This might be a strange one. And if you’ve spent any time with me, you may have already realized this.. But it comes up for me so frequently, I thought I might as well talk about it. Here’s the confession: I love metaphors! I love thinking about them, hearing them, dissecting them, noticing them, and adorning them with more details.
So this post is dedicated to showing you why I love metaphors and hoping you’ll start noticing them and coming up with them in your own life for your own concepts.
As I was thinking about what I wanted to tell you about my love affair with metaphors- I thought, I should probably double check to make sure I’m using the correct verbiage. And, here’s what I learned:
A metaphor is “a figure of speech in which a word or phrase is applied to an object or action to which it is not literally applicable.”“One thing to mean another”
And a Simile is a type of metaphor. It compares 2 different things to create a new meaning
An analogy is a logical argument – not a figure of speech- “how two things are alike by pointing out shared characteristics, with the goal of showing that if two things are similar in some ways, they are similar in other ways as well.”
So, this is all great information, and may come in handy some day during trivia.. but.. since I do want to use a simple word or phrase.. I’ll keep using metaphor to describe what I’m talking about. My apologies to any English professors or word-nerds who may prefer the actual proper use of those grammatical descriptors.
The reason why I love metaphors is because it’s a way to make the complex simple. It’s using something I already know and understand to better know and understand something else.
What do I use metaphors for? Anything I can? I actually might overdo it now that I’m aware of it.
I mostly use it in my thinking -so most of my metaphors don’t make it out loud- and I like to follow them a long to see how far they go before the connection is just too thin that I can’t keep it going any more.
Thinking of great metaphors is also a fun creativity exercise for me – so sometimes a metaphor will pop in my mind, and I’ll be like “yeah.. But not quite.. It’s more like…” and I’ll try to think of an even better match.
Or, sometimes as a daydream, I’ll just wonder, how is my resistance like an inflatable pool raft? So, for example, one morning, I got the image of an inflatable pool raft representing the resistance we’re holding on to as we’re trying to go throughout our lives, and get what we want.
So I imagined the raft keeping us above the surface of the water – rather than in the water, enjoying it, choosing our own direction, maneuvering around at will, without the awkwardness and clumsiness of the artificial and inflated barrier of the resistance of the pool raft.
Maybe I love metaphors because it is an organization technique to match new information with existing information in my mind. I like it when things match up.
I love thinking of and thinking about metaphors so I’ll share a few of my favorites with you in this episode. Maybe, you’ll notice the value of metaphors and use some of your own to make your complex ideas simple for yourself.
I love it when metaphors are descriptive and visual. I love it when metaphors help me find connection.
So for the example I just gave about the inflatable pool raft representing resistance. I see so many connections.
The raft is completely optional when you want to go in water. It’s artificial, it’s inflated- just like what our mind does with our own resistance. A raft can feel safe and protective, but stops us from experiencing the full experience of being in the water. Resistance can come in different sizes and shapes and colors to – just like inflatable pool rafts.
I’m pretty sure making up metaphors helps me dig deeper neural pathways – What do I mean when I say neural pathways? I think it’s like the habit of how I think, the more I think about connections and similarities, the easier it is for my brain to find those connections – because there are already literal paths for that connective thinking in my brain. . … Like my go to response when something happens. It’s a way for my brain to be super efficient, another word for this – I think is – heuristic. It means my brain doesn’t have to stop and process information, if the neural pathway already exists, the connection is immediately made without my brain having to use any energy to think about. As I’m saying this, I’m realizing it’s getting a little too far out of my area of expertise, so this is just what I imagine is happening in my brain, if you know a neuroscientist I should talk to so I can understand it better (or get corrected), please send her my way!
Here are a few of my favorite metaphors:
My number 1 favorite metaphor is probably the Hero’s Journey. I think I got a taste of this in high school literature when we learned about parts of a story and learned how to identify the protagonist and antagonist. I don’t think I consciously considered the hero in a story again until I learned about the Major Arcana in Tarot. I’m going to talk more about my Tarot Experience in another episode, but what I really liked about the Major Arcana is that the cards in that part of a tarot deck represent the journey we all go through in life- and different cards represent different ups and downs that we all experience.
So, I’ve started to see my own life in terms of a hero’s journey and I love to hear the hero’s journey of the people I look up to and learn from. Last year, I heard about using the metaphor of the hero’s journey as a marketing and copywriting tool – and of course that resonated with me so much. It made so much sense!
Thinking of my life in terms of a hero’s journey helps me understand that it is fine, and expected, when unexpected, or unwanted things happen.
It gives me permission to change course if I’m not liking the direction I’m going. And instead of regretting that part of the journey or making the detour or wrong turn mean something terrible, I can remember, it’s all just part of the journey.
And, if you heard a story about someone who was born, who had an amazing life, where everything went perfectly and everything worked out well and then they lived happily ever after- that wouldn’t be a very interesting story. And, we probably wouldn’t believe or care about the main character.
The next metaphor is the Puppet Master Analogy– (by the way, I don’t know why my brain calls this one an analogy instead of a metaphor, but let’s just go with it.)
Have you ever caught yourself trying to control other people, or have you caught yourself thinking about what other people should do to improve their situations?
Or, have you ever been completely frustrated by someone else’s behavior thinking they shouldn’t do that, but you might justify the behavior for yourself when you do it?
For example.. Have you ever judged someone for being so judgy! I know I have, and do.
Here’s a metaphorical example of me being totally obsessed with someone else’s behavior and judging her behavior.
I know someone who (to me it seems) frequently tries to control every interaction and every situation. And frequently, the people and situations she tries to control, don’t bend to her will, don’t do what she expects them to and (to me it seems) her thoughts about their lack of compliance with her expectations cause her so much frustration and sometimes pain.
And I see her spending so much time and energy and so many conversations trying to influence outcomes which are way outside of her control. And, if I wasn’t already being judgy enough.. I have a belief that some parts of her life are way out of control (I know, it’s none of my business.. I’m noticing and curious how this all plays out, like watching a show).
So my observations of this other person (who I am trying not to be judgy about, just a curious student of human behavior) is how I got the puppet master analogy.
What if we’re all marionette puppets on strings – but instead of someone else controlling us from above, our minds are actually controlling how we move and jump and dance and swing and which scene we’re in – and we only have control over ourselves, our own puppet.
And what if i get my strings all tangled up- so much so that I can’t even move my arms and I’m crumpled over, on the floor with a tangle of strings above me – so I’m stuck. I can’t move. I can’t act – and I notice the puppet in the scene with me..
So I think, I’ll just decide how that puppet should act – I’ll just call out directions for her. I’ll just demand her compliance with my wishes. But, in this analogy, just as in real life, trying to control someone else will not get us untangled from our own stuff.
When we’re stuck, it’s time to work on ourselves, not focus on the other person who we’re with. Not focus on anyone else.
So I guess, in this case, my judginess about my friend’s behavior gave me 2 things – a chance to examine the irony that I had thoughts about how she should act because she has thoughts about how other people should act
and it gave me the puppet master analogy, which I love because it is visual and descriptive and playful and it’s a perfect reminder to me when I notice I’m focusing on someone else.. Is it just because I’m tangled up and stuck and trying to avoid working on myself?
Another one of my favorite metaphors is to think of the thoughts in my brain as if they were threads or string – another string example, how interesting!
The thoughts that make us go crazy and cause all sorts of drama are red threads, and for some reason, they’re charged, with electricity. And the thoughts are all looped into each other and intertwined because one thought is based on a belief which is based on an idea which comes from a thought- so they’re all interconnected and they all support each other. These charged thoughts, or threads form a knot.
A red, pulsing, electrified knot that is just pulling in more thoughts and more ideas and more energy. It’s drawing all the energy from every other area so that when you have one of these red tangled knots on your mind, that’s the only thing you can think about and it all seems true and important and urgent.
But if you can grab one end of one of those threads and gently pull it out, then another and then another, you can start to loosen that red pulsing knot and separate all the threads or thoughts), and see them for what they really are – just optional thoughts, that may or may not be true, or helpful.
My friend and I came up with this one together and I immediately loved the imagery of it. And, we even had a little gesture like pulling out a single strand of hair to symbolize, “I need to pull these thoughts apart so they’re not so powerful.”
And later, I thought, if dangerous thoughts can be red and pulsing, then helpful thoughts might be white, or even clear -and they could support each other and weave in and out of each other, and instead of a messy tangled knot, maybe they form a perfectly round little ball of thought threads.
And instead of being electrifying, maybe the white or clear knot is peaceful and calming and grounding, something to go back to over and over again, something to weave even more positive, strong helpful thoughts into. Don’t you love the idea of a strong, helpful, intentionally woven cluster of thoughts to emit positive energy throughout your brain?
Here are some metaphors that I like to use in coaching. (I got both of these from going through my coach certification training, and they work so well, I just decided to adopt them for myself.)
When I have a first session with a coaching client, and I’m explaining how we’ll work together, I ask her to imagine that we’re sitting side by side on a couch, looking forward and watching her thoughts float in front of us. All the words and sentences.
As I describe this, I am actually visualizing it my mind too – it’s actually a red couch, even though I don’t have or want a red couch and we have a coffee table in front of us with a small plant on it, and we’re looking forward and we see all these words and phrases and sentences just float in front of us as if they were being projected into the air – like a Powerpoint presentation without being on a screen.
I love telling this metaphor to clients because I want them to know that we’re on the same side, together, noticing their thoughts, without judgement and without acceptance, just noticing. And then, when we start the coaching, we’ll just choose one of those thoughts and work on that one first. And all the other thoughts are still there, available for us to work on, to talk about and explore. I really love this metaphor too because describing the thoughts as words projected in front of us, really shows how optional and temporary and fleeting thoughts can be.
The next metaphor I love to use during coaching is to think of how we would describe a feeling or an emotion to an alien.
This is so clever because I (and maybe all of us) always assume that emotions are specific and obvious. If I say mad, or sad, or happy, I assume you know exactly what I’m talking about. In fact, I assume I know exactly what I’m referring to. But do I? When I notice I feel mad.. What does that mean? What am I really feeling? Where do I feel it in my body? How does it feel? How do I know I’m feeling mad?
So, when I think of it as if I were describing it to an alien who has no understanding or concept of human emotion, I can really slow down and find descriptive words to convey what I’m feeling. I can really notice what it means to feel mad and notice how that shows up for me.
My one disappointment about metaphors is that they are parallel until they’re not. I love thinking about the matched up points of a metaphor, until somewhere along the line, the parallel paths diverge, and the metaphor doesn’t really work anymore – did you notice? Even my disappointment about metaphors is a description of 2 paths, side-by-side.
I’m so curious – do you think in metaphors? Do you use metaphors to explain things to yourself? Or to make other people understand what you’re thinking? I wonder if, like me, you have some favorite metaphors that help you make sense of yourself and your own behavior.
That’s the topic for today: Metaphors! I just wanted to describe how and why I use them in my thinking and in my coaching.
And now I want to hear your thoughts and your reactions. Leave a comment below!