Anchoring | The Mental Side of Performance

Mindset is everything.  Period. 

As a former athlete, now CEO, I have come to greatly appreciate the power of the mind.  

If the mind isn’t in the game, neither are you.

When it comes to performance, both athletic and in business, there is a technique that I’ve been using for years as a way to help “get in the zone” and increase my focus – it is called anchoring

What is Anchoring?

The concept of anchoring is one that I was introduced to through Neurolinguistic Programming (NLP) as a way to access a certain state of mind or to induce an emotion.  Anchoring is typically associated with an internal or external trigger (auditory, tactile, spatial) that is conditioned to be associated with a specific response and can be accessed quickly.

An example of an anchor I used to use as a gymnast was, before a tumbling pass or running to the vault, I’d have to rub both of my feet on the floor, adjust my leotard and rub my hands on my thighs.   This sequence of tactile events was conditioned to put my mind “in the zone” and the rest of the room would disappear.   

Now I may not be a competitive gymnast anymore, but the importance of mindset is just as important today.   Every single day as I walk into my office, or sit down to write my next book, I anchor my mind and focus my thoughts.  Over the years I have seen a direct correlation in my productivity and job satisfaction when I set the tone for my day through anchoring.

 Accessing Your Anchors

Anchoring triggers can include verbal phrases, physical touches or sensations, certain sights and sounds, or internally, such as words one says to oneself, or memories and states one is in.   It could be a song, a specific route you drive to work, a series of stretches you do before you workout.  Really a trigger can be anything that one perceives as an anchor, in the sense that it triggers a thought or feeling or response.

If you are looking to integrate anchors into your day or want to utilize them with your clients or athletes, below are some key categories and examples of triggers which can be used for conditioning the mind.

Michael Carroll, founder and course director of the NLP Academy, explains the four-step process of setting up an anchor:

  1. Have the person fully access a state
  2. Provide a specific anchor (stimulus) as the state peaks
  3. Break state
  4. Fire anchor to test

Another technique that I like to use is repetition until association.  This technique of establishing anchors requires the person to be in the present moment without outside distractions so that the “memory” of the association can be established.   

An example of repetition until association that I have used in the past was, when working out, I’d play a specific song during my warm-up and movement prep.  I did it so frequently that before I realized it, as soon as I heard that specific song and walked into the gym, my mind was anchored and I’d literally be pulled into the zone and ready to crush my workout.  

5 Types of Anchors 

Anchor #1 – Visual

A visual anchor uses the sense of sight to anchor you into a desired state. Visual anchors can be internal or external. If you use an external anchor, it has to be visible at all times. This could be something like seeing a motivation poster, a tattoo or a picture on the wall.

Internal anchors are more common since they are essentially visualization. By using positive visualizations, we can literally rewire our brain to generate more positive thoughts.

With mental imagery, it is important to be as specific as possible. You want this to feel real so your brain will experience those same powerful and positive emotions as if you were really at this location.

Anchor #2 – Auditory

Like visual anchors, auditory anchors can also be both external or internal.  A popular external auditory anchor is music. I like to teach trainers and coaches to play the same songs during the movement prep part of your clients or athletes session as they will start to associate the mental focus of the workout with the songs used in these 15 minutes.   

For an internal anchor, you can repeat a phrase in your mind. For instance, you could say, “I am calm and relaxed’ or “I am strong”. This is similar to positive affirmations. By continuing to repeat this phrase, you will naturally feel more at peace

Anchor #3 – Kinesthetic

This is another one of my favourite anchors and is one that I’ve used a lot in my career. I know a lot of the readers are movement specialists so this is a type of anchor you may want to integrate into your clients sessions.   

Breath work, fascial tensioning, barefoot stimulation – all of these are great ways to create kinesthetic anchors. 

Breath work and focused breathing patterns are a powerful way to slow the autonomic nervous system down and bring someone into a parasympathetic state.    When combined with mental anchoring, focused breathing is one of the most effective techniques for calming anxiety, stress and PTSD.   

Another kinesthetic anchoring technique I like involves fascia tensioning.  Pushing the toes down into the ground (short foot), engaging the TVA, making a fist – all of these tension based concepts bring awareness to the body and forces the person to be in the moment and to feel themselves.    

And finally, of course there is barefoot or sensory stimulation.  Because the foot is so sensory rich and is our only connection point to the ground, barefoot stimulation as an anchor represents a powerful strategy for anchoring, or “grounding” the mind.   

To upgrade the barefoot anchor technique, add in the sensory stimulation with a Naboso Mat. This Naboso anchoring technique is a favourite among cranial sacral therapists such as Lois Laynee of Restorative Breathing.    

Anchor #4 – Olfactory

As the most powerful sense, smell is an excellent mental anchoring technique.  Olfactory anchors coud be a cologne or perfume or an essentially oil such as those from Doterra.   

I use olfactory anchors all the time, with peppermint oil as my go-to scent.    When I fly, if I start to experience turbulence and get anxious, I smell my peppermint oil and it calms me down.   I also use peppermint oil every night before I go to bed and it clears my mind for a good night’s rest. 

Anchor #5 – Gustatory

This anchor uses taste to bring you into a healthy mental state. For this mental anchoring technique to work, you want to use an anchor that is readily available. A mint or flavored gum is a popular choice.

Final Tips

 Repeat, repeat, repeat! Anchoring is a skill and something that cannot be forced.

The anchor should be integrated in exactly the same way each time and overtime it will become ingrained in your mind.

Enjoy the process and get ready to unlock your peak potential!

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