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Using Metaphors To Unlock Your Potential

Using Metaphors To Unlock Your Potential

Mark Twain’s metaphor for forgiveness shows the power of the metaphor.

    Metaphors can help get us unstuck from deeply ingrained patterns and habits of thinking. We use metaphors all the time and often do not even realize them as they have become so much of a part of our language. Case in point, they can “open doors” and provide “the keys” to insight!

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    So next time you think you are “at the end of your rope” — think metaphors!

    Since creative people think in abstract terms, unleashing the power of the metaphor can truly be powerful and attitude altering. Metaphors can open up “mountains” of possibilities! Besides, thinking in metaphors can be fun also! Commonly understood terms from everyday life take on new meanings that can “stretch” your mind, like a rubber band!  

    For example, when I go by the dairy case at my local grocery store, I don’t look at Swiss Cheese like all the other cheeses. Why? My self-help book is based on the metaphor of Swiss Cheese representing life with all its “holes.” After all, life is not smooth and predictable like Cream Cheese or American! Life has holes, and its how we get through them that counts!  Would you really want your life to be bland and predictable?  What fun would it be to go to a baseball game and already know how it will end up?

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    One of the chapters in the book, “Fondue Can Never Turn Back Into A Block of Cheese” uses the metaphor of fondue to help others get past their past. What’s done is done, and people who get  stuck in their past never can get past it and move in in their lives.  We learned this lesson early on in life with the Humpty Dumpty nursery rhyme. No matter how hard they tried, all the kings horses and all the kings men could not put Humpty Dumpty back together again.  The analogy helps plant the seed even in children that we need to “use the past as a guidepost rather than a hitching post.”

    One part of Dale Carnegie’s enormous influence was his use of metaphors, such as his simply put  “you can’t saw sawdust.”

    The image of the butterfly is a common metaphor which represents transformation and change. It also is the subject of my very favorite proverb, “Just when the caterpillar thought the world was over, it became a butterfly…”  I would imagine that countless people going through difficult transitions have found much solace in this proverb.

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    The image of the sunflower is another commonly used metaphor, as it represents how you can stand upright and beautiful with strength and confidence if you positively orient yourself towards the light represented by the sun.

    Even more mundane analogies can be quite meaningful as we learn life lessons, such as the image of a flat tire.  It has been suggested in various quote postings that a bad attitude is like a flat tire. To move forward you need to change it! 

    Speaking of changing your attitude, if you don’t like the way your life is going, why don’t you “change the channel?”  

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    By the way – are you the type of person that focuses on the “hole” – what’s missing – or the “whole?”  That will determine if you are an optimist or a pessimist!

    Have you ever considered how life is like a book? The story unfolds as you turn the page, and we can write our own “happy ending.” As we read on, things start to come together at the end, just like in our lives we can connect the dots of our life with the benefit of hindsight.

    So the next time you feel like your life is falling apart, why not make it into a beautiful mosaic using the power of metaphors?

    What is your favorite metaphor?  I would love to see yours in the comments below.

    (Photo credit: Safelock via Shutterstock)

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    Judy Belmont

    Mental health author, motivational speaker and psychotherapist

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    Last Updated on January 15, 2021

    7 Ways To Have More Confident Body Language

    7 Ways To Have More Confident Body Language

    The popular idiomatic saying that “actions speak louder than words” has been around for centuries, but even to this day, most people struggle with at least one area of nonverbal communication. Consequently, many of us aspire to have more confident body language but don’t have the knowledge and tools necessary to change what are largely unconscious behaviors.

    Given that others’ perceptions of our competence and confidence are predominantly influenced by what we do with our faces and bodies, it’s important to develop greater self-awareness and consciously practice better posture, stance, eye contact, facial expressions, hand movements, and other aspects of body language.

    Posture

    First things first: how is your posture? Let’s start with a quick self-assessment of your body.

    • Are your shoulders slumped over or rolled back in an upright posture?
    • When you stand up, do you evenly distribute your weight or lean excessively to one side?
    • Does your natural stance place your feet relatively shoulder-width apart or are your feet and legs close together in a closed-off position?
    • When you sit, does your lower back protrude out in a slumped position or maintain a straight, spine-friendly posture in your seat?

    All of these are important considerations to make when evaluating and improving your posture and stance, which will lead to more confident body language over time. If you routinely struggle with maintaining good posture, consider buying a posture trainer/corrector, consulting a chiropractor or physical therapist, stretching daily, and strengthening both your core and back muscles.

    Facial Expressions

    Are you prone to any of the following in personal or professional settings?

    • Bruxism (tight, clenched jaw or grinding teeth)
    • Frowning and/or furrowing brows
    • Avoiding direct eye contact and/or staring at the ground

    If you answered “yes” to any of these, then let’s start by examining various ways in which you can project confident body language through your facial expressions.

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    1. Understand How Others Perceive Your Facial Expressions

    A December 2020 study by UC Berkeley and Google researchers utilized a deep neural network to analyze facial expressions in six million YouTube clips representing people from over 140 countries. The study found that, despite socio-cultural differences, people around the world tended to use about 70% of the same facial expressions in response to different emotional stimuli and situations.[1]

    The study’s researchers also published a fascinating interactive map to demonstrate how their machine learning technology assessed various facial expressions and determined subtle differences in emotional responses.

    This study highlights the social importance of facial expressions because whether or not we’re consciously aware of them—by gazing into a mirror or your screen on a video conferencing platform—how we present our faces to others can have tremendous impacts on their perceptions of us, our confidence, and our emotional states. This awareness is the essential first step towards

    2. Relax Your Face

    New research on bruxism and facial tension found the stresses and anxieties of Covid-19 lockdowns led to considerable increases in orofacial pain, jaw-clenching, and teeth grinding, particularly among women.[2]

    The National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research estimates that more than 10 million Americans alone have temporomandibular joint dysfunction (TMJ syndrome), and facial tension can lead to other complications such as insomnia, wrinkles, dry skin, and dark, puffy bags under your eyes.[3])

    To avoid these unpleasant outcomes, start practicing progressive muscle relaxation techniques and taking breaks more frequently throughout the day to moderate facial tension.[4] You should also try out some biofeedback techniques to enhance your awareness of involuntary bodily processes like facial tension and achieve more confident body language as a result.[5]

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    3. Improve Your Eye Contact

    Did you know there’s an entire subfield of kinesic communication research dedicated to eye movements and behaviors called oculesics?[6] It refers to various communication behaviors including direct eye contact, averting one’s gaze, pupil dilation/constriction, and even frequency of blinking. All of these qualities can shape how other people perceive you, which means that eye contact is yet another area of nonverbal body language that we should be more mindful of in social interactions.

    The ideal type (direct/indirect) and duration of eye contact depends on a variety of factors, such as cultural setting, differences in power/authority/age between the parties involved, and communication context. Research has shown that differences in the effects of eye contact are particularly prominent when comparing East Asian and Western European/North American cultures.[7]

    To improve your eye contact with others, strive to maintain consistent contact for at least 3 to 4 seconds at a time, consciously consider where you’re looking while listening to someone else, and practice eye contact as much as possible (as strange as this may seem in the beginning, it’s the best way to improve).

    3. Smile More

    There are many benefits to smiling and laughing, and when it comes to working on more confident body language, this is an area that should be fun, low-stakes, and relatively stress-free.

    Smiling is associated with the “happiness chemical” dopamine and the mood-stabilizing hormone, serotonin. Many empirical studies have shown that smiling generally leads to positive outcomes for the person smiling, and further research has shown that smiling can influence listeners’ perceptions of our confidence and trustworthiness as well.

    4. Hand Gestures

    Similar to facial expressions and posture, what you do with your hands while speaking or listening in a conversation can significantly influence others’ perceptions of you in positive or negative ways.

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    It’s undoubtedly challenging to consciously account for all of your nonverbal signals while simultaneously trying to stay engaged with the verbal part of the discussion, but putting in the effort to develop more bodily awareness now will make it much easier to unconsciously project more confident body language later on.

    5. Enhance Your Handshake

    In the article, “An Anthropology of the Handshake,” University of Copenhagen social anthropology professor Bjarke Oxlund assessed the future of handshaking in wake of the Covid-19 pandemic:[8]

    “Handshakes not only vary in function and meaning but do so according to social context, situation and scale. . . a public discussion should ensue on the advantages and disadvantages of holding on to the tradition of shaking hands as the conventional gesture of greeting and leave-taking in a variety of circumstances.”

    It’s too early to determine some of the ways in which Covid-19 has permanently changed our social norms and professional etiquette standards, but it’s reasonable to assume that handshaking may retain its importance in American society even after this pandemic. To practice more confident body language in the meantime, the video on the science of the perfect handshake below explains what you need to know.

    6. Complement Your Verbals With Hand Gestures

    As you know by now, confident communication involves so much more than simply smiling more or sounding like you know what you’re talking about. What you do with your hands can be particularly influential in how others perceive you, whether you’re fidgeting with an object, clenching your fists, hiding your hands in your pockets, or calmly gesturing to emphasize important points you’re discussing.

    Social psychology researchers have found that “iconic gestures”—hand movements that appear to be meaningfully related to the speaker’s verbal content—can have profound impacts on listeners’ information retention. In other words, people are more likely to engage with you and remember more of what you said when you speak with complementary hand gestures instead of just your voice.[9]

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    Further research on hand gestures has shown that even your choice of the left or right hand for gesturing can influence your ability to clearly convey information to listeners, which supports the notion that more confident body language is readily achievable through greater self-awareness and deliberate nonverbal actions.[10]

    Final Takeaways

    Developing better posture, enhancing your facial expressiveness, and practicing hand gestures can vastly improve your communication with other people. At first, it will be challenging to consciously practice nonverbal behaviors that many of us are accustomed to performing daily without thinking about them.

    If you ever feel discouraged, however, remember that there’s no downside to consistently putting in just a little more time and effort to increase your bodily awareness. With the tips and strategies above, you’ll be well on your way to embracing more confident body language and amplifying others’ perceptions of you in no time.

    More Tips on How to Develop a Confident Body Language

    Featured photo credit: Maria Lupan via unsplash.com

    Reference

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