The Power of Metaphor

Rintu BasuTherapy2 Comments

Everyone loves a good story. Metaphors are a great way to change people’s beliefs, outlook or focus. We are exposed to all sorts of narratives that change our perceptions. This article is about one structure for metaphor that you can use in multiple persuasion contexts.

Metaphors and Hypnotic Persuasion

Our minds are narrative making machines. We love making connections between things and tend to view the world in terms of cause and effect. Stuff happens and that causes other stuff to happen and we can string that whole thing together as some sort of narrative. That is how we love to see the world even if reality is slightly different.

puppetbrainWe have the brilliant ability to take a series of random events connect them together and encode meaning to it. It is how we get so many conspiracy theories. And I am not saying there are no conspiracies just that we create a lot more of them in our heads because our brains naturally work that way.

Knowing this a skilled hypnotist can use the power of your connection seeking metaphor liking brain to weave a story that gets you to think things differently, motivate you in a particular direction or to focus on a specific thing.

  • For a Sales Hypnotist it might be a testimonial from a previous successful customer highlighting the return of investment
  • For a Trainer Hypnotist it might be a story of how someone used the skills the class are about to learn
  • For a Hypno Coach it might be several metaphors looped into one designed to develop a trance state and install a motivation strategy
  • For a Hypnotherapist it might be metaphor for how the mind works under hypnosis designed to install beliefs about change being quick, easy and permanent
  • For a parent it might be a story designed for their child to develop self-esteem through emulating a superhero
  • For a leader it might be a case study of how another company successfully navigated the challanges the team are about to face.

And so it goes on. The use of metaphors is many and various.


Studying Metaphors

When I used to teach NLP Practitioners and Master Practitioners I would tell them that to really learn about metaphor there is really only two absolutely required places to look. The first is Milton Erickson. Milton was the pioneering hypnotherapist of his day and is the father of indirect permissive hypnosis. From him you can learn structure and language end of hypnosis as well as truely masterful uses of metaphor.

The other place I suggest people go is to professional story tellers. Anyone that is good at the art is a professional hypnotist whether they know it or not. Watch good films and TV shows read great fiction. Notice the story structure and how the characters develop.

If you ever find yourself engrossed in the story or identifying with the characters just recognise that a skilful hypnotist took you there. All you need do is analyse how they did it and you have the structure of a storytelling trance.

Obviously sometimes this is something idiosyncratic with the audience. For example I am a great lover of science fiction so giving me a sci fi story is a great start. Giving me a historical romance is less likely to work with me however good it is. But good storytellers use common structures and forms that we know work in lots of different forms.

Metaphors for Change Work

Here is one common story structure in a very simple form is just this:

  1. The main character is going about their normal business with an obvious limitation, character flaw or boundary
  2. A challenge occurs that rubs up against that boundary
  3. The character shies away from dealing with it
  4. The challenge grows larger until the character has to confront the issue
  5. The character is changed by dealing with the issue and returns in some form to the beginning to highlight how they have changed

If you think about some of your favourite stories you will notice this structure played out many times. Sometimes this is the whole story. Sometimes a character will go through this many times in the course of a novel. Sometimes the character can be larger than any one individual. I’ve recently been reading some historical novels where the author skilfully demonstrates the change in the character of several nations through the challenges of the two world wars.

The reason this structure works is because this is something that is inherent as part of our natural lives. This is one pattern that you have probably experienced or at least seen played out in your life as well as seeing it happen through countless stories.

Also if you do any sort of change work. And I mean that in the broadest sense whether helping an individual to change through coaching or counselling or helping a prospect buy the right services or motivating a team to increase performance this structure is invaluable.

Metaphors and NLP Techniques

From an NLP stand point you are pacing where your client is right now and then leading them through the challenge to where they are changed and have more skills to add to their tool kit.

Whist this is a simple process a skilled NLPer or hypnotist will do lots with this structure. They may take the character through beliefs changes that make the challenge easier. They may take the character on a quest to gain resources or get them to realise resources that they didn’t know they had. They my draw a team together to help. With a little thinking you could incorporate many NLP Techniques right into the structure. There are all sorts of things you could build in that might metaphorically pace and lead your client into making changes.

Another route that is favoured particularly by hypnotherapists is letting the client take the metaphor and the connections where they want to take them. So the end results can be completely unexpected and totally client led. There is a whole branch of change work called Clean Language that is to a large degree about client led metaphor. This is not true to Clean Language ideals but personally when I do this sort of work I start with some heavy duty preframes that suggest positive results.

The Real Problem with Metaphors

But here is the thing. Not all hypnotists are skilled storytellers and not all storytellers are skilled hypnotists. This is the reasons I suggest that you study both Milton Erickson and gifted storytellers.

I had the opportunity to read a pre-release copy of Matt Wingett’s new novella The Song of Miss Tolstoy. You can read my review on Amazon in a moment, I will give you the link below, but here is why I think anyone interested in hypnosis, NLP and persuasion skills should have a read of this book.

First and foremost is that it is just a good entertaining read. But what makes this story special is that it is written very much with the feel of the change work metaphors that we have been discussing.

When I read it I got pitched into thinking a lot of deep stuff about my life and how I am…well, let me not spoil the induction for you. Let me just say that for a quick, simple read it took me to some very deep and transformational thoughts about my own life. If this happens to you this would be a great reason to read the book.

The fourth reason for reading this book is that it is absolutely worth analysing and studying for the underlying structure and how it works. Most metaphors, at least the ones I often use are short, packed full of patterns and are designed for swift quick interventions.

What you have in Matt’s book is something much longer but still only half the size of a novel. There is more storytelling and hypnosis crafted in this because he has to keep the reader involved for so much longer than the usual induction. But on the same grounds he has more time to develop the metaphor and get the reader involved in pacing with their own world. As a result, at least with me I went to some very deep places in my mind.

mattYou Can Buy the Book on Amazon

In summary I think you should get this book and have a read on several levels. First just read it as a short work of great fiction and just enjoy it on that level.

But at the same time think about how Matt is pacing and leading the reader and the times of connections they might make. The third level you are probably best left to the end. Once you have read the novella have a think about the structure and form and look to see how you could apply a similar process in your life.

The book has a huge amount of value for anyone that that is a student of trance, NLP or persuasion skills. You can find it here:

Amazon UK


2 Comments on “The Power of Metaphor”

  1. Barry

    Great article Rintsu! Keep’em coming!

    You are absolutely right about paying more attention to stories and becoming a better student of “Language” and it’s structure.

    When I went through my training to become a Master NLP Practitioner I read several books that totally transformed my understanding of Language and the Power of Metaphors. Two that specifically still stand out today are: 1. The Structure of Magic Vol. 1 by John Grinder & Richard Bandler and 2. I Never Met-a-Phor I Didn’t Like by Mardy Grothe

    I love what you do and your style of teaching… Thank you!

    1. Rintu Basu

      Thanks for Saying Barry,

      The Structure of Magic is a fantastic book. I don’t know the second one you mention but I will hunt down a copy to read.



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