NLP Stories and Metaphor | Staphanie Phelp

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Michael : Good morning Stephanie.

Stephanie : Hi Michael, how are you?

Michael : Great. Really pleased to have a chance to talk to you today about metaphor. To kick it all off, would you just introduce yourself and tell us a little bit about what you do?

Stephanie : Sure. My name’s Stephanie Philp, and as you can probably tell from my accent I’m originally from Staffordshire over there in England, and I’ve lived in New Zealand for longer than I lived in England, quite a long time. Based in Auckland I’ve got a company called Metamorphisis, and I train NLP practitioners, people in corporate organisations, and also I do NLP coaching with people.

Michael : We’re going to be talking about metaphor, so can I throw you right in and say – what’s your definition of a metaphor?

Stephanie : Well that’s an interesting question. I looked in the dictionary so I could get a proper definition, because I tend to lump metaphor, similes, analogies etc, together, because it’s quite closely related. And they’re all useful in the work we do in training and coaching people, but it might be useful to hear the definition. So a simile compares two different things in order to create a new meaning. We’re made explicitly aware of the comparison by words like ‘Like’ or ‘As’, and one way to remember similes is ‘similar to’ so we might have ‘brave as a lion’ ‘thin as a rake’, ‘white as a sheet’, ‘thick as two short planks.’ So that’s simile.

Then we’ve got metaphor, so a metaphor is a figure of speech that uses one thing to mean another, and uses comparison between the two. So a metaphor implies a comparison between two dissimilar things, without the use of ‘like’ or ‘as’. So a metaphor really carries more power than a simile because it’s more direct. So in metaphor you are saying something is something else, and you require the mind to make a connection usually by making appropriate images.

So where as in simile you’d say ‘he is as brave as a lion’, the metaphorical equivalent would be ‘he is a lion.’ and you may notice how the two create different images in your mind.

So the third one is an analogy, and an analogy is comparable to a metaphor and a simile in that it shows you how two different things are similar, but it’s a bit more complex, so rather than a figure of speech, an analogy is more of a logical argument.

The creator of an analogy will often demonstrate how two things are alike, by pointing out the shared characteristics, with the goal of showing that the two things are similar in some ways – and similar in more ways as well – so an analogy is a set of comparisons like ‘x is to Y as A is to B.’ And you may remember these types of questions on school exams, like ‘cat is to kitten as parent is to… >fill in the gap<‘ so the interaction of the comparisons tells us about the things that are being compared.

Let me give you another example, when I’m teaching metaphor on my practitioner training, we have a warm up exercise called ‘you know, X is like Y’ game. And one person choose a context, like relationship change, learning etc. Another person chooses an activity from which to draw analogies, like cooking, skiing, running. And the third person gives a sentences linking the two. So we could say ‘cooking a great meal, is like a relationship, it takes time, love and tender, loving care’ or ‘Training people is like building a house. You have to make sure the foundations are solid, before you start adding structures.’ So it’s a great exercise for developing flexibility. Because almost anything, as I’m sure you know, is an analogy to anything else.

Then you’ve got idioms and things like that, but I don’t think we’ve got time to go into all of those!

Michael : So what do you think is the impact of metaphor, or some of the different impacts you can have with metaphor?

Stephanie : well I think it’s another way of getting the message across, or stimulating a person to look inwardly to find their own resources. So when I’m training I use lots of stories, I use them to introduce topics, they create curiosity and open up the mind for what I’m about to teach. I’ve used stories of work that I’ve done with clients so that participants can get the benefit of my experience, including mistakes. I tell jokes – and it’s really interesting, jokes are wonderful metaphors and great for breaking state and illustrating language patterns. Shall I tell you one?

Michael : Ok tell us one.

Stephanie : Ok – You’ve probably heard it, but it’s quite a good one for presuppositions. So this blokes in bed, and he hears a knock on the door – so he rolls over and looks at the clock and it’s half past three in the morning. ‘You’ve got to be joking’ he thinks to himself. So he roles over and tries to get back to sleep, but the knock gets louder so he goes downstairs and there’s a guy on the doorstep who goes: ‘Hey mate, can you give me push?’ So the guy who’s got out of bed says ‘Oh for goodness sake, it’s half past three in the morning! Bugger off.’ That sort of thing, you know. And he gets back to bed, and when he’s back in bed his wife says ‘what’s the problem?’

He says ‘Oh there’s a guy out there wanting a push.’ and his wife says ‘Oh if that happened to you when we were young before we had three kids – remember that night we broke down and you wanted a push – where would we have been then if the person had said no?’

So he feels a bit guilty, so he goes downstairs and he can’t see the guy, so he says ‘Hey mate are you still out there?’ The guy says ‘Yeah.’

‘Do you still want a push?’ The guy says ‘Yes please!”‘
He says ‘Well where are you?’ and the guy says ‘I’m over there on the swings!”

This is a great joke for illustrating presuppositions because the presupposition is that he needs his car pushing. After all, most normal people wouldn’t wake somebody up at three o’clock in the morning to play on the swings. So it’s a different meaning here that creates the joke.

Michael : Where else are typical places where one can use a metaphor? Can you give some other contexts where they could be useful?

Stephanie : Well, again, to provide themes – so you might tell a story, or tell a joke to set a theme for something that you want to talk about in a speech or in training again. For therapeutic purposes, so often you could use stories to help clients out of the holes that they’ve gotten themselves into, and even that, saying somebody is ‘in a hole’ that’s another metaphor. And I’ve had some pretty amazing results with that too.

To open up a persons way of thinking so that they can make connections with the issues that they may be experiencing. To create rapport. So if you just go to a barbecue, or any other sort of function, you’ll hear people telling stories, because that’s one of the ways that we get rapport. To explain complex information, so even the NLP communication model, where we talk about the map and the territory, the idea of the map in our head is really a metaphor. We haven’t really got maps that are in our head – it’s just a representation of reality.

To help someone access new resources to overcome a problem. So in a story a hero or heroine could overcome a problem by using special tools, or a particularly inventive idea, and this can stimulate a client to think differently about their own problem.

One of the best ones – to create trance and relaxation. so the story starts to put a person into a relaxed state and then you can start weaving Milton Models into the story and create a very deep trance as well.

To give feedback – to tell a story about how somebody else did something and how that helped their performance.

And embed commands – I’ve got a particular one that I like that I use if I have a client who is working very hard and not taking care of themselves – it’s about mother Teresa who apparently was working really long hours and not taking care of herself, and she ended up sick in one of the hospital beds in India – and the Mother superior saw Mother Teresa in the ward lying in bed and said ‘You! What are you doing there?”

And Mother Teresa said ‘Well, I was working long hours and I got sick.’ and she carried on like that, and the mother superior said ‘You! What are you doing there?’ So Mother Teresa repeated her story, so the mother superior said ‘How dare you? How dare you think you can look after other people without looking after yourself?”

So that last part is an embedded command to the client – that she has to take care of herself – but it’s not me that saying it, it’s the mother superior.

Michael : So moving on slightly, where and when do you use metaphors. Is there anything you’d like to add? You’ve covered some of that before, but is there anything you’d like to add to that question: Where and when do you use metaphor?

Stephanie : I think when you start looking at metaphor you realise that there aren’t many places where you can’t use it. And the other thing is, because we talk in metaphor it isn’t very easy to go very long without using metaphors – that when you hear other people metaphor, within that metaphor is the solution to the problem.

So someone might say ‘It’s like I’ve got a brick wall up in front of me.’ So I’ll ask them about the wall, and if there’s a way over it or through it. And they know because it’s there metaphor, and it often taps into their resources to adapt and change. And often if you do some change work with them, the wall might have a gate in it when you’ve finished, or it might be replaced by a hedge, or it might not be there at all.

Michael : Moving on from that – when you design a metaphor, what are the very top level elements for people that you think are important to think about?

Stephanie : The first thing is that the person understands the metaphor. It sounds obvious, but sometimes we can be really enthusiastic about something that we like, but that somebody else can’t relate to. For example in New Zealand rugby is our national sport, so if we can use a metaphor with somebody that likes rugby then that’s great – but if you use it with someone that hates rugby then you’re going to get out of rapport at least, or really confuse them at the worst – so it’s really important that they know what the metaphor is.

I remember years ago we were teaching a seminar and the co-trainer and I practiced having an argument, for an exercise we were doing – some guys overheard us, and didn’t realise until the next day that it was a role play – that it was just us practicing, so we said ‘oh yeah that was a red herring!’ and not one person on the course knew what a ‘red herring’ was. So they said ‘what’s fish got to do with this?’. So we had to explain what a ‘Red Herring’ was.

And the other thing is map out a persons metaphor from scratch to find out some metaphorical connections that you can use – so if a person has some huge problems, they might have to climb a mountain or something. So defining a problem is about defining the elements in it, so it might be more than one problem that’s contributing to the problem – so establishing the metaphor or symbol for each key part of the challenge, or for the problem.

So a mountain climb might be a challenge, a wound might be a past upset, so find symbolism that the client can relate to, and if you’re not sure if the client can relate to the metaphor just pick something basic like going for a walk or something that anybody can relate to. And then find out what their outcome is, whatever it is – whether it’s finding a job, whatever it is, and then find something that the person enjoys that you can also incorporate into the metaphor, or any real life obstacles that are likely to come up – maybe emotions that could be experienced.

Then people that could help; they might not be people in the metaphor, they could be things or animals. There are other things, it get quite complex, but a lot of metaphors can be simple and be just as effective.

Michael : What skills do you have that enable you to do this?

Stephanie : Well I suppose because it’s something that I’m interested in, I do pay attention to, and filter metaphor. I collect stories and write down my own stories about things that have happened in my life so that I have something that would suit any occasion. And then I’ve got of experience working with metaphor and working with other peoples metaphors as well.

Michael : How did you learn to do this? Have a number of things happened to you where metaphors have suddenly clicked, or that telling the metaphors have suddenly clicked with you?

Stephanie : I learned a little bit on practitioner training, or master practitioner, I think. It was something that I enjoyed, so started doing for myself. Start collecting stories, and I just found it so useful that on my practitioner training I spend two half-days on different parts. The more I learn about it, the more fascinated I become with it, so when I teach it on courses as well I always have people that say ‘Oh stories, I don’t really know if that will be useful.’ but when they do it they really get a buzz out of it – they get really passionate about it, and they start collecting their own metaphors.

Michael : What do you believe about yourself when you’re telling a metaphor, or designing a metaphor?

Stephanie : I believe that I’m good at it and that I can make a difference. And that people have all the resources that they need to succeed, and that metaphor will help them – so that’s what I believe about the person.

Michael : Do you have a personal mission when you do this? Who are you when you’re telling a metaphor?

Stephanie : Well my mission is to assist people and to tap into their uniqueness and inner depth. And to find a beauty and aspiration, and peace and love, that they have within them – which sounds very chunked up, but that’s what my mission is -that’s my mission when I’m telling metaphor.

Michael : As we’re sort of coming towards the end of this discussion, do you have a favourite metaphor that you’d be prepared to tell us?

Stephanie : Favourite metaphor…. A few years ago I broke my arm, and I didn’t know it was broken for two weeks because my leg was hurt and my leg was so sore that I didn’t really pay much attention to my arm – but it was a fracture that had sort of split the bone from the wrist up, because I sort of landed on my arm.

And the doctor told me that I’d have to have Orthopaedic surgery on it, and he said ‘I’ll put it in a temporary cast for a bit, and when you come back we’ll organise the surgery.’ and in my head I was going ‘Well that’s what you think.’

So what I did was I went home and I visualised my arm healing, and I’ve got a pretty good imagination, so what I did, I imagined seven men in there like the Seven Dwarfs and they were whistling and they were scraping all of the bone off, vacuuming it all off and sealing it together with super glue. So I used my mind, and the dwarfs were these colourful little people I imagined my arms and my wrist being warm and the blood flowing, and said to myself ‘my wrist is now totally healed, and I now have complete flexibility’

So I used all of my senses, I could even smell the super-glue, the only thing that I didn’t have was taste – and it was a good representation for people of how we use modalities and sub-modalities.

The interesting thing was, I went back next week – I did this visualisation three times a day – I only had a week so I did them three times a day – I went back with my friend, they put the x-ray up, the new x-ray, and they couldn’t find the break at all. My wrist had been healed in a week.

So I think that’s quite a powerful metaphor to show people how strong the mind is, and how we can use modalities, or can use modalities or sub-modalities. I’ve got other metaphors. I’ve got more, but they go on for too long.

Michael : Are you saying that’s absolutely true?

Stephanie : Absolutely. One week. And my friend was so impressed – she was a real sceptic, she used the technique to lower her blood pressure, which the doctor told her that she’d have to take medication for. She visualised her blood as a raging river and slowed it down, and the effect was that it lowered her blood pressure.

Michael : Before I ask if there’s anything you’d like to plug or for your contact details, is there any last thing that you’d either like to emphasise, or to add in because we left it out, that’s important about metaphor?

Stephanie : I’d like to encourage people to collect metaphor. Just to keep a scrap book or put them on your computer, because sometimes you can find them in newspapers or something like that. Start noticing or filtering for metaphor in peoples language as well, because that tells you a lot about how they’re creating their problems. So that’s all – I’d like to encourage people to collect metaphor.

Michael : Excellent. Now is there anything you’re doing that you’d like to plug or bring to out listeners attention?

Stephanie : well first of all there’s my website, which isMetaMorphosis Ltd – NLP Training and coaching so remember the, and on there there’s at least twenty pages of puns, jokes, metaphors, comments, funny comments – in fact theres a whole section on the site dedicated to humour – it’s called ‘humour’.

Then I’d like to plug my cd and e-book. They’re both called ‘Inside your mind.’ The e-book is highly interactive and takes you to lots of hidden extras including audio clips on the website – it’s a great introduction to NLP – so anybody that wants to get to know it, and wants some more information on it can – and listen to audio to actually explain things – it’s a really good e-book for that. And it also includes information on sub modalities – so if you want to feel better or make your goals more compelling – and the CD is studio recorded and deals with how to decrease anxiety, shut up the internal terrorist in your head, core questions, the mind-body connection, and how language and internal representations affect this.

How to focus on what you want, and what happens when you focus on what you don’t want. And how we make sense of our own and others experiences. And then I’ll take you through some exercises in changes through modalities, changes through sub-modalities, changes in experience. And there’s also another hand out with the CD that you can download so that you can do the exercises more easily.

Otherwise I’m available for training and coaching. And I have a half-day training called Inside Your Mind around the e-book and CD, and I facilitate practitioner trainings.

Michael : And again, your contact details.

Stephanie : The easiest way to get me is through the website which is MetaMorphosis Ltd – NLP Training and coaching my email is and all the contact details are at the bottom of every page of the website.

Michael : Excellent, thank you very much indeed.

Stephanie : You’re welcome, my pleasure.

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