Using metaphor in practical every day living.

And why do metaphors work, when you want to introduce a new pattern of behaviour?

Here is an example in which we can clearly see how using a metaphor purposefully, helps us learn about our habitual behaviours, in this case in the context of decision making process.

A client of mine, -we’ll call him James- and I were working on reducing his stress levels experienced when taking a decision. Since James runs his own business, these moments are very frequent and it was important to find a more resourceful way of making decisions with confidence.

James discovered, during the coaching sessions, that he was used to taking decisions, ad hoc, in what he called a spontaneous and intuitive manner; he would seem to take quick decisions, moved by some external demand, or offer, but he seemed to have no strategy for assessing how the new decision would fit in with the whole business, nor how to measure the benefits or disadvantages of the new decision.

This, he felt, caused him to change his mind several times and even go back on his own decisions having to cancel and face up to penalties etc. for breaking a contract. Naturally this aggravated the already considerable stress levels experienced every day.

Having worked with James for a while, I realized that James felt proud of this style of decision making, because it had seemed to bear success in the initial stages, but as the business had reached a second stage in its growth, this habitual behaviour had become a limiting habit. However James was not quite aware of these limitations and he was not embracing the idea of other ways of making decisions finding all sorts of reasons to defend his habitual behaviour.

As a business development coach, it was my aim to show James, in practice, firstly, how in fact he took decisions, in general, and then show how important and ultimately beneficial it would be to use the nlp method of goal setting, or Well Formed Outcome.

When we set a Well formed Outcome, or a goal, you go rhough the following steps:
• make a full assessment of the present state,
• express in the positive what you want (your desired outcome,
• visualize it as accomplished, in all the modalities and submodalities,
• consider what new resources you might need to achieve this new outcome,
• set ways of measuring when you have achieved your outcome and
• create ways, or rituals, to give feed-back to yourself by celebrating your success.

I see a “new decision” as a new resource which would then become a factor in creating the final vision, the result you want.

So back to James, the opportunity presented itself, one day while I was visiting him at his home. James was particularly “active and creative”: he had many projects in mind, from house renovation, to gardening, to introducing a new software into his business.

While we were talking, he decided to prune an orange tree which seemed to have been neglected for a long time.

James appeared enthusiastic and eager to cut down those old branches, but from his body language, I soon realized that he had no vision of what the tree would look like at the end of his chopping and cutting, nor indeed into what shape the tree would grow in the new season.

At the same time I realized how this activity, pruning the orange tree, could be used to work on his “decision making style”, we could use this activity to illustrate the shortcomings and the consequences of his habitual “ decision making process”

So I eventually stopped him in mid task and asked him which branches he intended to prune and chop out, and what he thought the tree would look like in the next season, when it put out new growth.

James could not answer those questions, and he quickly realized that he would need to have a mental vision and a plan for what he was going to chop and what he was going to leave untouched.

So, we spent some time imagining the look of the tree once the pruning would be finished, and then created an image of how the tree would look like with new growth, in the following season.

We then looked at the tree from different perspectives, while he was pruning and I kept prompting James to keep checking with his interior vision of how the tree was going to look like at the end of the pruning.

It did not take long for James to realize that this activity, “the pruning of the orange tree” was a metaphor for his decision making process: the session then turned to finding parallel situations and meanings in two contexts, with amazing results: a practical gardening activity turned into a very important life lesson in decision making, with immediate results: a new decision making style with which James carries out challenging decision, and in fact, all of his business.

And why do metaphors work, when you want to introduce a new pattern of behaviour?

This will be the topic of another article, where I will explore linguistic meanings and philosophical notions of metaphors.