A metaphor is not an ornament. It’s a necessary lens of perception that allows us to experience and think about ourselves and the world more clearly. Metaphors have a way of relating to us in the most profound way, by clarifying immense truths and intricate lessons in fairly minimal space.
Marc and I have shared the following metaphors and corresponding stories with our students, readers, and conference attendees dozens of times over the past decade, and we usually get thanked for doing so. The specifics differ slightly every time we share them, but the core lessons carry forth.
My challenge for you today is to read the first metaphor below. Then come back tomorrow and read the next one. Give yourself a little extra perspective every day this week. See how doing so gracefully changes your thinking from day to day.
1. THE WEIGHT OF THE GLASS
(Note: This first metaphor is an excerpt from our NY Times bestselling book.)
Twenty years ago, when Marc and I were just undergrads in college, our psychology professor taught us a lesson we’ve never forgotten. On the last day of class before graduation, she walked up on stage to teach one final lesson, which she called “a vital lesson on the power of perspective and mindset.” As she raised a glass of water over her head, everyone expected her to mention the typical “glass half empty or glass half full” metaphor. Instead, with a smile on her face, our professor asked, “How heavy is this glass of water I’m holding?”
Students shouted out answers ranging from a couple of ounces to a couple of pounds.
After a few moments of fielding answers and nodding her head, she replied, “From my perspective, the absolute weight of this glass is irrelevant. It all depends on how long I hold it. If I hold it for a minute or two, it’s fairly light. If I hold it for an hour straight, its weight might make my arm ache. If I hold it for a day straight, my arm will likely cramp up and feel completely numb and paralyzed, forcing me to drop the glass to the floor. In each case, the absolute weight of the glass doesn’t change, but the longer I hold it, the heavier it feels to me.”
As most of us students nodded our heads in agreement, she continued. “Your worries, frustrations, disappointments, and stressful thoughts are very much like this glass of water. Think about them for a little while and nothing drastic happens. Think about them a bit longer and you begin to feel noticeable…