NLP Anchoring

June 29, 2013

An article on the history, the applications, the formats and how to do it

Often anchoring is used to manoeuvre portions of primary experience to contexts where it would be resourceful for the individual. For example, a person may experience a state of ‘nervousness’ when making a business presentation to a group of clients. This nervousness is marked with rapid sensations and tightness in the solar plexus, rigidness in the shoulders and shallow breathing in the top of the chest. In this case let’s suppose the state shift is initiated by an internal image of him/her making a poor presentation accompanied by critical internal voice, then the feelings in his body shifts. In the Classic Code of NLP practitioners would have denoted the process as follows   Vi ”“ Ai -Ki. . In this case the individual could experience the state shift with no external input from context i.e. he does not have see a live audience (Ve) the state can be generated with purely internally generated images. The chances are in most cases the kinaesthetic sensations in the state shift would be stronger if there was external visual input.  So now we know how this client ‘does’ the process, the question is how can we change it through anchoring?


Anchoring as we know it in NLP first appeared in Grinder and Bandler’s now classic book Frogs into Princes (1979). This seminal work written from various transcriptions of live seminars for me brought NLP to life. Frogs into Princes is very much a ‘how to’ book with clear instructions on how to set anchors, change personal history,  cure phobias and set up six step reframes with clients.
It is a misconception in NLP that the influence for anchoring in NLP came from behavioural conditioning. Whilst Grinder and Bandler would have been aware of the work of Watson, Pavlov and Skinner this was not the primary influence on NLP.  Behaviourism explains (crudely) behavioural reflexive responses and redundancy in the human system, it does not explain how to dynamically create generalised human change. The primary influence on NLP anchoring was Milton H Erickson who used his unique tonality to capture and deepen trance states in clients to effectively create change. Grinder and Bandler discovered Erickson was a master of anchoring through the auditory system.


In the classic code NLP anchoring was very much set up on the client accessing resources from their personal history and as the Practitioner observes the state build in the client, the practitioner sets the anchor by applying a unique form of touch in a unique place on the client’s body. The practitioner holds the anchor for as long as the state is peaking, often about 20-30 seconds, sometimes longer sometimes shorter depending on what the client is assessing and the practitioner’s ability to help the client build the state. After the anchor has been set, the practitioner tests the anchor by applying exactly the same touch on the same part of the client’s body. If the client naturally goes into state when the touch is applied, the anchor has been successfully set and now can be used to manoeuvre this portion of primary experience to a context of the client’s life where the state/resource could be successfully used. In this paragraph, the form of anchoring I have explained is kinaesthetic anchoring, you can also anchor in the auditory and visual systems


1.  Have the person fully access a state
2.  Provide a specific anchor (stimulus) as the state peaks
3.  Break state
4. Fire anchor to test


Purity:  Pure access state.
Uniqueness:  Anchor in an unique place
Replication:  Replicate exactly as set
Intensity:  Ensure you capture state at its most intense
Timing:    Set only as long as client is in high quality state

As I said in modern day NLP, there are different theories about anchoring and different trainers interpret the original terminology in their own way.  There is also a question about the validity of anchoring states for change when we now have powerful processes such as the New Code NLP games which evoke powerful contexts which in their set-up have a similar format as spatial anchoring. On our practitioner courses I lead with John Grinder and Carmen Bostic St Clair, I teach anchoring because in my opinion it is the ultimate calibration test. With the other NLP interventions the practitioner can mis-calibrate and still get a result. A well-known Mexican NLP trainer has said ‘NLP is so powerful even when it done badly it still works’  That can be true for many NLP patterns, except anchoring. When setting an anchor you either get a strong anchor, a weak anchor or no anchor. Anything less than a strong anchor is ineffective. In my opinion, if an NLP practitioner has the practical skill in setting anchors, they will have inherently developed the skills to execute the other NLP patterning.

Now I will provide a glossary of terms for the different anchoring formats. Note all anchors follow the core procedure explained in the earlier paragraph, the difference is how you utilise the process.


This is where the practitioner has the client access several different experiences of the same state and when the different experiences are accessed the coach anchors them in the same place. So a stack of anchors is built. The intention is to strengthen the end state that occurs as a result of the anchor.


Is historically, where the space between the unresourceful state is deemed too large for a collapse anchor and one or more intermediate states are required. The intermediate state is step between the initial state and end state. The difference between collapsing and chaining is the timing. In chaining A leads to B, B leads to C, and C leads to D. If you had three states, you would anchor and test each independently. When state A is fired as it builds (and before the peak)  the coach applies anchor B and releases anchor A. When B builds (and before the peak) the coach applies anchor C and releases B.  The test is when A is fired the client will experience it leading to B and then C.  The rest of test is the same as when collapsing anchors.  Chaining anchors can be done in a myriad of ways, the above description describes a simple chaining process.


This is commonly used to give the client access to a resourceful state in a context where they lack choice and routinely experience an unresourceful state.  This is usually done by anchoring the unresourceful state in one specific place and anchoring the resource state in a different place. It’s useful to stack the resource anchor.  It also useful to set one anchor on one side of the body and the other on the contralateral body part e.g. left and right shoulder. This way you are actively engaging both hemispheres . You now have two independent anchors set up with the intention to collapse the unresourceful state into the resourceful state so the client has the body experience linked to resources state where they once were unresourceful. To do this you simply fire the two anchors simultaneously,  observe the collapse and release the unresourceful state anchor a few seconds before the resource anchor.  There are four tests to check if the collapse has been successful. Firstly, test by firing what was once the resource anchor, the non-verbal response should resemble what is present when the resource anchor is fired.  The next test is to bridge the anchor to the actual context, the client assesses the stimuli associated with the unresourceful state and the practitioner fires what was once the unresourceful anchor so the new response is bridged to the real world context. The practitioner can also observe if any more work needs to be done. The next test, is to assess without physical anchors, the client assesses the stimuli associated with context and experiences the change without the anchor, the practitioner observes the client’s non verbal behaviour. The last and ultimate test is the real life and real world context. The client in the real actual context, will experience the resource/ state at the point where the unresourceful state was once present.

The above can be streamlined, by anchoring the resource state and pairing it directly to the internal representation, VAK stimuli of the unresourceful state. The process can be further streamlined by applying the anchor in the real world context so the collapse occurs in real time with a pure access state.


Human state is a non linear process as opposed to a binary /digital process. You are not simply in state A or state B, state A and B (and all other states)  have different levels of intensity.  Sliding anchors amplifies the same state without the process of stacking. The first form of sliding anchor was a pressure anchor, where the earlier Practitioners of NLP noticed when an anchor was set and tested, the level of pressure levied at touch point correlated with the intensity of state the client experienced. Increased pressure is often linked with increased intensity of state.  This may of course be suggestion at the kinaesthetic level, never the less it was and is successful.  The notion of sliding anchors was subsequently mapped to the metaphor of sliding control. For example, when anchoring a state rather than anchoring statically at the peak as explained earlier in this article, you calibrate the intensity of state is it builds in the client and move your finger in a sliding movement along the client’s arm.  To test to the same sliding movement and the state you should intensify accordingly. If you stop half way along the slide, the state is likely to peak at that level. Once you have explored this, you test to see if you can take the state beyond its original intensity by taking the sliding anchor further up the arm than was originally set. If you can do this you have successfully set a sliding anchor which in many cases is more effective than chaining or stacking.


Stacking, collapsing, chaining, and sliding anchors can all be done spatially with no kinaesthetic touch.  The space becomes the anchor.  So to stack an anchor the client repeatedly accesses the resource state whilst stepping into the designated anchoring space. To chain the client walks into the resource (or next link in the chain) with the unresourceful (previous link) activated. To collapse the client walks into the unresourceful space with the resource circuits activated. For sliding a line is built for the state to intensify. Spatial anchoring is a feature of our NLP Trainers presentation format so they can create and anchor the states they want their class to experience.


In this article I have offered a description of anchoring as means to stabilise portions of primary experience and where relevant manoeuvre these portions to other contexts where a different experience is desired by the client.  I have provided a description of the process of setting an anchor and some explanation of the various anchoring formats and their uses. This is all words and the only relationship these words have with the real processes is how you the reader have interpreted what you read.  A much richer exposure to anchoring is to observe and experience it. I recommend you take what you have read here and practice it. If you have any questions present them in the space below
Note the non verbal response when testing will resemble but not be identical to the resource response. This is because in most cases the resource response will be weakened when the two anchors are fired together.

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