“Clean Language is much better, faster and more effective [than NLP], and extremely powerful.”
Who says? Not just me (for once!) but coaching marketing expert Dan Bradbury, quoting leading NLPers such as Topher Morrison and Toby McCartney as he introduced me for an interview we recorded recently.
I wasn’t surprised, because both Topher and Toby have experienced Clean Language first hand. They’ve seen, heard and felt the results of this amazing combination of questions, listening and metaphor (originally devised by the late David Grove).
So they know from personal experience that dramatic change often results very quickly when someone is coached by a Clean Language expert.
But probably most people won’t have that experience – the physical experience which would convince them to become a fan.
Quite reasonably, before they try the process, they don’t just want to know that it works – they want to know how it works. And most of the explanations out there leave at least a little something to be desired.
I offered a partial explanation in this “Elephant Whispering” blog post last summer.
But thanks to insights from James Geary’s new book on metaphor and the brain, I’m groping towards a fuller answer. It has to do with the elephant and the rider, and the role of metaphor not only in language, and in thought, but also in physical action.
Want to hear it? Then read on!
To borrow Jonathan Haidt’s metaphor once again, the mind is like a rider on an elephant. The rider is the conscious part of the mind – the small fraction of our being that we are aware of – and the elephant is everything else.
When we talk in our native language, we don’t usually choose our words carefully. It’s the elephant who “selects” them. And when we talk in English, we use between six and nine metaphors per minute. It’s the elephant who “selects” those metaphors.
It’s well known that linguistic metaphors are a powerful route to influence. As Wendy Sullivan and I said in our book, Clean Language: “Metaphors in the form of stories and anecdotes are the currency of the finest public speakers; of statesmen, preachers, and teachers of all kinds; and of traditional healers and shamans. Metaphors in the form of advertisements surround us constantly, as companies seek a fast-track to our wallets. Metaphors in the form of TV shows and films keep us on the edge of our seat, laughing and crying at the director’s whim.”
For example, as Dan and I were discussing, the metaphors used in writing and talking about the financial markets probably have a profound subconscious effect on our behaviour. Markets typically climb up and fall down: the way up apparently takes effort, while gravity does the work on the way down! So traders may well subconsciously perceive an increase in prices as more likely to falter: a decline likely to continue. Nobody remembers that up and down are “just metaphors” in this context.
The “metaphors” in our physical environment also have a profound influence on us. Modern research shows that holding a hot drink can make your feel “warmer” towards a new acquaintance than holding a cold can. The author of a heavy hardback is more serious than one who’s book is flimsy. And that’s before we go anywhere near more “obvious” metaphors such as white coats and dark uniforms, well known for their subconscious effect on behaviour.
These physical metaphors in our environment probably have a greater impact on us than the metaphors contained in words. After all, we evolved for life in the real world: the world of thoughts, words and ideas is the newcomer. If our ancestors didn’t respond quickly (and thus unconsciously) to environmental cues, we simply wouldn’t be here.
And so, when it comes to change in our own, real lives, we need to do more than explore our thoughts, words and ideas. We need to do more than notice the metaphors we use in our thinking, or to “find a new metaphor” for some aspect of our lives.
To influence ourselves to change, we need to give ourselves physical experiences that influence our elephants on various levels.
A skilled Clean Language facilitator doesn’t just work with any of your metaphors. They use those “funny questions” to focus attention on specific aspects of your experience. Like an expert mahout, they can give your elephant a solid prod!
And the most skilled will, as David Grove often did, take your attention inside, to the most visceral experience of all – that mass of strange and mysterious physical sensations which we label “emotions”. Our emotions drive our behaviour much more effectively than our thoughts.
They do this using a specific feature of metaphor: spontaneous metaphors frequently (I’d say almost always) describe a more abstract concept in terms of a more physical thing. It’s a one-way street. To use James Geary’s example, drawn from a song: “Love is like a bottle of gin, but a bottle of gin is not like love.”
So by exploring metaphor, we take your attention from the abstract towards the physical. From the world of thoughts and words and ideas towards the world of physical experience.
It’s in this physical world that real change happens – and not just in the sense that change normally exists in doing something different, such as eating less or moving more.
Once we become aware of the physical sensations that make up our emotional experience, we experience them differently. That too is a physical change. We literally feel differently about things in our physical bodies.
And when we feel differently we both think differently and behave differently: there’s no battle between the rider and the elephant. The different behaviour becomes automatic, as automatic as an elephant turning to eat something that looks tasty.
It seems to me that Clean Language works as a catalyst to this chain reaction. It uses the metaphors in language and gesture to help people feel differently, so that they behave differently.
- This blog represents a piece of thinking which is still very much “in progress” – I’d value your comments below.
- If you’d like to experience Clean Language for yourself, you can book a session with me.