How you talk about your problems has a direct effect on how well you’re able to solve your problems. Pay attention to how you describe your problems to others, and especially how your describe your problems to yourself (self-talk). Your word choice can make your problems seem insurmountable or easy to overcome. Most of us just don’t pay enough attention to our daily use of language in this way.
It makes sense. When you’re facing a problem, it doesn’t come naturally to pause and reflect on your perception of the problem. You want a solution and you want it now. I get it. But if you keep circling back to the same problems over and over, maybe it is time to pause and reflect. After all, if the solution hasn’t shown up by now, maybe you’ll find it by adjusting how you think (and talk) about your problems.
Self-talk is obviously very nuanced. There are many ways you could approach and investigate how your language is serving you and how it’s holding you back. For today’s purposes, let’s examine everyone’s favorite linguistic shortcut: metaphors.
Metaphors are typically associated with artistic forms of expression, like in poetry or films. And it’s easy to take for granted how prevalent metaphors are in your daily life.
So, what is a metaphor? And how do you use them every day?
Metaphors are a shortcut for communicating complex concepts – especially feelings and experiences. That’s why metaphors are both poetic and practical.
For example, when making a difficult decision, metaphors help you communicate your struggle. You might say, “I’m all torn up about this.”
That’s much easier and way less wordy than saying, “I’m having a difficult time deciding between my options. I don’t know what criteria to prioritize. And I’m afraid that if I make the wrong decision, it might negatively affect others.”
When you’re challenged by things like overwhelm, procrastination, or trying to solve a difficult situation, you might use metaphors like:
- I’m torn up about it
- I’m drowning in work
- I don’t know which path to take
- It’s feast or famine
- It’s a dog eat dog world
You can say something like “‘I’m drowning in work” and it’s enough for the listener will get the gist.
But, sometimes the gist isn’t good enough.
When Metaphors Run Amuck
Please know, I love metaphors. I’m a fan. Particularly in business, metaphors help you build rapport, help you educate your team and your clients, and are FANTASTIC for sales conversations. When utilized purposefully, metaphors can be a communication powerhouse.
And, like all powerful tools, you need to know how to use them, or they might backfire. Unchecked, metaphors can limit your perspective and keep you spinning in circles. I’ll show you a simple process for “interrogating” your metaphors you can find clarity and solutions you’ve been looking for. First, let’s talk about how metaphors can be limiting.
Problems with “Fitting the Mold”
It’s easy to get wrapped up in the poetry of an experience. And sometimes, that’s not helpful.
I was talking to a friend who is rebranding her business. She said to me, “It feels like if you want to be successful in this industry, you have to fit the mold.” In one way or another, she communicated her resistance to “fitting the mold.” It was clear she didn’t like “fitting the mold,” but here’s where things got very murky at what exactly does “fitting the mold” mean?
What does “fitting the mold” look like? How would you know if you’re “fitting the mold” or not? What would it look like to “break the mold?” What IS “the mold?”
For my friend, the metaphor of fitting the mold felt like it expressed herself well enough. And, in some ways I’m sure it did. But she was trapped by this poetic expression. There was a mold. She didn’t fit it. So, there’s not much she can do about it because if she tries to fit the mold, then her brand will come across as inauthentic. But if she doesn’t fit the mold, then her business won’t be successful in this industry.
You’ll notice, there are subconscious stories and limiting beliefs all woven in that metaphor. And that’s how metaphors will get ya! Metaphors are, in many ways, your subconscious express itself. And that’s exactly why we need to regularly self-assess our uses of language – to see if our subconsciousness is getting the better of us or if it’s serving us.
After I helped my friend interrogate her metaphor, we were able to chip away at the metaphor and find grounded language to help her see action steps and opportunities the metaphor was closing her off from.
Interrogate Your Metaphors
Interrogating your metaphors helps you find more grounded language.
With this short self-interrogation, you’ll define your problem, identify your resources, see opportunities and next action steps.
Interrogate your metaphors by asking yourself:
This is a great practice in mindful language.
- What does [metaphor] look like?
- How would I know if [metaphor] were happening?
- How would I know if [metaphor] wasn’t happening?
- Is my metaphor true?
- Does my metaphor serve me? Or is there a more helpful metaphor I can use to express this situation?
Get curious about your metaphors. Pay attention to when they serve you and when they don’t.
If you’re feeling challenged by a situation, don’t let your language murky the waters. Interrogate your metaphors to find more grounded ways to express yourself.
P.S. Here are a few other ways I can help you increase your influence, whenever you’re ready.
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