The book Metaphors We Live By has been a great inspiration to me ever since I read it earlier this year. One thing that came to light while reading was the way in which my relationship with my body was shaped by unhelpful metaphors. The first that I noticed was the idea of mobility or flexibility as being an unobtainable object. This idea of mobility as an object can be demonstrated by such phrases as “what will you do with your new-found mobility?” and “I’ve lost my mobility since last year” for example. But for me, mobility wasn’t simply an object that you either have or do not have, it was impossible for me to get it no matter how hard I tried!
The second part of the metaphor describes a binary state which hides the reality that mobility is pretty much always present in varying degrees, as long as we remain alive. When imagined as something perpetually out of reach the metaphor is successful in preventing me from exercising whatever mobility I do have, which is perhaps the most important point, especially as far as adaptation is concerned. This isn’t just a philosophical idea; if we focus on what we lack instead of the things that we have available and perhaps take for granted, it’s quite possible that we let opportunity go to waste along with various physical and mental attributes. Use it or lose it.
This realisation was like a fog suddenly lifting to reveal the sun that had been there all along. I wasn’t at all as immobile and helpless as I had felt and acted, and instead of mobility being unobtainable it was an ever-present quality to be deliberately expressed.
The second metaphor that I unearthed dates back at least 10 years, and is one that more people can possibly relate to which is energy or strength as a limited resource. While it is less obvious that this concept is a metaphor it works in similar ways to the first, which is that it limits our actions by conceptualising strength itself in a limited way. In my own experience and no matter how absurd it may seem, what this meant was for me was that once again I failed to express what strength and energy I did have, and as my dad might say, I was “coming from a place of scarcity”. I felt at the time, all those years ago, that I was almost “saving” my strength for some other, more important occasion that of course, never came.
As with the first metaphor, the implications are that by failing to express my strength I missed the opportunities for further growth that would have stemmed from regular, unrestricted use of what I already had.
Energy and strength are limited in a real sense, but the real-world restrictions are not well-represented by their metaphorical counterparts.
In my own case at least, it appears that metaphors were not the only things at work, and I suspect that consistency bias played a role too. By proclaiming my inflexibility or weakness I would trap myself in a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy, propped up by cognitive metaphor. Memories of myself declaring and acting in accordance with my apparent inflexibility would help form an almost unbreakable self-image over time. Even if I attempted to change this image, it’s likely that my view of such attempts would be biased by my prior beliefs. I.e. my beliefs would influence not only the quality and quantity of attempts to change, but my opinion of those attempts would also likely overstate the effort I put in while understating the results. In this way, our past actions are used as a rough template of how we expect to behave in the future, which saves us the trouble of having to go out and create our self-image from scratch every morning. The problem is we can get stuck with an undesirable self-concept and not know how to change it, or even realise we have it, as in the case of metaphor.
This is one reason I believe that much more importance should be given to psychological factors and influences when it comes to understanding one’s relationship with the body and exercise or movement. The mind provides the foundation for a willing body to follow.
A final, more obscure example of how thoughts have influenced my behaviour also dates back at least a decade. I recall a dream I had in which I found myself dancing in front of a large audience, where I was aware of being extremely self-conscious because I felt that everyone could see through me, as if the act of dancing rendered my thoughts and emotions visible. Although this was a dream, at the time it made me realise that this was how I saw dance, and that I didn’t want to actually express myself in this way, or that perhaps I had just wanted to be different, to be someone and to feel something I would be proud to express.
This metaphor of dance as a display of emotion or of my “true self”, as it had felt to me in my dream, undoubtedly played a significant role in retarding my growth, just like the other metaphors seem to have done. Feeling depressed, worthless and incapable, meant that as a reflection of these thoughts and emotions, dance itself became an act that reinforced my poor self-image, which in turn limited how I danced in public. The circle was a vicious one.
Lately I have been dancing again, but from a new perspective, utilising more useful metaphors to promote a healthy self-image. There is a lot of work to be done and a lot of harm to be un-done, but I am already beginning to feel physically and mentally different, in all likelihood due to a combination of my relaxation practice and a deliberate attempt to exercise and appreciate the qualities I already have. Whatever the root causes, I am feeling more positive about the future.