NLP Coaching | States and NLP Anchors

States and Anchors

Imagine a surgeon that religiously insists on spending five minutes playing the same twenty year old video game before going into theatre. A rock star, hearing the chants of ten thousand fans, stares at himself in the mirror repeating a compliment one character gave another in his favourite movie.  A sports champion who always laces her running shoes on in the same order whilst singing a certain song.

What do these examples have in common?

They are all examples of performers that have found a way of controlling their state; no matter how silly and irrelevant to the task at hand it may seem to the outside world.

NLP States and anchors
NLP States and anchors

What is state and why is it important?

Managing our own state and influencing the states of others is one of the most important skills in life. The majority of business people will make decisions logically, but it’s their state and the strength of their state that will get them to take action and persist with an action through challenging times.

It is a major part of our emotional intelligence.

I found a useful way of developing state skills is to start to notice how various states impact us and others.

A simple learning experience for myself is when I play Lumosity, a brain training game. When I get an answer wrong, I get annoyed with myself. The immediate impact of this is that I don’t pay attention for the next few minutes, and invariably get the next few answers wrong. In this context, it’s more effective for me to accept a wrong answer as useful information, and a trigger to focus better for the next exercise. This significantly improves my performance.

There are hundreds of useful states and different combinations of states are useful in different situations. A useful state for development is curiosity. Others include fierceness, playfulness, and tenderness.

A useful starting point is to identify a number of states that are useful in various situations. What impact do they have upon us? What impact do they have on those around us?

All states can be helpful based on context and how we use them. Look through the following list of states. Which are likely to be helpful in a variety of contexts? Which are likely to be less than useful?

Useful combination of states

Achieving the impossible: Curiosity, passion, purpose and then autonomy and mastery – followed by a series of end, middle and clear, small, short-term goals. (From Steven Kotler)

Achieving anything: Time, attention, mastermind (network), motivation (Stephen Christopher)

Being coached: Ambition, courage, discipline, honesty (Adapted from Marshall Goldsmith)

Charisma (seduction) 1: Sexual tension, sexual comfort, investment (Jesse Charger)

Charisma (seduction) 2: Energetic, authentic, human connection, courageous vulnerability, conviction, fun. (From Charlie H)

Change Work: Fierceness, playfulness and tenderness (From Stephen Gilligan)

Creating art: Curiosity, generosity and connection (From Seth Godin)

Gratitude: Acceptance, allowance and receiving

Relationships 1: Kind, shared vulnerability, understanding, and being heard (From The school of life)

Relationship 2: Attraction, friendship, partnership (From Paul Dobransky)

Relationship 3: Trust, respect, empathy (Fom Mark Manson)

Life skills: Self-awareness, scepticism, risk tolerance, compassion, patience (From Mark Manson)

Useful individual states

Accepting, Action, Adding Value, Appreciating, Approachable, Angry (Care!), Authentic, Aware*

Balanced, Bastard (Care!), Building, “Bring it on”,

Capable, Charismatic, Calm, Caring / Not Caring*,  Chaotic,  Childlike*, Competent,  Confused*,  Connecting, Controlling, Challenging, Creative, Curious*

Dancing, Daring, Destructive, Determined*

Empowering, Encouraging, Engaged*,  Engaging

Fearful (Care!), Fierce*, Flow, Focused, Fun

Glistening, Glowing


High Energy, Human

Humble, Humility

Inspiring, Interested, Intuitive

Judgemental / Not Judgemental*

Kick-Ass, Knowing / Not Knowing*

Level, Listening*

Mischievous*, Motivated

Optimistic*, Open*

Persuasive, “Panther” State, Playful*, Present, Professional, Power (Care!)

Relentless, Resilient*



Utilise anything

Warm, Wonder, Wrecking,

Less than-useful states

While all states can be useful in various contexts, I’m very cautious about the impact of a mix of resentful, deceitful and/or arrogant. They destroy connection, which is essential for success and fulfilment,

The ones marked with * are those that I consider most important.


  • We can’t control our state absolutely (we’re human, not machines), but we can influence and lead it.
  • Remember that most challenges can be solved through an application of either fierceness, tenderness or playfulness.
  • Before a meeting, it’s helpful to plan the three most valuable states to be able to access at that meeting e.g.: Engaged, interested, determined, and checking in from time to time to ask, “are we in the best state to tackle this?”
  • When exploring states, it can be helpful to explore opposites. The individual with the most flexibility often is the most successful. And a way of improving our flexibility is to explore opposites. For example, sometimes it’s helpful to be in a “knowing” state, mainly if we’re teaching in a traditional way. However, when we’re learning, it’s often best to be in a “not knowing” state that is open and respectful of those giving out information.
  • I always recommend that clients explore states that are clearly beneficial. Most of us spend enough time in less-than-useful states, even without practice – but when somebody has mastered accessing the useful states, then they might try to explore and find uses for those that don’t seem helpful at first glance. Many seemingly useless states, like fear and anger, can be used sparingly to motivate us. The art is not to be controlled by them.

How can we lead our state

  • By using our memories and imagination. When we focus on a specific memory and go through each sense (in NLP, senses are called modalities), i.e. what we see, hear, feel, taste and smell, and focus on the qualities of each sense (in NLP, the qualities of each sense is called sub modalities), we amplify the memory to bring back the state to the present. We can then anchor that state, making it easily accessible in the future. We can run a similar routine using our imagination, imagining a fictional scenario designed to inspire in us that specific state.
  • By changing our physiology and breathing. We naturally sense states in others by their posture, breathing and tone of voice. The opposite is true. Assuming the external, physical traits of a state – its breathing pace and posture – will change our emotional state.
  • By the questions, we ask ourselves and others. If we ask ourselves and/or others why they or we have failed, we are likely to lead them to a negative state. If we ask how we’re going to succeed next time, we’re more likely to lead to a positive state.
  • By our beliefs and the stories we tell. When we believe that what we’re doing has a clear purpose that will benefit ourselves and or others, it reduces the intensity of any negative state and increases the intensity of any positive state. If we believe we’re benefiting from an activity, we’re likely to be in a better state than if we think it’s pointless. There is truth in the saying if we believe we can, we probably will succeed. If we believe we can’t, we probably won’t try, and it significantly reduce our chance of success.
  • Through acceptance. When we accept any situation, it loses its power over us and reduces any negative state. Disciplines such as meditation increase our ability to accept whatever life throws at us, make the best of it, and then move towards what we want.

Ideas from Kathleen La Valle (See NLP Eternal) 

Treat an uncomfortable state as a messenger, essential to listen to, but not necessarily invited into the house! Consider a state strategy such as Anger, frustration, irritation, annoyance, oh well,  whatever, silly human – to curiosity, what’s the best action I can take now?

NLP AnchoringWhat is an Anchor in NLP?

One way you can influence states is through anchors – A stimulus/trigger that results in a particular response in us. Anchors can be deliberate or accidental, overt or covert.

You could describe anchoring (as with a lot of NLP) as taking control of a naturally occurring phenomenon: The way we form associations and how these associations can take us back to a particular state.

You may, for example, associate the smell of bread with a particular song through a childhood experience you barely recall. There is no logical connection between the bread to the song other than the fact that you experienced them simultaneously.

Firing anchors allow you to take the same trigger and make it portable, like tapping yourself on the knuckles or imagining the smell of bread. We can then put ourselves in the states we want when they’re useful to us.

Words are often strong anchors – But as we talk, our audience may have a very different emotional response to the one we expect. This is because they will have their own interpretation and experiences of words. Ideally, we will update our choice of words based on the audience’s actual response and not stick to our anticipation of how they should respond.

Suggested Exercise

  • Pick someone who inspires others. What states do they exhibit?
  • Select a meeting that you’re going to attend. Imagine an essential part of the meeting and a) play a movie in your mind about how it goes. Choose a word to describe it. b) Choose three applicable states to access during the meeting. c) Imagine the meeting with you being able to access those states. Choose a word to describe it. What in the imaginary meeting – however large or small – has changed?
  • Imagine you’re about to present to a group. What states are the audience likely to be in at the start? Name 3 or 4. What states would you like them to be at the end? (We’ll use this as an exercise later.)
  • Imagine someone is depressed. It might be too much of a jump to help them move to be enthusiastic in one go. What gradual sequence of states could you take them through so that they would end up, for example, depressed to frustrated to determined to curious to interested to excited.
  • Take one of your hands. Touch your thumb. As you do so, think of someone you appreciate. Play a 10-second movie about being with them, remembering what you saw, heard and felt as you remember the feeling squeezing your thumb. Now move to the next finger and think of someone else you appreciate. Remember what you saw, heard and felt. Squeeze the finger and continue with the next finger until you’ve finished all the fingers on that hand.
  • Repeat that last exercise except using daily experiences that you appreciate.

This video explains the importance of states and anchors in NLP.

NLP Coaching | States and Anchors

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In the next section we look further into End Goals and Direction.

Full NLP Techniques List

NLP Coaching Section Index

1: NLP Coaching Introduction
2: Success system and model
3: NLP coaching model
4: Beginning frame
5: States and anchors
6: End goals and direction
7: Rapport
8: Where are you
9: Getting to there
10: Mental rehearsal
11: End frame
12: Summary
13: CEO and executive coaching follow up

NLP States and Anchors
NLP States and Anchors