Helping Your Clients Tap Into Confidence With Anchoring

For the most part we are guiding our clients to come to their own conclusions and breakthroughs in their life by asking great questions and listening.

However, if you have a client come to you with a crushing lack of confidence, then no amount of rational deliberation at the conscious level will make a blind bit of difference.

Try telling somebody terrified of flying as they are about to board a plane that it’s actually the safest form of travel.

Or informing somebody having a panic attack that it’s no big deal.

Or telling the person about to go into anaphylactic shock after seeing a spider that it’s ok, it’s not poisonous.

Your no doubt well meaning efforts will have no effect because the fear is so deep seated in the unconscious mind that rationalizing it consciously can ironically intensify it.

Using Rapid Intervention Techniques

Fortunately there are other rapid intervention techniques that if we learn and master, can help us to help our clients.

The method I’m going to talk about today is one such technique that is regularly used by people the world over to help them through short-term difficulties.

Public speakers use it, athletes use it, sports people use it and millions of other ordinary people use it every day. And that’s because it works.

There’s a lot of NLP patterns that are (in my opinion) smoke and mirrors. Whereas I feel sure there are elements that will be proven to be effective other than just the level of belief, I feel equally sure, many will not.

That doesn’t mean they don’t work, because if the client has an unshakable belief that they will work, then the likelihood that they will, exponentially increases.

We should never underestimate the power of our clients belief system and should always be looking to bolster supportive beliefs and gently undermine limiting ones.

If a client tells me that she thinks the Universe is conspiring on her behalf as has happened more than once. I’m like, “Awesome, there’s no way we can fail”.

It doesn’t matter if I think the Universe is ambivalent to us as individuals because (for the most part)  it’s an empowering belief for a client, and in any case, I don’t know for a fact it’s not true

On the flip side, if I have a client who thinks the Universe hates him and is actively conspiring against him (and yes I’ve heard this several times), I won’t be saying awesome.

I’ll be looking for every positive element in their life and bringing it to their awareness. Then I’ll point out if the Universe obviously isn’t always working on the clients downfall or everything would be in disarray.

So maybe it’s really just a combination of unfortunate circumstances and that bad luck is due to change just by the law of averages.

My Introduction to NLP & Anchoring

10 years ago when I first did NLP training, albeit it in a sales setting, I couldn’t have told you how anchors work (I’ll explain what they are in a moment).

And for that matter neither could anybody else with any certainty.

Sure there was lots of anecdotal evidence and that can be compelling, but it’s not the same as having peer reviewed scientific research to support a hypothesis.

And that is the reason why there are whole areas of NLP that I ignore, because (in my opinion) they are almost exclusively down to the strength of the clients belief system as to whether they work or not.

I’m not against a skilled NLP practitioner using such methods, but they don’t sit comfortably with me. As such I prefer to, for the most part, stick to things that I know work, rather than those that I hope will.

As I say, 10 years ago we were in the dark as to what exactly is an anchor and why the actually worked.

Were they just constructs of the belief system or were there physiological and/or neurological changes taking place?

A Dog, A Russian and a Bell

Let me take you back a century or so to the University of St Petersburg in Russia where esteemed Physiologist Ivan Pavel had a dog.

Pavlov was known worldwide for his work on classical conditioning and had even received a Nobel Prize in 1904.

You probably know the crux of his work. He would alert his dog to dinner time by ringing a bell. The hungry puppy would romp up to get his meal and all was good in the world.

Then one day Pavlov rang the bell and rather cruelly didn’t offer the dog any food.

He noticed something strange though. Even there wasn’t a Moose burger or Bear steak in sight the hound still continued to salivate as though there were.

Pavlov had discovered the conditioned reflex or conditioned response.

And that’s how things stood for many decades. Yes science now understood that one event can trigger another (with both humans and animals) when there is no physical connection, but nobody knew exactly why.

Modern technology supplied the reason with the arrival of fMRI’s and PET Scans and the ability to start and get a much clearer understanding of how the brain works.

In his brilliant and highly recommended book ‘The Brain That Changes Itself’,(al) Norman Doidge used a term from neuroscience that had been around a little while but wasn’t wildly used outside the very tight confines of a very small area of academic research.

Neurons That Fire Together, Wire Together

It’s one of those brilliant phrases that pretty much explains itself. If you do two separate things over and over again at the same time, then the neurons required for each task will fire over and over again at the same time.

Not only that, but eventually they will fuse together so that one of the neurons firing will stimulate the other one two.

In NLP this is called an anchor and in Psychotherapy it’s often called a trigger.

You have dozens of anchors, some good some bad. You may have a certain smell that immediately reminds you of a happy time during your childhood.

Equally, you may have a negative anchor such as a song that when you hear it makes you immediately sad before you have even had chance to think about it. Maybe that song was on the radio when you heard bad news or a relationship ended?

In my teens I once got really ill after eating the hideous concoction that is a Scotch Egg (in case you want to know it’s a hard boiled egg surrounded by sausage meat and covered in bread crumbs).

You would think that would be enough to make anybody ill, but it actually had nothing to do with the egg, that was purely coincidental.

My brain didn’t believe that though and the mere thought of eating a Scotch Egg for more than two decades made me feel nauseous.

I had developed a Pavlovian response or what in NLP we call, an anchor .

The really cool thing about anchors is that we can manufacture them for ourselves.

They don’t have to occur naturally, and as I said, they are widely used by people in sports, public speakers and pretty much any arena where people want to be able to rapidly change their state.

Probably the most popular use for them is to create an anchor for confidence (hence why they are used by public speakers a lot) so that the person can move from a state of apprehension or nervousness to one of confidence.

Pretty cool stuff eh? And I’m sure it’s something you could share with your clients to help them manage their states.

Before I explain how you set an anchor and the limitations they can have, I want to explain why I bothered telling you everything up until now.

I could have said, “Look these are dead cool and they work, just trust me”, and maybe you would have, but most of your clients wouldn’t have.

I want my clients buy in as much as possible when I’m doing something that may on the surface look dubious or a bit woo-woo.

Therefore, if I can explain that what I’m talking about is rooted in neuroscience they are more likely to listen and commit to doing it.

Sometimes it can take a while to set a strong anchor, so I don’t want them bailing out and thinking it doesn’t work if they don’t get immediate results.

That’s as far as I’m going for today, but in the next post I’ll get into the nitty gritty.

I’ll share with you why most NLP trainers don’t set true anchors, the importance of break states when building them and why this is one of the few times I actually want clients to fake it until they make it.

Read part 2 – Setting An Anchor With NLP


  1. Roberta Smart

    Thanks Tim. Great Article. A Good Clear Introduction To The Murky Depths Of Client Confidence Issues.
    A Great Demonstration Of Clear Concise article Writing Too. Much Appreciated.

  2. Peanuts are one of my triggers. I can eat dry roasted, in fact I love them, but the salted variety take me back to a trip to the Pyrenees when I was about 8 years old. I apparently ate a whole packet of them at once, then was nightly sick! Just the smell of them brings on the nausea now.

    Looking forward to the anchoring post Tim.

    Interesting stuff 😉