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how you argued or were happy; and also, the corresponding feelings and words are immediately there again. Because at that time in this situation exactly this music was to be heard.

Anchoring: NLP technique explained

What is anchoring? What obstacles can occur when anchoring? Can anchoring be used for manipulation?

Do you know the following situation? You are walking in a familiar part of town, from an open window you hear a few bars of music and immediately this one situation comes up again as an inner image, a few years ago, how you were together with a certain person, how you argued or were happy; and also, the corresponding feelings and words are immediately there again. Because at that time in this situation exactly this music was to be heard.

This is exactly what anchoring is: quite everyday mental processes in which an external stimulus is linked visually, acoustically, emotionally, tastefully and/or olfactorily with a special situation - anchored. This linking or anchoring often happens involuntarily and without external intervention.

Another example: You are sitting in the train or on the bus and suddenly you remember a situation from a long time ago because of a certain house gate or a certain street corner. Pleasant or unpleasant. You can tell exactly who was there at that time, how it looked or how you felt.

Or you are sitting in a restaurant and a certain dish is served at the next table. And this dish reminds you of your grandmother, for example, who always made you this particular dish when you visited her as a child.


  1. what types of anchors are there?

Facial expressions, gestures (visual)

Sounds (auditory, e.g., glasses or bottles filled with liquid being struck, or a specific tone of voice, words, tempo of speech)

touches, movements (kinesthetic)

  1. how to anchor correctly?

In general, the more selective and precise the stimulus, the better anchors hold.

On a desk overflowing with paper, an additional sheet of paper of the same color will hardly or not at all be noticed, neither that it is there nor where it is.

On a tidy desk with almost nothing on it, the same sheet of paper will stand out much more clearly from its surroundings.

In terms of anchoring, this means that the more the person who is to be anchored focuses his attention on one thing and not on several, and also the more he is appropriately aroused in a positive direction (the stronger the respective resource state is), and the more definite and distinguishable the touch stimulus is, the more the anchor will hold on a single touch and also the longer it will be retrievable again and again.

The same is true in reverse: the more diffuse what the person is thinking about is and the less distinguishable and the more superficial the touch is, the less likely you are to be successful with anchoring.  

  1. factors that influence the anchoring

Speed - how quickly is the person touched?

Duration - how long does the touch last? If the anchor is initially held for a very long time, it is likely that not only a specific state, such as an image or a feeling, but a whole strategy (a whole inner video clip) or distinguishably certain parts of it will be anchored.

The firmness or the strength of the touch

Skin warmth/temperature

The anchored spot is already occupied by another anchor

With acoustic anchors it also plays a role from which side the sound is heard (from the front, behind, below, above, etc.)

  1. the role of relationship during anchoring

The mere fact that a person touches another (same-sex, opposite-sex) means, after all, to relate a bit to the other, to allow, to open up or surrender a bit as well.

This is for different people very differently occupied. And there is no truth here, but it is always to be found out anew what it means subjectively for the person or what it means for the relationship of the two, who work with each other with anchors, when one "lends a hand" to the other.

It can be experienced by a very body-oriented person as pleasant support by another body-oriented person, as well as - and this can be exactly the same kind of touching - as almost unacceptable violating or crossing the body's boundaries.

Furthermore, it has to be taken into account that it is not only about the touch itself, but that the message behind the message (meta-message) also means, one can influence the emotional world of the other from the outside.

Depending on the culture and life background, this can be a very pleasing or very threatening thing, which only makes positive sense within a special relationship to each other.

So, the technique can be quite accurate, if the relationship behind anchoring is not working, be it the relationship of the two people to each other or even the person being anchored (i.e., his relationship to himself) then anchoring will not be successful.

  1. anchoring obstacles

In the workshops we experience again and again that people who are very strongly influenced by inner control try to anchor out of ambition.

And it is precisely this "must" - with the associated stress and the controlling self-observation - that then prevents the success of the anchor, or it is usually not the case that the success of the anchoring is prevented (the sentence "It's not working now" or "It has to work" is then anchored), but rather, due to the self-generated stress, it is only possible to enter into a good state for a very short time.

At the moment of anchoring, self-control plays a trick, we go into the inner meta-position for self-observation, and access to the good state remains closed.

Here, first of all, the issues of trust, emotional security, etc. would have to be worked on, i.e. it is necessary to first rehabilitate the relationship level before anything can be done with technique.

In particular, it should be pointed out that two very strong "currents of behavior and experience" are perceptible in people who have not been able to develop better alternatives than strong patterns of dependency from their life history (especially people who have strongly experienced violent, sexual or psychological abuse in their childhood):

On the one hand, as paradoxical as it may sound, a strong need to be anchored, i.e., to have their emotional life disposed of from the outside, and on the other hand, an equally strong distrust of any intervention from the outside, since structurally the anchor is unconsciously compared internally with the person from history who set the act of abuse.

Especially from this point of view it is - apart from simple demonstrations - in the sense of a serious use of physically more intensive anchors as professionally advisable as ethically correct to obtain sufficient information about the way the person inwardly probably interprets the process of anchoring.

Often this will be possible based on general experience and many nonverbal access cues. Especially in the context of counseling sessions, however, a combination of preliminary diagnostics and process-oriented feedback diagnostics is absolutely necessary.

This is not to say that it is not possible to work with anchors with these people, but that it is even more important to clarify the context very precisely and to place personal responsibility (and also determining the what, where, how, when) very strongly in the foreground of the work, which in itself constitutes a part of the development process that is often more important than the resource anchoring itself.

  1. anchoring as a tool for learning

In the best case, anchoring helps us to learn, so that we learn "effortlessly" because a teacher, a friend or simply life itself has made us link something specific (e.g. a song) to a certain situation. In the worst case, these are memories that plague us and make our lives difficult.

Through methodical observation and development, it is possible in NLP to first consciously identify these anchors and then also use anchors specifically for positive development and intervention work.

In our seminars we mostly work with physical, i.e. touch anchors. A pleasant or good situation (resource situation) is put together - anchored - in a light trance state with a special touch by another person or by oneself.

And if it was done correctly, the good state can also be retrieved involuntarily through the touch. As if a new reflex was laid.

  1. anchoring and manipulation

Isn't that manipulation? With the right understanding of NLP the answer can only be: Yes, of course! No, not at all!

Whether something is manipulation is first of all not a question of technique, but a question of which values, which ethics you have and which goals you personally pursue, how the framework of your actions is defined.

Whether what you do is agreed upon or whether you do something for show.

If you abuse the trust of someone and work covertly with anchors, even against the goals of other people, then this anchoring is a technique that is rightly accused of manipulation abuse.

If you work with resource anchors with the consent of the other person to support him and anchoring is an element in the process of working, then anchoring is certainly a productive and permissible approach.

  1. can negative anchors be deleted?

Of course!

However, it should be clarified beforehand whether this negative anchor has been set due to a breakdown or fulfills a perhaps unconsciously meaningful function for the person. An example of a breakdown would be: Someone falls down, scrapes his or her skin, and while he or she feels this pain, he or she hears a music or a noise.

Whenever this sound then comes back later, be it the crunching of the streetcar's wheels in the rails or the Radetzky march, etc., the person feels slightly queasy and nauseous because it is precisely a more or less unconscious memory of the original pain, even though the sound has no causal or meaningful connection with the falling down per se.

In the case of such breakdowns, relief and remedy can be found either with stronger resource anchors or with the NLP model of dissociation and phobia work.

If, on the other hand, we are dealing with anchored contexts originating from family dynamics or similar contexts, then in any case the good intention of this anchor system must be examined more closely before any intervention and care must be taken that in the case of "anchoring away" not anything positive or protective is lost. And it must be ensured that the positive intention is still maintained in any case.

9 Conclusion

You see, the technique of anchoring is a very fascinating tool of NLP, with which we can consciously connect an external stimulus with an internal representation.

In NLP, anchors are used to make certain states more accessible to oneself or others, to expand them, if necessary, in order to have them more quickly available in other contexts when needed.

Self-anchors are e.g., an essential tool for self-management, other-anchors - provided there is good rapport - can be just as useful in coaching, counseling and therapy as in educational or business applications (marketing, leadership, sales).