YOUR MIND: THE ELEPHANT AND THE RIDER
It is a psychological law that whatever we wish to accomplish
we must impress on the subjective or subconscious mind.— Dr.Orison Swett Marden (1850-1924), physician, writer
I was first introduced to subconscious mind in early 1970 while attending a massive convention, featuring motivational speakers and platform notables like the great W. Clement Stone, Zig Zigler, Dr. Norman Vincent Peale and a host of other preachers of positive thinking. I was totally entranced because, on a very deep level, the whole idea of positive thinking, affirmations and programming the subconscious made sense to me. Having become a student of clinical hypnosis, psychology and neurology, these speakers fueled my curiosity.
Over the years, I’ve created and presented a number of workshops and talks on the power of the mind. There is and upside and downside to these. The upside is that these programs have been very successful. The attendees actively and diligently applied the tools they learned to “program” their subconscious and change their thinking in order to achieve their goals.
The downside is that, in the past, these presentations have appealed to a certain fridge sector of the population and have basically been ignored by the medical and business community. Although I think that almost everyone knows in their heart that these teachings on mind power hold great truth, the majority has been turned off by the positioning of the material in the realm of the occult or baseless ‘happy thinking’.
This skepticism is diminishing rapidly. The power of our thoughts and the effect they have on us mentally, physically, spiritually, emotionally and socially can no longer be ignored. The development of new technology that can uncover the mysteries of the mind has given rise to Neuroscience – the study of the nervous system and brain. The understanding of human thought, emotion, and behavior has grown by quantum leaps and spawned best-selling books such as Train Your Mind, Change Your Brain by Sharon Begley and Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard by Chip and Dan Heath. We now know why and how our thoughts influence our behavior, which, in turn, influence our choices, and create what we experience as reality. But what is the practical application of this knowledge and how can the majority of individuals benefit from these findings? How can these findings be communicated to average individuals so they both understand the concepts and are motivated to apply them to their lives? What is the “conscious” mind and “subconscious” mind?
The answers to these questions are the foundation of the book I’ve been working on for the past eight years – The Elephant and the Rider: Living an Exceptional Life. I will tell you how the title came to be and what it means. Let’s begin on the outskirts of Mumbai in 1973.
On one of my early adventures, I decided to ride an elephant. As is typical of me, I managed to sneak off to explore on my own, separate from the tour organized by the cruise ship on which I was traveling. I ventured onto a side road and discovered three massive elephants and their keepers. Curious, I walked over and within moments was invited, through gestures only, to climb on top of the elephant. Young and foolish, I did not hesitate. The keeper indicated that I should pick up what looked like a set of reins. Holding one in each hand, I had the illusion that I would be able to control this massive beast as I would a horse.
Leading the way, the guide went forward and down a frighteningly steep incline. Panic setting in, I pulled the reins to the right and then the left in a futile attempt to change the seemingly self-destructive path on which the elephant seemed determined to go. All my panic, energy and strength had absolutely no effect whatsoever on this prickly pachyderm. He was going to go where he wanted to go – the path on which had become familiar to him.
If this little story of the smallness of me, struggling to control the hugeness of the elephant, paints a clear picture in your mind – then it will not be a large leap for you to apply this as a metaphor for the subconscious and conscious. Yes, the Elephant is the subconscious and the Rider is the conscious. Once you understand their differences, you are a step closer to mastering your thinking. In a nutshell, here’s how they work.
The subconscious elephant is basically a reflection of your primitive self or what’s often referred to as your “reptilian” brain combined with the “mammalian brain.” These two parts can be looked at as your “housekeeping” brain that controls systems such as breathing, body elimination and blood flow. It is also designed to protect you with what is commonly referred to as our “fight or flight” mechanism. The mammalian brain contains the sections that give us memory and hormone control.
The conscious mind is the reflection of the third part of the brain. It is due to your ‘cortex’ that you have consciousness, that you can plan and imagine multiple futures. It is the conscious mind that gives you the power to visualize, and visualization is the most important and dynamic tool you have to influence your subconscious.
I have listed below what I feel are the four most important characteristics (although not the only attributes) of each, the elephant and the rider.
Before you read them, here is one absolute and irrefutable fact about the elephant and the rider: The rider does not and cannot control the elephant. The rider can, however, INFLUENCE the elephant.
The Subconscious Elephant…
…does not “think,” “contemplate” or “reflect” in the traditional sense, but thinks in absolutes such as “right or wrong,” “good or bad,” “left or right” or “fight or flight.”
…is fearful, skittish and programmed with the basic default setting of the “survival self.” Therefore, it is risk-adverse and its default path is the familiar, the status quo.
…is the core of the “emotional self” and therefore reacts strongly to emotions and feelings, especially fear and love.
…cannot tell the difference between a real or an experience imagined by the rider.
The Conscious Rider…
…is the creative, visionary, master storyteller who can imagine alternative paths of choice and is proficient at crafting mental movies of many possible futures.
…is at the whim of the elephant. The rider has limited reserves of energy and can wear out trying to control the elephant with “will-power.”
…is our “self-talk,” “mind-chatter” or “inner voice” and is a master of rationalization of why something wasn’t done or can’t be done.
…has the unique ability to use the tool of “imagination” to influence the Elephant.
Understanding how your mind works and using the Rider to influence the Elephant allow you to set, plan, visualize and successfully achieve your goals. Live your exceptional life today by following these six tips:
1. Write down one realistic, doable goal today that will help you live an exceptional life. 2. Imagine that goal in your mind’s eye “as if” you were already successful.
3. Make your visualization – vivid, real, and colorful.
4. Feel a strong, positive emotion – such as excitement, fulfillment or joyfulness as you visualize your goal as though already achieved.
5. Repeat this exercise of the imagination at least twice a day – when you get up and before you retire at night.
6. Take one small, positive action step every day towards achieving your goal.
One of my great heroes, Dr. Norman Vicent Peale, summed it up best when he wrote: Formulate and stamp indelibly on your mind a mental picture of yourself as succeeding. Hold this picture tenaciously and never permit it to fade. Your mind will seek to develop this picture!
James Mapes is the founder of Quantum Leap Thinking™, creator of The Transformational Coach™, expert on the psychology of “applied imagination,” best-selling author, highly acclaimed business speaker, consultant, seminar leader and personal excellence coach.