How to Put 10lbs in a 5lb Bag

When I first started to work, I had a manager who often said that we were trying to put 10 lbs of work into a 5 lb bag. By this he meant that we had too much work for the allotted time and staff. He said it so often that I must have absorbed it, because I catch myself saying it to this day.

Metaphors of Capability
I'd like you to consider that we all have metaphors about what we can and can't do. These metaphors constrain our thinking and inhibit our achievements. Billionaires do not have more time than the rest of us, but maybe they just think bigger.

Here's another metaphor that I catch myself saying: "I have too much on my plate." This means that I can't eat everything that someone has put on my metaphoric plate. When I think about this in my mind's eye, I see a standard size plate mounded with food (i.e., work). Some of it tasty, but some of it yucky.

Get the idea? I'd bet that if you think about it, you'll discover that you have some metaphors of what you can and can't do--metaphors of capability.

The Magic of Thinking Big
Sadly, these metaphors are so unconscious and guide so much of our behavior that we don't even know that they are totally made up and that we can change them.

When I was first learning NLP, Charles Faulkner gave us a magical weekend learning about metaphors. I worked with one partner and told him that I wanted a "stream of income." Isn't that what all the financial gurus tell us: get an income stream? When I pictured the "stream of income" in my head it was perhaps five to ten feet across, bubbling and bouncing over rocks.

My partner for the exercise looked at me quizzically and said: "Why not a river of income?"

Wow! The picture in my head went from a babbling stream to a roaring river filled with big trout, but even that was only a Rocky Mountain river. It still wasn't as big as the Colorado River cutting the Grand Canyon or the mighty Mississippi. It wasn't the Nile or the Amazon. Maybe there's a reason Jeff Bezos named his online bookstore

A few years ago, I spent a some time on a tributary of the Amazon. It was massive. The river was full of fish that weigh 100s of pounds more than the biggest trout I could pull out of a local stream.

Clearly in my mind, water = money. When I thought about the company I worked for at the time, it was like a spigot on a house...the water was enough to live on, but it also seemed like anyone could shut it off. A few years later I left to start my own company.

Expanding Your Metaphors
The hardest part about your metaphors of life, money and capability is discovering them. I can only tell you to listen to the phrases you use to describe your existence: "streams of income", "a full plate", "an overflowing bag."

Then allow yourself to pull up your mental picture of the metaphor. For me, the plate was a normal dinner plate. If you've ever been to a buffet, you know how easy it is to fill up a dinner plate. The 5lb bag was a 5lb canvas bag with some advertising on it. Why 5lbs? I can pick up a 5lb sack of potatoes easily with one hand. Why am I constraining myself to an image that small?

Once you have the mental image that goes with your metaphor, think about how you could expand it.

I asked myself: what's the biggest plate I've ever seen? The image that came to mind was a satellite dish in one of the James Bond movies. It was several football fields in size. When I imagine my mental "plate" expanding bigger and bigger until it's the size of a satellite dish, all of a sudden I feel that there's more than enough room and more than enough time for everything that gets put on my plate. I can just walk around and eat a spoonful of this and a spoonful of that.

And what about the 5lb bag? I could make it bigger, but a 100 lb bag is hard to handle or carry for any distance. What if it was a magical, Harry Potter bag? What if no matter what you put in it, it was always empty and light weight? What if you could put an elephant, a killer whale and every book ever written in there and it would still fold flat and fit in your pocket?

When I try my new bag in my mind's eye, it looks the same, but it's more fun. I can put things in and still get them out. Nothing is that big any more.

Here's My Point
Like it or not, metaphors guide much of our behavior. They can enrich our lives or constrain our ability to get things done in the world.

What are your metaphors of capability? What are the metaphors of capability in your business? How are they supporting you and how are they constraining you?

Haven't you waited long enough to expand your bag, plate or income stream?

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