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We dissolve stuck and rewrite patterns. We apply radical playfulness to life (when we feel like it!), embarking on internal adventures (credo of Safety First). We have a fake band called Solved By Cake. We build invisible sanctuaries, invent words and worlds, breathe awe and wonder.

We are not impressed by monsters. Except when we are. We explore the connections between internal territories and surrounding environment to learn what marvelously supportive delicious space feels like, and how to take exquisite care of ourselves. We transform things.* We glow wild.**

* For example: Desire, fear, worry, pain-and-trauma, boundaries, that problematic word which rhymes with flaweductivity.

** Fair warning: Self-fluency has been known to lead to extremely subversive behavior, including treasuring yourself unconditionally, unapologetically taking up space, experiencing outrageously improbable levels of self-acceptance, and general rejoicing in aliveness.


I am metaphor mouse! Zapping the Tickler.

Background: the metaphor technique is something I’ve adapted from Suzette Haden Elgin‘s teachings. It’s a terrifically great tool for destuckifying.

We play with this one at the Kitchen Table and at some of my wacky events. It’s mainly an excuse for me to make my “What’s a meta for?” joke, but the results are seriously awesome.

And it’s also how I discovered that I work on a pirate ship. Which helped me deal with my hackers. And with my fear of being beautiful.

In which we do some unpacking (metaphor!) of a metaphor, because unpacking metaphors is the bomb (metaphor!). And I’ll stop now.


I used the metaphor technique about seven hundred times this week, and the most amazing things have been happening.

My plan was to write some of the more astonishing ones up for you, but then I decided to start by sharing a really mundane example.

Because it’s nice to work on something that isn’t the big, crazy existential crisis sometimes.

And it’s still a good way to practice turning something that sucks into something that doesn’t. Which is always kind of nice.

The situation.

I’ve been spending the past few weeks working on and off on revamping some of my business systems.

Specifically the systems that help me deal with iguanas (the annoying things that I expertly resist doing).

And I’m playing with using a Tickler File — you know, a A-Z or 1-31 file where you temporarily put a piece of paper you’ll need later for future reference.

You can file it by date (that’s what the 1-31 is for) or if you’re me more of a word person, you can file it by name (A-Z).

Except I do not like the word Tickler. Not even slightly.

And guess what? I don’t like it, so I’m not using the thing, even though the thing is supposed to be helping me.

Cue metaphor mouse music. Which is really just me yelling I AM METAPHOR MOUSE to the song I am Iron Man. Clearly.

Metaphor Mouse’s mission.

This “tickler” thing needs to be rewritten.

We need a metaphor (or a something) that could work with — or at least not clash with — my hey-look-my-business-is-a-pirate-ship metaphor.

Unpacking my CURRENT relationship with this. (TICKLER = ?)

What are the qualities, aspects and attributes of the thing that isn’t working (including what *is* working)?

[+ useful]
[+ reminder]
[+ information doesn’t get lost]
[+ tickles]
[+ irritating]
[+ do not like being tickled]
[+ not me]
[+ stifling]
[+ like being in school]
[+ should should should]
[+ yells at me about my iguanas]

Reminds me of?

Someone poking me. Poke poke poke poke poke poke poke poke.

Is there a metaphor here?

Not entirely clear on this yet. Something about school. Kind of like a big pile of homework that screams YOU SUCK all the time.

Or maybe it’s just the poking thing. Like an alarm clock that won’t go off but also isn’t getting me out of bed.

And learning more about my IDEAL metaphor (X = ?)

What sort of qualities, aspects and feelings does the thing I want contain?

[+ useful]
[+ reminder]
[+ important things don’t get lost]
[+ steady]
[+ possibility]
[+ gentle reminders that don’t poke]
[+ clarity]
[+ magic]
[+ calm]
[+ contains information]
[+ effortless]
[+ holds my iguanas for safekeeping]

Reminds me of?

Not sure …

A dictionary?
A book of spells?
A cookbook?
An iguana hostel? A petting zoo?

Ooh! Like a bird-watchers guide for iguanas! And chickens! Which are actually birds!

A book that you keep on the bridge of the ship so you can identify things.

Do we have Lift-off Metaphor?

YES! It’s my Captain’s Edition of the Iguana-Watcher’s Guide.

And on the ship it will be referred to as the I.W.G. (because event though I always say to beware the acronym, internal use is okay).

Are we comfortable with this metaphor?

Or do we need an intermediary metaphor to be a bridge (ding! metaphor!) to help you get from there to here?

No, I’m good. Thanks.

Next steps?

Labeling the thing-formerly-known-as-Tickler (shudder) as the Iguana-Watcher’s Guide.

And decorating it!

Also, I think I could spend twenty minutes filing things since it would be useful for them to be in the Iguana-Watcher’s Guide and not on my desk.

Note to self: we need a new metaphor for “filing”. Next time.

Would you like to play?

Oh good.

Here are the steps that I use. Which you can absolutely use, change or ignore as you see fit.

Get centered so you can focus.

I usually use three minutes of Dance of Shiva for this or one of my emergency calming techniques. You can use whatever you like. Or skip this step entirely if it stresses you out.

List the qualities, aspects and attributes of the thing that isn’t working.

It can help to put a star or something by the ones that you do want to keep.

I usually ask: How does this feel? What does this remind me of?

Make a list of what you do want (your ideal state)

This is the X = ? thing.

You keep the parts of the old thing that do work, and you add whatever qualities would help you have a good relationship with this.

Also considering: How do you want to feel? What will it look like/sound like/feel like to be there? This is what helps you identify a possible metaphor.

Try it out. See how it feels. Check to see if there are any stowaways (metaphor!) that might trip you up (extra-mixed metaphor!) later. And if so, try something else.

What needs to happen to move from Thing 1 to Thing 2?

Is there some kind of bridge that’s needed?

Or is knowing about Thing 2 enough to get you headed that way?

What are the next steps here?

Comment zen for today.

We all have our stuff. We’re all working on our stuff.

We share what’s true for us, and we let people have their own experience which means that we don’t give advice.

You are more than welcome to play with this and share some of that in the comments. Or not. Or you can comment on something else entirely. My duck and I like you either way. Promise.

30 Responses to I am metaphor mouse! Zapping the Tickler.

  1. Havi Brooks
    Twitter: havi


    I realize, of course, that I could just as easily *not* use a tickler.

    And sometimes the metaphor technique gets you to the point where you decide, hey I don’t *want* to change the metaphor on this, I just want a different thing. And that’s fine.

    It’s still useful doing the technique, because you learn what works and what doesn’t.

    And in this case, I am willing to play around with the Iguana Watcher’s Guide, because I do think it can work for me when I’m not in resistance.

    If, later on, I decide it’s not what I need, I can change the system as needed. Yes?

  2. Lean Ni Chuilleanain
    Twitter: leannich

    I’m giggling at the recursiveness of “metaphor mouse”! Never noticed that before.

    Also, yay, productivity tips for wordos – thank you!

    (I hope accusing you of writing “productivity tips” isn’t going to get me sent to the brig…)
    .-= Lean Ni Chuilleanain´s last post … Those Spring Forward Socks in Full =-.

  3. Amy Crook
    Twitter: amysnotdeadyet

    Apropos of metaphors, perhaps you are Cataloging Your Iguanas in the Watcher’s Guide? Just a thought, I keep imagining you as a kind of Pirate Queen Darwin, carefully watching for Iguanas and cataloging their variations.

    This is a really interesting way of looking at things — I am going to find someplace where language might be part of my stuck and give it a try.
    .-= Amy Crook´s last post … Review: Havi’s Testimonials Teleclass =-.

  4. chicsinger simone
    Twitter: simonebernhard

    AHAHAHAHAHAHAH!!! I laughed so hard at Cue Metaphor Mouse music and the image of you yelling that I almost spit out my tea! Clearly!

    I think I need an Iguana Field Guide, too, and a big old Vat O’Metaphors for a bunch of my stuff(see what I did there?!?), to wit:

    Excercise: SO much of a thing that I can’t even spell it and have given my spell check EXCPLICIT instructions to accept my version of it. I love it when I do it though!

    Routines: BORING. Uncreative. A SHOULD, which I hate. They make my life so much easier, though. Flaubert qoute, etc. etc. Needs a new name and mindset.

    Allowing myself to write and do yoga, go to gym or other E-word things BEFORE the really really boring stuff like dishes, laundry, housework, etc.

    Creative stuff: Not even allowed to THINK about that glitter, glue gun before the scut work is done and sometimes not even after it is done.This is a BIG problem. (Step away from the Valentines…. somebody in my head says in a quietly threatening voice).

    Oh, blah. Off to center before I write some more in my journal…Havi said I could! (Or would if I asked her please please nicely nicely).
    .-= chicsinger simone´s last post … royal eagle valentine bonbon brooch =-.

  5. Victoria Brouhard
    Twitter: victoriashmoria

    I love this technique, but in the past I’ve gotten stuck when it was time to come up w/ the new metaphor.

    The unpacking of the old metaphor, and listing what I want the ideal metaphor to contain are hugely helpful in and of themselves.

    But I think seeing your example of the “Reminds me of” question will make it easier for me to come up with the new metaphor. You got creative with it, which I don’t usually give myself permission to do. I tend to try to limit myself to an actual “thing that exists.”
    .-= Victoria Brouhard´s last post … Creating Your Vision – Qualities and Project Planning =-.

  6. claire
    Twitter: claireofRA

    I like this post a lot, will keep tabs on it for future reference. Or I would if I had an Iguana-Watcher’s Guide. ;) Reckon I’ll trust my memory & ability to find it again amongst starred reader items.

    I’m with you on renaming the Tickler. Sounds like a Batman villain…or my brother when we were kids. Trained myself to suppress my reaction so it wouldn’t be fun for him which worked, but who wants to be reminded of that?
    .-= claire´s last post … Feet =-.

  7. Chris Anthony
    Twitter: delightineer

    I love this idea, and I very much want to implement it.

    However, I realize that it’s going to be incredibly difficult for me to implement. If I use it to deal with the Big Thing I want to deal with, I’m going to fall over from the enormousness of it; if I deal with little parts of the Big Thing one at a time, I’m going to be resentful that the whole Thing isn’t dissolving.

    Still, it’s a good first step. <3
    .-= Chris Anthony´s last post … Burned up with beauty =-.

  8. Jacquelyn
    Twitter: jacquelynkitt

    Hello Havi, master-metaphor-mouse!

    Since arriving home from the decidedly awesome Destuckification Retreat I have been metaphorizing it up and have told no less than 7 people about the mind-expanding-metaphor-exercise.

    I am loving reframing my stucks, especially one I had about explaining what I do and why my business is called what it is. (so I wrote a blog post about… the metaphor)

    So, thank you! This alternate-perspective stuff is working!!
    .-= Jacquelyn´s last post … How e-bakery got its Sprinkles =-.

  9. Pearl Mattenson
    Twitter: pearlmattenson

    I am not going to go through the whole exercise here but here is what I would love to do this with:

    My coaching “practice”? “business” “work”?
    I don’t think so!….

    So I am off to find some cheese to scrounge up the metaphor mouse and find a good one!

  10. chicsinger simone
    Twitter: simonebernhard

    Okay, if you’ll all indulge me here’s what I came up with on just ONE of those items:


    * Can’t spell it.

    How the fuck do you spell it anyway? I’ll quote myself from my Big Fat Damn It List here: excercise WITH A C is now in my dictionary as a real word, damn it! Because you are excellent/excelling if you do it and so it is from the root word excelsis. So there!

    * You SHOULD do it EVERY DAY. And if you don’t you SUCK. And it doesn’t count.

    I can’t tell you, Dear Reader, how many times I have thought if not written something along these lines: Tomorrow starts Operation Get My Life Back, beginning with Project Get My Body Back. What that entails is the following: up and doing yoga at 8:30.

    The problem with that is that I don’t want to get up at 8:30! Unless I get awoken earlier by Frankithedog or some other thing, in which case I am usually on the computer checking email and the like and get distracted until all hours. Christian is usually up (and out on MWF) by eight and he brings me coffee so I don’t even have that excuse.

    Why I don’t want to get up at 8:30 is a different matter. Truthfully I am usually up by 8:30 anyway, and even if I’m not I have Namaste yoga on tape, Power Yoga on DVD, Shiva Nata on DVD. So the time is not really an issue, not getting on the computer first thing is.

    * Even if you DO exercise EVERY DAY if it’s not aerobic it doesn’t count. And if you eat crappy it doesn’t count. And if you’re not lifting weights it doesn’t count.

    Is this true?

    * Not really. Anything counts even if you don’t do it every day. That yoga stuff is pretty tough. FlyLady calls it Loving Movement but that sounds pussy-ass girly to me, and I am TOUGH, damn it!

    Do I sense a rather large amount of Inner Nazi Bossiness? If this were someone else whom I loved I’d be much more of a cheerleader. Maybe my INB should have a word.

    Me: Hello, your Scaryship. May I ask you a question or two? About exercise?

    INB: (snarls) You just did, you cretin. (Thanks to Martha Beck for that gem. INB assumes Form Of: Klingon) Why are you wasting my time with your stupid hippy bullshit inner diaglogue questions when you could be Doing Important Things, like FUCKING EXCERCISING? You are a fat pig and a slug to boot. RAHR!!!

    Me: Whoops, sorry. Wow, you really are scary and mean.

    Klingon INB: (Flattered, preening) Hell yeah I am. Plus buff and cut too, see? (Flexes bicep, kisses it)

    Me: Man, I’d love to look like you (minus the scary teeth, I think to myself).

    KINB: Well, you could if you worked a little at it. You are supremely suited to building muscle. That is why I call you names and terrorize you, to get you to DO something, to live up to your potential.

    Me: Is that what works for you?

    KINB: Yes, because I am a tough, mean and scary Klingon Nazi. With shredded muscles.

    Me: Oh. I am not all that tough, I’m afraid.

    KINB: Right, you don’t have to be because I AM.

    Me: Were you always tough and mean and cut?

    KINB: Oh no. I had to work at it. I was a wimpy wussy at first but I slowly got stronger and tougher. The mean part is just to make sure no one knows I am really a kind hearted person who cries at McDonald’s commercials and loves cute fluffy baby kit-tehs.

    Me: That would be bad, if people knew that?

    KINB: Oh, they would laugh at me and take advantage of me and my soft kindness. That’s another reason that I like hard muscles and why I want YOU to have them; you are going to get hurt if you are not careful! And what’s with all the pink, anyway? Although it does look good on you.

    Me: I believe you just answered your own question there. So you are really trying to protect me?

    KINB: DUH.

    Me: Yeah, but, when you call me names and bark at me it really hurts my feelings and makes me want to climb under the covers and eat chocolate and large bowls of cereal and BE a slug and a fat pig to boot.

    KINB: (Weeps) This is how I motivate myself, but it does not seem to be working for you. See, I really am a softy.

    Me: Nope. In fact it de-motivates me. Don’t cry, let’s brainstorm.

    KINB: (Brightens) How about a deadline? You like those, right? Or perhaps if I were to treat you more like a child or a tender plant that needs shelter from the harsh winter? Or a reward, would that work?

    Me: Wow, options! Maybe not a deadline, as much as a target date? And the tender plant thing sounds pretty good. I would naturally get tough as I got more and more ripped. (Flexing) Rahr!

    KINB: Not bad, not bad…HEY! How about as a reward a trip to Rincon or a similar human place of relaxation near the ocean? Bikinis, yoga, cocktails, the whole schmear? That would be a deadline in itself, but not a scary one. We could even set up mini-goals–30 days, 60 days, like that, to get you into the rhythm of daily training. Maybe you should call it TRAINING rather than that crazy E-word that I can’t even spell. (Bows) I would be your trainer, at your service.

    Me: You’d really do that for me? Would you be a trainer for me and not just a Bossy McMeanypants? And can I have Sundays off?

    KINB: Hell yeah I would, and you get one day a week off anyway, your choice. As long as you don’t tell anyone that I really do like pink and fluffy baby kit-tehs.

    Me: Done and done. Let’s TRAIN!

    Hey, look, Ma! A metaphor…how did that happen?!? WOW.
    .-= chicsinger simone´s last post … royal eagle valentine bonbon brooch =-.

  11. Kathleen Avins
    Twitter: spiralsongkat

    Love this post, Havi! I am very fond of metaphor magic.
    .-= Kathleen Avins´s last post … Snowbound artist date =-.

  12. Riin
    Twitter: happyfuzzyyarn

    Oh, metaphoricalness… The other day when I was really tired, I thought, “I am a vegetable.” Then I wondered what kind of vegetable I am. I decided I was a tomato, because I’m kind of roundish, and filled with red liquid and slimy, squishy bits, and juicy, and yeah, I know a tomato is botanically a fruit, but it’s used as a vegetable, and that fits too since I never fit neatly into one slot (always checking the box marked “Other”). So. Yeah. I am a tomato. And that’s ok. Because I like tomatoes.
    .-= Riin´s last post … New stuff =-.

  13. Leila Lloyd-Evelyn
    Twitter: LeilaLEvelyn

    My brain just goes eeeyu at anything which belongs to the land of word related dilemma’s and potential expertyness. Vocab – limited. Ahhhhh!
    So Im running with Riin’s idea here and sticking with the what fruit or vegetable is my current should and what qualities does it hold? Nt sure yet.
    Squashy brown banana possibly?
    Bookmarking this page and coming back to it later for more thought.
    Thank the lordie tis Fridayyyyy here!
    .-= Leila Lloyd-Evelyn´s last post … Stumbling, falling, starting over. =-.

  14. Andrew Lightheart
    Twitter: alightheart

    Loving it.

    Loving it loving it loving it.

    I’d just made a list of things (Hmmm – time to Apply Metaphor Technique to to-do list) and chose one:

    Doing Accounts.


    ~ Scary
    ~ Complicated
    ~ Boring
    ~ Might find things I’ve missed/get in trouble
    ~ Hated
    ~ Chore
    + Feel better when it’s done
    ~ Want to do it MY way on MY timetable, so get out of my SPACE.
    ~ Want to do more exciting things.

    Know what Doing Accounts is?

    ===Doing Accounts is Cleaning My Room.===


    No wonder.

    **What I’d like:**

    + Easy
    + Simple
    + Little thought
    + Little fuss
    + Easy (again).

    What I want Doing Accounts to be:

    ===Doing Accounts is like Rinsing My Cereal Bowl.===

    I cannot TELL you how useful this feels right now.

    Totally totally freaking brilliant.


    Love it.



    Love it.
    .-= Andrew Lightheart´s last post … What feelings want =-.

  15. Pearl Mattenson
    Twitter: pearlmattenson

    ok-folks- I am back:
    Here is a condensed version:
    CURRENT: My coaching business (not even sure I can spell it!)
    >$ focuessed
    >hard work
    >long-range planning
    >financial modelling

    Reminds me of: Devil Wears Prada

    >good people
    >sustains me and my clients

    Reminds me of: (My first take was a cruise but it’s kinda not my scene)

    And the winner is: Cabin in the woods. Totally stocked up. Plenty of spaces to be alone and together. Only the right people show up or know how to get there…

    So I think I might have a Coaching Cabin! I can give people maps to get there. I can make shopping lists to stock the pantry. I can totally go on walks alone and let people take care of themselves in the cabin.

    More to ponder here. Loving this!!!!!

  16. I LOVE metaphors, but still need the reminder: when it’s scratchy, change the metaphor! Thanks, Havi, for the reminder and the super fun example.

    And Pearl – I’ve been wrestling w/ the same definition the past couple days, and your story instantly helped me see that I have a Studio. Phew! Thanks!
    .-= Cindy Morefield´s last post … Studio Stories – Toward an Artist Statement =-.

  17. elizabeth
    Twitter: elizabethhalt

    Oh! I can do this for the word practitioner! I just do not like that word, and have been instead going with person, but I will try the lovely metaphor technique on it and see what comes up. Thanks for the reminder!
    .-= elizabeth´s last post … yesterday, today, tomorrow =-.

  18. Jill
    Twitter: orangecatart

    The Tickler does sound like a Batman villain, Claire! Also, it IS the name of a bad, bad person in The Song of Ice & Fire books by George R.R. Martin. Quite horrible. *shudder*

    I never understood why people called those files that anyway, and I thoroughly embrace your reclassification of it.

    Off now to consider new metaphors for the multiple piles of papers on my desk with information I don’t want to / should not throw away, yet don’t want to actually deal with.

    Thanks Havi!

  19. […] a bit different. For a while now, I’ve had in the back of my mind that I wanted to try Havi’s Metaphor Mouse exercise on various things. In fact, I’ve been making lists of things that seem to require […]

  20. […] * Caught up on blogs I hadn’t read in weeks * Met up with an old Friend * Had meetings with a metaphor mouse * Finished my 21-day commitment to daily Reiki self-treatments * Spent two days with my partner, […]

  21. […] There. That’s better. Thank you, Metaphor Mouse. […]

  22. […] I weren’t so stuck in this stuckness I would bring in the famous Metaphor Mouse and zap! —all my monsters would instantly be transformed into a slick entourage that will […]

  23. […] I’ve always felt slightly envious of people who are motivated by their pay cheques or who don’t mind a bit of boredom as long as they get to do what they want at the weekend. Goodness knows, I’d have a lot more money and outward trappings of success if I was wired that way. I’ve tried changing this aspect of myself. I’ve tried just sucking it up and working in paid employment. I’ve tried rewriting my brain so that I’m more motivated by money and the things it brings. But the best I’ve been able to manage is making some of the boring stuff more interesting using techniques like Havi’s Metaphor Mouse. […]

  24. […] Havi Brooks of The Fluent Self, one of my favorite thinkers online,  invented  a superhero called Metaphor Mouse, I’m a big […]

  25. Bridget
    Twitter: intuitivebridge

    My brain is buzzing.
    I like this idea of aligning a yucko activity with something that feels softer, better, lighter, more.

    I might use it on cleaning off the table in my new office. I will call it The Big Dig. And I will anthropologize about the creatures that used to inhabit this mid-century modern kitchen nook. They seem to be teenage boys with smelly gym socks…hmmm….

  26. […] learned about the art of metaphoring from Havi Brooks’s blog, where she’s developed it into an awesome system. She in turn credits Suzette Haden […]

  27. DDog
    Twitter: DDog

    I’ve been struggling with “managing my responsibilities” for ages now and it’s unpleasant and painful for me and everyone else in my life who says I should have them and do them and be a responsible adult. I sat down with the Metaphor Mouse per this post and realized that I don’t “manage responsibilities,” I keep dragons! It eliminates all the should and burden and overwhelming adultness and gives me scaly friends to support me in return for my care and attention. Also I get cool gear as a dragon-keeper and who doesn’t love cool gear? Thanks, Havi. I feel so much better.
    DDog recently posted… Transrelating 008- Why Bother

  28. […] Some people can’t stop looking at the world as being one epic Cartoon Network marathon (hi!). Amazingly handy when it comes to creating metaphors. For others (hi!) this technique by Havi Brooks is easy and powerful: Metaphor Mouse! […]

  29. […] Metaphor Mouse has an insane job cut out for him/her. […]

  30. […] i don’t know if you read the fluent self. if you do, you might be familiar with havi’s deliberate use of metaphors. […]

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