The Elephant and the Rider


        Last night I didn’t feel like training. I mean I really didn’t feel like it. The Leafs were playing. I was tired. My back was sore. It was cold in the garage. I didn’t have anyone to motivate me. But I still did it. This is not the way it usually happens. Most of the time if I don’t feel like training I give in to the comfort of the couch and the consoling voices of Paul Romanuk  and Greg Millen calling the hockey game. Most of the time I have the best of intentions and I end up watching youtube instead of reading. Most of the time I should be stretching and working on my mobility but I just don’t.

       To be honest it has been very frustrating and discouraging.

       For a long time I’ve felt as if the habits that I have cannot be broken, as if I am stuck in the state that I am in. Habits that have been engrained through my genes, my childhood and my actions over the past 26 years. Fortunately the more I read on the topics of habits and personal change the more I have realized that changing habits is possible, and is mostly determined by the environment that you put yourself in.

       I’m reading a book right now called “Switch” by Chip and Dan Heath. Within the first chapter I found something that I felt like I should share with you.

They write that:

       “Plato said that in our minds we have a rational charioteer who has to rein in an unruly horse ‘that barely yields to horsewhip and goad combined’…University of Virginia psychologist Jonathan Haidt says that our emotional side is an Elephant and our rational side is it’s Rider…the Rider holds the reigns and seems to be the leader. But the Rider’s control is precarious because the Rider is so small relative to the Elephant. Anytime the Elephant and the Rider disagree about which direction to go, the Rider is going to lose. He’s completely overmatched.”

       This is something that we all experience. Ever had a cheat week instead of a cheat meal? Ever skipped a workout? Ever gave up on a goal that you were really excited about? Ever procrastinated? Ever pressed snooze 4 times before getting up? I know that I have.

       This is a classic example of the Elephant being stronger than the Rider. We all have good intentions. We all want to be fit and healthy. But not everyone is. It is because as Dan and Chip say: “The Elephant [is] lazy and skittish, often looking for the quick payoff (ice cream cone) over the long-term payoff (being thin).”

       However the Elephant is not as bad as it seems. The Elephant is emotional, passionate and loving. The Elephant gets shit done. It stands up for itself and fights back when it is pushed around. We need the Elephant to make progress.

       The Rider is the planner. It looks at the long term and decides where it wants to end up. The Rider is rational and determined.

       However the Rider has weaknesses as well. The Rider “tends to overanalyze and over think things” Ever met someone who takes 30 minutes to decide on a flavour of ice cream at the grocery store? Yeah that’s when the Rider is taking complete control.

       The point of this is that if you want to make change in your life. Get stronger, get slimmer, get a degree, achieve a long held goal; you are going to have to appeal to both the Elephant and the Rider. The Elephant is going to give you the drive and passion. the Rider is going to analyze the map and make plans.

       I am going to provide one suggestion on how to do this.

       Make it hard for yourself to fail at your goals.

       Look at your daily habits and find out which one is making it easy for the elephant to take over.

       I was having trouble going to bed at a reasonable hour so I implemented a rule in which I am not allowed to bring my phone into my bedroom. I looked at my habits and realized that I was on my phone for almost an hour every night before bed, texting, going on Instagram, and watching youtube videos. This made it really hard to get to bed at night and dramatically affected how I felt the next day.

       However, once I removed the phone from my room I ended up getting bored and going to bed. Problem solved.

       When the temptation is removed the Elephant has nothing to act on and the Rider gets his way.

       For you this could be removing processed foods from your house, turning off the TV for good at 10:00, or setting your gym clothes out the night before. A challenge that you can take is to find a habit that you don’t like and change your environment to replace this habit with a new one. It can be big or small, but just try it and I guarantee that you will learn something about yourself.

       Remember to make it easy on your self or the Elephant is going to get his way every time.


2 thoughts on “The Elephant and the Rider

  1. Good post. Keen to hear your advice, in a separate post, on getting over a breakup and moving on, feel it may be tied into a lot of what you discussed in this one.

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