Using music as a powerful anchor

by Paul Goodchild on January 19, 2010

We have many anchors, what are yours?

I think it was Anthony Robbins who first introduced this term to me, though it may have been earlier but he’s the furthest back that my memory goes for this concept.

Basically, anchoring is just one facet within the field of NLP that he has helped to advance.  As written in the wiki page, it is basically the association of a certain mental/emotional state with a stimulus, such that when triggered leads to a rise in the given state.

The stimulus/trigger can be anything that is discreet and wouldn’t get triggered “accidentally” in an unrelated state since more anchors require reinforcement while in a heightened level of the state to which you wish to anchor.

When do I anchor?

I haven’t honestly used anchoring that much, at least consciously.  I was sitting in Bangkok, and for several reasons not important to this post I was feeling quite stressed and a little more strained than I’d normally be.  In fact, I’d say I’d been in that state for a few weeks and while I could articulate why that was, I couldn’t lift the oppressive force it was having on my state of mind.

And then it came to me out of nowhere:  music.  Anyone who knows me probably wouldn’t recognise me if I didn’t have my headphones on, or at least a pair hanging around my neck.  In the last few years I’ve built up a great collection of all sorts of different types of music.  It’s taken a long time, but I more or less have refined my playlists to only contain my most favourite tracks and nearly always when I’m cycling/walking/journaling/reading/meditating I’m listening to something.  However recently, because I haven’t been doing as much of those things as I would typically be doing, I haven’t been listening to my music.  So I put my headphones on immediately and was amazed at the difference in my emotional state, and I’ve been meaning to write this article ever since.

Japan, the good life

So what happened?  I think for the last 3 years of my life in Japan I had carved out a wonderful routine and great work-life balance that met nearly almost all of my needs.  Tokyo is the city that seriously never sleeps.  There is always something happening near you, and there’s usually thousands of people doing it too.  But as a foreigner there (and I don’t know about the natives since I’ve never been one) the contradiction to this sleeplessness is that at any point you can duck under the covers so-to-speak and live a very quiet, very reclusive lifestyle if you really want.  Being introvert, this is something that I needed to be able to do, and I did.  Regularly.  It basically afforded me the opportunity to recharge my batteries, and since most people there think you’re “busy” all the time anyways they don’t notice that you’ve hardly haven’t been out of your house for a couple of weeks, except for work and the odd errand.

Tokyo was a great place for down-time while allowing you to plug into social events as desired, it’s just that sort of place.  But that’s not the point, the point is I carved out a great life there with many friends and many activities.  I also worked a lot on maintaining a healthy state of mind and finding ways to be happy in the face of difficulties.  All the while… listening to great music.  It sounds a bit like the Subway catch-phrase, but for every mood I am in, I have music for it.  I have realised that part of my state of mind was being influenced to a massive extent by the music I was habitually listening to.

If I’m in a highly energised, positive emotional state and I listen to certain songs, somewhere in my brain I will have programmed an association between the state and the song (stimulus).  If I find myself in a similar state once again, and for some reason I put on the same particular song or song genre, yet again I will reinforce the association between the music and the feeling.  Do that often enough and I’ll have created, without knowing, a very powerful anchor.

I remember actually while I was in Barcelona later in 2009 and on the subway I was listening, basically on-repeat, to Michael Jackson: ‘Off the Wall’ and I felt fantastic at the time!  When I put that song on now I feel just amazing… somehow it puts my body and mind in a state like few other songs can do.  It’s just one anchor that I have now become conscious of but wasn’t aware I was creating at the time.

Anchors are not happy pills

Anchors are not the equivalent to happy pills, because you have to have been in a highly elevated emotional state in order to anchor in the first place, and then to reinforce it in the future.  They aren’t the magic cure all when you’re feeling crap, but rather just one tool to help lift your mind from a stupor that you may find it in… a kick start, if you will.  The problems that exist before you use your anchors to change state are still going to be there, though being in a positive state can of course open you avenues to you that you may not have been able to see previously.  I know that that’s how it works in-part for me.

I don’t know if this sort of topic or idea helps, or if you know how to create anchors for yourself, but I felt I had to share it because it’s become such a powerful tool for me, now that I’m very conscious of it.  My only suggestion is to just try it for yourself… when you’re having a fantastic day for whatever reason, put on some music that you may have associated already partially to feeling great.  Deliberately reinforce it.  It might seem a little contrived but you may find it useful in the future.  Or you may not… what works for one may not work for another.

Be aware that while I’ve only skimmed over the very basics of anchors, and that there are anchors everywhere for us, and not only for the positive.  For example, the way people may speak to us or look at us can trigger reactive negative responses that we’re barely even conscious of, but that have been there and are reinforced throughout our lives.  Watch for automatic changes in your physiological state and try to determine what has just triggered it.

Try to at least become aware of your anchors and as I said earlier, reinforce the positive one deliberately and hopefully you may find it helps for you.  Or, you could always just smile, that’s a great anchor!  🙂

Please feel free to add your comments, and even better, share this post with other people you know using the links provided below.  You may also find related and similar posts in the ‘Related Posts’ section, also found below. Thank you!

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Theresa Sullivan January 25, 2010 at 22:21

Paul, I have been reading some of your blogs and I don’t know if you remember me but I would love to get back in touch with you!


Paul Goodchild January 27, 2010 at 21:00

Hi Theresa!
Of course I remember you! 🙂
I’ll drop you a private email soon.


Leave a Comment

{ 1 trackback }

← Previous Article:

→ Next Article: