Practitioner Training: Understanding Anchors

by Carl Buchheit

Learning about “Anchors and Anchoring” is an essential part of every basic NLP (Neuro Linguistic Programming) training. Unfortunately, most new students seem to learn that creating an anchor is a way of creating change, but this is not the case. Anchors do not cause change in the sense of doing something to revise unwanted wiring and patterning, or of installing something that is desired and new.

In NLP class, it is not uncommon to see a giggling student give another student’s arm a squeeze in a moment when something amusing has occurred. Although the squeezing student may actually have created an anchor on the arm of the the squeeze student, and although this anchor might be worth a giggle, there has been no actual change, other than to provoke the giggling. To effect any kind of change, the squeezer –the setter of the anchor–would have to do something with that anchor once it was created. Anchors are merely handles, or stabilizers, for states and experiences. They give us delayed access (slightly delayed, in the case of most anchors, because they tend to extinguish fairly fast whenever they are not kept active) to whatever states/experiences they are the anchors for.

For example, if someone properly anchors the experience called “confidence” by squeezing your arm in a moment when you are experiencing confidence, then we have an anchor for confidence. That state of confidence can be reactivated, or reaccessed, by firing the anchor, but unless it is combined with another state or experience, there is no “change-work” occurring.

An anchored state is an interesting but pointless phenomenon, unless it is used for something. An anchor is not the state being anchored. An anchor is not the resource being anchored. The anchor is a tool that gives the practitioner access to the state or resource, so that something can be done with it.

Having a tea bag, and even having it handily present, right there at your fingertips, does not actually make any tea. To make tea, you have to do something with the tea bag; you have to put it in the hot water, so that the tea is forced, by physics, to merge part of itself with the water. That is the change in this analogy.

Anchoring has only one purpose: to make it possible to combine things so that they stay combined. When anchors of any kind are “collapsed together,” the states that did not formerly have an association are fired together, and therefore wired together. That is change-work.

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