The Milton Model

Metaphors and Stories

Metaphors are powerful ways to communicate to someone’s unconscious. Milton Erickson used this technique to pace a person’s experience, distract their conscious mind, and allow them to find resources or solutions.

Strictly speaking, a metaphor, a simile and an analogy are different, in NLP they are used in similar ways. The purpose is to transfer meanings and understandings from one situation or thing to another.


The shallow variety uses more obvious explicit comparisons (like a rat up a drainpipe). Because they are direct, they are also less useful as suggestions for change.

When I say “This game is like watching grass grow” (an anlogy), it maps over the meaning of an understood activity (watching grass grow) with one you don’t have experience of (this particular game).

Life influencers

Stories are everywhere in our local and wider culture from childhood. The fairy tales we hear as a child give us strategies to get through life (for better or worse). We often don’t realize what an impact these powerful tales have on our life direction.

For example, that handsome prince always rescuing the princess can influence some women to a deep sense that they are not quite capable of taking care of themselves.

Life is like …

We all develop personal and usually unconscious metaphors to guide us through life. When generalized they become organizing principles for our life as a whole. Have you ever heard someone say something like “Life is like a jungle – it’s survival of the fittest”? Or maybe “Life is just one long treadmill”, or “Life is a huge never ending smorgasboard”

Some of these come from our important childhood “fairy tales” and some from popular culture. For instance stereotypes in movies and television, the lives of various celebrities and folk heros.

These stories can have subtle and sneaky effects on how we see ourselves and what is a satisfying life. The macho hero stereotype for instance can leave a man feeling inadequate or being inappropriately aggressive.

The stories and analogies we use effect our interpretations of our experiences. If we think of relating in terms of a battle, then every interaction may be seen as an attack that needs a defence or offensive.

Tony Robbins has championed the use of life metaphors as a way to make far reaching generalized changes in a person’s life. Seeing relationships as a dance rather than a battle for instance.


With the deep variety, we are mapping similarity of the form and relationships. Dreams are deep-metaphors – they are the language of our unconscious or non dominant hemisphere.

This is why dreams are difficult to interpret – we cannot simply use the same rules of logic and meaning of a literal world. They are about links, relationships and feeling.

The giant strawberry just out of reach but dripping with sweet juice can be a message that our desires are worth the effort rather than needing to buy fruit for instance.


Creating Metaphors for Change involves firstly mapping out the present situation or problem in terms of relationships and strategies currently used with stand in characters and situations to build a story. Then the new strategies and resources are woven into the story to lead to the desired outcome.

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