, “All is well,” “I am enough,” “This too shall pass,” and “I have everything I need.”
I invite you to reflect on the anchor phrases that have supported and empowered you. They may start with the works, “I am…”, “I have…”,
The following are five guidelines to help you come up with well-formed anchor phrases:
1. Write your anchor phrases in the present tense: Your brain only responds to present tense statements. For example, “I love and accept myself just the way I am.” Avoid phrases such as, “I used to,” “I will,” “I might,”, “I could,” or “I’m going to.”
2. Keep your anchor phrases short and to the point.
3. Include only positive words: It can take your brain a lot of extra energy to get past negative statements and shift them into positive ones. For example, instead of reciting “I don’t feel afraid” use a positive statement like, “I am brave.” Avoid words like “don’t,” “can’t,” “should,” “must,” “have to,” or “won’t.”
4. Choose anchor phrases that are emotionally meaningful to you. You must FEEL good when you recite them.
5. Recite your anchor phrases with conviction (as statements of fact and truth): Embody them physically by using your body and voice to feel even more empowered.
For example, let’s say that you wanted to anchor the phrase, “I am confident” because you want to access that state more often. You would remember a specific time when you were totally confident in order to associate into that state, and you’d imagine being right there in your body—seeing what you saw, hearing what you heard, and really feeling that confidence. Then, as you re-experience the peak of that confidence, you would recite, “I AM CONFIDENT!” with a confident tone and physiology. Then, you’d do that again and, at the peak of your emotions, say “I AM CONFIDENT!” Do this several more times until you really feel that state (e.g., confidence) in your body. Then, break that state by taking a few moments to focus on something different.
To test and re-experience that new state at will, recite your powerful anchor phrase in the same way (e.g., say, “I AM CONFIDENT!” with the same tone and physiology as before) and notice what happens. If you’ve anchored that state sufficiently at the peak of the experience, you will notice that you feel that new state in your body. I invite you to actually practice this. Just reading about anchor phrases won’t help you—but doing it consistently will change your life.
If you want to learn even more techniques to leverage the power of anchoring, I invite you to listen to the following YouTube audio by Tony Robbins: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w6FmFS9ZNcE