Belfast Telegraph

Home Life Features

How to push the right button on metaphors

By Joseph Pond

Did you know that most of the close-the-door buttons inside modern lifts are designed not to work? The same with pedestrian crossing buttons. Finally, one expert estimates that up to 90% of thermostats in office buildings are dummies on which none of the buttons work.

These are called "placebo buttons" and their function is merely to give us a sense of control. They work on the principle of classical conditioning: we get a response because we've been trained to expect that response.

Now that you know the close-door lift button is fake, how long will you continue to push it? I found myself wondering this a few weeks ago with a client who complained that his wife "pushes his buttons". Although I know this is just metaphorical, he acts as though he really does have buttons. If we really understood that our buttons were fake, how long would we continue to respond in the same conditioned way to someone's actions? How long would it take before you began to realise that you always have choice?

The stories we use about troubling situations can be extremely illuminating. I think this particular client's responses would change if he imagined that he had disabled his control panel without telling his wife. Maybe, just maybe, she could continue to push them and he could just smile serenely.

Your assignment this week, if you choose to accept it, is to think of something that's bothering you and explore what it's "like". Is it like a weight on your shoulders? An endless tunnel? After you've done that, begin to manipulate your metaphor in a way that gives you greater freedom. If you're in a dark tunnel, turn on the lights.

Lest you think this is too "slight" to work for you, consider that the very words we use to describe "feelings" are also metaphors. When a person's "sad" they're not really experiencing a three letter word in their blood. Rather, the word represents a nexus of complex sensations. Because you know that talking it out (i.e., manipulating the metaphor) often makes you happier, you've already used this technique unknowingly. Now do it artfully.

  • Joseph Pond is a clinical hypnotherapist, an acupuncturist and a mindfulness instructor. He is co-founder of Hypnosis Explorers NI and conducts workshops in hypnosis with PowerTrance. Reach him at or at Hypnosis/ ?ref=hl/?ref=hl

Belfast Telegraph


From Belfast Telegraph