Life Metaphors: What It Is And How It Affects Your Life

Life metaphors are the mental spectacles we use to see through and define life. There are three main ideas in that definition and they aren’t new or novel ideas. In fact, you’ve been building and refining your metaphor all your life. And to understand them better, let’s dissect them.

First, they’re “mental”. Meaning, these metaphors reside in your mind, specifically your subconscious mind. Now, most people are unaware that they have life metaphors and how it affects a big portion of their life. But those who become conscious of them develop a broader perspective of life and an understanding of other people.

Second, they’re “spectacles” – something we use. They are a part of you but they are apart from you. Meaning, just because you’re using one right now, doesn’t mean you have to keep on using that. If you look at life in such a way that it hinders your growth as a person, you can take off that perspective and adopt something new.

Third, we use life metaphors to define and make sense of life. As a person, you have a need to find meaning in things – that’s why you are curious. And that’s why you pass on knowledge. That’s why when we define what life means, we often liken it to a thing that we’re familiar with.

But with all these truths… 


How Does Our Life Metaphor Affect Our Life?

There are three specific ways how your life metaphor influences your life. It:

  1. Affects your decisions
  2. Influences your perceptions 
  3. Dictates your emotions 

Your Decisions Are Not 100% Your Own

In fact, a 2008 study suggests that your brain makes the decision 10 seconds before you do it consciously. It’s in line with what neuroscience says the main function of the brain is: to keep you alive. For your brain to do that, it must be efficient in doing important tasks related to your survival. That includes decision-making.

You and I make tons of decisions per day. Some say it’s 35,000 (although I think that’s way over-estimating it) and some say around 27. No matter how many decisions you make each day, the fact remains that you are not 100% conscious of those decisions. Your brain chooses for you before you even make a choice.

Here’s the thing: for your brain to do that, it has to have a filter of what is a good decision and a bad decision for you. And guess what that filter is? You’re right! It’s your life metaphor. The way you see life filters the decisions you make in your life.

Picture this. When you see life as a constant battle, you’re always looking for (and deciding on) things to battle with. That’s why you see people dealing with anger issues because, in their mind, they have to be in “battle mode.” When they wake up, they put on their imaginary armors and fight imaginary wars.

The Color Of Your Glasses Paint The Picture You See In The World

When you see the world as a violent place to live in, your brain helps you find evidences to support that belief. You look for news that shows violence, hear stories about abuse, and read about inhumane activities around the world. This is known as confirmation bias and we are all affected by this sometimes.

On the flip side, if you see life as nurturing and believe that people help each other, your brain supports that. It gives you evidence to make your observations true. Awful things may happen, but you can always find the silver lining – what’s good in every situation. This is an empowering metaphor to put on. But be careful not to spread toxic positivity.

You see, in life, the way you see things affects the things you see. I’m not suggesting that you turn a blind eye to the bad things that happen to you, no. You need some level of realistic optimism to make healthy decisions that will lead to a fulfilling life in the future. What I’m saying is you need to be aware of how you look at things and how it affects your entire life.

If you feel like you have a near-perfect experience of life and you’re satisfied with it, this article isn’t for you. Fact is, you won’t get anything from reading this other than killing your time. But if you’re a growth-seeker, someone who has an insatiable hunger for progress, then it pays to examine how you view your world.

You Can’t Control Your Emotions… Or Can You? 

We all know the old adage that says, “Your thoughts affect your feelings. Your feelings affect your actions. Your actions affect the results you have in life.” If you want to change the way you feel, change the way you think. 

Now, while there’s truth in that statement, one question that comes to mind is this: what affects your thoughts? The answer: your perspective. We can go deeper and deeper down the rabbit hole and say your perspective is influenced by your identity and so on. But we won’t. Instead, we’ll focus on just knowing more about points of view.

By definition, a perspective is a way you look at things. What most people miss, in my observation, is that perspectives vary depending on:

  • How near or far (attached or detached) you are in a situation
  • The height of your perspective
  • Access to details that shows you the whole picture

Let’s explore this using a no-nonsense example. If you’re on a ground level, you only see things that are near you. You see cars, houses, or people. You see their actions, reactions, and facial expressions. As a trade-off, you have more details on fewer things.

Go up 10 stories and you’ll see more and farther. Your experience of what’s happening is different and your appreciation of “details” is different. Instead of just cars, you see their direction. Instead of people, you see groups and how they relate with each other. 

Go atop Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building, and you see a whole different “world.” We know this intuitively, but we don’t think it’s how we experience our inner, mental world, too.

How To Experience A “Different” Life

There’s a myth that says your body replaces itself every 7 years. Although a fascinating thought, it simply isn’t true. You, however, can replace your old identity with something new. It happens every time you watch movies, read books, or hear stories of greatness from other people. Your mirror neurons fire and you can relate to what others are going through.

In 2010, my niece had just died at a young age of 5. She was our first niece and we loved her so much. I was filled with hate! I was asking God why she took her away from us.

Then I remember reading Mitch Albom’s The Five People You Meet In Heaven. He said, “The human spirit knows, deep down, that all lives intersect. That death doesn’t just take someone, it misses someone else, and in the small distance between being taken and being missed, lives are changed.”

His book helped me understand how my niece shaped our lives in deeper ways than we can understand. Her death taught me that life is like a vapor that vanishes in an instant. We need to seize every moment and let the people we love know how much we care for them.

As you go through life, you collect knowledge, experiences, life lessons, nuggets of wisdom, and stories of others. Your understanding of what happens, what contributes to it, and what you can do about it becomes wider. This results in maturity.

And that’s the secret to a whole new life. Who you were 10 years ago isn’t the same “you” right now. Can you imagine if nothing changed with you in the past decade? That would be a disaster! Sure, there are things that remain still. But without growth, it’s impossible to find real joy.


Famous Life Metaphors And Their Implications

Here are some life metaphors most people use to define life. I’m also including what they mean and their pros and cons.

Life Is Like A River

This may mean going with the flow. Most of the time, we don’t want to go against what other people, especially the majority, agree on. This is good since you don’t experience as much anxiety in life as others who want life to be an adventure. But at the end of the day, you may end up becoming a people-pleaser. You become so afraid of what others will say that you end up compromising your values, beliefs, wants, and needs.

Life Is Like A Camera

When you view life this way, you try your best to capture every moment you can. You focus on the now, take it all in, and try to “develop” them in your memories. You may also believe that you must savor every moment and make them special.

On the flip side, you may be too focused on the “now” that you forget to plan for the future. You indulge yourself in moment-by-moment happiness that may have repercussions in the long run. For others, there’s also a tendency to always reminisce about memories.

Life Is Like A Tree

Like a tree, you’re meant to grow. You’re meant to prosper, to bear fruits, to dig a deep foundation. So you can cast a shadow that helps others in their time of need. When you don’t feel like you’re growing, you can’t help but feel miserable. It feels as if you’re not doing what you’re meant to do.

The flip side, however, is that you can get caught up with so much learning that you forget to apply what you learn. This has been a problem of mine for the longest time and I’m sure you can relate. Sometimes, we know what to do, we just don’t do them. But all the difference, all the rewards, lie in doing what we know.

Life Is A Puzzle

You find your pieces as you go through life. That’s why you collect experiences, memories, and possessions. This is why you believe that each people in your life has a part to play and finding their part is a way for you to strengthen your relationships.

But the challenge is, you may struggle to fit everything on your board. You treat every opportunity, every relationship, every work as equal. You become obsessed with how it all fits without accepting the reality of trade-offs and think you can do it all.

Life Is Like A Roller Coaster

There are moments when you’re up and there are times when you’re down. It’s a ride full of excitement, uncertainty, and appreciation of the thrills in life. Here’s the kicker, you expect downs whenever you feel happy or something good happens to you. You don’t let yourself enjoy your success or happiness at 100%. You always reserve a little room at the back of your mind for when things get messy.

Life Is A War

You have to be strong enough to take on responsibilities. This is why on the outside, you look strong and are always ready to help other people in resolving problems and conflict. What others don’t notice is that your life is also full of struggles. And sometimes, the best way to navigate through it is to lay down your arms, put down your defenses, and surrender to God.

Life Is A Journey

You go from one point to another. It’s an adventure where you meet others and go on a journey with them. The flip side is that sometimes you will feel lost especially if you don’t set a destination. It will make you feel like you’re not progressing like you’re stuck on a loop between here and there without going anywhere.

Life Is A Blank Canvas

You are the painter that colors your life. This metaphor shows that you have power over the picture you’re painting that is your life. You paint it the way you want to see it. To be straight, you have to expect that it’s going to be messy. Aside from that, other people may not like the painting you produce, and that’s okay. 

Life Is A Gift

Joy comes from accepting the gift and being grateful for it. But often, the gifts life gives is packaged in problems and troubles. We have to put in the effort to unpack it so we can use and appreciate what the gifts really are. 

Life Is A Clay

You mold it based on how you want to shape your life. As you mold it, you need to prune the excess clay – baggages and things you’ve learned that don’t serve you now. And as with all pottery, expect that you may break. But you can mold life back and make it more beautiful, stronger even. 

Life Metaphors Summary

MetaphorProsCons
Life Is Like A RiverYou learn to go with the flowYou may become a people-pleaser since you don’t want to go against what others dictate.
Life Is Like A CameraYou try to capture every moment.You might be too focused on the moment to moment (on the now) that you forget to plan. Live life in memories.
Life Is Like A TreeYou are meant to growYou may focus too much on learning and not on applying things.
Life Is Like A PuzzleYou find pieces and put them togetherYou may struggle in fitting everything on your board. 
Life Is Like A Roller CoasterYou know that there are ups and downs. You can prepare for them.You may be preoccupied with expecting downs whenever you feel happy or something good happens to you.
Life Is Like A WarYou become strong enough to handle responsibilities and problems.It’s full of struggles.
Life Is Like A JourneyYou go from one point to another. It’s like an adventure.You may sometimes feel lost especially if you don’t set a destination.
Life Is A Blank CanvasYou are the painter of your life – you paint what you want to see.You have to expect that it’s going to be messy. Also, other people may not like the painting you produce. 
Life Is A GiftYou have to accept it. Joy comes from being grateful for the gift.Often, the gift is wrapped in problems. Until you learn your lessons, you’ll keep on receiving that gift until you’re ready for a different one.
Life Is Like ClayYou mold it as to how you like it.Potteries break. When they do, they’re not the same anymore. You may feel like that when you’re broken.

Can You Have Multiple Life Metaphors?

There is no perfect life metaphor. And you can have different metaphors for your life. Some are useful, while others are limiting ones. The number isn’t the point, their usefulness is. You have to decide yours and refine it along the way. 

Live an inspired life,

Jeric Timbang