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 free-form dancing 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.

The Fluent Self