As I was driving I got transported back in time.
No, I wasn’t in some kind of space/time continuum – but I may have been watching too many Sci-Fi movies!
You’ve no doubt experienced a similar phenomenon; I heard a song on the radio and became completely wrapped up in the warm memories of people, places and events I’d originally associated with the music.
In NLP terminology this reaction is called anchoring
Anchoring is something that stimulates a reaction. Those of you familiar with psychology will also know it as classical conditioning.
More commonly people describe it as ‘pushing your buttons’.
My music example bought back positive memories for me. Whereas usually when people talk about, ‘pushing your buttons’, they’re referring to a negative response.
Anchors can be positive or negative
There could be many things that trigger both positive and negative responses that you’re not aware of. Looking at a photo brings back memories associated with what was happening when it was taken. Seeing dirty socks on the floor… (fill in the blank!) Sometimes these things can be very subtle. A change in voice tone from a loved one might make you believe there’s something wrong. A particular look might make you wary of what’s coming next. These type of anchors often cause chain reactions, resulting in problems.
Some clients of mine, let’s call them John and Sue, were negatively anchored to each other. John was anchored to a certain look he sometimes got from Sue. As soon as he saw ‘the look’ as he called it, he’d think, “Uh,uh here we go again.” In response to Sue’s expression, his voice tone would change and – as he described it – “all his hackles went up”.
Sue, on the other hand was unaware of ‘the look.’ But she was aware when John’s voice tone changed. She became anxious and wondered what she’d, “done wrong this time”. Both John and Sue became defensive from that point onwards, and suffice to say that whatever happened next almost inevitably escalated to a verbal fight.
The above example is both simple and quite typical, from my experience. Sometimes it’s not that easy to find the initial trigger. Sue would say that John’s voice tone triggered her feeling defensive while John would say it was ‘the look’ he got from Sue.
So how do you resolve these seemingly automatic negative responses?
- Identify the triggers. A tone of voice, a particular look, certain words or phrases, a touch, a behaviour, even a smell or a taste can all be triggers. Often, just by identifying the trigger you’re half way to neutralising its effect.
- Recognise that you’re in charge of your own emotions and no-one can really wind you up unless you allow them to. You choose your own responses. So what would happen if you responded differently? Sometimes, just pausing, taking a breath and consciously deciding how you would prefer to respond can make a huge difference.
- Neutralise the trigger.
How do you neutralise the trigger?
Here are two options:
- Talk about it if possible with the person.
- Use a positive anchor to ‘collapse’ the negative one.
1. Talk about it with the person if possible.
Establish what the intention is behind the trigger. In other words, what’s going on for the person at the moment they do or say the behaviour you’ve become anchored to – that’s triggering your response?
The situation in the example above was relatively easy to diffuse.
During our discussion Sue became aware of the look she was giving John; the one that he interpreted as disapproving. It turned out that she was reacting to a particular word he’d used that bought back extremely unhappy childhood memories. (Just goes to show how long these anchors can last!)
The expression on Sue’s face that John interpreted as disapproval was actually a look of anxiety. When his voice tone changed, Sue became more fearful and he took her look of fear as further disapproval. This got John’s hackles up as he prepared himself for the ‘fight’ that would eventuate.
Once this was talked through and both spouses became aware of how they were each contributing to the problem, it was all but resolved. The only thing left to do was to neutralise the anchors.
In future, the look from Sue would trigger compassion in John, which would soften his voice as he responded. He tried to avoid the word which triggered anxiety in Sue and when he forgot, Sue remembered to see John as her loving husband who she had chosen to spend her life with.
2. Use another anchor to ‘collapse’ the negative one.
Think about how you would like to feel when you experience the trigger. So if you’re becoming anxious, you might want to be calm instead. Then you create an anchor for calm. (Do this now – it only takes a few minutes). The next time you experience the trigger, you use your new anchor to neutralise the negative feelings previously associated with that situation.
John and Sue each established an anchor
John set an anchor for feeling compassion towards Sue whenever he saw ‘the look.’ As a result he realised straight away that he has triggered a bad memory for her and could respond in a supportive way. Sue reminded herself of how much she loved John and set an anchor for feeling loving. Then if she heard the word that had been a problem before, the new anchor made her feel loving, effectively neutralising the previous anxious response.
- Anchors are everywhere.
- Notice what’s ‘pushing your buttons.’ (What’s the ‘trigger’?)
- Check to see whether you’re doing or saying something that’s contributing to – or even starting – the problem situation
- Talk it through with the person involved.
- Neutralise the negative anchor by using a positive anchor for how you’d like to respond in the presence of the trigger.