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Metaphors and coaching

Metaphors create strong pictures in our minds. They are used powerfully and purposefully in coaching, as a way of moving clients forward to a new way of responding to life’s many challenges.

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. In performance coaching, metaphors are used to create powerful images to inspire and bring about change.

The word ‘metaphor’ comes from the Greek word ‘metaphora’, which means to transfer or change. It’s a form of a comparison, when one thing is said to be like something else.

Metaphors create a visual impact

In performance/life coaching they are used to inspire and assist people to make a connection between what is present and what is possible. They are also what a coach listens for when seeking to understand the client’s beliefs about themselves and the world they live in.

Metaphors create strong pictures in our minds. They can be used powerfully and purposefully in coaching as a way of moving clients forward to a new way of responding to life’s many challenges. A link is made from the image to the mind. This seeks to create a new pathway – from victim to victory.

Often a client comes to coaching because they have reached a point of pain so profound that they know that in order to make change they must do something different from their usual, default position. To hear a client say, ‘I am sick and tired of feeling stuck’, immediately allows the coach to comprehend what the client is feeling. However, the presenting problem is rarely the issue. In working together, coach and client can unravel the mystery like a ball of string.

I recently asked a client, “In which area of your life do you feel the most stuck?”

She responded, “Work is like climbing a steep mountain”.

Right there was the clue about how she was responding to her job. To help her make a mind shift I asked her, “If you could visualise freedom, what would it look like?”

This immediately gave her permission to unconsciously ask her mind for a better, more hopeful picture. She responded with, “being in a hot air balloon flying higher and higher into a blue sky”.

Metaphorical keys

One of the keys a coach uses to help a client unlock their potential in different areas of their life is to assist them with focusing on results rather than the presenting problem they bring to the session. Our problems usually result from the ineffective habits we have created. Suddenly that’s all we know. And we keep doing the same thing over and over again until it’s an automatic response. Once again it can be through the use of pictures that we can create different possibilities in our thinking. This translates into taking measured steps towards something exciting and new and moving away from something painful and old.

As children we were told stories and we delighted in the characters, places, and events. Our brain responds to what we hear. From that we can visualise the images as if they were actually happening. Stories command human attention, and metaphors work in the same way.

People are always revealing what they hold true through the words and metaphors they use in their daily language. A well-known British psychotherapist says that the words people use about us are powerful, but the words we use about ourselves are even more potent. Therefore we must choose our words carefully. They can paint a powerful picture, which can either move us forward or keep us chained.

Metaphors can be used to help clients scale a wall to success, cross a sea to happiness, climb a mountain to greatness and cross the finish line in the race they choose to run.

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