Are Metaphors Real? – Some Interesting Research

New research suggests there is more to metaphor than using real-life examples to communicate abstract ideas. It goes much deeper…

Many people assume that metaphors are just a way of communicating an abstract idea based on a real-life example.

For example, “I was walking on eggshells” relates the idea of an excessive need for caution, rather than telling us anything about eggshells or walking. It’s a description of a potentially real situation which creates a shared subjective experience so we can easily understand the other person.

A recent study (1) has found that metaphors can be much more than that – and can connect from real to abstract as well as from abstract to real.

Lee and Schwarz examined the metaphor “something smells fishy”, which is commonly related to social suspicion.

  • They found that incidental exposure to a fishy smell undermined cooperation in two trust-based games.
  • They also found that inducing suspicion heightened sensitivity to fishy smells!

The ideas we hold in our awareness may affect us more than we think they do – and our environment may affect our behaviour in many more subtle ways than we ever realised.

Comments are welcome below.


(1) Bidirectionality, Mediation, and Moderation of Metaphorical Effects: The Embodiment of Social Suspicion and Fishy Smells, Lee, Spike W. S.; Schwarz, Norbert, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Aug 20, 2012

How do I know I’m really doing Hypnosis?

This is a question I have thought about a lot over the years – and the answer isn’t as simple as you might think. Here’s where I am with it now.

I know that many people use the presence of deep trance phenomena as an indication that hypnosis is occurring and not ‘something else’. However, such phenomena are not adequate markers because so many of them are ‘everyday’ phenomena. For example, most people have experienced ‘negative hallucination’ – a phenomenon where you do not see something that is right in front of you. Have you ever lost your car keys only to find them sitting in a prominent and visible place you had already ‘searched’? This is really common and is a naturally occurring negative hallucination.

The only real difference between naturally occurring and hypnotic versions of these phenomena is a matter of intensity – and therefore only a question of where one draws the line. Unfortunately, in my experience, this varies from client to client.

Arguments based on brainwave frequency are also inconclusive – Rossi’s work on the ultradian rhythm, where we pass through these alpha and theta states regularly throughout the day, shows that trance states occur naturally.

I think a big part of the problem is disentangling state from process. So we’re back to the ‘process vs. state’ argument of hypnosis that has been going on for a while now.

My distinction is that hypnosis is a deliberate, purposeful set of behaviours that access distinct states of mind.

There’s a lot of fluff in that statement, but as a definition, it screens out other behaviours that access similar states (such as certain types of meditation), naturally occurring or accidental access of those states, certain pharaceutical effects and allows us to distinguish between different hypnotic frames (e.g. clinical vs. stage hypnosis).

The defining characteristics of hypnosis are therefore:

  • deliberate access
  • purposeful access
  • magnification of specific phenomena
  • subject undertakes actions passively to some extent
  • deliberate return from hypnotic state

In short, trance states can be naturally occurring to some extent, while hypnosis (including self-hypnosis) is an intentional and purposeful accessing and utilisation of those states.

This definition may seem to restrict the behaviours defined as hypnosis, yet if you think about it, it really opens up the scope of actions that might be hypnotic in nature.

I hope this provides some food for thought. Feel free to comment below.

Hypnosis in Business?

When I talk about hypnosis to business people, I often get some strange looks. It’s also fairly obvious what they’re thinking at that point: “What place could hypnosis possibly have in business?”business hypnosis

This is a perfectly natural response because most people don’t really know about or understand hypnosis, so they draw upon one of the two apparent stereotypes of hypnosis available to them:

  • Stage hypnosis
  • Hypnotherapy

Both of these are applications of hypnosis – and both are distortions of what hypnosis really is.

In the case of stage hypnosis, if someone really had complete power over you, do you really think they would just use it to have you cluck like a chicken? In stage hypnosis, this illusion of control (and the showmanship surrounding it) is what makes the show entertaining. It’s not that someone is on stage pretending to be an aeroplane – it’s that someone appears to be making them do that. And that’s not what hypnosis is really about.

In the case of hypnotherapy, the hypnosis is reduced to a set of formal practices that have a healing effect. Despite the immense value of hypnotherapy, there’s really much more to hypnosis that that. And (to return to our main topic) do businesses really need therapy? Some might, but that’s not necessarily the best way of looking at business development.

Think about this: therapeutics is derived from the medical mindset, which is all about ‘getting to okay’. If you have any doubt about that, what would happen if you went to your doctor and said “I’m feeling healthy and well at the moment – could you give me any pills that make me feel fabulous?” Similarly, any business development focused on ‘getting to okay’ is a recipe for disaster – if being average is your highest aspiration, you might struggle to compete with those who wish to continually raise the bar on excellence.

What type of hypnosis has an important place in business? Think about this broader definition of hypnosis:

Hypnosis is a special form of everyday communication. It involves (or is characterised by)

  • Purpose-focused, or outcome-focused communication
  • explicit feedback which values verbal and non-verbal responses
  • access to authentic responses only
  • triggering of resourceful response and/or resourceful states of mind

Given that definition, I’m sure it’s becoming easier to see why hypnosis might be an essential part of the tool-set necessary for bringing out the best performance in others. To take it further, think about this:

What would business be like if your staff were at their best?

What would it be like if your suppliers were at their best?

And what would it be like if your clients were at their best?

What if your business was filled with clear, direct, authentic , purposeful communication. How valuable would that be to you?

So put aside stage hypnosis – it’s just for entertainment. Don’t ask someone with a therapeutic mindset to develop your business – unless you’re a long way short of ‘okay’.

Hypnosis does have a vital place in business. If you want to know more, ask me about specifics.

Book Recommendation – “A Whole New Mind” by Dan Pink

I was reading this interesting book last week and one point in particular caught my interest. The author, Dan Pink, says ‘story’ is one of six factors that are becoming increasingly important in our modern world.

How? It’s a product of information availability. At this point in history, there is so much information at our fingertips that for every point, a counter-point is usually available. So persuasiveness is not just based on the facts any more – the facts are now rarely decisive in and of themselves.

What does decide it is the best story – the most persuasive narrative around the facts.

Daniel Pink suggests that this is not a traditional skill of the type we expect to learn at school. In fact, this particular skill requires us to create rather than remember, to explore rather than choose, to challenge rules rather than obey.

How do you learn to do this? Pink doesn’t say so in his book, but it may surprise you to know that the skill-set for creating persuasive narrative is based on hypnosis.

Not just any hypnosis though. What I’m talking about here is the incorporation of hypnotic language into normal conversation. This is a completely separate skill-set from therapeutic hypnosis and stage hypnosis. Yet at its heart, it is still hypnosis.

My upcoming book will provide simple, practical ways of creating persuasive narrative of this type. For now, read the taster for some broad hints and clues to how you might learn to do this.

In the meanwhile, get Dan Pink’s book to find out more about ‘story’ and the other five factors.

NLP Influence 3 – Placebos, Persuasion and Urban Myths

In the previous parts of this series, (part 1 part 2) I’ve looked at the psychology of our natural decision-making processes (convincers) and some ways to bypass those processes.

In this final part, find out how both convincers and bypass techniques can be used to create significant practical effects.

Topics covered include urban myths, creating more effective placebos and managing reality.

Questions and comments are welcome below:

NLP Influence 2 – How to Bypass Convincers

In my previous post on this topic, I explored the psychology behind our natural decision-making processes – and how you can make use of that knowledge to be more persuasive.

This time, I’m going to show you several of the ways you can bypass those natural processes by making use of some common mental short-cuts.

Come back soon to see part 3 of this series, which describes how these methods can be used to create urban myths, manage reality and increase the effectiveness of placebos.

You can ask questions and make comments below:

Small Change – Big Change

Many people I meet are looking for a way to improve their lives – they want to be happier or more successful in some way. They usually expect this to happen in a single, momentous, life-changing event – or in a single dramatic therapeutic change.

While this is possible – and often achievable – it isn’t necessarily the best way to change anything. It’s a symptom of the ‘quick fix’ mentality embedded in our current culture and narrows the range of options most people will consider.

The quick fix is therefore a highly suspect urge – you only have to look at the sheer quantity of ‘get rich quick’ schemes on the internet and the rise in gambling to glimpse the downside. We expect that the promise of easy money is a lie, but hope that it is not. In this way, our hopes can be used to make us vulnerable to exploitation.

What might we do instead that is more authentic and lasting than the current fads would allow? Something simple and effective is needed.

Think about this:

Suppose the sky is blue – is that good or bad?

The answer most people give is “it depends”. What it usually depends on is you – your circumstances, your needs, your plans and your customary perspective. You have to do something on the inside which biases that decision.

The sky itself is always blue, even behind the clouds, just as the sun is always shining somewhere – even at night. Our perspectives – our conditioned mental reflexes – do the rest.

So do you let your current conditioning decide whether something is good or bad – or do you ask yourself a better question instead – like “Is this useful?”

If your current perspective is not useful, it may be wise to change it. In doing this, you have an opportunity to improve your life in a simple, meaningful way. This is likely to be a small change. However, if you keep this principle in mind throughout your day, the opportunities will multiply – as will the benefits. Small changes do add up quickly to create a bigger positive effect – this is one of the axioms of complexity theory.

This is the type of ‘resourceful change’ that is the foundation for my company – and for everything else I do.

And you can do it too, if it is useful for you.

Just remember that whether you take these opportunities or whether you let them pass you by, the sky will always be blue and it’s still waiting for you to make that first simple change for the better.

The most powerful mental force

This time, I’d like to talk to you about one of the most powerful forces in our psychology. This is a force that can easily prevent change, or render it impermanent.

Or it can, if you use it correctly, make positive change so easy that the results are virtually inevitable.

Is that knowledge that you would find valuable? If so, then read on.

First, I want to ask you a question. What did you enjoy most about July? Was it the weather, some time away from work, or perhaps a special event or special person?

And if you had July to do all over again, what could you do differently to get more of that enjoyment?

These may seem, on the face of it, to be trivial questions. However, these are questions that few people ask themselves. And they are the basis of how you can make a better future out of the best of your past experiences.

This is one way to take advantage of the powerful force I was talking about, but far from the only way. Can you imagine now what it might be? No, it’s not NLP or hypnosis, though both of those systems can be directed to make use of this force.

Keep reading.

Previously, I offered readers a gift that you can use to:

  • learn from the past 6 months
  • get the best out of the second half of 2010.

Some of you took advantage of that offer (a free resource accompanying my book Goal Mastery) and may have, unknowingly, bypassed a head-to-head conflict with this powerful force as a result.

What is it, then?

I’m not going to tell you directly, but I will make a deal with you. The first person to post the correct answer as a comment on this blog will get a free copy of my Goal mastery book. I’ll announce the winner here – and explain more about how this powerful force can be correctly harnessed and made to work positively.

Terms Which I Question – Metaphors part 1

While words themselves can’t hurt us, we must be careful of the metaphors we use because they often have hidden implications. The danger here is that we may unconsciously be directed or limited by those implications.

What is so important about the metaphors we use and what makes them different from other pieces of language? Metaphors are interpreters of context, so often correlate with high level change. We write the stories of our lives through our use of concepts within the limitations of our contexts, so where better to look for change than in our metaphors?

The implications of some ‘popular’ metaphors are less than useful, so it’s worth examining them here:

  • work/life balance
    The implications here are many. Firstly that ‘work’ and ‘life’ need to be in equal balance, i.e. that work should be given as much time and energy as everything else put together. Secondly that work and life are the only two areas of focus to have a harmonious life. Thirdly, that work and life do not overlap and are exclusive concepts.

    If you think that last one is a stretch, let me tell you a story that underlines the point. A while ago, I was at a friend’s barbecue and was introduced to an acquaintance of his. He was struggling with his workload and was near burnout. Part way through the conversationI noticed that he was treating work and life like opposites, rather than overlapping concepts.

    So I asked him what the opposite of work was. “Life”. And then what the opposite of life was. At this point he went a little pale. He realised that throughout our conversation he had been telling me that he was only ‘living’ when he was not working! Understanding this, he was able to begin finding ways to see work in a more positive light.

  • Leadership of self
    The key implication here is that we have an ‘internal leader’ – and an internal ‘follower’ too. Leading and following is a two-role process, so ‘leadership of self’ indicates some sort of internal division or conflict, in my opinion. I’d use a different metaphor which implies internal integration and cooperation.

A better metaphor
My purpose here is not to create “word fear” or the sort of internal censorship that came with “political correctness”. I’d prefer you examine the implications of the metaphors you use in everyday life, especially in areas that you consider less than optimum. And through such consideration, choose to live through more empowering contexts and narratives.