The Power Of Anchors: Changing Unhelpful Responses

Recently, I bought a ready made salad with a dressing.

As I ate it, I spontaneously started thinking about my time working on a summer camp, back in the 80s.

I was curious to know where that thought came from, as it seemed to pop out of nowhere.

As I pondered this, I realised that the salad dressing was very similar to the dressing used at the summer camp!

This blew my mind, that my thinking could be triggered by a taste.

This is an example of an anchor; when a stimulus can trigger a particular response, in this case a memory.

Anchors Are Powerful

Another example is when we hear a piece of music and it instantly takes us back to a particular time in our life.

Anchors can be negative:

Seeing or thinking of a person and having a negative feeling; anger, frustration, annoyance.

Not being able to drink a particular drink because we got very drunk on that drink.

I avoided drinking bacardi rum and red wine for years, for the above reason!

For a person with ME/CFS, the thought of doing something; going for a walk, going out for a meal, or even just taking a shower, can result in anxiety.

Sometimes people are not even aware of what they are thinking, as the response is automatic.

Understanding Automatic Responses

Our responses can become conditioned and habitual.

You probably know about Pavlov and his dogs.

If not, very briefly, Ivan Petrovich Pavlov was a Russian physiologist, who did some interesting  experiments with dogs.

He noticed that the dogs started to salivate when a door was opened.

So every time he fed his dogs, they heard various sounds; for instance the sound of a buzzer.

After a while, every time the dogs heard the buzzer, they would start to salivate.

This is called conditioning or is referred to as classical conditioning.

Conditioning In Humans

Other researchers discovered that people can be conditioned in the same way.

They did an experiment, which wasn’t very nice or ethical.

They showed a baby referred to as Albert, who was 9 months old, different animals and objects, for example, a  white rat, a rabbit, a dog, a monkey, masks to see how he would respond.

He showed no fear to any of these stimuli.

Then when they showed him the rat, when he touched it, they hit a steel bar behind him.

He was startled by the sound and got upset.

They did this a number of times and then showed Albert the rat. He got upset. He also got upset when he saw other furry animals or objects; a rabbit, fur coat, etc.

This is called generalising.

Practice And Automation

If we practice a response often enough then it can become automatic.

The good news is that we can un-learn these unhelpful responses.

For example, I had a client, a musician called Gary Husband, who would get very anxious when he was on aeroplanes.

He now enjoys flying and sent me a picture of him in the cockpit! That is him on the right.

Changing Anchors 

Showing people how to change unhelpful anchors is explored in detail in the Building Resilience Training

On the training, people learn a 3 step system- the IIC method, which may help them change these automatic responses:


The unhelpful responses


The unhelpful responses


New preferred responses

Free Coaching Strategy Session

If you would like to explore this topic further and discover some simple strategies to changing unhelpful responses, get in touch to book a free Coaching Strategy Session.

I do 3 free no-obligation sessions each week.

Closing Thoughts

Our responses, whether helpful or unhelpful, can become conditioned.

It is possible to change our habitual unhelpful responses to more useful ones.


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simon  SIMON PIMENTA is a hypnotherapist, coach and trainer working with people to boost resilience and performance, and minimise stress.

After working in a demanding job as the Director of a Housing Trust, he went off sick and remained unable to work for the next 8 years.

He discovered a pioneering approach to resolving health issues and got back his health, and now trains others using these same techniques.



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2 Responses to The Power Of Anchors: Changing Unhelpful Responses

  1. Liz Harrison says:

    love this concept of anchors. After reading this blog, I have realised I am still carrying a few anchors around myself! I will work on those. thank you

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