Anchors: How to Supersede Expectations

Article length: 550 words

Reading time: 2-3 minutes

We'd like to believe that our judgements about what is possible and what we can personally achieve is solely an internal process. The anchoring effect will shows us we're wrong. 

Daniel Kahneman defines the anchoring effect: "It occurs when people consider a particular value for an unknown quantity before estimating that quantity." 

Let's try this out. 

Is the height of the tallest redwood more or less than 1,200 ft? (Anchor #1)

What is your best guess about the height of the tallest redwood?

Write it down.


Now let's change the anchor. 

Is the height of the tallest redwood more or less than 180 feet? (Anchor #2)

What is your best guess about the height of the tallest redwood? 

If we look at these pair of questions objectively, the first question should have no influence on the second. But that's not the case. Your best guess to question two will be highly dependent upon the anchor prior. To the extent, that when this experiment was actually ran, participants in the first group had a mean estimate of 844 ft, while the second group estimated 282 ft.

That's a difference of 562 ft due to a high or low anchor point.


So what does this psychological gold nugget do for us trying to get bigger, leaner and stronger?

You can use the anchoring effect as a primer for success. 

Setting a moderate yearly goal of increasing a squat by 40 lbs will yield just enough effort to obtain that goal. The effort is related to the anchor. 

If you look down the squat rack and see no one squatting over 3 plates in your gym but yourself, then the anchor becomes low. "Hey I'm already strong. Don't see anyone else doing this."

Now what if the first anchor was to increase a squat by 140 lbs in a year? Would you obtain it? Unless you're a novice or going to put on some serious body weight the odds are no. But that's not the whole story. Do you think your actions would change based on an anchor of 140 lbs vs. 40 lbs?

My bet is that you'd eat better, sleep more and train harder. Maybe you won't reach that 140 lbs, but you'll certainly gain more progress with a higher anchor. 


The anchoring effect is something I instill in all the competitors with MyoBrain. If you're competitor the anchor should be high.

This doesn't mean that PR's for novice and intermediate lifters are  ignored. If someone training for less than two years squats 315, that is damn good progress, but we don't blow up their comments after posting the video like he/she just won the Olympics. It's a simple good job, now let's continue to get better. 

We have high anchors. Which makes even a decently impressive athletic feat seem like another training day. 

If you reward the mediocre, the drive to become great is diminished.  


How to Use Anchors

  • Surround yourself by people who are better than you. In training and life. 
  • Follow top lifters on social media. Don't simply watch their videos in awe. Instead, say "they're doing it. Why can't I?"
  • Don't over congratulate yourself or clients on baby wins. It's a simple pat on the back and on to the next. 
  • If you're a recreational athlete, anchoring isn't of high importance, but can still help with overall satisfaction. You'll likely go beyond what you think is possible with high anchors.

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