Untangle and grow

A blog by Alison Maxwell

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

The elephant and the rider

I've recently finished reading Jonathan Haidt's fascinating book the 'happiness hypothesis'. Don't let the title put you off - this is not pop self-help psychology but a well crafted and stimulating book about who we are and what makes us tick based on a mound of sound research.

Throughout the book Haidt uses an intriguing metaphor - the 'elephant and the rider' - making the case that we are not as rationally determined as we might like to think.  Haidt argues that most of our functioning is governed by our instinctual, habituated and largely unconscious self (the elephant). Our rational conscious self is just like the rider on a elephant - allegedly in control but ultimately not ... if our elephant wants to go a particular direction that is the way we go.

This has some interesting potential implications for change and personal development. If the elephant and the rider both want the same thing change is likely to be rapid and sustained. However if the two are at odds then change might be resisted or at best temporary. Think about all the times you (rider) have promised yourself (elephant) that you are going to get fitter/loose weight/cut back on red wine but failed to do so ... that is the rider/elephant in action.

Some interesting implications for coaching ... to be discussed!

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