Anchor Moments

You build up the confidence to go over and talk to the attractive stranger. You have thought of something interesting to say and you stroll by. Suddenly a fleeting expression on the strangers face causes your confidence to shake. You no longer feel your opening remark is nearly as witty or interesting as it had been.

By the time you get across to the stranger your mouth opens and you manage to force out what you were going to say. You immediately begin imagining the stranger frowning at you, turning away, maybe even laughing. Your stomach tightens and palms sweat. Why does your mind have to focus on the worst possible outcome in a time when you need it least?

Our emotions tend to reflect very recent and current experiences far more strongly than those that occurred in our past. Although this undoubtedly helps our survival, keeping us keenly aware of our surroundings, when those experiences are negative our temporary confidence may get wildly distorted from reality.

Certainly our friend in the introduction has come and said something to strangers before and it has gone well. But somehow those experiences of success are far from the mind when involved in the act. If this person could have summoned up an experience when things went well, that nervousness may have lessened considerably.

Whether it is delivering a speech, building the enthusiasm to go to the gym or heading off to write an exam, having the right emotional state is critical. When I deliver speeches, although there is always the tinge of nervousness that keeps me sharp, I can stay confident and deliver to the best of my abilities. When I write tests I always enter with a calm state of anticipation and readiness. This mild alertness keeps me focused and attentive but also relaxed and clear headed.

You probably have areas in your own life where you are able to maintain that state of relaxed concentration. Chances are the areas you navigate with ease others may find terrifying. Places where, concentration is acute but their mind focuses not on what they are doing but fears possible outcomes.

What separates you from these people? The answer is really based upon what you are focusing on before you start. When I deliver a speech, I may feel nervous, but my mind is reassured by images of speeches going well. When I write an exam, I imagine other times when writing those exams has gone well.

The problem for many people is that the images of events going well are overpowered by images (real or imaginary) of it not going well. This stops the brain from focusing on performance and instead on the outcome of the task at hand. If our friend had focused on interaction with the stranger instead of possible outcomes, nervousness wouldn’t occur.

The best solution, of course, is to simply gather up enough positive experiences so that you have natural confidence, the kind I wrote about in this article. Competence combined with a healthy belief system and basic emotional control techniques creates a natural confidence that doesn’t need to be forced.

Unfortunately, in order to build that natural confidence you need to gain experience. And how can you gain experience when your mind can’t focus on the task at hand? The solution is to temporarily prime your mind with a positive memory and emotion to give you a few minutes of reassurance.

Just like you prime a pump to get water to flow from it, priming your mind ensures that action will flow. This process can’t be a substitute for natural confidence, but it can give you a bit of reassurance in those peak performance situations where you need to take action.

To start you need to create an anchor moment. Physical anchors are a term used in NLP to link a certain body gesture to an emotional state. This process is going to be similar except you are going to take a memory or experience and reinforce it so that you can use it before entering a high-stress situation.

Finding Your Anchor

Start by sitting back and thinking to yourself of any moments where you felt especially confident, successful or powerful. The best moments to pick are those that are the most closely related to your troubling situation. If you are having difficulty speaking in front of an audience, choose a time where you performed well speaking, or even conversing with friends. The closer your memory matches the success you are desiring the better.

Coming up with these moments may be a little difficult and it certainly requires some imagination. If you already had a perfect moment of success then you wouldn’t need to go through this process, you would already have it anchored. This process is to uncover those moments that you have either forgotten, or emphasize them in a way that creates the feelings you want.

Write down on a piece of paper all the memories or experiences you have had where you had the emotion you are looking for. Maybe that time was one of strong confidence, cool enthusiasm or when you were completely involved at the task at hand. Brainstorm a list of these moments.

The next step is to pick out the experiences that closely mirror the context of the situation you are facing. If you want to build motivation to go to the gym, pick experiences that reflect motivation to do a physical activity rather than motivation when doing your taxes. The closer your emotion fits the context of your upcoming situation, the more powerful it will be.

The final step is to clearly visualize this moment in your head. Rehearse the memory vividly and emphasize all the points of the memory that create the emotion. If you are remembering a time when you delivered an impromptu speech well, focus on all the details that made you feel it went well. The laughter and applause of the audience. The calm, meaningful and expressive body language you possessed. The sights, sounds, smells and feelings.

Few memories in life are completely pure. They all have some attributes of negativity, some of positivity. Your goal is to rehearse this visualization, amplifying those positive tones and ignoring or downplaying the negative ones. Keep rehearsing it until every time you think of the moment you are filled with the exact feeling you are looking for, whether it is confidence, motivation or enthusiasm.

With this moment anchored, the next time you get into a situation where you need to perform, quickly rehearse your visualization. Inject whatever emotion you decided upon into yourself and get ready to go ahead. Because you have already rehearsed it so many times before it may take less than a second or two to recall it and invoke the emotions you need.

I have found that the mindset to which you approach a task makes a huge difference in your results. When I go to speak and I’m feeling happy, care-free and enthusiastic, all my speeches seem to go fairly well, and if I stumble I quickly recover. But if I go in feeling nervous or worried about the outcome, I can’t seem to do well despite my best efforts.

Visual and mental rehearsal of upcoming events can work great, but there is one problem. What happens when your visualization doesn’t match reality. Sure, delivering a speech you might know beforehand where you will be speaking and to whom, but if the situation is spontaneous, you don’t have time to rehearse it going well. By using anchor moments you are using a visualization you’ve already rehearsed. This way it can be rapidly conjured up whenever you need a temporary boost.

Anchor moments cannot give you total confidence, all they can do is stack the emotional deck in your favor. They feel more natural because they reflect an experience you’ve already had. When you approach your situation, you will already embody the emotion you need to succeed.

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  • Aaron Potts


    You are so right about having the proper emotional state. Our past experiences have conditioned us to “expect” something so strongly in any given situation that even if that thing doesn’t actually happen, we still feel like it did!

    I work at home and since I have 2 school-age teenagers at home, I started to have a real problem with the fact that they would be “in my office” when they were not in school.

    Now, although I still wouldn’t go so far as to say that I relish the fact that they are in and out, I CAN say that by properly preparing myself for the potential distraction, most days I am actually more productive than I otherwise would have been because I managed my expectations and shifted my focus to my work rather than to the distraction.

    I love your phrase “stack the emotional deck in your favor”. Great stuff!

  • Michael Vanderdonk

    Nice article, and I have to disagree with your conclusion. You can use this method to get total confidence.

    The bit I think you are missing (as it’s missing from the article) is setting up a specific anchor to be used to fully bring back the physical and emotional state practiced. This might be squeezing your right fist, pulling your ear lobe, flicking your hair etc. Some unobtrusive movement or touch that can be done at any time, yet only when you want it. I personally bounce briefly on the balls of my feet when presenting. This movement needs to be done when you are at the most intense part of your preparation.

    For example, I train golfers how to keep a very focused state, and anchor it to the feeling of both hands on the club. They only hold the club this way when about to strike the ball, so it’s ideal.

    Once you have the powerful state you want, and the anchor, it will come back every time. If it doesn’t, the anchor needs more work.

  • Scott Young

    Thanks for the comments Aaron and Michael.


    Anchoring through a physical gesture is a related process that I referenced, but not specifically the process I linked here. Using physiology is yet another emotional technique. This one is closer to mental rehearsal than using physical anchors but sort of combines the two. Different techniques for the same aim.

    No, total confidence is something different. Total confidence isn’t an emotion. It’s an understanding. You are confident because you are competent. You feel the emotion of confidence because you rationally know you will be successful. The emotion of confidence can be temporarily conjured to the same effect in many situations, however.

    I liken the difference between these two things like the difference between the emotional state of motivation and actual motivation. The emotional state of motivation is sort of a blend of enthusiasm and confidence, you feel like you want to act. Motivation itself is the substantial reasoning behind that emotion, your “Why?”.

    Really we’re just splitting hairs here though. Whether the emotion is created through an intuitive understanding or a manipulation of physiology/memories the result is generally the same. Let’s not argue the abstract when we agree on the practical.

    Otherwise, I completely agree.


  • ben casnocha

    Hey Scott — quick piece of feedback. Try to make your posts shorter. It takes longer to write less, but it increases the chance of someone reading it.

  • Scott Young

    Thanks Ben,

    I experiment with posting length. Some of my ideas that I’ve left too short aren’t explained thoroughly enough, while others are better left shorter. I’ve noticed your blog to be short, great for insights but it can often leave empty space that could be furthered. Different styles different results. But I’ll experiment.

  • Michael Vanderdonk


    Heh, we are talking about the same thing then it seems. I described a physical anchor in the examples as it’s the easiest to describe. Taking a mental image snapshot works just as well. For example, I have a ‘floating’ anchor that is the image of seeing the drop at the top of a roller-coaster. Immediately after the physical sensations I had while on that roller-coaster come straight back.

    And as for the difference between the emotion of confidence and total confidence (or your motivation example) I don’t understand your description. Unless you are talking about the physical feelings, and the linguistic description or justification of or about those feelings.

  • Scott Young


    Our debate is really about semantics. Anchoring and using physiology can create an emotion temporarily. But afterwards, your mind returns to its default state. What I mean by total confidence is that the emotion of confidence in the situation is so deeply set that you can’t not feel confident, no special techniques are required.

    In situations where I don’t have experience or competence in yet, I often lack this total confidence even if I can temporarily create the feeling of confidence.

    Other situations where I have the experience and competence to back it up, I will feel confident by default.

    Think of it like a habit. When you first start training a new habit, you can carry out the action but it requires conscious effort. But after you have built up the experience and driven down those neurological routes, it happens more or less automatically. This is the difference.

    This has just been my experience in looking at my own mind, so you may have different experiences that disagree.

  • Kyle Varner

    I really enjoyed reading this article. I’ve been doing something like this myself, but I’ve never really done it consciously. I have always had problems asking girls on dates, so I would go over and over again in my head about how it could turn out well. That has helped me. I’m going to make an effort to do things like that more, and really make an effort to anchor those good thoughts.

    Thanks for writing this great article.

  • Scott Young

    Thanks Kyle.

    Visualization is another great technique for performance. This one focuses on using past emotional anchors, but visualizing future events helps too. I’ve found anchoring more effective in situations where you have little full control and need to be spontaneous, but they are both great techniques.

  • Michael Vanderdonk


    I can now appreciate how you make the distinction between these two situations. I also think that you might be limiting yourself by linking your confidence levels with your experience of the task you are performing.

    But, that said, I have failed to separate the two in the past, and chances are I’ll fail again in the future. 🙂

  • Scott Young


    Attaching confidence to past situations seems to be an automatic human response. Although this can temporarily be overridden, I don’t see how you could effectively operate where confidence has no link whatsoever to your past results.

    Just like having motivation without cause, having confidence without competence more than just temporarily seems a little hard to pull off.


  • Michael Vanderdonk


    The skill, for me, is a change in logical levels. You have confidence in your skills because of your past experience. These skills include learning, building emotional states, understanding new concepts, responding to the environment, language, etc. These component skills make up in a large part your activities.

    I know of no individual that has learned everything there is to know about a particular subject, nor someone who can perform any skill perfectly every time. The environment changes, people respond differently and new things arrive that allow for new learning. For example, what happens when David Beckham meets a new opponent? Does this mean he does not have complete confidence for that game?

    If you have experience in the task this naturally builds confidence as you say and this link we want to keep and improve. If you don’t have experience (or not much) this does not mean you don’t have confidence. You can still have complete confidence that you can do the task (someone else has, right?) and that you have the confidence that you have the skills to learn the task.

  • Scott Young


    Confidence is definitely something that goes in degrees. It is never 100% and it is rarely 0%. There is always a bit of give or take based on your expectation about outcome.

    The perceptions we have of our world and our past results are more important than our reality. Some would argue that these perceptions are our reality.

    That being said, looking back at a history of success or failure and suddenly re-interpreting your past in such a way so you immediately feel confident is very difficult. Possible, but difficult.

    You’re correct in saying the right belief system can create confidence in new tasks. Just most people don’t have that belief system and completely reworking it is something that will take a long time.

    You can generate your own belief in competence to create confidence, but it is usually a little trickier than pounding your chest or remembering a successful day.

  • Michael Vanderdonk


    I think I’ve directed you in a direction I did not intend. Confidence is a process. You can make the process easy, or make it difficult. What would it be like if it was easy to re-interpret you own history, have the beliefs that support your goals, and create confidence when you want? Would this enhance your life? Would you behave any different, and if so how?

  • Scott Young


    True enough. Changing your belief systems and mental patterns is the key to changing your experience of life. But actually changing deeply engrained beliefs takes time, effort and experience. It is one thing to temporarily get a new perspective, quite another to make that perspective your new default for life.

    I definitely agree that your belief structure is critical to your internal confidence.