This post is part of my special Coaching Tips Series. This series was inspired by my clients and the core themes in their challenges. When we can apply these tips, we bring a lot of ease into our lives and step into our leadership.
In my article “Get Fit For Summer!” I mentioned the 3 core mental muscles for mental fitness. If you train these muscles, you will improve your fitness:
- Saboteur interceptor (saboteurs are our negative mindset champions – those inner critics)
- Sage. (embodies the positive mindset)
- Self Command (how to switch from one to the other)
Obviously we don’t have actual muscles in our brains. It’s a metaphor. And the coaching tip today is about how to use metaphors to help you.
Metaphors can help you in your development and with your daily challenges. They are so powerful because a picture is worth a thousand words.
Sounds nice, but what does it actually do?
For the situation or person where we have a challenge:
- It helps us to find new perspectives – the very act of creating the metaphor gives us a new way to look at it
- It helps us to access more information about it, because we get to feel, hear, see, smell, and touch it. When we have this info, we can figure out what needs to change
- It gives us something to hold on to, especially the challenges that are hard to define, where we feel we “don’t know”. We start to know something, and once we know something, we can know more things. It gets us started.
Specifically for mental fitness
Well, for a start, mental fitness is itself a metaphor.
We all understand that if we want to be able to lift an actual heavyweight, we need to build up the strength in our actual muscles. So we train. We also know that we won’t see the results in one day. It’s the cumulative effect of daily training over a period of time that means that “all of a sudden” we can lift that actual heavyweight.
The same is true for our minds: the cumulative effect of training daily over time leads to the results. Our insights and ahas! help us along the way, but unless we do something with them everyday, nothing happens.
Specifically for our mental muscle: saboteur interceptor
To be able to intercept our saboteurs, we need to know that they have shown up. Unfortunately, they are smart, sneaky, and have spent years telling us they are our friend.
Recognise any of these?
“If I don’t push myself to keep working hard and to do better, I’ll just become lazy and sit on the couch all day”
“I really want to do x, y, z but first I need to learn everything about it”
“I’m not good at finishing up tasks, I’m just not like that. I have so many ideas, and I want to do so much” (hello shiny object syndrome)
I bet you already have a good idea about who your inner critics are. If you don’t, or if you love doing tests that tell you about yourself, then check out this saboteur assessment (takes 2-3 mins).
Coaching tip of metaphor: personify your saboteur/critic
Now, while personify implies that need to create a person, I invite you to hold the “person” bit very loosely. You may get an image of animal, character from a book or film, or real life, it may be something as simple as “shadow”.
Remember, there is no wrong answer to this exercise.
Take one of your saboteurs, and ask yourself these questions:
- What do they say to me?
- What kind of voice do they have? (loud, soft, nagging, confident, whiny, whisper….)
- What’s the sound that I associate with them?
- What do they look like?
- What’s the colour?
- What’s the movement?
- What happens to my body when they show up? (I hunch over, tension, feel drained….)
- If they were an animal, character, or thing, what would they be? (one of mine is a cosy armchair that seduces me to read books instead of doing my tasks)
And then ask yourself “What’s their name?”
TIP: whatever word comes to mind will do! that’s good enough. That’s how I got the “shadow” example.
The better we are at recognising that our saboteur or inner critic has turned up (and they are never far away), the easier and quicker it becomes to intercept them.
So what’s the muscle building part?
- Practice creating the metaphors – because you definitely have more than one saboteur
- Practice noticing when they have turned up (because that image from the metaphor you have created will be present)
- And when they turn up, name them
One of my favourites is to say something like this:
“Oh hi, thanks for showing up, I don’t need you right now”
You can also check out this coaching tip How to stop feeling like an imposter as I share more there.