Time Management

How are you riding your elephant?

May 5, 2010

IStock_000005627222XSmal-1l When my clients talk to me about changing their way of work, they often tell me how frustrating the process is. They do fine for a while, then fall back to their old habits. Truth is – the cycle of changing and then falling back to our old behavior – and then changing again- is how we change. In fact, most people who quit smoking report three or four serious attempts before they actually succeed. So don’t get discouraged! If you keep working at it you will make the changes you want to in your practice and your life.

In their book, Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard, authors Chip & Dan Heath offer a wonderful analogy that explains what is happening in our brains whenever we try to change. The analogy of the elephant and the rider was created by Jonathan Haidt in his book The Happiness Hypothesis. Here’s what it says. Conventional wisdom in psychology tells us our brains have two independent systems at work at all times: the emotional side and the rational side. You can think of these two sides as the elephant and the rider. The elephant is the emotional side of our brain; the rider is the rational side. The rider sits atop the elephant, holds the reins, and seems to be in control. But the rider’s control is small compared to the elephant. And if there is a disagreement about where the two are headed, the elephant will win every time.

So if you want to make a lasting change, you have to appeal to both the elephant and the rider. But how? According to the brothers Heath you can do three things:

1. Direct the Rider

What might look like resistance may be lack of clarity. Provide clear direction.

2. Motivate the Elephant

What looks like laziness might be exhaustion. Self-discipline only goes so far. You’ve got to engage emotions if you want cooperative elephants.

3. Shape the Path

The Heath brothers refer to the surrounding situation, including the environment, as the “Path.” “When you shape the Path, you make change more likely, no matter what’s happening with the Rider and the Elephant.”

Switch is all about how to apply this three-part framework to create lasting change. If you’re ready to change or if you want to support your team as you make changes in your practice, check out Switch.

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