Conversations at the Crossroads.

More on Metaphors

In the last CATC email, we looked at how metaphors can be helpful in navigating difficult situations, creating some space and allowing us to explore options with less sensitivity. I highlighted one client’s use of a running metaphor to describe his concerns around finances, and I mentioned our subsequent discovery through dialogue that this metaphor wasn’t serving him well in his efforts to make positive change.

[In case you missed that email, you can catch up on it here.]

I thought it worthwhile to come back to this anecdote today to illustrate the benefits of trading in metaphors for new ones when the old ones aren’t helpful.

In my client Ben’s case, each time he referenced the “race” he was running, he reiterated feelings of frustration that he wasn’t “prepared” and couldn’t “catch up.” He wasn’t able to visualize any relief down the road either, because in his mind the race would remain difficult—in fact, would become increasingly harder—straight through to the end. Interestingly, when I asked him what the “finish line” represented, with regard to the financial goals he’d set, he was at first unsure how to answer.  He then acknowledged the fact that he would likely be setting financial goals continuously, throughout the rest of his life, such that he’d never really “finish” until he died. And, with that thought in mind, he noted further that “catching up” and “winning” would of course no longer be desirable objectives if they somehow represented striving towards death.

At this point, Ben paused. And he recognized two things: 1) that the story he was using to address and problem-solve his reality wasn’t actually analogous to his situation; and 2) that his use of the running story was discouraging him from taking even small steps forward, because he couldn’t envision any kind of positive outcome for his efforts.

“What if you could find a story that encourages rather than discourages you?” I asked Ben. “How might that help?”

It took some exploration to find a new metaphor that fit. But as we talked about such things as “tending” to financial tasks and “nurturing” the good habits that Ben wanted to establish, it eventually came to light that we were using the language of gardeners.  I speculated that this could be the new story he was looking for. As he started to rewrite his narrative, it sounded something like this:

Each of Ben’s pursuits towards his goal was like a seed or plant in a garden. Some of the plants would require significant nurturing to grow, and others might grow with a relatively small amount of care. As a result, he wouldn’t need to tend to all of his garden, all of the time, which would feel like an enormous pressure, especially given his other responsibilities. Instead, there was a reasonable amount of growth he could count on to happen regardless of the attention he provided, and he could direct additional energy as appropriate, where it was needed most, when he had energy to give. The garden would be an ongoing work-in-progress, of course, and its rewards would manifest in fruit and flowers, providing a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction…

And there it was. It was just a start, but it represented new way for Ben to examine his situation.

What difference does this make, you ask? Why bother trading in one metaphor for another, when neither is reality? To answer your question, I would suggest that you consider the feelings that these two very different stories might trigger for you if you were to map them onto your own set of struggles.

Consider also:

  • How does your energy change when you hear a story that is inspirational?
  • When your framework for looking at a situation opens up possibilities vs. limiting them, how does that increase your willingness and ability to make your next move?

The stories we tell ourselves about our challenges have a significant impact on how we deal with those challenges. If your story is keeping you stuck, it may be time to craft a new one. Give that some thought this week!

With support and encouragement for your journey,

Founder, The Crossroads Coach

Published February 1, 2013