Be the tree: Using nature as a guiding metaphor for change

On my daily walk, I love to stop and admire a particular tree. This one is majestic and speaks to my heart with its beauty. But not only that, my daily reflections by this tree remind me of some valuable life lessons.  For example:

To have a clear purpose

Trees have a purpose that couldn’t be more clear and direct, which is: To provide oxygen and habitat for other species on earth

Nothing else matters to the tree and it doesn’t get caught up in any other business. Having a clear purpose allows it to flourish with beauty and support other wildlife to flourish too.

To live in the present moment

The tree has no Ego, no thoughts, no labels, no judgements or criticism. It just does what it needs to do.

To not react, but respond

My tree reminds me to respond gracefully and not react. It has presenting problems of prevailing wind, rain, snow and extreme variations in sunshine, temperature, and drought. Trees instinctively know how to negotiate these functional problems without reacting with emotions.

Resilience and endurance

This tree is resilient, through all weather and seasons.  Wind, Rain, Snow and lightning, and lives in the grounds of our local centuries-old public school. It has overseen generations of school boys, some of whom have long since passed away. But this tree lives on.

It is grounded in its vast complex root system that mirrors the grandeur of the tree we see above ground.

Daily reflections by the tree

To get rid of dead wood 

My tree has no dead wood that could reduce air and light. It reminds me that checking for and discarding dead wood and strangulating ivy is important maintenance for living out our life’s purpose.

So on my daily walk I stop for a moment and try to ‘be like the tree’. Trees can be a great guide for making positive life changes. Here are some pointers below on how you can use trees as a guide for change.

How you can use trees as a guide for change

The tree’s rings 

Leaving a trail of life history that can be examined

Growth rings provide valuable information about a tree’s life history and environmental conditions during its growth. In coaching, with the client, we examine the annual rings of their life for clues about their life’s purpose.

In life coaching there is always a discovery phase, that is to say, self-discovery. Because in making positive changes for your future, we need to assess your past life events and how they impacted you positively as well as negatively, and to be thoroughly curious about the choices you made.

So, go through each annual ring, pinpointing the significant moments and write down how they affected you – positively or negatively. How did each event change the way you think and influence your choices? 

As a coach, showing clients where they have been, with the challenges they overcame, the moments in life when they came into their own, when they most felt alive, and the experiences that taught them valuable lessons, is a profound and important part of the process.

I grew up in an orphanage till the age of 6, and then in boarding schools till the age of 13. I scraped through to university, worked hard and raised a family, but then came a destructive divorce. These experiences have taught me things about myself which I didn’t realise until I went through my life’s events, ring by ring.

Through this discovery process, you can start to shape what you want your future to look like – and start defining something to aim for.

The tree’s bark

Your protection and support

The bark of a tree, although it provides protection and support, is not static. A tree’s bark must stretch to accommodate its growth. If the bark was too rigid, the tree wouldn’t be able to grow.

In the case of humans, our protection of our life story can often hold us back too with personality traits such as People Pleasing, Procrastination, Perfectionism, and Work Addiction. These are all protective mechanisms learned through making sense of our life story, and finding safe ways to negotiate our way through emotive life events.

Equally, a tree’s damaged bark will repair itself.  So where there is no protection at all,  the bark will grow back. Which brings us back to that resilience we were talking about earlier. 

The tree’s roots

The hidden psyche that drives your behaviour

The root system that’s hidden below ground is enormously complex and much like the human psyche. It’s a perfect metaphor for the hidden subconscious and unconscious mind, where our deep out of awareness protections are established and stored.

Entangled roots can harbour counterproductive ways of thinking, and especially those limiting beliefs that we absorbed as children growing up, e.g. I’m not good enough, I’m not worthy, I’m not loveable, I don’t belong, I can’t cope.

Many humans will grow up with faulty root pathways because of ill-nurturing through lack of good parenting. The good news is that by discovering and examining life below the earth, we can re-nurture our thoughts in a positive way to carve out a whole new healthy root system, and like the tree, reveal our core self in all its beauty.

Be like the tree

So, the next time you find yourself strolling through nature, take a moment to pause and appreciate a tree. Reflect on its remarkable resilience, the intricate network of its roots, and the texture of its bark. Consider how it gracefully grows, driven by a clear and unwavering purpose.

If you’re curious about discovering your own true purpose and interested in exploring how coaching can assist you on this journey, I invite you to schedule a complimentary consultation with me.

Stephen Ellerker
Verified Coach
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Stephen Ellerker is a Counsellor, Transactional Analyst and Life Coach helping people discover their purpose and to create a life of meaning and fulfilment. Book a free consultation here or email

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