Make It So! The Power of Metaphor


Metaphor:  Life Is What You Make It

Semantic Entailments:

  • Life is an “it”; i.e. comprehensible as an abstract object
  • Objective realities are “things,” composed (made up of) of ingredients or components, including conceptual components
  • Persons can design and construct objective realities
  • Therefore, people can construct their lives according to their own design

What is a metaphor? It is a cognitive SCHEMA—what George Lakoff and Paul Johnson would call an Idealized Cognitive Model (ICM)– that MAPS one conceptual  SOURCE domain of meaning onto another TARGET domain. A LIFE METAPHOR schematizes the semantic domain of a LIFETIME or of LIFE Itself (as a TARGET domain) according to factors associated with a SOURCE domain that projects metaphorical entailments onto this TARGET.

amusement park

So, for example, Life is a Roller Coaster is a Life Metaphor that posits a Roller Coaster as the Source Domain and Life as a Target Domain.  The metaphorical entailments of Life is a Roller Coaster include such conceptual transfers as:

Like a Roller Coaster, (a) Life:

  • Exhibits an unpredictable sequence of sharp Ups and Downs
  • Can be a jarring experience
  • Is a “wild ride”

Life is a Roller Coaster then carries further implications. BECAUSE (someone’s) life is like a roller coaster:

  • Life is experienced as a mixture of happiness and hardship, characterized as extreme Highs and Lows


Working with clients with my Life Mapping process, I always ask at the beginning and at the closing of a coaching process for the person to express a Life Metaphor that is meaningful to them at the time. I have found that many clients who later characterize their life experience as–or have received a psychological diagnosis of–Bipolar (or Borderline) Disorder tend to express Life is a Roller Coaster or a closely related “UP and Down/ Hardship” schema as their initial Life Metaphor. Always I find that the Life Metaphor that one expresses closely characterizes patterns active in a person’s life experience at the time.

Flower Illustration

That is why in this blog I am focusing on “positive” Life Metaphors. After completing a life mapping process, virtually all of my clients and students arrive at more optimistic life metaphors than those they expressed when they entered the process. The Life Metaphor you hold serves as a lens that projects and reflects the cognitive schemas through which you view and interpret your world of experience. So, if someone conceptualizes Life as a Roller Coaster, they might always be waiting for the “other shoe to drop” (to use an extension of the Hardship based semantic superclass). Now consider if, instead, that same person were to adopt the Idealized Cognitive Model of “Life Is What You Make It” and if that person were to act in terms of the principles and beliefs of this new construct. Then, perhaps, the Downs might be avoided because the person can implement proactive change rather than fatalistically expecting a downturn after every positive step “upwards” or “forward”.


We construct much (if not all) of our life experience according to metaphor. “Up”? “Down”? “Forward”? “Back”? “Steady as She Goes”? All of these are imaginary, schematic constructs when applied to “a Life”… which after all is actually NOT an objective entity but is rather a flow, often disjunct, of moments.

Ergo, Life is What You Make It is actually more than JUST metaphorical; it is a truism. For life cannot be other than this: what you make OF it via your conceptual and schematic perceptions.

Thus I recall for you the famous words of a Starfleet captain many of us know and love (er, at least as a fictional character), Captain Jean-Luc Picard, who operates the Enterprise according to this month’s theme when he instructs his crew at every decisive moment: “Make It So!”

I welcome your comments and stories!


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