Escaping Metaphors

I read with great interest Jayne’s piece about ‘spinning plates’ which reminded me about the Magic of Metaphor. Metaphors are so pervasive in how we speak, how we think and reason, they are a great resource we can tap into when we want to achieve an objective. Metaphors help us organise complex sets of thoughts, feelings and behaviour and they help us understand, reason about and explain abstract concepts. 

Take some time to really listen to a news broadcast and you will hear lots of metaphors.  Reading more of the blogs on Jayne’s site you will also see metaphors escaping all over the place – ‘moving towards’ and ‘moving back’ and ‘spreading happiness’.  Each metaphor helps you create a great mind picture doesn’t it?

I have coached clients using metaphor to help them achieve sustainable change and its enlightening how a changing metaphor can lead to a sustained change for the individual. Why is that?  It’s the emotion attached to the metaphor that’s important to leverage change. It follows then that the most powerful metaphors are our own so become aware of and develop yours rather than try to ’use’ someone else’s. 

Here’s an example to get you going…

If to develop a portfolio career you need to be ‘determined’ for example, what’s it like when you’re extremely determined?  Remember to develop your own but let’s say it’s like a ‘star burning bright in the sky’. You could develop this by asking yourself, that’s a star burning bright like what? Where is the star burning bright? And allow yourself to feel the emotion that you attach to ‘the star burning bright’ as you imagine, verbalise and describe your metaphor. It’s important to be instinctive so don’t over think it just let it happen. 

When you are aware of your own metaphors you can start to develop them further and enhance the positive emotion attached to them. When you have become aware of your many metaphors we call this your metaphor landscape.

You can develop and explore the qualities of your metaphor to intensify the emotion there a relationship between star and bright? Or between star and burning? Or burning and bright? You might discover that the brighter the light the more determined you are? What does that tell you? What happens when the star burns brighter? How can you influence the star to burn brighter’?

As you develop your metaphors, you can anchor yourself to the positive emotion which in the simplest terms means thinking of your metaphor and feeling the positive emotion when you need to… that might be attending an interview, making a presentation, tendering for a contract or whatever. Its simple really … well it does take practice but it can become simple if you apply yourself.

Why and how does this work? 

We understand and learn best when engaging our left (logical) and right (creative, imaginative) brains sometimes referred to as whole brain learning. Using metaphor allows us to engage both brains and also our unconscious minds; it raises our self-understanding and self-awareness and is a source of creativity and development.

Our behaviours are driven by our thoughts, feelings and conditioning. The more positive messages (thoughts, feelings) you give to your conscious mind translates into your unconscious mind and like a library you build up a bank of positivity and that’s important for pretty much anything you want to do –did you notice two metaphors slipping out there ? – ‘library’ and ‘bank’ – using these helped to picture the concept didn’t it? (oops there’s another one escaping ‘picture’ ) 

So if we use metaphor naturally then why start to think about it and develop it? Well did you ever hear anyone say someone was being too positive, too self- aware or too creative? 

How could you use this to develop a portfolio career? 

You may choose to develop your metaphor for success for each element of your portfolio or for your portfolio as a whole. A good friend of mine uses the metaphor of a rope with each coloured strand interweaved and representing each strand of his business, supporting each element to make a strong, durable rope. There are some great messages behind this… strength, durability, support, variety interlinked, common purpose, resistance to break.

Why not draw your metaphors and display them on your office wall as a visual reminder. You might incorporate them into your business name or a logo – maybe as part of your brand and a website. The options are really limitless. I do hope you enjoy your metaphorical journey (oops another escaped there didn’t it?) 

If you want to learn more about metaphor here are some texts I have drawn from in writing this:

Lawley, J. and Tompkins, P. (2000), Metaphors in Mind Transformation through Symbolic Modelling, London: Developing Company Press

Geary, J. (2011) I is Another – The Secret Life of Metaphor and how it shapes the way we see the world, New York, USA: Harper Collins

Sullivan, W. & Rees, J. (2008) Clean Language Revealing Metaphors and Opening Minds, Wales: Crown House Publishing Company Ltd

Thank you to Irene Bayliss for this great guest post. Irene runs her own coaching and training business called EyeJBee Ltd – Coaching and Development Solutions and uses innovative techniques, models and strategies to improve business profitability through people performance. She has designed a coaching model for lasting change called Sustain ™ which is based around metaphor and aligned with individual values and personal beliefs.

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