Welcome to The Living Room!

Welcome to The Living Room!

I'm developing this blog to foster a warm community of people interested in ideas, art, science and practice around personal development and flourishing.

I work as an executive coach, and founded a company whose mission is helping people to find success at work in a way that provides satisfaction across all areas of their lives (you can check us out at www.madeleineshaw.com.au).

Leadership, learning, the wonderful brain/body connection, presence, influence, emotions, thinking, effectiveness, flow and FUN.

I want to know more, and do more!

The world is our living room so let's get living.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Metaphor: A helping hand

The New York times ran a completely fascinating article recently. It was about the brain science of metaphors. We know that metaphors are powerful. Tell someone you need to get 5 days work done in 2. Or tell them you're squeezing a house through the eye of a needle. Which is more evocative? 

Dirty, dirty boy.

Now we are increasingly understanding that the same parts of the brain that process physical sensations and emotions (pain, hunger, happiness) also process concepts. What's more, we confuse the two. Various studies are demonstrating this effect. In one study described in the article, volunteers were asked to think about either a moral or immoral act in their past. As a thank you gift, they were offered a choice between a pencil or some antiseptic wipes. Those who had thought of their "dirty" acts were more likely to choose wipes.

Mmm, vinegar, yes please

NLP (neuro-linguistic programming) uses metaphor to help people change the way they think and feel. For example, imagine you want to like coffee less – say, about as much as you would like to drink a glass of vinegar. A simple NLP technique would involve understanding how you mentally conceive of coffee (probably, when you think of coffee, it’s a large, clear picture in your mind –perhaps with smells, warmth and the motion of the steam rising) and how you mentally conceive of vinegar (probably small, black and white, still and distant in your mind’s eye). 

You would then be guided through a short process that amends your mental image of coffee so that it takes on the attributes of the vinegar image. Coffee will still taste like coffee to you, not vinegar. But now, the idea is your mind is storing the attractiveness of drinking coffee in the same way as it stores the attractiveness of drinking vinegar. And chances are, you’ll find you just don’t crave those coffees in the way you used to. 

Just what's going on at a neural level, we don't know and there's not much scientific research (though I'd love to see it), but I'm fascinated by the overlap with neurolinguistics and psycholinguistics. In fact, the whole area of brain research is so exciting at the moment, and our understanding is growing exponentially.

Your point being?

So, how does this apply back in the everyday? 

A client of mine was working on having a less angry response to certain situations. We didn't talk much about it in those terms though. Instead, we spoke of "triggers" and finding ways to shrink the trigger button, and "cut the wires" to it. We use metaphors intuitively, and it's been my experience that deliberately finding and using metaphors to adjust our thoughts and responses is enormously powerful. 

Which discipline that sits under isn't so important to me - there are always turf wars - but I am excited at the prospect of learning more about how our brains work, and how we can tap into that knowlege to increase the health and happiness of ourselves and those around us.

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