An elephant and its rider are trying to get somewhere
1. The Rider has no clue where he wants to go – he and the elephant meander needlessly.
2. The rider knows his destination, but cannot decide which route to take – he and the elephant stay in the same place.
3. The Rider knows where he is headed and has a path to get there, but the elephant is stubborn and does not want to move.
4. The Rider knows how to get to the destination, the elephant is attuned to the rider, and they reach their goal.

What do the elephant and the rider have to do with us? This is a theory from the book The Happiness Hypothesis ( where the author, Jonathan Haidt states that we (humans) have two sides:
An emotional/automatic/irrational side (the elephant)
An analytical/controlled/rational side (its rider).
And in order for us to change we have to keep the two in balance.

It sounds effortless on paper – keep your elephant and rider in sync, and you are in utopia. Every day in our life it is all about maintaining that balance.

Let’s say you want to exercise. If you read tons of book on exercising and watch videos but don’t step outside of your home – how will you achieve your goal. And on the other hand, you are outside but have no idea how to exercise – that also does not do you any good.

How would you apply the elephant and rider theory correctly to exercising? Your rational mind the rider needs a clear goal – Exercise for 30 minutes, five days a week. It is a specific goal for the rider. For the emotional side, you have to appeal the emotions – you can keep an image of what you will look like when you exercise or maintain a visual target of weight that you want to get to or watch videos of people who have lost weight to get your elephant motivated. Once your rider knows where he is going, the elephant is excited for the ride – the next step is to shape the path – which is clear instructions on how you go about doing so. An example of developing the road could be – getting a Fitbit, load up a playlist on your iPod, and keep your running shoes/socks/clothes outside your closet. This way when you come home in the evening, you will have no choice but wear the running clothes and go running.

This theory is explained in the book Switch by Dan and Chip Heath

Shaping the path requires practice – you cannot clear a path in the jungle overnight – it will take time and patience – you will make a lot of progress some days and very little progress on other days – but if you keep at it – you will shape the path for the elephant and the rider. Similarly, it will take time for the elephant and the rider to sync as well – like any good team they will have go through their forming – storming – norming – performing cycle.

Taming the elephant takes time. I am hoping my latest book “Make Your Life Easy” can aid you in that process.

Leave a Reply