Principal Consultant, Career OverDrive!
(This is part of the No Box Thinking™ Series)
Elephants are considered one of the strongest animals on earth and in places like Thailand it's not uncommon to see one elephant compete against forty or more men in a tug-o-war contest with the elephant easily winning!
Many elephants are also utilized in the forestry industry and it's an amazing sight to see an elephant easily and deftly pick up a massive log and effortlessly move it about like a mere toothpick.
Not once or twice, mind you, but all day long and in the scorching heat.
With such power and stamina an adult elephant could easily snap any ropes or chains used to subdue it. Yet why doesn't the adult elephant do this? And how can such a powerful animal be so easily controlled by an infinitely smaller human wielding only a stick or through the simple pressing of feet or heels into the elephant's neck or ears?
Well, it all comes down to the elephant's mental conditioning and the shaping of expectations it has received and that has been implanted into it. Many humans would call what the elephant mentally engages in to be a "self-fulfilling prophecy."
Since an adult elephant is so powerful and could easily break the biggest ropes or chains, trainers begin to condition the elephant at a very early age not only to not want to do this so but also to THINK that it is NOT able to do so. Effectively to not even consider breaking the chains or snapping the ropes as an option.
Why? Because once we deem something to be "impossible" to do, we no longer attempt it. Our own thinking and thought processes, therefore, become a set of mental chains.
As a baby, the elephant is often restrained with a substantial piece of rope or chain which is so strong that the baby has no chance of breaking it or escaping. As the baby pulls on the restraints it quickly realizes it cannot get free so it tries less and less frequently and less and less heartily to do so during each attempt.
As the elephant grows in size, the diameter of the restraints can be reduced since the elephant has now been conditioned to believe that trying to escape or break the restraints is futile.
Eventually the elephant no longer even attempts to break the restraints as it is now fully conditioned so that the presence of the restraint alone, rather than the tensile strength of that restraint, signals to the elephant that it is incapacitated and cannot move.
At some point, this restraint could be as thin as a piece of twine.
In other words, the trainer has created a set of unbreakable mental chains for the elephant that the elephant cannot overcome!
Humans, like elephants are also susceptible to these mental chains. Sometimes we create them ourselves. Other times they are given to us by friends, parents or relatives however well meaning they may be.
We are taught various myths and memes (the restraints) during our formative years and then these restraints are constantly waved in front of us to remind us of our inability to move freely through life.
This is done through the usage of rituals. These rituals can be mores or folkways, comments from friends or family, even imagery beamed into our homes by satellite tv, found on DVDs or in our daily newspaper.
What mental chains are holding you back?
Would you like to break them?
How will you break them?
Knowing that they exist in the first place is the major step forward.
(James originally posted this online on August 16th, 2004 but it is even more relevant today than it was 9 years ago. Several slight modifications from the original have been made)