The elephant is a massive and incredibly strong beast. It grows to over ten feet tall, weighs over six tons, and can carry almost one ton on their backs. Talk about your immovable object and irresistible force all rolled into one! That said, the elephant likes routine and consistency, it does not like change.
On top of the elephant is the rider. The rider knows where he wants to go, where the elephant should go, and should be in charge. However, at 225 pounds and 6’2″ the rider really has little control over the elephant. All the rider can do is try to show the elephant the path to follow and coax it to go that way.
The elephant has the muscle and the force to make things happen, and the rider knows what the best thing to do is. If working in tandem they are unstoppable, but out of sync it’s a disaster.
Several years ago I first learned that analogy of the elephant and the rider from the wonderful Dan & Chip Heath book Switch. If you’d love an interesting read discussing how to change habits, be sure to check it out.
So why am I thankful for the elephant and the rider today? Knowing the schedule I had there was only one way to get my run in before work… Wake up at about 4:30am. When the alarm went off and Becky shot up out of bed as normal, I just laid there for a moment. The rider stood up, and then the elephant laid back down. The rider stood back up, took a couple of steps, and then the elephant crashed back into the bed. The rider then got up and told Becky that he was going to run, but then the elephant quickly staggered around, came up with excuses, and laid back down – taking LuLu back to bed to snuggle and keep it warm and help it go back to sleep.
In desperation the rider threw a Hail Mary and said, “if LuLu goes for a run, I’m going for a run.” The elephant grunted and knew that LuLu would stay in bed. Lo and behold, LuLu jumped out of bed like a flash. The elephant wanted to stick with its herd so it arose as well. The rider smiled knowing that it had just helped the elephant see the right path.
Becky, Skywalker, LuLu, and the elephant/rider went for their morning run and it felt WONDERFUL!!!
We all have the elephant AND the rider in us all the time. Sometimes we want to change the path, change the habit, and go the new direction the rider can see, but then elephant stays on the path that it knows, keeps its normal pace, and does its best to ignore the riders voice. While the elephant is powerful, the rider is smarter and can make incredible things happen if given the tools to beat the elephant. When I make changes I often think of this analogy and watch for all the ways the elephant is trying to go back to its old ways. Sometimes the rider wins, sometimes the elephant wins.
Today I’m thankful that the rider won.