We shape our buildings, said Winston Churchill, then our buildings shape us. The same is true of the metaphors we use to simplify and explain the world around us. When we say "the football team's new running back is a real tank," we don't literally mean the man is thirty tons of steel mounted on treads with a cannon turret on top. It's a metaphorical image that conveys a whole range of meanings - unstoppable, indestructible, threatening - in one simple picture. Change the metaphor to "he's a real marshmallow" and you get a whole new range of meanings.
Whether consciously or not, we rely heavily upon metaphors in our everyday conversations (especially the ones we have with ourselves). With self-awareness, you can become more cognizant of the metaphors that you subconsciously use to define and describe yourself; changing those metaphors can be a powerful way of building self-belief.
The Magic of Metaphorical Visualization
One reason it's so difficult to manage emotions is that they're invisible - and how can you manage what you can't see? Because metaphors create vivid mental images (and a picture is worth a thousand words), they are among the most powerful forms of human communication - including the communication we have with ourselves. Metaphorical Visualization is a process of using mental metaphors to visualize that which cannot be seen by the human eye, thus making it easier to manage the invisible.
The first step is recognizing and eliminating self-sabotaging metaphors. For example, to answer the question "How's it going?" with "I'm hanging in there" creates a horrifying mental metaphor in the subconscious mind - only desperate people "hang." Saying that you're hanging sends your inner child the terrifying message that you're hanging onto the cliff's edge by your fingernails, or worse yet that you're about to pay the ultimate price for having committed a heinous crime.
The second step is visualizing positive metaphors in action, and then transferring the emotional energy from the imaginary world to the real world. By creating a mental image of something that is real and tangible, as opposed to an ephemeral emotion, you can bring your mental powers to bear and change your thinking and change your brain. Let's look at several examples.
Erasing Negative Self-Talk: We all experience negative self-talk - which usually tells us lies. One metaphorical visualization exercise is picturing this vandalous voice for what it really is - mental graffiti. You need The Janitor in Your Attic to paint out that graffiti and replace it with self-talk that is positive and constructive. Any time you hear that voice say "You can't do..." or "You're not good enough to..." just visualize your janitor (my janitor is named Spike) coming along with a cleaning cart, painting over that libelous graffiti, then replacing it with something positive and constructive.
Now, before you laugh too hard at the apparent silliness, listen to this. Several years ago I called the M.D. author of a bestselling book on brain plasticity (the ability of the adult brain to rewire itself as a result of experience or even thinking differently). I asked him if it would be possible that someone who did this consistently would actually rewire their brain to wire out negative thinking. He said that not only would it be possible, it would be inevitable. And in the years since, my janitor Spike has proved that to my satisfaction, and I've heard from quite a few others who tell me the same thing.
Leave Behind Emotional Baggage: Just as a 300-pound jockey will never win the Kentucky Derby, someone who is weighed down with emotional baggage will struggle with life. Whenever I hike into the Grand Canyon, I pick up an ugly rock to let it represent some fear, anger, grudge, or other emotional baggage that's weighing me down. Carrying an unnecessary rock in an already-heavy pack is a perfect metaphor for the dead weight I've been carrying in my heart.
Every day, I talk to my rock and explain why I have to leave it behind....