The magic of metaphors - how do they influence our lives?
What do we mean by a metaphor? When we say ‘that conversation/project/day was like walking through treacle', we understand that it was not an easy conversation, project or day. We think of metaphors as just expressions, but they are more powerful than that.
Going back to my trusted dictionary it describes a metaphor as:
‘A figure of speech in which a word or phrase literally denoting one kind of object or idea is applied to another to suggest a likeness or analogy between them.'
Now you might be thinking, ‘what has this got to do with my life and my work, how can metaphors help me?'. Let's take the runaway train metaphor that I introduced to my coaching client to describe her escalating thought processes. When I mentioned the runaway train she could immediately relate to it. Afterwards, she mentioned that it was so graphic that it kept on reminding her to rein in her thinking when it started to escalate downwards. She even took the metaphor further and said she was aiming for her train of thought to be idling in the sidings in a restful kind of way.
A week later when I found my thoughts racing ahead in a negative way about something, I borrowed the runaway train metaphor! For me, I could see in my mind's eye a junction with a switch. One track led into a dark, foreboding tunnel which I didn't want to go down, the other led through a valley of lush green hills, with the sun shining and that was definitely where I wanted to be headed. Every time the train started heading towards the tunnel I was able to smile and flick the switch to head it towards a much more pleasant place. This also reminded me of a game that my mum and dad used to play with my brother and I before bedtime (not a good way to settle children down to sleep but we all had great fun doing it!). We had piggyback rides to the runaway train song, as they charged around the house, with us laughing ourselves silly on their backs. Having made that childhood association it made me smile, lifted my mood and directed my thoughts in a positive direction.
‘If your train is on the wrong track, every station you come to is the wrong station.'
Is a metaphor different from a belief? I think that our beliefs are often betrayed or displayed by the metaphors we use. The metaphors bring into sharp focus what we believe about ourselves, other people, our work or our lives. For example, if someone used the following metaphor to describe their life: ‘My life is like a quiet stream which gently ambles through the countryside, I enjoy the journey as well as looking forward to the destination', you get a sense of calmness, someone enjoying the moment. While if someone said ‘My life is like the rapids, I am having to hang on for dear life, I never know what is around the corner, and most of the time I am scared stiff!', you get a very different impression of their life and how they feel living it.
What metaphors do you have in your life?
‘Search for the seed of good in every adversity. Master that principle and you will own a precious shield that will guard you well through all the darkest valleys you must traverse. Stars may be seen from the bottom of a deep well, when they cannot be discerned from the mountaintop. So will you learn things in adversity that you would never have discovered without trouble. There is always a seed of good. Find it and prosper.'
Metaphors which can help move us forward As with the runaway train metaphor some metaphors will aid us in dealing with life's challenges and move our life forward. I might have mentioned before that I have a metaphor for when I feel that life is going well, when I feel on top of everything, even if I am very busy and life is a bit challenging. I feel like I am on a surfboard, catching the wave of life, moving forward, staying balanced on my surfboard, and it feels great. I also have another metaphor which, in time, I realised was when that busyness starts to go into overdrive, and I am driven on adrenaline, I start to feel like I am flying, it feels great at first, but I have learned that this soon leads to me crash landing! So now if the flying feeling kicks in I take a deep breath, engage my inner wisdom, get centred (versus being adrenaline-fuelled) and get back on my surfboard. I have found these two metaphors for how I live my life so useful in providing a visual metaphor to how I am feeling that that then enables me to change my behaviour and create a successful outcome. Click here for more on tapping into your inner wisdom.
‘You can't hoot with the owls at night and fly with the eagles during the day.'
Metaphors that can keep us stuck I am reminded that in my last employed consultancy job over 21 years ago, the three partners had bought the building where we worked from and there was constant talk of the need to ‘feed the monster', which was the mortgage. This monster did seem to hang over them, casting a shadow over financial matters, and perhaps kept them stuck in the problem, rather than thinking creatively both in terms of how to pay the mortgage and how to develop the business further.
If life starts to feel like a treadmill, hamster wheel, then this an indicator that you are feeling stuck and you need to take some action. This might be about changing the situation you are in, or changing how you are thinking and feeling about it. You might want to consider using a coach or counsellor to assist you with this. Click email@example.com for information about the free coaching audits I offer to see if coaching could help you in your situation.
What metaphors do you have? One way to identify the metaphors that you have in your head, and to see if they are positive and helpful or negative and hindering you in your life, is to answer the following – do it spontaneously, and maybe answer a few times to see if you have different metaphors….
Life is like…
Work is …
Managers are …
Old age is …
Love is …
Men are …
Women are …
Marriage is …
Food is …
Believing that money is the root of all evil or money is easy come easy go will have a profound effect on your relationship with money. If you believe that work is like a lion's den, and every day is a battle for survival, then you are likely to find it difficult to sleep, dread Monday mornings, and be under quite a bit of pressure and stress.
I remember in one client organisation, one senior manager was always referring to war metaphors, talking about getting the tanks out and shooting others' ideas down. He saw his relationships with other departments and managers as a constant battle for resources, for who was in right, who was wrong? Of course, this was never going to lead to co-operative working or harmonious meetings and teamwork!
‘Blessed are those who can tell a mountain from a molehill, they will be saved a lot of bother.'
Are the metaphors you have in your life helping or hindering you? Do you want assistance in moving forward with your life? Ring me on 01865 377334 or email firstname.lastname@example.org to discuss in confidence how I can assist you.