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‚Äôs 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‚Äôt 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‚ÄĎbrain might not have revealed. For the first client, the oak‚ÄĎwillow 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‚ÄĎBriggs 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‚ÄĎstep 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‚ÄĎobservations 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‚ÄĎto‚ÄĎwillow work, I¬†shared the images and they were useful. In the tarp‚ÄĎto‚ÄĎtapestry 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

Life Design


For a long time I thought I was happy with my job, I was doing what I’d set to¬†do in joining the Royal Marines. I worked with like-minded people, got paid to stay exceptionally fit, got fed four times a day and was provided with a roof over my head. The trade-off was that I was expected to do what I was told do whether I liked it or not and, some of the things I was asked to do I really didn’t like. However I was still happy living my dream.

Or so I thought.

Continue reading Life Design

Build Your Self Discipline and Increase your Success


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I regularly work with clients who say things to me like, “I can’t do that” or “I’ll never have/be/do that”, etc, etc. Now there are a load of things going on with these small statements that have to be addressed in order for these people to make a break through, things such as limiting beliefs, perception, mindset, attitude and a certain lack of motivation due to all of these things. This can have a hugely negative effect on a persons self discipline and motivation to actually succeed and to work towards success.

Personal success, achievement, or goal, can’t be realised without self-discipline. It is possibly¬†the most important attribute needed to achieve any type of personal excellence, athletic excellence, virtuosity in the arts, or any form of¬†outstanding performance, because without it, there is no consistency and continuity of effort towards achieving that goal.

What is Self-Discipline?

It is the ability to control emotions, thoughts, impulses, desires and behaviours. It is being able to say No, to immediate pleasure and instant gratification in favour of gaining the long-term satisfaction and fulfillment from achieving higher and more meaningful goals.

To possess self-discipline is to be able to make the decisions, take the actions, and execute your game plan regardless of the obstacles, discomfort, or difficulties, which may come your way.

Being disciplined does not mean living a limiting or a restrictive lifestyle, nor does it mean giving up everything you enjoy, or, to relinquish fun and relaxation. However, it does mean learning how to focus your mind and energies on your goals and persevere until they are accomplished.

It does means cultivating a mindset lead by your deliberate choices rather than by your negative emotions, bad habits, or the sway of others who do not have your necessarily have the same desires as you. Self-discipline allows you to reach your goals in a reasonable time frame and to live a more orderly and satisfying life.

How To Develop Self-Discipline
it’s best to start with small¬†steps, because no new process takes place overnight. Just as it takes time to build muscle, so does it take time to develop self-discipline? The more you train and build it, the stronger you become. In exercise, if you try to do too much at once, you risk¬†injuring yourself and setting yourself back. Likewise, take it one step at a time in building self-discipline, begin by making the decision to go forward and learning what it takes to get there.

Learn what motivates you and what your negative¬†triggers are and this begins by learning about yourself! Sometimes it is very difficult to fight off urges and cravings, so identify¬†the areas where your resistance is low and how to avoid those situations. If you know you can’t resist cake, fries, or other temptations – stay away from them, do not have them around to lure you into moments of weakness. If you also know that putting pressure on yourself does not work for you, then set yourself up in an environment that encourages the building of self-discipline rather than one that sabotages it. Remove the temptations and surround yourself with soothing and encouraging items such as motivating slogans and pictures of what you want to achieve.

Learn also what energises and motivates you. Your willpower can go up and down with your energy levels so play energetic music to perk you up, move around, and laugh. Train yourself to enjoy what you are doing by being energised as this will make it easier to implement desirable and appropriate behaviours into your daily routine – which is really what self-discipline is all about.

Make the right¬†behaviours a routine. Once you have decided what’s important to you and which goals to strive for, establish a daily routine that will help you achieve them. For example, if you want to eat healthily or lose weight; resolve to eat several servings of lean protein¬†and green vegetables each day and exercise for at least half an hour.

Make it part of your daily routine and part of your self-discipline building. Likewise, get rid of some of your bad, self-defeating habits, whatever they may be. They can put you in a negative frame of mind and hinder your self-discipline. A poor attitude is also a self destructive bad habit.

Practice Self-Denial

Learn to say no to some of your feelings, impulses and urges. Train yourself to do what you know to be right, even if you don’t feel like doing it. Skip dessert some evenings. Limit your TV watching. Resist the urge to yell at someone who has irritated you. Stop and think before you act. Think about the consequences. When you practice self-restraint it helps you develop the habit of keeping other things under control.

Engage in Sports or Other Physical Activities

Sports are an excellent way to enhance self- discipline. They train you to set goals, they focus your mental energy and exercises you emotional energies, enables you to become physically fit, and teaches you to get along well with others by working as part of a team. Participating in sports provides a situation where you learn to work hard and strive to do your best, which in turn, teaches you to integrate the same the thought processes and disciplines into your everyday life.

Learning to play a musical instrument can be another great way to practice self-discipline. The focus, repetition, and application required in learning to play an instrument is invaluable. Achieving self-discipline in any one area of your life re-programs your mind to choose what is right, rather than what is easy.

Create Your Mindset for Self-Discipline

Get inspiration from those you admire. There are so many inspirational people i the world today and from throughout history. read books by or about these people and draw inspiration from them. Sporting greats such as Muhammad Ali, Michael Jordan, Gary player. Great leaders throughout history; Alexander the Great, Winston Churchill. Philosophers such as Aristotle who said:

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then is not an act, but a habit”.

Visualise the Rewards

There is nothing more gratifying than accomplishing your goals. Practice the technique that high achievers and top athletes do and practice projecting yourself in to the future with your imagination. Visualise your desired outcome. See how your life can be different, hear how differently you talk about your self and how others do, feel how rewarding it is and the countless benefits you will enjoy. Remind yourself what it takes to get there.

The Benefits
It helps build self-confidence.
You accomplish more, and are therefore more productive.
You are able to maintain a higher tolerance for frustration, obstacles and negative emotions.
Allows you to obtain better health, better finances and a good work ethic.
You are able to reach your most difficult goals more efficiently.
The more disciplined you become, the easier life gets.
If we are to be masters of our own destiny, we must develop self-discipline and self-control. By focusing on long-term benefits instead of short-term discomfort, we can encourage ourselves to develop of self-discipline. Ultimately our health and happiness depend on it.

If you would like to join my online goal setting workshop group then drop me an email on simon@simonmaryan.com and take advantage of a free 20 minute strategy session with me and find out how you can build your self discipline and achieve your goals.

Here’s to your increased success, health and happiness

Simon

What Are Your Biggest Challenges Right Now?


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Over the next few weeks I’m going to be designing something completely new and I’d like to ask you what you really want to change about your life.

I’d really appreciate it if you could take just a few minutes to tell me what is your single biggest challenge you’re struggling with in your life right now, it would mean the world to me AND even more importantly I’ll be able to use that information to create webinars and blog posts around topics you want to know more about.

http://SimonMaryan.formstack.com/forms/simonmaryan_copy

I really appreciate you taking the time to read this and thank you if you choose to take the survey as it may help a whole load of other people. How great a start to the week would that be ūüôā

Have a fantastic week

Simon

New Workshop: “Life Design”


I have been listening to a lot of people over the last couple of months who are fed up with their current jobs and where they currently are on their lives, they’re not as happy and content as they expected to be.

So, I have created a brand new 1 day course called ‘Life Design’, which is all about helping you discover what is really important to you, what you really want to be doing with your life both personally and professionally. During this day you will work out your personal and professional values and the beliefs that support them, set goals that enable you to fulfil them and take you to exactly where you want to be, instead of it being just a distant wish.

The venue is being secured at the moment and the cost for this workshop is £125 per person which includes lunch all refreshments and course notes.

So, to start designing the life you want, all you have to do to book your place and to ask any questions email me on simon@simonmaryan.com

Behavioural Flexibility and Adaptability


I’m in the midst of writing an article for the National Guild of Hypnotists publication, “The Journal of Hypnotism” on ‘Adaptability and Flexibility in Hypnosis’. This is something, as a practising hypnotherapist, I feel is an essential skill in order for me to give my very best to my patients/clients.

There is no one method, tool, technique works for everyone and as therapists, we must be aware of  what our clients present us with and how they respond to what we say and do as we figure out the most beneficial way to help them.

The same principal is true in every day life in how we interact with other people, not just in our verbal language but also in how we behave, our non-verbal communication which is much more telling most of the time than what we say.

Have you ever responded to someone else’s comments or behaviour in a way that either immediately or a bit later on you thought, “that didn’t quite go to plan”? Sometimes, because of the mood you were in i.e. grumpy, frustrated or angry etc you spoke, and/or behaved towards someone else from that mindset when they had absolutely nothing to do with it and they got the brunt of your mood.

It happens to all of us from time to time as it is part of being human and it most likely happens before you even realise it. When you’re in this frame of mind it can be difficult to remember that you have a choice in how you communicate with someone else as you are on a roll at that point, however it can be learnt like anything else.

Of course, equally you could be the one on the receiving end of it and it can be much easier at this point to behave differently and perhaps give them the benefit of the doubt, especially when you know you are not the cause of the other persons mood. By remaining calm and show a little care for the other person, it is quite possible that they will calm down quicker than they would have on their own, and certainly quicker than if you had retaliated in the same manner.

This is what I mean by having adaptability and flexibility in our behaviour. It allows us to make informed choices and make good decisions about how we can respond in any given situation and also to different people and their differing personalities. This doesn’t mean you roll over and become a soft touch that can be pushed around, what it does mean is that you can create positive solutions to many different situations that could, if handled in a less adaptable away lead to escalation, aggression and personal conflict.

This has become most evident for me with my kids who are 6 & 8. At their age they don’t necessarily understand why they feel the way they do and can get frustrated, angry and upset for no real apparent reason. This happens in particular when they are asked to do something and I’m pretty sure any of you that are parents will recognise this all too well. Now I realise that what I’m about to explain can’t realistically be used in the exact same way with adults, however you can adapt it to fit the circumstances you find yourself in.

What I do when my kids get angry and upset is continue to talk to them calmly and ask them what’s going on for them to feel the way they do right now. As I do this I ask them to take my hand and come and sit down with me, this gets compliance from the outset. If they won’t take my hand I ask them to come and sit down with me and if they won’t do that, I sit on the floor in front of them and hold their hands, at this point they just sit on my lap. If they are really upset and crying I look them in the eyes and get them to take a few deep breaths with me as I softly tell them to relax and calm down.

When I talk to them I explain, if they have not done what I originally asked them to do, why I got annoyed with them and ask them if they understand. I do not continue until they tell me that they do understand my reasons. If they are upset for no particular reason I ask them to tell how they feel, where they feel it and jut to let it go and give them a big hug. I tend to find that they sob their hearts out at this point and may not actually know at the end how or why they felt the way they did and they just feel better.

Now you understand why this won’t work with adults, I can’t imagine sitting with a client or a colleague on my lap with them sobbing into my shoulder, however, you can quite easily adapt this to fit your own style and the other persons to resolve a bad mood, confrontation or whatever is going on.

A simple way to help someone shift their mood and mindset is to change their posture. When we are in a bad mood, angry, annoyed, frustrated etc we adopt a certain posture which generally includes tensing muscles, clenching jaws among many other characteristics.

By talking to that person and mentioning how tense they look and making them aware of it can be a good start and then ¬†lead them to take a deep breath and tell you what’s going on. Maybe even going for a coffee somewhere to do that so they can feel easier about talking in private, if they want to at all. Sometimes just showing a little compassion can make all the difference as they feel they are being heard and that someone else actually recognises them and the way they feel.

If they are up for it, go through a brief progressive muscle relaxation with them to help reduce tension and enable them to let that negative mood begin to slip away.

At the end of the day, if they turn round and tell you to Foxtrot Oscar, at least you have been kind enough to reach out and you can’t force it, they have to want to accept it. They may come back to you late anyway so give them the benefit of the doubt and leave it open.

Have a brilliant day.

Simon ūüôā

P.S.

Chesterfield School in the UK have this really cool Behaviour for Learning Code poster which you can see below. We can all take something from this because every day’s a school day ūüėČ

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