Change Work September 2006

That reminds me ...

I have to confess - I haven't actually read Proust's "À la recherche du temps perdu" ("In Search of Lost Time", or better known as "Remembrance of Things Past") but, like many people, I know about "the madeleine" incident*. In this, Proust writes vividly about how the taste of a piece of madeleine cake, not experienced for many years, immediately transported him back to a particular time and place in his childhood. And even before he was able to recall anything about the past event, he felt the emotion, the pleasure associated with it.

This is the most famous example of "anchoring" in literature. Not only is the memory of the event (in terms of images and sounds) stimulated by the taste of the cake, the state (mental, physiological, emotional) that Proust was in at that time is triggered even faster.

These anchors are set all the time - usually without us noticing. This is how a piece of music, a place, a smell or a certain face can evoke feelings - even when we can't consciously recall the association.

Nowadays we have techniques for doing this deliberately so that we can be our best whenever we want. We can anchor the state.

Anchoring exploits the idea that "We already have the resources we need". The "resource" here is the memory of a time when we experienced the desired state. The anchoring technique (described below) allows you to attach that state to a "trigger" that you choose - so you can "fire" it at will.

So, take the time to recall a specific occasion when you were feeling particularly confident, competent or in some other way resourceful, and anchor it. You'll then have an invaluable tool to raise your performance in any situation.


This is probably the simplest and most effective technique in NLP.  It involves choosing a trigger to associate with a desired state. For this exercise, I'd recommend pressing the thumb and first finger of your right hand together - firmly but not too hard - as the trigger.

It's best to read the instructions through a few times before you start so that you can remember steps 3 - 6 without referring to the text. This way you'll be able to maintain the desired state much more easily. You may well want to close your eyes while you're doing the exercise.

1. Choose the state you want to anchor, for example, "pride".

2. Recall a time, place or event when you know that you experienced the state.  For example, you may remember feeling supremely proud after winning a prize or award for something that you are very good at.  Or it may just be a particular occasion when you know you did a brilliant job.

3. Imagine yourself fully back in the experience, seeing through your own eyes rather than watching a movie of yourself.  Take your time to fill in as much detail as you can: what you could see, hear, feel, taste and smell.  Make it as vivid as you can - even exaggerating some parts of the memory.

4. Assume the same posture that you were in - perhaps standing up straight, smiling, breathing deeply.

5. Notice what you are feeling now.  Are you getting the same feelings inside that you did back then?  Really crank that feeling up.

6. Just as the state approaches its peak, set the anchor (press finger and thumb together) and hold it until the peak. (It's important to do this just before the peak and not just after, as you may anchor the declining state.)

7. Now, break state by doing something like: clapping your hands, getting up, stretching, thinking about what you're having for tea, etc.

8. Test the anchor by "firing" it (pressing your finger and thumb together again).  If you don't immediately experience the desired state you may need to repeat the setting process - perhaps several times.

9. Now imagine a future occasion where you will want to be in the state you've just anchored.  Practise using the anchor in that imagined time and feel the effect it has.

10. Use the anchor any time that you need to.  The more often you use it the more effective and reliable it will become.  If you don't use it, it will gradually fade.

A variation on this routine is the "Circle of Excellence", where a state of confidence is anchored to the mental image of an imaginary circle on the floor around you. When you step out of the circle you imagine leaving the state inside. Next time you need to perform "on your feet", e.g. making a presentation, you conjure up the circle on the floor in front of you and then step into it.

Try these out. You might surprise yourself with just how resourceful you already are!

* Proust, M. Remembrance of Things Past. Volume 1: Swann's Way: Within a Budding Grove. For the relevant passage (in English!) go to: