How to start modelling an exemplar

Identifying a metaphor from a state
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When you want to enhance your own state-accessing and emotional flexibility – say, “I want to feel curious” – by finding out how others do it, is it OK to start off semi-clean with the outcome first and get the ‘client’s’ metaphor to your proposition – and then map the landscape? For example:
So when you felt curious, what kind of curious was that?
And when you feel curious, that’s like what?

The short answer to Christopher Townsend’s interesting (paraphrased) question is: ‘yes’. Assuming you get the exemplar’s permission to start with I think it is clean enough to ask these kind of questions for the propose of find out how they do what they do.

Christoffer is referring to is what I would call ‘exemplar modelling’ since the facilitator holds the desired outcome. This contrasts with ‘therapeutic modelling’ where the client’s desired outcome is the reference point for the session.*

I have two suggestions about the proposed starting questions:

(a) I recommend asking the question without the word ‘feel’ since this will remove a presupposition that we don’t need to make. If the exemplar uses the word ‘feel’ (or an equivalent) then it can be used it an an entry point into a metaphor landscape. Our version of David Grove’s ‘Feeling to a Metaphor’ vector is designed for such situations and is described below.

(b) I suggest keeping the question in the present tense, e.g.

And when you are curious [Clean Language question]?

My aim here is to encourage the exemplar to experience the required state, to self-model their in-the-moment experience, and to describe that – inevitably using metaphor.

As you suggest, exemplar modelling is a great way to enhance our emotional and cognitive flexibility.

 * Notes

More on the distinction between exemplar and therapeutic modelling.

For a detailed description of an exemplar modelling project Penny and I undertook, see Modelling Robert Dilts Modelling. cleanlanguage.co.uk/articles/articles/266/.

Identifying a Metaphor from a State

Use when a client says something equivalent to “I feel […]” or “I am […]” or “I […]” where […] is the name for a feeling or a state, e.g.

I feelhot / excited / frustrated / good / light / awake / open / ready
I amconfident / angry / aware / loving / alive / skillful / kind / mean
Iknow / realize / notice / sense / understand / believe / hope / trust

The facilitator continues with the following three-step process (also known as the ‘State to a Metaphor’ vector:

1. Locate the feeling/state by asking a ‘where’ question three times, e.g.

• And when you feel […], where do you feel […]?
• And when you (are) […], where is that […]?
• And whereabouts [location of state]?
• And whereabouts [location of state]?

2. Develop the form (attributes) of the feeling/state using:

• And when [  ] is [location of state], …
… what kind of [  ] is that [  ]?
… is there anything else about that [  ]?
… does that [  ] have a size or a shape? **

3. If the client has not yet described a metaphor, invite them to identify to a metaphor by asking:

• And when [attributes of state] is [location of state], that’s [attributes of state] like what?


This format is based on David Grove’s ‘From a Feeling to a Metaphor’ process devised in the 1980s.

Once a metaphor has been identified, usually its form will be further developed, i.e. more of its attributes are identified using the ‘What kind of […]?’ and ‘Is there anything else about […]?’ questions.

** And does that […] have a size or a shape? is one of the more commonly used specialised questions.

Example of identifying a metaphor from a state

Client:At my best I feel confident.
Fac.And at your best and you feel confident. And when you feel confident, where do you feel confident?
Fac.And when confident, inside, whereabouts inside?
Client:In my stomach.
Fac.And when confident, inside, in your stomach, whereabouts in your stomach?
Client:In the centre [touches stomach]
Fac.And when confident, in the centre of your stomach, what kind of confident is that confident in the centre of your stomach?
Client:It’s important to me.
Fac.And it’s important to you. And when confident, in the centre, is important, is there anything else about thatconfident in the centre?
Client:It’s soft yet firm.
Fac.And when it’s soft yet firm does it have a size or a shape?
Client:Yes, it’s round.
Fac.And when confident is round, and soft yet firm, in the centre of your stomach … it’s round and soft yet firm … like … what?
Client:Like a rubber ball.
In just a few questions the client has progressed from a conceptual label, “confident” to an embodied knowing that’s “like a rubber ball” that’s “soft yet firm in the centre of my stomach.”
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