States and Anchors
This video explains the importance of states and anchors in NLP.
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.
Why does our state matter?
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 useful based on context and how we use them. Look through the following list of states. Which are likely to be useful in a variety of contexts? Which are likely to be less than useful?
Accepting, Action, Adding Value, Approachable, Angry (Care!), Authentic, Aware*
Balanced, Bastard (Care!), Building
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
High Energy, Human
Inspiring, Interested, Intuitive
Judgemental / Not Judgemental*
Kick Ass, Knowing / Not Knowing*
Persuasive, “Panther” State, Playful*, Present, Professional, Power (Care!)
Warm, Wonder, Wrecking,
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 solved through an application of either fierceness, tenderness or playfulness.
- Before a meeting, it’s useful to plan the 3 most useful states to be able to access at that meeting eg: Engaged, interested, determined, and checking in from time time to ask “are we in the best state to tackle this?”
- When exploring states it can be useful to explore opposites. The individual with the most flexibility often is the most successful. And a way of improving our flexibility is to to explore opposites. For example sometimes it’s useful to be in a “knowing” state, particularly if we’re teaching in a traditional way. However when we’re learning it’s often best to 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 useful 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 we can 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 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 – the breathing pace and posture of it – will change our actual emotional state.
- By the questions we ask ourselves and others. If we ask ourselves and/or others why we or they 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. 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 that 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 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.
One way that you can influence states is through anchors – A stimulus/trigger which 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 certain 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 from the bread to the song other than the fact that you experienced them simultaneously.
Firing anchors, allows you to take the same trigger, and make it portable, like tapping yourself of 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 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.
- Pick someone who inspires others. What states do they exhibit?
- Select a meeting that you’re going to attend. Imagine an important part of the meeting and a) play a movie in your mind of how it goes. Choose a word to describe it. b) Choose three useful 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 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 being enthusiastic in one go. What gradual sequence of states could you take them through so that 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 of being with them, remembering what you saw, heard and felt. As you remember the feeling squeeze 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.
In the next section we look further into End Goals and Direction.
NLP Coaching Section Index
NLP Coaching 1: Introduction
NLP Coaching 2: NLP coaching model
NLP Coaching 3: Beginning frame
NLP Coaching 4: States and anchors
NLP Coaching 5: End goals and direction
NLP Coaching 6: Rapport
NLP Coaching 7: Where are you
NLP Coaching 8: Getting to there
NLP Coaching 9: Mental rehearsal
NLP Coaching 10: End frame
NLP Coaching 11: Summary