Article Categories
[ Show ] All [ Hide ]
Clean Language
Article Selections
[ Show ] All [ Hide ]

These notes were first presented to
The Developing Group 5 October 2002

Utilising Autogenic Metaphor

Penny Tompkins and James Lawley 
An interesting discussion with Mariette Castellino sparked the thought:  How do people make use of their metaphors and symbols once they’ve identified them?

This is such a natural thing for us to do that we had not appreciated the extent to which some people can develop a metaphor but then do not know what to do with it.  They do not naturally link their metaphors to changing behaviour or perception in their everyday life.

We decided to find out what was happening. We have begun by investigating how people who ARE aware of utilising their metaphors do this.  And this topic will be the focus of the October 5th Developing Group day.

As research material for the morning, please bring examples of when you (or a client) have consciously made use of a self-generated metaphor. We are not referring to the use of metaphor simply as a descriptive tool; rather how you (or clients) have consciously applied a previously discovered personal metaphor to an aspect of your life. 

Here are some examples of utilisation we’ve noticed:

To affect your state, e.g. to consciously bring a metaphor to mind/body to relax, motivate, sleep, etc.

To make a decision, e.g. utilise a symbolic decision-making strategy or use a metaphor as a value or criteria to be met.

As a signal or awareness indicator, e.g. when a metaphor is remembered as a signal to notice or do something (such as Caitlin's work with teenager with anger problems)

As a common language, e.g. a couple using their metaphors to resolve a conflict in the relationship.

As a framework for thinking, e.g. a metaphor to help categorise information or act as a checklist.

As a problem-solving process
, e.g. using the metaphor to identify new solutions.

To help create a design, e.g. using a metaphor as part of a logo or marketing material (such as our arc’s, waves & arrows incorporated in to The Developing Company logo. See also Like a Kid in a Sweet Shop).

To spark creativity, e.g. to generate new ideas or ways of perceiving a situation.

As a planning tool, e.g. the metaphor helps to sequence events and to identify critical milestones.

To capture a vision or desired outcome, e.g. the metaphor is invoked to remind a group of the desired outcome and to keep it in mind during a discussion, meeting, or over a longer time period (such as used by Health South USA and the Metaphor and Clean Langiage Research Group).

As a time-management tool, e.g. using a metaphor to remind oneself to keep track of time so that discussions and meetings finish as planned. 

To support the healing process, e.g. visualising/meditating on a metaphor for strengthening the immune system (such as the examples in Mind, Metaphor and Health).

Although we want you to describe the metaphor and the context in which it was utilised, we are most interested in HOW you (or others) did that.  The fundamental questions we are attempting to answer are:

HOW does a person translate a metaphorical representation into a behaviour?

HOW does a metaphor get applied over a period of time?

HOW does a metaphor identified in one context get transferred and utilised in another context?

In all these cases we are interested in when you were aware of using a metaphor to influence your actions, perceptions or state.  We recognise that metaphors often have an out-of-awareness influence which we only realise later and that it is possible to make use of other people’s metaphors (this is commonly known as education).  Fascinating as these are, neither of these is part of our remit for the day.

So bring your examples to the group, and we’ll compare notes and draw conclusions.

See you on Saturday,

James and Penny

Examples from participants:

A and his partner created a metaphor for the quality/health of their relationship which was used to measure the relationship and to assess how it progresses over time.

B discovered a metaphor for “Where I am” which was under her feet. By attending to this place she was not nervous before giving a training anymore.

C found a metaphor of a fan that opened one segment at a time. This gave her a way to be conscious of the changes she was making.

D discovered her “Rhythm of Life” and the point where rhythm changes from singing to non-singing (which represented her losing patience with people).  Now she can catch the point, she can be aware of it happening and be more accepting that “that’s life” which increased her patience!

E has a map of a "connection that jolts me back to a fear state” (an old idea of herself). When this happens she now knows she just has to put the connection down to regain her confidence.

Penny Tompkins & James Lawley
Penny and James are supervising neurolinguistic psychotherapists – first registered with the United Kingdom Council for Psychotherapy in 1993 – coaches in business, certified NLP trainers, and founders of The Developing Company.

They have provided consultancy to organisations as diverse as GlaxoSmithKline, Yale University Child Study Center, NASA Goddard Space Center and the Findhorn Spiritual Community in Northern Scotland.

Their book,
Metaphors in Mind
was the first comprehensive guide to Symbolic Modelling using the Clean Language of David Grove. An annotated training DVD, A Strange and Strong Sensation demonstrates their work in a live session. James has also written (with Marian Way) the first book dedicated to Clean Space: Insights in Space. Between them Penny and James have published over 200 articles and blogs freely available on their website:
 »  Home  »  The Developing Group  »  Utilising Autogenic Metaphor
Article Options


4 workshops
live, online 2021

How People Change

Penny Tompkins
James Lawley
Marian Way

Join us live
or view the
recordings later

enrol at

view all featured events