Imagining a metaphor may help your New Year’s resolution to stick

The approach of a new year is a time where many of us consider our current situations and engage in new resolutions. That is the time when we vow to get in shape, save more money, learn a new skill, or let go of bad habits. After an unprecedented year like 2020, the desire for change may be stronger than ever. The pandemic has resulted in an increase in psychological distressdecrease in motivation, and even weight gain. For many, the end of 2020 brings hope for a better year and a fresh new set of resolutions.

However, more often than not, new year’s resolutions do not stick and are forgotten by February. In our research on international students and immigrants sensemaking during the COVID-19 pandemic we came to appreciate the power of metaphors as a common tool for research, coaching, and therapeutic practice. Lakoff and Johnson, in their book “Metaphors we live by” suggested that metaphors allow understanding one kind of thing in terms of another.  By combining and reorganizing abstract and concrete features, metaphors influence thought processes, attitudes, beliefs, and actions. Metaphors helps us make sense of situations and stimulate new actions by making our experience and desirestangible, and helping us see assumptions, behaviors and resources that are likely to support our goals and desires for the new year. 

Organization development practitioners and coaches have long used metaphors as an intervention strategy, offering clients a metaphor to help them gain insights into their situations. A fundamental assumption guiding this line of work is that language not only represents but also creates reality. In our research with international students and immigrants during COVID-19, we have used principles of Clean Language and Integral Coaching to use metaphors as a way to help participants find ways to deal with their challenges. We have found that metaphors help individuals find tangible ways to achieve their goals and they feel more empowered through the process. If you have a bit of imagination, you can take advantage of this method for some self-reflection to make your resolutions stick.

4-step plan for using Imaginative Metaphors for your New Year’s resolution:

  • Identify a goal or desire under your control: The goal should describe what you want in positive terms.  It should be something that has not yet happened, contains a desire or need, and does not contain any reference to the problem. For example, getting in shape is a positive outcome that focus on what is wanted and is more powerful than focusing on what is not wanted, such as losing weight, or stop being sedentary. This is your resolution.
  • Imagine a metaphor that depicts the way you will feel as you achieve that goal. Elaborate what this goal means to you. Maybe getting in shape means going up the stairs with ease. Then ask yourself “And that is like what?” For example, being shape feels like a well-oiled machine.
  • Fully develop the metaphor focusing on details and a felt sense for the metaphor. Ask yourself “What kind of (metaphor) is that (metaphor)?” and “Is there anything else about that (metaphor)?”. For example, what kind of machine, is that well-oiled machine? And is there anything else about this well-oiled machine? You may also ask: whereabouts are you in this metaphor?
  • Identify what needs to happen for the metaphor to become reality. To be achievable, goals need to be broken down in small achievable steps and clear articulate a doing. Ask yourself – What needs to happen? And can that happen? Repeat those questions until it is what needs to happen is clear and achievable. For example, it may be that a possible action plan is to take the stairs every day rather than the taking the elevator. 

We are all ready for a better 2021. Imaginative metaphor can help refreshing our thinking and finding new ways to achieve our goals.