Metaphors and Mental Maps

Reflections and learning
6th June 2014



I’ve been a cyclist for over 30 years. I’m not fast but I’m strong and can usually go the distance. Two years ago I took up running. As a family we decided to mark the fifth anniversary of my mum’s death by taking part in the Great North Run on behalf of Parkinson’s UK.  Five of us took part in the run and the other 12 formed our support team. I decided to keep it going after the run but I’ve struggled. They speak about the need for a ‘strong core’ in running. I didn’t understand what that meant before but I do now.       

Last year four of us did four 10Ks over the summer. I always came last in our little group but my finishing time improved. I ran periodically in the gym over the winter then in March I took up the Sports Relief 5×50 challenge which saw me doing 5k every day for 50 days. It was a turning point and I’m now in training for the Scottish Half Marathon in September.

Be the Change

As I look towards this second half marathon I feel different. I’ve decided that I am a runner! It’s not something I allowed myself to think before. I didn’t feel deserving of the title, despite a boxfull of  ‘finisher’  medals.  It struck me this morning that this is what Ghandi meant when he said “Be the change you want to see…”.  I didn’t understand it fully before, but I do now. I may not in the top 100 or even the top 5000 but that doesn’t mean I’m not a runner!  I get the same physical and psychological benefits that the top runners get, albeit to a lesser extent.

The year I took up running was the year I set up my consultancy and coaching business.  After decades in the NHS, going solo was daunting. The past two years have seen me develop, test and adapt how I work in helping people and organisations to navigate complex change.  My client portfolio has gradually diversified. Initially I felt reticent about calling myself a Consultant but gradually, as I gained experience, I began to change the way I thought about myself.

Defining Ourselves 

So what does this mean for people who are experiencing change like the leaders I coach? What these parallel experiences tell me, is that the way we view ourselves in relation to the change has a significant bearing on how we progress.

Metaphors are useful in this respect.  For example, when I was leaving the NHS to set out on my own, it felt like I was shedding the tough outer layer of my skin as I left my old identity behind. Vulnerability and uncertainty naturally followed as I exposed a shiny new face to the world. Despite the discomfort, I had strong a sense of movement; of transitioning towards the image I had of myself working with organisations as a consultant and coach.  

These mental maps help us to navigate the discombobulation of transition and to accept that things are probably unfolding at a pace that is right. Change has to come from within and it takes time. Support from others is important and coaching is a great facilitator, but in the end it comes down to us and how we define ourselves. We have to find our own ways of becoming the change we want to see.









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