Blog & Insight

Do you see life as being like a garden, machine, race or war?

Do you see life as being like a garden, machine, race or war?

What about your colleagues or organisation?

What about your key suppliers or customers?

Underlying metaphors are fascinating (well I think so anyway).

Because they’re the unconscious rule book we operate by – which means we act based upon those rules with our actions supporting the goal of that metaphor - such as:

  • Gardens are about flourishing and harvesting
  • Machines are about efficiency and performance
  • Races are about beating others and coming first, and
  • Wars are about winners, losers and not surrendering.

With, for example, those operating from a war perspective very dismissive or uncomprehending about those operating as if they’re in a garden.

Operating metaphors help us make sense of the world we’re in – what we will do and won’t do, how we do it, and our relationships with others.

For example, the relationships we have will differ across the four metaphors such as:

  • Gardens looks for companion planting with each plant supporting those around it
  • Machines replace old and obsolete parts and upgrade regularly always looking for more efficient and productive parts
  • Races are about winning and beating others - with everyone else seen as an adversary
  • Wars are about defeating the enemy, and determining whether someone is an enemy or ally

That said, these descriptions are judged from the stand point of my own operating metaphor, and are therefore just what these metaphors mean to me and may have alternate meanings to you. I would therefore love to hear your thoughts about assumptions I’m making.

When we consider the metaphors response to mental health it might explain the problem we face convincing many organisations to pay it due attention because each of these metaphors ignore elements of our humanity that mean they don’t always work too well.

For example, mental health for each of the metaphors might mean

  • Gardening – provide support for a little while but if we’re not seeing progress pull them up and put them in the compost
  • Machine – may try to repair the part but after a while will replace it
  • Race – not even entered for the race – or relegated to lower leagues
  • War – discharged as unfit for duty

There are of course other alternate operating metaphors we, our colleagues and organsiation may be operating by – with some teams within organisations having metaphor’s that contradict or undermine their organisations.

What operating metaphor do you resonate with?

And what are the implications of this on your work and how might the ‘rules’ of that metaphor explain the current challenge you’re facing?

Landscaping Your Life half day coaching sessions can look to explore the metaphors in your life more fully.

Using metaphors in coaching was the subject of my recent CPD session for EMCC.

And as became clear during the session to coaches the tools shared in my book, Can't see the wood for the trees, are great at helping others to get back on track.

Alison Smith 2020 - © Julie Broadfoot -

Using nature's landscapes as metaphors for our lives the book provides tools to help you to help others to see the wood for the trees, stop circling or treading water, get off the limb, turn a corner and/or avoid the ruts and deadends.

The book is available from all online stockists and is also available on kindle.

As I outline in my blog Landscaping your life coaching - reenergising the dream I do also offer coaching or workshops for coaches wishing to use metaphor and nature in their work.

Do get in touch if you'd like to find out more +44(0)7770 538159 because this is what one person said after just one Landscaping Your Life walk.


© Alison Smith
VAT Registration: 224 5001 58
Registered in Scotland, Registration Number: SC457105
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