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Are you the elephant or the mahout?

Striving for anything worthwhile takes a lot of effort.

It can be hard, and even unpleasant, work at times.

Inevitably on the journey towards any goal

There are going to be moments when you just want to STOP.

Never is this more apparent to me than when I am training for an endurance event.

I can tell you, no matter how fit you are, or how much you train

It is never that fun to go on a three or four hour training run.

No “body” wants to run 50+ kilometres.

We humans evolved to conserve energy, not expend it.

So when the going gets tough, as it always does

I find that a mantra really helps to get over those humps.

One of my favourites is …..

Are you the elephant? OR 

Are you the mahout? (the guy who rides the elephant)

Let me explain.

In our brains we have two processing systems:

  • automatic processes, and
  • controlled process

For example – imagine you need to get to an appointment.

You need to use your controlled processes to figure out how long it will take you to get there, when you need to leave, and how you will get there.

But once you jump in the car – nearly everything you do will be automatic: steering, keeping enough space between you and the car in front, daydreaming, shifting in your seat, breathing! : it’s all done on autopilot.

Automatic processes make up the vast majority of our actions.

They have been developing for around 600 million years.

They are, of course, essential. Keeping us breathing, moving and helping us to navigate the world we live in.

But they are reactionary, mostly unconscious, and don’t always best serve our needs.

On the other hand our controlled processes, made through conscious decisions, have only been developing in the region of 40,000 – 3 million years, since the advent of language.

So although they are not as fine tuned or ingrained as automatic processes, these controlled processes can definitely help us to make better choices. 

So back to my analogy…

The automatic, instinctual processes are the elephant.

They are what cause my body to scream at me to stop running.

They are the reason you reach for that extra piece of pie or glass of wine when you “know” you don’t want it.

They are what lead you to seek pleasure, avoid pain and conserve energy and let your goals go when they get hard.

And the controlled processes, the conscious decisions, are the rider, the mahout.

The mahout, though small has a unique perspective and the ability to reason rather than react.

To think beyond the immediate short term.

A skilled and confident mahout, has the awareness to know how to control that huge elephant.

The mahout can take charge.

So next time you find yourself doing something you know you really don’t want to be doing, 

Or are thinking about giving up.

Ask yourself – who are you?

The elephant or the mahout?

Are you reactionary instincts or are you in charge of this ride?


If you know that it is time to make some changes in your life – let’s have a chat. Having a coach like me in your corner can change EVERYTHING. All you need to do to book in a consult is to click the button. That’s it – first step towards the life you want, done.  


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