+64 21 684 395

Anchoring: What Have Pavlov's Dogs To Do With You?

12 Oct 2017

Anchoring: What Have Pavlov’s Dogs To Do With You?

You might have more brain power – but you’re just as susceptible!

Dog walking is a social activity here in Raglan

Sometimes we might have 12 or more dogs racing around together while their respective owners walk and chat. One of our buddies has 2 Scottish deerhounds; gorgeous and enormous dogs that can cover long distances super fast. (See photo below)


Stu, their owner carries a whistle which he uses to call them back when they’re out of voice range. He rewards their prompt return with a yummy meat treat. Ragz, my Tibetan terrier, learnt very quickly that the whistle means food. Responding like one of Pavlov’s dogs, he makes sure he’’s first back and sitting nicely in front of Stu before the deerhounds get there! (This isn’’t difficult because he can’’t keep up with the leggy dogs, so he’’s always nearer to us than the deerhounds.) In NLP terminology we call this response to the whistle stimulus, anchoring, in psychological terms it’s called classical conditioning.

It was a Russian bloke called Ivan Pavlov who first discovered the link between a sound and food, because he was studying dog digestion and  salivation at the time. What he also discovered had an impact on all humanity.

But it’s not only dogs that respond to anchors

As humans, we also react automatically to stimuli. In fact, a definition of anchoring is that a stimulus in one of our senses — for instance, smell — causes a reaction in another of our senses (e.g. feeling) which we associate with the stimulus. So a stench of rotting fish might make us feel like throwing up!

But most of us will avoid rotting fish – so why is anchoring so important?

We often react automatically to stimuli, so might not realise what it is that’’s upsetting us. For example, someone said to me the other day, ““I don’t know what it is about her; she just rubs me up the wrong way”.” Whatever ‘it’ is, it’s causing her the feeling of discomfort (of being rubbed up the wrong way!)

Phobias are extreme examples of negative anchoring

Often just hearing the word – such as spider – associated with the phobia will cause a phobic reaction. The phobic person has no conscious control over that response.

How do anchors start?

In the case of a phobia, it can start with a single time, extremely adverse event. One client developed a phobia of driving around traffic round-a-bouts after being involved in a particularly harrowing near-miss accident involving a truck at a round-a-bout.

Other anchors commonly occur through repetition

It’’s often easier to observe anchors in animals because that’s how we train them – intentionally or not. Picking up the car keys or lead, putting on your trainers, locking the house – any of these actions might be telling your dog it’’s walk time.

Pavlov's dogs

Although it might look as if they’re killing him, the deerhounds are just playing with Ragz!

We are all anchored to many things

Advertisers use anchoring deliberately and often, to ‘re-mind’ us of what they are selling. Even very young children will recognise McDonalds’ golden arches if they’’ve been exposed to TV ads or other visual media.

In fact, the other morning I heard that children are exposed to 27 ads for junk food a day!

Think about the long-term impact of that! Company jingles continuously reinforce a brand, and logos make those names instantly recognisable. Whether these are positive or negative anchors depends on your point of view.

Negative anchors can be associated with any of our five senses

Anchors that we’’d probably all determine are negative are things like: Putrid and fetid smells. (I bet you turned your nose up just reading that, didn’’t you?)

Specific pieces of music or songs

The offensive music genre might be different for each person, but music can evoke many emotional states. Hearing music associated with a loved one that’’s passed could well leave you in a gloomy state. Can you imagine what a film would be like without the music score? It’’s often the music that evokes the most emotion. If you just listen to the music without watching the film, you can quickly tell which parts are sad, happy, tense, fast, slow or romantic. Notice how often the music from Jaws movie is played in other contexts to signify impending doom!

A distinct look from a partner, parent or child

I remember a friend of mine’’s child falling over while we were all out walking. She didn’’t cry, and I asked her, “”Wow, it’s really interesting that you fell over, how did you do it?”” My curious tone encouraged her, and she began relating how it happened. But when she looked at her mother, she saw the sympathetic expression on her face and burst into tears!

Many words are anchors in themselves

Any word that causes a reaction is an anchor. What are the words that affect you?

Hearing or seeing your name is an anchor for you to respond!

Particular fabrics may cause an adverse kinaesthetic response. For example, some people cannot wear wool next to their skin. If you are one of those people, even the thought of wearing wool against your flesh may cause a shudder!

You might not even realise the anchors that are affecting you

I could write a book solely about anchoring as it’’s so powerful and far-reaching. One thing you can do is to identify the negative anchors that may be affecting you.

Think back to a time when you didn’’t feel so good and couldn’t figure out why. Then think about what happened immediately before you started to feel unresourceful. You may have tasted, heard, smelt, seen or physically felt something. Even being consciously aware of the anchor robs it of some of its power. Then you can deliberately set another, favourable anchor to replace the negative one. You can discover how to set an anchor here or how to set an anchor for confidence here.

I’d encourage you to discover the things that make you feel anything less than totally fantastic and awesome. By doing so you’’ll begin to regain control of things that might have had an impact on your life, but of which you were previously unaware. Noticing anchors and changing your response will give you back conscious power and stop you responding automatically and unconsciously – like Pavlov’’s dogs.

Other articles about anchoring

How to stop your habitual knee-jerk reactions

How to achieve instant relaxation

3 ways to stop someone pushing your buttons

Instant confidence