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The KEY Questions: Why use metaphors?

10 January 16

The storm had been severe, off the scale, the worst in living memory, but now at last there was calm. The little tropical island had been battered for days on end by ferocious typhoon winds that had flattened hundreds of palm trees all along the coastline. They lay in tangled heaps like so many giant matchsticks. The effect on the local marine life had been equally devastating. Thousands upon thousands of baby starfish had been washed up on the shore, left stranded there when the crashing waves finally receded. Too many to count, they formed a reddish-brown carpet that stretched in all directions, as far as the eye could see. And they were dying. A boy of six or seven wandered down to the water’s edge, accompanied by his grandfather. When he stooped to pick up one of the fish, with the clear aim to return it to its home in the ocean, the old man laughed. “Have you seen how many starfish there are on the beach? If you worked at it every day of your life you could never make a difference to them. It’s hopeless.”

Coaching, or teaching, is about trying to making a difference, at least in the highly subjective arena of personal development. You can teach someone that the French for window is fenêtre. If maths is your subject you can teach someone how to solve an algebraic equation. After that it’s up to them. There’s no room for interpretation. There’s only one answer in each case. But teaching someone to realise that they create their own reality on a daily basis, that they are only ever one thought away from being perfectly happy? For some reason this wonderfully simple idea – should I say this simple truth? – can meet with a lot of resistance.

That’s where metaphors come in.

The little boy in my story represents each one of us, and the challenge he faces is simply being overwhelmed by circumstances beyond his control, something we all have to deal with in our lives from time to time. Some time ago I met a rich guy who was in a lot of trouble. An Orthodox Jew in his forties, he had squandered a fortune gambling and virtually destroyed himself with drink and drugs. A married man, he was a serial adulterer who had been at times violent towards his wife, and was very often out of control. I won’t name him for obvious reasons. Let’s call him Ben. He was being coached by one of my mentors who was trying to make him see that he was creating his problems through his unhealthy thinking, and that he could stop doing that any time he liked.  Over the course of a few days, in two-hour sessions, he was taught how the Three Principles had been working through him all his life. Ben needed only to be aware of them, and of how he could use the gift of thought to steer his life into calmer waters. There were no techniques to be studied, no disciplines to follow. All he had to do was sit and listen. I was privileged to be a part of the discussion and I watched as my mentor, using metaphors and stories, gradually turned this frustrated, angry, violent man into a playful puppy, a gentle lamb. He was led away in tears, being lovingly consoled by his wife.

Milton Erickson, universally acknowledged as probably the greatest hypnotist who ever lived, once had a client who was desperate to be cured of his compulsive overeating. Milton discovered that the man’s hobby was gardening and that he had a particular fondness for growing tomatoes. With this in mind, Milton then put the man into a deep trance and then wove a little story about plants, specifically tomato plants, marveling at their capacity to take from the soil just exactly the nutrients they needed and no more. When the man was brought out of his hypnotic state he had no recollection of the story, but he was completely cured of his compulsion.

Some coaches teaching this new paradigm have been heard to say that a client has to be ready to hear the truth about the Three Principles. Many are too overwhelmed by their thinking to hear anything above the noise of their own internal dialogue. I don’t know if that’s true, but what is true is that metaphors bypass that thinking, coming at the truth from a different angle.

The young boy in the story was not troubled by his grandfather’s skeptical words, by the way. The situation might be ‘hopeless’ but he picked up the nearest starfish and gently placed it back in the sea. ‘Never mind’, he said, ‘at least I’ve made a difference to this one’.

Have you made a difference to anyone lately?



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  • Having attended David's course and then had some one to one sessions with him my approach to my life has changed dramatically and improved. David has a very gentle and empathic way about him, yet managed to challenge my habitual way of being and thinking. As a result of our time together I now practice his "way of being" and I truly find that I am getting far better results in all of the relationships that I encounter. My inner chatter is under control, most of the time, and I am learning to pause and push away harmful thinking . It's surprising how habitual thinking can do so much damage and how, once you really focus on what comes into your mind you start to realise that you can be bigger than your random thoughts. So David thank you for putting me on a better pathway. Looking forward to sharing another journey with the Auspicium family!
    Rowena Wild

  • The course I attended with David Key was marvellous, every moment being filled with joy and laughter. David has a unique talent to teach, unlocking the full potential of every person he encounters. His course opened up an infinite number of ways for me to get the life I want, right now, today, and in the future. It made me realise that thought is fluid and that I can mould it the way I want to suit my day. I would highly recommend this course to anyone in search of a new professional career or for those who simply want a happier life. Thank You!
    Lucia Pohrebnyak

  • It took me about 5 years of 'dithering' before committing, and in that time I attended several introductory days from various training providers. David's accessible style and the unforced flow of the day is what persuaded me to choose his company. David provides a training model that helps you become your best self - as a student, as a practitioner, as a person. By 'best', I mean more open, less fearful, more confident, less judgemental - whether you attend the course to make a change personally or professionally, to build on existing success, or with no idea where it might go, simply because you are interested (that was me!) you will be impressed at what you are able to achieve with David's expert guidance showing you how to use your curiosity as a pathway to growth. In the first week following the course, I dealt with several potentially difficult situations both at work and home, coming from a changed perspective - resulting in no conflict, calmer colleagues, less stressed family. And this without actively using any techniques; the biggest change has been inside my own headspace. I can't wait to do the next course. Now that I know, unequivocally, the benefits to be had, I wish I had come down off the fence years ago! Added bonus, a bunch of fabulous new friends. And a final thought about cost; some of you reading this will be struggling to justify spending a chunk of hard earned money "just" for yourself. Well, I will be using these tools every day for the rest of my life - pennies a day investment! I am SO worth it. And so are you!
    Sue Bee

  • I first met David at an evening business club a couple of years ago. During his presentation something “clicked” with me and I felt compelled to further my understanding of NLP. I attended the Auspicium free trial day. My earlier feelings were confirmed. This guy knows what he’s talking about and has a passion for helping people. I duly signed up for the NLP and Hypnotherapy practitioner course. What a week. All in the class left in such high spirits with a very different outlook on life. Following on I have attended the NLP and Hypnotherapy Master Practitioner course. Again excellent. There was something about the Hypnotherapy element of the course that I loved so on to the Hypnotherapy Trainers Training (another absolutely brilliant week). All the courses that I have attended have been very well organised, have a great team of trainers and support volunteers. The documentation is well put together and the exercises are all structured to push yourself to show you have a grasp of the given subject. I now have a fantastic group of new friends who I have a deep link with. We still meet up when we can to catch up on what we are all doing. As of March this year I have been participating in the Auspicium Freedom Project. This is a yearlong “conversation” about the 3 Principles – Mind, Thought and Consciousness. It took me a while to “get” it but now just by “doing nothing” I find myself doing more with better results and no stress. There are no models or techniques to learn. We all have the Principles inside us. We just need to be woken up to how to use them. It’s a great journey that will take the rest of my life. David is a superb trainer and fully deserves all the praise he receives.
    Phillip Warris

  • Before going on David’s Practitioner course, I thought I knew what I wanted, where I was headed and how I was going to get it. All I wanted an additional skill to add to my portfolio. I thought my life was in reasonably good order, nothing that needed fixing. I can sum up my experience of working with David in two words: life-changing. Instead of just learning a new skill, David encouraged us to apply his teaching, our learning, to ourselves. In a very safe environment, I gradually dropped the barriers I had painstakingly built up over a long time. This change happened very quickly and I continued growing as a person, studying 2 more courses with David and joining him on the Freedom project. Why David? He is disarmingly honest, genuine and engaging. He has a very broad knowledge of human behaviour and passes his knowledge on with grace. As a result of working with David, I have changed, and my life has changed. In myself I am very happy and contented person. My marriage is better and stronger. My business plans have taken a different route - one that is exciting and feels very right for me.