The Use of Metaphors in Coaching


The word metaphor is from the Greek metapherein, which means to transfer or to change. For the purpose in coaching, I use the term metaphor as a symbol that captures or represents qualities of my client and of the journey he or she is making. Myths, archetypes, natural phenomena, animals, and common objects may all serve as metaphors. By way of distinction, metaphors are not are adjectives, literal descriptions, judgments, or assessments.

Metaphor is the language of archetypes, symbols, and essence. Because it is a language that is representative in nature, it simplifies and focuses perception. Our culture uses metaphors abundantly to capture an idea or essence. For example, we say things like: She has stars in her eyes; we are drowning in data; and, here’s some food for thought.

A a coach, I have found that using metaphors can capture the essence of the client and the coaching issue in a way that descriptions, cannot, because metaphors hold within them worlds of association and information. The pictures that metaphors paint are, indeed, worth a thousand words, because the images stay with us long after descriptions or data have faded from memory.

Application

Although there are countless ways to use metaphors in coaching, I share my experiences with clients using metaphors in two primary application areas: assessment and practice design.

First, an important distinction: I use metaphor to capture and explore the client’s issue, not the client as a person. A metaphor is but a lens through which to see. Just as it focuses perception, it also limits it (Morgan, 1996). If I confuse the metaphor for the person, I obscure from sight the person’s multidimensionality, the full mystery of who he or she is. When used as a lens on the coaching issue, the metaphor provides the coach with useful focus and depth.

Assessment

Metaphors have proven invaluable to me in gaining clarity about my clients and their coaching issues. For example, one of my clients had received feedback that she was seen as aggressive, arrogant, and prone to loss of control over her anger at home and in her workplace. Underneath this behaviour appeared to be an inability or unwillingness to yield, an orientation that she knew best and that her perspective was the right one. The metaphor we developed for the shift the client needed to make was to bring her from a dormant or dead oak tree to a weeping willow.

Another client came to me for leadership coaching. He seemed very together but had received feedback that he didn’t play the game according to the rules of the culture and didn’t connect well with peers and superiors. His superiors, however, thought he had the makings of a good leader. It was difficult at first to get any other impression besides how smooth and together this client seemed. Diagnostically, I used this feeling data” to uncover a metaphor that initially guided the coaching: tarp was the metaphor that surfaced. The shift that this client needed to make was to move from tarp: protective, tightly woven, and invulnerable, to tapestry: permeable, colourful, warm, yet solid.

These images were useful to me diagnostically, because they crystallised and simplified my understanding of my clients’ issues. Perhaps even more important about metaphors, however, is how much information they give back to us about the client issue. The oak to willow image was, first, a useful handle on my initial take. But what I found most amazing is how delving into the image itself could actually deepen my understanding significantly. For example, if we work with the image of oak, what else is true about an oak tree that might be true of this client? The oak holds onto many of its leaves in winter and even in death. What might this client need to let go of? The oak tree is associated with tremendous strength. Might this client be too strong, too forceful, for her own effectiveness? Then look at the weeping willow image. It sways in the wind. What might our client need to let move her? The willow weeps. Might grief be a component of the coaching journey?

Following the same brainstorming process, I began wondering about the tarp, metaphor. What was this image telling me about what I was seeing in this client’s dilemma? Tarp is efficient. This client was smooth, he did his job well, but he sensed that his superiors and colleagues were envious of him. How does that fit with tarp? That somehow they couldn’t relate? Couldn’t get through? Couldn’t see vulnerability? What else about tarp? It is useful when it is raining, but not that interesting to behold. Its texture doesn’t invite us in. What do tarps do that might relate to this client? It covers up, protects. Was this image pointing to the client’s need to raise the cover, go through life with less protection? Was this client efficient at the expense of being engaged in relationships? What is opposite of tarp? Tapestry. What does tapestry have that tarp, doesn’t? Rich texture, colour, a story, relief, warmth, weight. Can it still protect and cover? Yes, but in a different way.

As you can see, these simple images led me to many questions that might never have been explored otherwise, for metaphor is the language of our intuition. At once, it both captures reality and reveals mystery. It mirrors back to us what we already know about our clients’ issues and, yet, also shines a light on what else might be waiting to be discovered.

Practice Design
Metaphors have led me to ideas about practices that my left‑brain might not have revealed. For the first client, the oak‑willow metaphor itself was a very physical one and surfaced my intuition that the client herself might be very physically oriented. Therefore, I gave her the practice of learning aikido to give her a physical way to learn that meeting force with immovability was ineffective. In this case, I shared the metaphor with her and explored the word arrogance in the context the metaphor provided, since that was a major piece of the criticism she had received about herself at work. Arrogance comes from Latin, meaning absence of questioning. I asked her to look at the oak tree as more absolute in its stance and asked her to explore through the willow image where she might need to be more open to questioning her own assumptions or conclusions.

For the second client, the tarp, metaphor led me to develop a practice to help the client shed some of the protection that had been so vital to staying invulnerable. His first practice was a simple one of looking at the world through the eyes of others with whom he had significant contact each day. He was to imagine what they were feeling and to notice how he gathered clues about their reactions to him. He was also instructed to notice when he had a feeling connection to someone and to be as specific as possible in writing about how he thought that happened. As time went on, the metaphors proved invaluable, as I learned how much this client actually feared being in relationships with others and had found strategic ways to manage within them without giving himself away. The outcome metaphor, tapestry, helped me see a way to move forward with this client to help him create and embrace his own tapestry with its own rich colours, warmth, permeability, and stability.

The Metaphor-making Process
Metaphor making is fundamentally an intuitive process and for more intuitive coaches (for example, high Ns on the Myers‑Briggs Type Indicator), metaphors may come naturally and easily. However, I would like to make metaphors available to all coaches who would like greater access to their intuitive wisdom. The following five‑step process for accessing and working with metaphors id a great place to start.

Step 1: Be clear and open. The first step for any coach is to be clear and open when meeting your client. Listen, observe, notice your own internal reactions and what the client is not saying.

Step 2: Describe the client with regard to his or her issue. Bring the client to mind, and visualise them in the domain of life in which they are experiencing difficulty. Think about what they look like, sound like, and feel like to you. Think about their gestures, their posture, the sound of their voice, what they evoke in you when they describe their issue or their words. What three or four adjectives or phrases come to mind? If an image comes to mind at this point, you’ve got your metaphor. But if not, just work on getting a short description. Try not to censor what comes out. You’re done when you have three to four adjectives or phrases that feel like they really capture the client in their struggle.

Step 3: Free associate images with the adjectives. When you picture the client and the adjectives you’ve described them with, what images come to mind? Free associate. Don’t censor these. Note the first one(s) that come to mind. Try to work as little as possible in your rational mind. If nothing comes up, you can scan a few different areas: something from nature, characters from movies or books, myths from any culture, types of transportation, or household objects. Usually, your first images are good ones to work with. It often helps to come up with a ‘from’ image (one which captures the client as they currently relate to the world or their issue) and a ‘to’ image (one which captures the client operating as they would like to).

Step 4: Turn your focus away from the client and fully explore the metaphor. Now that you have your metaphor(s), forget about the client for a minute and simply delve into the images themselves. List all the attributes you can about them, What are the characteristics of your metaphors (for example, tarp and tapestry)? What characteristics distinguish the first image from the second? What would help something transform from the first state to the second? It is helpful to speak these associations out loud with a partner or write them down without worrying about making sense or expressing yourself eloquently.

Step 5: Bring the client back into focus. What did following the metaphor tell you about your client? In what new ways do you see the client and how you might work with them? What are the metaphor’s implications for the self‑observations and practices you will design?

Conclusion:

In working with metaphors, I have found a rich way to assess situations and design practices to help my clients. I have also experienced some lessons learned that I want to share with you.

First, be aware that the metaphor helps you to create a hypothesis about the client’s situation. It is not an absolute. As a coach I cannot claim to know what is best for my client. My job is to offer possibilities to my client. Sometimes the client rejects the possibilities that I offer them, and there is data to be gained from that experience. More metaphors may surface for you. Follow your metaphors confidently but lightly.

Second, to share or not to share?. I don’t suggest that you always share your metaphors with your clients. I don’t always share mine. In deciding to share, base your criteria on what will be useful for the client. In the oak‑to‑willow work, I shared the images and they were useful. In the tarp‑to‑tapestry work, I did not share the images.

I have shared metaphors in a few different ways. Once, I wrote a poem about a client. The metaphors surfaced in the writing. Sharing the poem with the client seemed a natural thing to do, for it opened possibilities for them. Sometimes I ask the client to watch a movie that has the metaphor embodied in a character or situation the movie depicts. I often ask my clients to read books for the same reason. Sometimes we draw the images that show up for us. Sometimes we just talk about them.

Third, if you use and share metaphors that are within your client’s current world, you may run into trouble. Why? Because the client may make it more literal than is useful. Also, you run the risk of swirling in the loop that had them stuck in the first place.

Fourth, the metaphor does not have to work completely to be useful. For example, when I thought of a weeping willow, I thought of grace, flexibility, air, and movement. That was as far as I needed to go with that metaphor as it related to that client. There are other properties of the willow, however, that may not lend themselves to understanding this client’s movement.

Fifth, it helps to talk through your metaphor with another person. I have found that my understanding of my clients and my own approaches deepens with each metaphor conversation I have. I make time to do this and it has proven to be incredibly productive for me as a coach and also as a parent to two young kids.

If you haven’t deliberately used metaphors yet, I highly recommend beginning to practise creating and applying them as often as possible and notice what effect they have on your conversations. Most of all, have fun with it.

Simon

What is Consciousness?


I have been fascinated by the human mind for as long as I can remember and in particular, what constitutes consciousness and how does it vary? How does this create and alter our reality? What influences our consciousness and how? There are so many questions that grabbed me early on and lead me to self study at first and then fall into formal learning of the subject.

The study of consciousness can be quite hard work, be it from either psychological or philosophical perspectives. The scientific consideration of states of consciousness that differ from ordinary waking consciousness is a path filled with hazards and booby traps. Tart’s (1975) publication of States of Consciousness was a game changer of the application of the philosophy and the discipline of science itself to a topic too often treated as an outcast within psychological science: Altered states of consciousness. It was Tart who created this term and applied a rigorous discipline of study for many phenomena of consciousness. Although States of Consciousness is widely cited in authoritative studies of consciousness such as that by Farthing (1992), as well as in current examinations of hypnosis and meditation phenomena of consciousness (Holroyd, 2003), unfortunately, the original publication has been out of print. The current edition was produced to provide the need for access to the original work.

In the Introduction Tart describes his book as “transitional” in several ways. One is social. This is because concepts of consciousness (like those of science itself) are based on consensus. We are living in an age in which standards and mores are rapidly shifting, and the process of consensus (as well as its value) is being questioned. A second transition is within the field of psychology itself which has alternated from the study of mind to the study of behavior and may be returning to the study of mind again. Tart’s book may also represent a transition for the author in the sense that in it he reaches out as a theoretician instead of as an experimentalist.

In Chapter One Tart orients the reader to a systems approach to considering states of consciousness. he theorises the necessity of basic awareness and structure in what he calls “discrete states of consciousness (d-SoC)” and identifies processes that are necessary for their stabilisation. he also defines the “discrete altered states of consciousness (d-ASC)” which are different from various baselines of consciousness. Their differences can be identified via ten sub-systems that show variations in d-ASC’s. These are: (1) Exteroception; (2) Interoception; (3) Input-Processing; (4) Memory; (5) Subconscious; (6) Emotions; (7) Evaluation and Decision Making; (8) Space/Time Sense; (9) Sense of Identity; and (10) Motor Output. Tart explains how one transitions from a discrete state to consciousness to an altered state through an interaction of disrupting forces and patterning forces.

In Chapter Two he focuses on the components of Consciousness which are Awareness, Energy, and Structure, and painstakingly sets up experiential criteria for detecting an altered state of consciousness. he reminds the reader that many structures interact simultaneously in the human being. The third chapter is devoted to examining conservative and radical views of the mind, with the former dedicated to the proposition that all mental activity is generated by the brains activity, while the latter admits to other influences upon the brain that come from outside the organism. Tart, the scientist, tells us: “I do not like the radical view” (p. 32). The radical view of consciousness runs contrary to all of what has been considered rational in nineteenth and twentieth century empirical science. The scientist who questions it faces the risk of being discredited within the field. Chapter Four examines ordinary states of consciousness in great detail, and Chapter Five defines discrete states of consciousness, explores how they may be mapped, and ties them to Tart’s operational concepts of ego states.

In Chapter Six the author explains how states of consciousness are stabilised, and in Chapter Seven he examines the induction of the altered states of going to sleep, hypnosis, and meditation. A very lengthy Chapter Eight scrutinises each of the subsystems set up in Chapter One in great detail, and Chapter Nine treats the topic of individual differences. Tart regards their inadequate recognition as a methodological deficiency that has retarded the progress of psychological science.

In the tenth chapter the use of drugs to induce altered states of consciousness is introduced, and in Chapter Eleven the author concentrates in the observation of internal states and introduces his operational concept of the Observer. This Observer is not a hidden one at all. It sounds very much like the rational, observing ego, postulated by Sterba (1934), that arises in the development of a therapeutic alliance. The next chapter expands on the complexity of consciousness states by dealing with various Identity States and considering how important they can be as adaptive, stabilising factors for discrete states of consciousness and ultimately, for the organism. Chapter Thirteen re-visits the systems approach in greater depth and presents certain useful strategies such as merging two discrete states of consciousness.

In Chapter Fourteen the author introduces measurements of the depth of states of consciousness; in Chapter Fifteen, State Specific Communication, and in the final chapters of the book discusses State Specific Science, and Higher States of Consciousness.

It is in the Chapters Eighteen, Nineteen, and Twenty, which comprise section Two of this book, that the author speculates on the implications of the five basic principles held in common by Physics and Psychology. This leads to a serious consideration of how our beliefs may alter reality. Tart confronts us with the proposition, held by so many religions and spiritual practices, that ordinary consciousness is a state of illusion, and he asks whether there may be some way “out of it” for us; that is, some way to live within the conflicting worlds and paradigms of our states of consciousness without reducing our own sense of being to the limits of the ordinary states. he explains that the experiences of altered states of consciousness, the dismantling of some of our cherished structures, and the practice of non-attachment can be helpful. Tart ends this book with the statement of the challenge that Western psychology faces: “…to apply the immense power of science and our other spiritual traditions, East and West, to search for a way out” (p. 286).

Are there any drawbacks to this book? The fact that it is information dense and requires close reading and reflection will make this quite heavy reading for anyone looking for “sound bites for the mind.” However, this is not a book intended for those who are not serious students of states of consciousness. Tart has used both acronyms and diagrams in his attempts to convey his complex concepts. At times I found it more difficult to keep track of the acronyms than it would have been to simply see the words spelled out in full, and quite a challenge at times to decipher the diagrams over and above understanding the text itself.

The re-publication of this classic work fills a genuine need in the scientific community. We live in the world of alternative therapies and shifting paradigms. Tart offers genuine ways for studying consciousness. he weds rigorous science and good logic in a systematised examination of consciousness and altered states of consciousness that is now a standard reference in studies. Studies of Consciousness remains a seminal source for those who scientifically study altered states of consciousness such as hypnosis, meditative states, mystical experiences, sleep, dreaming, non-local phenomena, Ego State Therapy, dissociative phenomena, and peak performance. It is a fascinating read and is a must for anyone studying consciousness and the varying fields allied to it.

References

  • Farthing, G. W. (1992). The psychology of consciousness. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice-Hall.
  • Holroyd, J. (2003). The science of meditation and the state of hypnosis. American Journal of Clinical Hypnosis, 46(2), 109-128.
  • Sterba, R.F. (1934). The fate of the ego in analytic therapy. International Journal of Psychoanalysis, 15, 1 17-126
  • Tart, C. T. (1975). States of consciousness. New York: Dutton.

PTSD Treatment Research Project


As you may well know, I am a therapist, coach and trainer based up in the North east of Scotland and run a private clinic that specialises in trauma and PTSD. I have worked with people from all walks of life and helped them move beyond the PTSD and onto a happy and satisfying life again. PTSD is not restricted to purely the military, it affects anyone that has experienced one or more traumatic events regardless of who you are or what you do and the great thing is that it does not have to last forever, there are ways to resolve the trauma and live a normal life. It is through retraining your brain to process these memories differently that dissolves the physical and psychological symptoms that are caused by the psychological injury that results from the traumatic event/s.

I am now in the final stages of designing a PTSD Research Project up in Aberdeenshire to document the treatment method that I have been developing based on the outstanding work of various leaders in the fields of psychology, psychotherapy, NLP and Neuroscience. My ultimate aim is to have the project independently assessed and use the evidence to generate funding locally in order that the project can then be replicated around the region and help as many people as possible.

I am now starting to look for volunteers for this project and keen for a wide spectrum of volunteers from military and civilian populations. I am very keen for volunteers from all emergency services, however, if you or someone you know would like to participate and receive free treatment for existing PTSD, this needs to have been diagnosed, and I will need your permission to discuss this with your GP and mental health professional if you are currently in their care.

Please email me at simon@simonmaryan.com to arrange an initial meeting to assess whether your participation is beneficial for you or if there are any contraindications that could exclude you from the project.

I will update again when the project is ready to start and provide dates etc.

Simon

How To Stay Focused and Consistent With Your Exercise


Trust me I know that sometimes getting to the gym isn’t always as easy as it sounds. Some people are intimidated by it, many have not made full use of it and don’t want to waste anymore money on it and some people never seem to find the time.

Doing something rather than nothing is half the battle, so surely it’s easier to just exercise at home? 

Well, sort of. Although your own home is massively convenient, it can be hard to stay motivated when you’re surrounded by a host of temptations or more precisely excuses such as TV, internet, coffee, reading etc.

So to help you resist these cheeky little temptations, stop making excuses and get a damn good sweat going at home, here are seven simple and effective tips for people just like you with real lives, real jobs, and really busy schedules that will help to keep your attention focused training at home, even when you really don’t feel like it and keep you on track.

1. Find Types of Exercise That You Really Enjoy Doing and Use Technology
The most important thing you can do is find a type of exercise you’re actually going to enjoy doing at home. Some forms of training such as weight training, power lifting etc that rely on lots of equipment aren’t really workable unless you have a big garage or a spare room, and the money to buy the kit in the first place. Thankfully there’s plenty of awesome choices at your finger tips that give you access to an endless amount of at-home exercise options that don’t have to cost a fortune.

Take a bit of time to think about what you enjoy doing, think about what types of activities you enjoy, what reason/s are you training for and then do some research. There are thousands of fitness apps and websites that transform your phone into a personal trainer to live stream videos that turn your living room into a fitness studio, there are plenty of ways to get guidance, motivation, and variety. With a little bit of internet research and soul-searching, you can easily find a training routine that will work for you. Some quick examples are:

Apps:
Virtual Trainer
MadBarz
BarStarzz
Aaptiv

Websites/Online Groups
SFit – free Closed Facebook Group that I run providing exercise, nutrition and psychological guidance and tips
MadBarz
BarStarzz

The key to it is finding something you love doing, this means you won’t even want to look for excuses no tot train then because you want to do it, and you’ll enjoy the process.” 

Need added motivation this winter? Aaptiv is a new app that offers audio-only workouts from top trainers set to music you love. Classes range from strength training and HIIT workouts to yoga and running, so you’ll always find something you love.
Available at aaptiv.com.

2. Book appointments with yourself to train. 
When you have important appointments you put them in your calendar on your phone etc and set reminders so you can’t forget, I certainly do, well, the same goes for your workouts. I schedule them like they’re an appointment. Prioritising your training sessions by blocking out time on your calendar and then planning your days and weeks around those blocks is a key element in creating consistency and continuity in training that will get you the results you want.

3. Organise a space at home. 
The sometimes awkward part about training at-home is that obviously your home is not a gym. If you happen to have a gym in your home, lucky you. If you’re like me your car never gets into the garage because that’s where I have my training kit, if you don’t have a garage then you’ll need to make whatever space you have work for you. That might mean setting up a mini gym in your bedroom, spare room etc or simply moving the coffee table over three inches to fit a yoga mat. Whatever you have to move/set up/dismantle, do it well before your scheduled workout (say, the night prior if you plan on getting up and training then), so there are no barriers or excuses.

4. Dress for business. 
Now more than ever, it’s acceptable to wear Lycra just about anywhere. Take advantage of the trend and throw on training clothes as soon as possible, at every given opportunity. Why? Well, research suggests that simply wearing your training clothes can help motivate you to exercise.

One of my clients says that, ”On workdays I come home and change into my training clothes before I do anything else, and on weekends I put them on first thing in the morning, that way I have no excuses later.”

5. Go public with it, afterwards. 
Wait a second before you get carried away. Before you tweet, message, Pin or gram your workout plans, read this: You’ll have a better chance of actually training if you keep them to yourself. A study has suggested that social recognition makes us less likely to follow through with our intentions. 

However, after you’ve smashed your workout, go for it and tell the world what you’ve just done. So after training take a photo or snap a sweaty selfie and you’ll find you work harder for that extra satisfaction of sharing your achievement afterwards. When you share your progress and accomplishments, you’ll build a small group of cheerleaders, and you can tap into that satisfied feeling the next time you’re motivation is in the ditch and your sitting on the fence about working out. 

6. Create your own incentives. 
It’s okay to use small rewards to persuade yourself to work out. Ideally these incentives should be healthy however, I’m realistic and so should you be, because sometimes you just need to satisfy that craving and reward yourself with something so tasty regardless of the content, so if it’s sometimes pizza, turkey chilli, or a salted caramel brownie, that’s okay too, because, balance is needed both physically and mentally and this reward can make all the difference.

Many of my clients say this same thing, they usually work out right after work, so they hold off on eating dinner until after they’ve smashed out a training session and that for them mentally, is a big reward.”

If food’s not your thing, treat yourself to a new pair of trainers, clothing or whatever works for you if you complete all your workouts for a month. 

7. Half a session. 
Sometime training at home feels and sounds like the worst idea, and when this happens negotiate with yourself. TelI yourself you’ll do half of what you had planned for that day and more often than not you’ll end up doing the full session anyway because all you really needed was to get started. And on the very few times you don’t finish? Well, at least you did half, and that’s much better than nothing at all. 

The Bottom Line
The best way to keep your motivation level up for training at home is to find a routine you really enjoy, this way your at-home training doesn’t feel like work. Then, control as many factors as you can to set yourself up for success and turn it into a habit. Of course the couch looks bloody good sometimes when you come home after a long day, but sinking into it will feel so much better after you’ve earned it.