Selecting a Resource to Anchor*
by Steve and Connirae Andreas
There are many, many aspects of skillful anchoring.
The elicitation, the timing, the smoothness and naturalness of introducing
the anchor, the skill with which the anchored state is integrated or
sequenced with the target state, etc. In this article, we want to focus
on only one aspect of anchoring, selecting the state to anchor.
As we have reviewed the work of trainers
and prospective trainers over the years, we have often heard the integration
of anchors described something like this: "Be sure that the resource
state is as intense as the problem state." "If the resource
state isn't at least as strong as the problem state, the problem state
may overwhelm the resource." Some people go even further to assign
numerical intensities to states: "If the problem state is a minus
6, make sure that the resource state is at least a plus 7." This
kind of understanding leads us to focus primarily on the quantity
of the state, rather than its qualities.
We have often jokingly called this "the mathematical theory of
Speaking in these terms is an indication of some simplistic presuppositions
about states that are not useful: that states battle each other in the
process of integration, and that only the raw intensity of a "positive"
state can overwhelm a "negative" state. In our early days,
we were often taught with similar "conflict" or "combat"
metaphors, and it took us a while to realize that there are much more
useful ways to think about integrating states. Since the metaphors that
we use to understand our work lead us to think in certain ways, (and
also prevent us from thinking in other ways), it is important to re-examine
them from time to time, and improve on them when we can.
striking counterexample often points the way toward a more useful paradigm,
and in this case, the phobia procedure does it very nicely. A phobia
is one of the most intense states that a person can experience. Yet
the resource that resolves a phobia, dissociation, is a very low-key
state that most people would not describe as intense at all! This counterexample demonstrates that it
is not the intensity or quantity of a resource state, but its particular
qualities that make it useful in changing a problematic
experience. A resource state for concentration on mathematics will be
very internal and utilize very little proprioceptive kinesthetics, while
a resource state for skiing will be very external and will utilize exquisite
distinctions and feedback in the kinesthetic system. While neither of
these resource states is particularly "intense," each is a
powerful resource for the appropriate skill. On the other hand, each
of these states will not be resources at all for the other task; they
will be hindrances. A skier who attempts to do mathematics in his skiing
resource state will do as poorly at that as a mathematician who tries
to ski using his mathematics resource state, and each may become intensely
frustrated as a consequence.
For many years people have been saying that
we only use 10% of our brains. We don't know how they came up with that
figure, but probably the intent was to convince people that they were
capable of much more than they had previously believed. It can be useful
to note that using 100% of our brain is not particularly useful--that
is what happens during an epileptic seizure or electroshock treatment.
The problem is not that we are using only
10%, but that we are sometimes using the wrong 10%. When doing a particular task well, we may well
be using considerably less than 1% our brain, but it is the appropriate 1%. What we accomplish when we successfully
anchor a resource is to find the exact missing neurology that is needed
for a particular outcome.
When a person becomes stuck in an unpleasant
state, it's because he is missing some ability or skill that would enable
him to cope with a situation that is important to him. Or to put it
another way, he is not accessing the appropriate neurology for the task
at hand. The intensity of the person's response is due to the importance
of the problem situation, not the difficulty of the situation itself.
A very simple difficulty may result in a very intense response, and
often a very simple and unremarkable resource ability will solve the
problem. A loose wire in the ignition of a car is a very small part
of the car, but it can make the difference between the car's running
or not, and it may only take a moment to tighten it and solve the car's
"problem" completely (as well as the problem of the car's
The human brain has many very different capacities
and skills, and each is carried out by a certain set of neurological
events. Anchoring a state
is easy. Selecting an appropriate
state to anchor is far more important.
Often it's appropriate to let the client select, since the client
(and the client’s unconscious mind) knows far more about the problem situation than s/he could tell you in a hundred
years: "What resource would make a powerful difference for you
in that situation?" "Which of your many personal abilities
and skills would be really useful to you in that situation, and would
transform that problem situation into one that is easy for you to deal
with in a useful way?" "When in your past did you encounter
a similar situation that you found it easy to deal with resourcefully?"
"What would it be like if you had the ability to deal with this
situation in a fully satisfactory way?”
However, at other times, the client has no idea what state would
be useful (or he may think
he knows, and choose badly!).
A search in the client's personal history may turn up no similar
situation that worked well in the past, and the future "as if"
frame may also come up empty-handed. In this case a capable NLP practitioner
will be able to gather enough information about the process parameters
and the content of the problem state to be able to predict what kind
of state will be a powerful resource in a particular context, for a
specific outcome (as in the example of resource states for skiing and
mathematics). A detailed understanding of the strategies and component
submodalities,etc., that a person uses in the problem state can provide
high-quality information that allows you to predict resource states
with considerable specificity. However, the intensity of the problem
state is the least
useful piece of information; that only tells you about the importance of it to the person.
One of Milton Erickson's greatest skills
was his ability to elicit exactly the resource state that the client needed in order to
make the desired change. He was especially adept at accessing "what
the client knows, but doesn't know that she knows," or in other
words, the client's unconscious understandings. With a woman in great
pain from terminal cancer, he elicited the pain-free state that would
exist if a hungry tiger actually walked in the door. "And just
how much pain would you feel, if you turned and saw a hungry tiger walk
slowly through that door, licking his chops, and looking at just only
you?" With a woman who was paralyzed below the waist and could
not consciously control her urination, he set up a situation in which
she imagined sitting on the toilet when the door opened and a strange
man's face appeared.
Ultimately, of course, "the proof of the pudding
is in the eating." The client's nonverbal response after the selected
state has been accessed and anchored into the problem context is what
lets you know what it is actually a resource in any particular situation.
As an exercise, we would like to offer you a description of an actual
client from twenty years ago, and invite you to select a specific appropriate resource state to solve his problem.
The client's complaint is that he doesn't
like to kiss his wife because her breath smells bad. Both he and his
wife want more cuddling and kissing. Her breath simply smells bad to
him, so he tends to avoid close contact. This has been a problem since
they first met over a year ago; they got married in spite of it. She
has tried mouthwash and tablets, etc. but it's only temporary, and neither
of them liked the medicinal odor. Most aspects of his marriage are very
satisfactory, but this one problem is causing difficulties. We explored
very thoroughly and carefully for "secondary gain" and found
none. Presuppose that the actual smell of her breath can't be changed.
(It may have a biochemical basis; they now have a daughter whose breath
has the same distinctive smell.) What kind of resource state would you
choose to elicit and anchor in order to change his unpleasant response
to his wife's breath?
We strongly encourage you to pause now, and think about what
you would do in this situation. What kind of resource state would you
choose to anchor? Read on only
after you have chosen one or more options, and you will have an opportunity
to learn something about how you think, and how you could usefully add
* * * * *
Some people choose a state in which smell
is absent, such as a stuffed-up nose, or a situation in which a chemical,
such as ammonia, has overwhelmed the nose. While this would work, it
is equivalent to prescribing amnesia for a rape victim's memory of the
rape, and it exemplifies an approach that is perhaps appropriately described in mathematical terms. Amnesia, or numbness,
or absence of smell are all examples of subtracting experience, which has certain dangers. When
experience is subtracted, the person has less information, less skills,
less perceptual sensitivity, less resources. In short, they become a
less capable human being, and more at the mercy of their environment.
Amnesia for a rape memory deletes all the bad feelings, but also all
the useful information about that event that could be used to protect
the person in the future, and this makes the person more vulnerable
to a repetition. Lack of smelling would make a person more vulnerable
to the potentially harmful effects of spoiled food or leaking gas.
In contrast, good NLP work is always additive. We always want to add information, add skills,
add perceptual sensitivity, add resources, to make the client into a
more fully human being, and more able to perceive and choose and respond
to events. So the task of choosing a state to anchor is at least narrowed
to the question, "What experience can we add in order to change the situation?" We have observed one
trainer who always anchors positive self-esteem as a resource. While
feeling good about oneself is often a valuable state, it is no more
a "cure-all" than any other state, and in this case could
make him feel good about not liking his wife's breath, or good about
being willing to marry her in spite of it, etc. However, her breath
would still smell bad to him.
Another prominent trainer typically anchors
a state of confidence. In this case, confidence is irrelevant. How could
confidence have anything to do with the smell of his wife's breath?
Confidence can be a very useful resource for someone who is competent
and able to do something, but is hesitant about doing it. Since many
people are hesitant about doing things that they are quite able to do,
anchoring confidence can often be useful. However, consider a situation
in which someone is hesitant and incompetent.
If you anchor in a state of confidence, they will proceed to attempt
to do things that they can't yet do. This will inevitably lead to disappointment,
which is not a particularly useful result, and s/he and others may also
be harmed if the incompetence results in physical danger.
Some people attempt to anchor a state of
neutrality. As a practical
matter, it is very difficult to anchor a neutral response. At any moment
we are neutral about thousands of events around us that we aren't responding
to, so that's a very unspecific experience of not responding. Anchoring only works with a specific neurological
response. In contrast, a pleasant response to something is specific,
(as well as being much more enjoyable!) so it's much easier to access
a pleasant state and anchor it and it's underlying neurology.
One possibility is to anchor one or more
experiences in which the client is responding pleasantly to a smell.
That is certainly an appropriate kind of resource, and often it will
work, particularly if the smells that result in the pleasant and unpleasant
responses are similar in quality. Since we didn't try this in this case,
we can't say for sure whether it would have worked or not, but it is
certainly an appropriate choice.
However, it is one thing to identify a resource
state and anchor it; it is quite another thing to find a path or easy
transition to that state. There is an old joke that neurotics build
castles in the air, psychotics live in them, and psychiatrists collect
the rent. The task of NLP is to build stairways, or transitions, so
that people can actually reach their desired outcomes easily (without
becoming psychotic, and without paying rent to psychiatrists!).
The desired state is that the client have
a pleasant response to the smell of his wife's breath. What experience
would provide a transition mechanism, so that he can easily access the
specific neurology that will make it possible for him to change from
his unpleasant response to a pleasant one? Nearly everyone likes certain smells that
were once unpleasant to them (and may still be unpleasant to others),
usually because they became anchors for pleasant experiences at some
time in the past. If you elicit and anchor the moment that the response
changed, you gain access to the neurological shifts that occurred during
the process of transition, rather than just the desired state. This
also has the useful function of convincing the person's conscious mind
that the kind of change he wants is possible, because he can verify
that it occurred in his past.
Once you ask the right question, the answer is
usually obvious. We asked him to think of times when his response to
a smell changed
from unpleasant to pleasant, and he recalled two:
1) He had never liked the smell of new-mown
hay, but early one bright sunny morning, driving past fields of hay,
he found himself enjoying it.
2) He had never liked the smell of carnations
(it seemed "medicinal" to him), until one evening he found
himself enjoying their smell.
We anchored these two experiences separately
on his arm with separate touches, and then held both these anchors while
we asked him to close his eyes and imagine bending down to kiss his
wife. As he did this, he reported that he saw his wife's face with hay
all around it, and she had a carnation held between her lips. (When
you get this kind of cooperation from the client's unconscious mind,
you know you're on the right track!) The reanchoring was immediately
successful, and twenty years (and several children) later the problem
has not recurred.
Usually people think of anchoring states.
Anchoring the process
as someone makes a transition from one state to another is a very specific and powerful additional
refinement. To make your future work even more elegant in this way,
we encourage you to identify the specific transitional process your
client needs, rather than just the target state.
Even if the client only experienced it once in his life, when
you find it, he's got exactly
what he needs to get there. Teaching a client how to identify and utilize
these transition states provides them with a measure of fluidity and
choice that is not available with static states.
But why should your clients
get all the benefits of this approach?
Can you think of a time
when you were furious and then suddenly burst
How about a time when you
were tired and irritable and then you woke
up and were alert and in a good humor for hours?
A time when something you
had considered ugly became enduringly beautiful
in its own special way?
How about a time when you
were "in your own world" and then broadened
it to include someone else's viewpoint?
A time when you were discouraged
or bored with doing NLP and then your client's process became intensely
How about a time when you
"weren't in the mood" and then became gently
A time when you were complaining
about life's difficulties, and then
became profoundly and tearfully grateful for simply being alive?
What other transitions
would you like to be able to make in your own
life now, .
. . and when were
you able to make them easily?
*Anchor Point, Vol. 14, No.
7 July. (A much shorter version of this article was originally published
in Anchor Point in 1988.)
utilization of the Andreas' article, “Selecting a Resource to
A few days ago I found myself eating a meal prepared by my wife,
made with all good quality vegetarian ingredients, basically a rice
dish with lots of added stir-ins.
However, the first mouthful (a piece of carrot) tasted foul to
me. I think it was a new stock cube she was trying out. Among the
alternatives were spitting
it out, swallowing it and forcing the rest down,
swallowing it and then telling her I can't eat any more, etc.
Then I remembered the Andreas' article. I swallowed the mouthful
(disgusting) and then swallowed some water. Then I recalled the time
I suddenly changed from disliking to liking scotch whisky (less than
one second originally).
In the middle of this memory of the transition state I took another
mouthful and kept remembering that time. Three mouthfuls later I realized
that I now quite liked the food. In fact by the end of the meal it was
tasting quite good.
A few days later I was served up the same meal! I had forgotten
about the first experience, until I noticed the first forkful smelled
a little unpleasant. But as it got nearer my mouth it suddenly changed
to smelling fine. A weird experience.
*Anchor Point, Vol.
14, No. 9, September, p. 39