The Elephant in the Room

Have you ever decided exactly what you want to do - you’re 100% set - and then you do something entirely different? It’s a strange (frustrating!) feeling, but a really common one.

I’ve just read Cindy Jenkins’s latest blog for YourLifeLab, where she shared a metaphor that really clicked for me. It was originally written by Jonathan Haidt in Happiness Hypothesis. I’ve included links to both, but first I’ll share my take on it, and then you can dig in deeper as you like.

Clarification: I’m not referring to what happens when you don’t do something you want to do because it’s really hard to do. Like when you want to have done something, but the doing it just isn’t happening. That’s different; that’s about getting clear on your why, not just your what.

The “not doing what I want” I’m talking about here is something else. It’s when you feel like you’re being hijacked from inside, like you’ve been taken over by some invisible force - one that leaves you frustrated and confused.

Here’s the visualization: Picture yourself on an elephant, reins in hand, decision made about where to go. That’s all it takes, right? Decide, give the commands, and off you go. And yes, that’s exactly what happens when the elephant wants what you want. Or at least when it’s willing and able to do what you want. But if it isn’t… if the elephant is too tired, hungry, in pain or scared… then you’re going the way the elephant wants no matter how you pull and yell and insist.

Now imagine that your thinking mind - what we mostly think of as our true self - is the rider. And the elephant is all the rest of you. Your feelings, your physical body - with needs and wants and history, very often unheard, but very much there, able to take over the controls.

So when you watch yourself do something different than what you decided to do, or you feel some unknown force pulling you another way, pause for a minute. Ask yourself - your whole self - what’s going on. How’s your elephant?

Then with kindness and curiosity, listen for the answer. Likely there’s a strong emotion or a physical need in control at those times, and for good reason.