The power of metaphor

It’s New Year’s Eve—that time when it is so popular to set new resolutions for behaviors we plan to change in the new year. For most of us, these commitments to change don’t last very long. In no time at all, we are back to our usual behaviors and our usual habits.

I’ve seen dozens of good blog posts in the last few days presenting ideas for how to make better resolutions so they last longer or analyzing the reasons why our New Year’s resolutions so seldom work for us. There has been an abundance of wisdom and helpful tips shared—so many, in fact, that I won’t even attempt to make a list of all that I have found valuable.

I did encounter one post from Psychology Today’s Ethical Wisdom blog, however, that prompted me to look for possible change at an even deeper level than I normally consider. In his recent post What’s Your Metaphor? Shifting Shapes in the New Year, author Mark Matousek explores the powerful impact that the metaphors we hold about life have on us. This effect is just as powerful whether we are consciously aware of our metaphor as it is if it only lives in our subconscious.

What do I mean by a metaphor for life? I’m referring to those simple analogies we make like “Life is journey,” or “Life is  battle,” or “Life is a game.” These simple little statements have a profound impact on the way we perceive the things that happen to us in life and on the way we interpret circumstances, situations, and relationships. These beliefs color our entire world.

Mark spent some time asking people he knew about their metaphors for life, and then he put together a list of the these metaphors coupled with descriptions of the person (or people) who provided the metaphor. As I looked through his list, it was easy to see the correlation between the metaphor and the characteristics and behavior the person displays in their daily life.

In fact, as I read through the list, there were several metaphors that jumped out at me as things that I have said or believe about life. In each case, I recognized traits and behaviors from his descriptions of the person holding that metaphor to be true to be things that I have long wanted to change about the way I interact with the world but have been unable to change thus far.

So this year, I am skipping the usual resolutions. Instead, I am resolving to spend some time digging deep to find the metaphors for life that I am holding (consciously or subconsciously), determining which ones I find helpful, and changing or letting go of those that I find unhelpful. With that deeper foundation in place, I will have a firmer base on which to create the kinds of outward changes I normally consider for New Year’s resolutions.

Whether you are choosing to make resolutions this year or not, whether you choose to join me in digging deeper to look at your own metaphors for life or not, I wish you all a very happy and blessed New Year! May 2012 bring each of you the healing, grace, and transformation you need!