As humans, we like to kid ourselves that we’re in control and that we call the shots when it comes to the way we act and the things we say. We are logical beings who act based on higher cognitive processes to make the decisions that will lead to the most desirable outcomes. We are cool, intellectual and efficient… right?
Only deep down, we know that this isn’t true – not at all in most cases. The fact of the matter is that while we do have an advantage over most animals thanks to our prefrontal cortex, we are also still tied to our hindbrain and our limbic system. And in fact while we might intellectualise the things we do, the vast majority of our decisions are still mostly emotional rather than sensible. That’s why we make a lot of the mistakes we do, it’s why we spend money when we don’t have it, it’s why we curl up into a ball and don’t get any work done on a Monday morning, and it’s why we’ll fly off the handle in a fit of rage at the slightest provocation.
Wouldn’t it be amazing then if you could control your emotions and create any mood that you wanted? That way you could always put yourself in the state-of-mind most conducive to the task you’re trying to complete. When you’re chilling out with your partner you could feel relaxed and romantic, and when you’re negotiating with your electricity providers you could feel determined and angry. You could feel energetic when you needed to get work done/hit the gym, and you could stop feeling depressed and miserable altogether.
Well if that sounds appealing, then the good news is that there’s a technique you can use to accomplish precisely that. It’s promoted by many self-help professionals and salesmen, but in order to get it to work you’re going to have to slightly tweak the instructions to make it more effective. Read on and become master of your own emotions.
What Is Anchoring?
The method of controlling your emotions that you may have heard of is called anchoring. This technique comes from ‘NLP’ (Neurolinguistic Programming) and is also used by hypnotists, business professionals, therapists and others.
In principle, anchoring is a sound method to control emotions and is based on the behavioural school of psychology. Basically the objective is to form associations between certain gestures and behaviours and certain emotions. For instance then, you might try to associate the feeling of touching your leg with feelings of happiness, and thereby have the ability to make yourself feel happier simply by touching your leg surreptitiously.
To do this, you simply practice thinking about the things that make you happy and then touching your leg at the same time. Imagine being in your happy place and imagine that everything is going well for you. Once your mood has improved considerably, touch your leg and make a point to try and connect the two feelings. Repeat this often, and eventually the two will be linked so that touching your leg makes you feel happy.
This same method is said to work for any kind of emotion, so if you want to feel confident, angry, romantic or spiritual on demand you can create different ‘anchors’ to link those feelings to.
The Problem With Anchoring
The problem though, is that this method doesn’t quite work for everyone – and it takes an awful lot of work to build up those associations.
More to the point, if you use your anchor too often you’ll find that it loses its effectiveness. Most likely you are going to use your happiness anchor when you’re feeling down – which means you’ll be constantly touching your leg whenever you feel low. Eventually then this association could change and you might find that it actually makes matters worse.
And most of us aren’t capable of making ourselves feel truly happy simply by thinking of the things that make us really happy. If we could do that so easily already, then what would we even need the anchor for in the first place?
Some people who are particularly suggestible then might get a benefit from this kind of anchoring, but for the rest of us it’s a placebo at best and actually damaging at worst.
Anchoring That Actually Works
The good news though is that anchoring can work if you change the process up a little bit. The theory is perfectly sound – it’s just a matter of building better and stronger anchors.
One way to do this is to look to the anchors that you already have. The human brain is good at creating associations and connecting certain experiences together, and for this reason it’s likely that you will already have certain anchors formed in your mind that you can take advantage of.
For instance, I would always eat lebkuchen at Christmas. These are German chocolates that have ginger inside them, and for me they are the ‘taste of Christmas’. I only ate these chocolates at Christmas when all my family was around me and I was about to open presents, and so by having a lebkuchen I can instantly transport myself back to that time and the way I felt back then. This is a very strong anchor that formed throughout my development, so I can rest assured it’s not going anywhere.
Likewise, certain songs can take you back to a time and place and to the way you felt at that time. Mr Brightside by the Killers often played while my friends and I played cards in the union for instance, and by listening to that song now I can send myself back to a happy time and fond memories. If I’m in a bad mood, then putting on this song is a perfect solution.
And if you don’t have any anchors like that, then this is a much better way to create those new ones – create a happy association by having ‘pizza Tuesdays’ in front of Doctor Who with your partner, or have a victory snack whenever you finish a presentation that goes well. This way you can create new anchors based on real events and real memories, and these will be far more powerful and far more reliable than just tapping your leg.