7 mindset metaphors to remember when you lose your mojo
Have you been feeling as though you’re getting in your own way lately? That’s understandable. Living through stressful times can make healthy routines tough to maintain—and self-defeating thoughts all too noisy.
One approach for countering that effect is to shift your thoughts and attention, which can be easier to do with the help of some visualization, says Allison Grupski, PhD, director of behavior change at WW. These mindset strategies work by tapping the imagination. Try them out, and you may uncover new insights about the way you think—and feel newly empowered to work toward your wellness goals.
To move forward, picture a balance beam.
Granted, when you’re less than steady in your journey, you might already feel as though you’re wobbling on a balance beam. Fair. But here’s one trick to getting across: Avert your gaze from the ground below. When you’re looking downward, you’re more likely to fixate on what could go wrong and over-correct your steps; you can also lose sight of the progress of you’re making, Grupski says. On the other hand, when you look straight ahead to your goal, you have broader range of vision, your posture is more relaxed, and you aren't noticing small, inconsequential deviations in your step placement. This makes the trip smoother and steadier. Look up—you’ll get there!
To cut through counterproductive thoughts, picture a bus.
Widely used in therapeutic circles, the bus exercise places you in the driver’s seat. To start, imagine all your passengers have different personalities—these represent your thoughts. Notice that some passengers act in kind ways (for instance, by thanking you for the safe trip), while others are disruptive, demanding you take shortcuts or scoffing that you drive too slowly. Picture yourself hitting traffic during the trip, and the passengers getting louder. That’s your cue to ask yourself two questions: “Which passengers do I hear?” and “Which ones will I listen to?” Grupski says this exercise can help you identify counterproductive thoughts (“Oh, that’s just my critical passenger complaining, as usual”) and better tune in to the thinking that encourages forward momentum in your journey.
To hold space for challenging times, picture fluffy clouds.
Start this exercise by reflecting on the parts of your life that feel most deeply meaningful to you. Your family, your friendships, your work, your community—whatever those aspects are, picture them forming a bright, blue sky overhead. Now, take a moment to reflect on some of the day-to-day challenges that might be making things feel hard for you right now. Maybe it’s staying productive on the job, or figuring out new ways to eat well while navigating a hectic situation at home. Those challenges are the clouds in your blue sky. Finally, take a moment to imagine the clouds slowly changing shape and starting to drift. This visualization technique, which Grupski attributes to psychotherapist Russ Harris, author of ACT Made Simple (2009), can be a useful tool for recognizing hard feelings and a symbol that circumstances can evolve.
To find resilience, picture a ladder.
Remember the classic board game Chutes and Ladders? If you land on a space with a ladder, your player piece gets to zip upward, closer to the winning square. Land on a space with a chute, and you slide downward, back toward the starting point. Psychologist Dayna Lee-Baggley, PhD, author of Healthy Habits Suck (2019), says this simple game—with its built-in highs and lows—offers a pragmatic lesson in resilience. “The goal isn't to avoid falling; it's to get back up as quickly as possible," she says. Setbacks are a natural part of the process. She adds, “It tends to be easier to get back on the ladder the more often we do it.”
To practice gratitude, picture a concert balcony.
When life throws you for a loop, it can be hard to recognize the good things—similar to how enjoying a concert is difficult if you’re getting pushed around near the stage by a sweaty crush of fans. Next time nothing feels right, imagine yourself at that same concert. Only in this scenario, place yourself in a comfortable balcony seat above the fray. The crowd is still there, but from your new vantage point, you can see the performers and enjoy the songs. Sometimes, gratitude requires a little space.
To stay proactive, picture a pair of rain boots.
Not every day can be 70 degrees and sunny; fortunately, we have rain boots and umbrellas to keep us stay dry when soggy weather sets in. Lee-Bagley tells WW that rain gear makes a good metaphor when tough circumstances threaten to soak our spirits. “You can't go to your gym; the grocery store is more stressful; you don't have as much time to meal prep because you're homeschooling,” she says by way of example. “What rain gear do you need to make healthy choices?” Perhaps your “raincoat” is a fun online workout series, or a grocery delivery service that takes the anxiety out of shopping. This encourages you to problem-solve rather than blame yourself for the weather, she says.
To shut down negativity, picture your spam folder.
Sometimes, negativity comes at us unexpectedly—whether from people in our lives, from the internet, or from the little voices in the back of our heads. One visualization technique that Grupski recommends is to think of those negative thoughts like junk email. Take a moment to open your mental inbox, notice any unwanted messages, and then slide them to a spam folder without engaging until you’re ready. It’s OK not to click on everything.
Jessica DiGiacinto is an associate editor at WW. A health and wellness writer and editor based out of New York, she’s contributed to Popsugar, Bulletproof 360, and Galvanized Media, among other media outlets.
This article was reviewed for accuracy in June 2021 by Megan Schreier, MPH, senior manager for behavior change science translation at WW. The WW Science Team is a dedicated group of experts who ensure all our solutions are rooted in the best possible research.