Stuck? What You and Your Clients Can Learn From a Maze! | By Ben Dooley, MCC

Maze Metaphor - woman has ideaSome of my fondest childhood memories are from when I got into doing mazes. I couldn't get enough. My parents bought me maze books for my age, and I conquered them all quickly. Then they upgraded me to higher levels, mazes that defied conventional structure. They spanned several pages, played tricks on the eyes and the designers did all sorts of things to try to make the process of solving the mazes harder, near impossible.

The idea of a maze is pretty simple. You start in one spot and then try to figure out the path to the destination.

But along the way there are many wrong turns, deceptions and dead ends. And sometimes the error isn't discovered until much farther down the line. You've been working hard, constantly backing up, trying another direction and hitting a dead end. You back up and try a new direction and hit another dead end - and on it goes. Until you discover there was one choice you made at the very beginning that set you off on the wrong path in the first place. And you have to start all over again.

Sometimes the directions you take defy logic. You're heading down a path, you look ahead and see that you're moving farther away from your desired goal. In fact, it looks like you're heading back to the start or towards another dead end, when suddenly you take a turn and you're heading back in the right direction again.

And there are even times when you're working out the pathway and it looks like you're running out of room. You make your choices to avoid what looks a dead end, only to find… you guessed it, you chose the dead end anyway.

The designers of these mazes are clever. They create tantalizing distractions, opening up a three-way choice - designed to look like one way is the best choice. Invariably that choice leads to a dead end.

Yes, you can see there are many powerful metaphors in this exercise.

However, it was when I discovered an incredible secret that instantly had me solve all sorts of mazes - no matter how difficult and advanced. In fact, all the challenging and hard mazes suddenly became easy and effortless. (Of course, it was only years later that I realized that this was also the secret to solving all the metaphorical mazes we struggle through).

Try it if you like at this maze page. They're not hard. But notice how it feels when you reach a dead end and you have to back up and start a section all over. How is that similar to your life?

In fact, why don't we map this maze metaphor to the challenge of finding coaching clients? If you're anything like me, you've written plenty of emails, newsletters, websites, classes and workshops and held sample sessions that seem to lead to a dead end. You've backed up and tried many different directions - because to try the exact same direction again would simply lead you to the same dead end, right?

But what about those times when you thought you were heading in the wrong direction, only to find that something happens and you're suddenly moving closer. Perhaps a potential client calls you out of the blue, or they contact you from your website or a class they took long ago and are finally getting around to it. Maybe you were in a simple conversation with someone. You weren't trying to "sell" them on anything, you were just talking with them seemingly going away from your goal of getting a client, when suddenly, it takes a twist and turn and you've got a new client.

And how many times does it happen the other way around? When it looks without a doubt that you're heading right to your goal - a done deal. You're ready to get to the end of the maze and lock in your client, when suddenly the path takes a sharp turn and the client slips away.

Yep. If you're anything like me, getting coaching clients is sometimes like one giant maze.

Now, are you ready for the hint? The secret that I discovered as a 6th grader that had me easily doing mazes designed for Mensa adults?

The secret is really simple: It's much easier when you start from the end - and work backwards.

If you like, take the same maze but this time start at the end. Go backwards. You'll see that most of the dead-end traps are designed to catch you out when you're coming the other way - from the beginning. In fact, for the most part, the clear path to take seems to appear right before you.

Did you try it? Did it work?

I know, I know. You're probably saying, "Of course it's easier. Because I already did the maze and know the path that it takes." Well, you're right. That's true. In fact, that's a whole 'nother lesson - that when we've done something once it's much easier to do it again and again - and the traps are super easy to spot.

But to prove my approach, try a new maze and start from the end and see what happens. See if it feels easier.

So how does this translate to your coaching business and your clients?

Well, instead of trying to solve the problem where you are, identify clearly where you are stuck. Then take a moment and leap to the end. Really get there. See yourself at the completion of your goal. Enjoy this for a moment before leaving. What's it like here? How does it feel? What do you know at the end that you didn't know at the beginning?

So, when your client is stuck or struggling with a problem, have them leap over the place where they're stuck and go to the end. Once there, simply go backward through their "personal maze" and identify all the detours and directions ahead of time. Once they've got that perspective and information, they're able to make clearer and more empowering choices.

And what about you? Where are you getting stuck in your own maze?

Start by identifying exactly where you're stuck, then leap over that place and go to the end. Try imagining you have all the clients you need. Now work backwards - but just a little bit. Go back in time to just before you complete and achieve this success. What's that like? How do you know that you're on the verge of success? What are the final signs and steps that will lock it in for you? What is it that you need to know, or to say to yourself in your current situation? Where do you need to persevere? Where do you need to let go? Get really clear on this before you move on. HINT: just like your clients may need some help from you in exploring this, so, too, you might need a little assistance. What a great opportunity to reach out to your fellow coaches or to your own coach. I'm happy to help as well.

Now, whether it's your clients wanting to get unstuck or whether it's you wanting to attracting clients, create workshops or create your website - leap OVER the stuck place, and figure it out backwards. It's not just the old phrase "Begin with the end in mind." It's really "Begin at the end"!

Of course I realize that this explanation might have gone a whole lot smoother if I had just instructed you to begin at the end here and work yourself backwards to the beginning.

I'd love for you to comment below and share your thoughts and ideas!

If you liked this article about getting unstuck and using metaphor, then you may also like:

Contributing Author:

Ben Dooley, MCC. YOUR coaching confidence and success made easy and fun. "I BElieve that you are an amazing, powerful, and impacting coach! I want to help you connect to that coach and unleash your coaching power and confidence to create your coaching success!" Find out more about Ben—awesome mentor coach and so much more—at

Learn more about Ben & see all their articles here >>

Image of Client having an idea how to get out the maze by Odua Images via Shutterstock


  1. Lea

    I really, really like your articles and just want to say thank you for sharing so many insisights and lessons learned. You are a true inspiration.

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    • mturcott

      Hi Somyata,

      Thank you for your kind words! So glad you're finding our website to be helpful!

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  3. Chris Chiesa

    I disagree. I think it's psychological and that people are fooling themselves into thinking mazes are easier when run backwards. It would certainly be POSSIBLE TO DESIGN a maze so that "most of the dead-end options occur near the start," but no decent maze designer would do that: it would make it TOO EASY TO CHEAT. A properly designed maze has just as many dead ends in either direction, so that neither direction is easier to solve than the other. And since the principles of maze design have been well-known for millennia, it strikes me that only somebody deliberately trying to make a maze easier to cheat on, would ever design one with more dead ends at the start than near the end. Reasons one might do this include to make the customer feel smarter (flattering your customer is a long-established tradition even in the fine arts; see any medieval or Renaissance painting of the artist's patron seated with Christ at the Wedding at Cana or whatever).


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