Have you ever acted against your better judgment? Ummmm, of course, you have. We all have. Sometimes we do things that we later regret. And this keeps us from achieving that healthier, energetic body that we want in our second half of life.
- We hit snooze rather than waking up early to exercise before starting our day.
- We blow off our healthy eating plan to indulge in a hamburger and fries (or dessert).
- We start an exercise program only to drop out two weeks into it.
These regrettable actions prevent us from achieving our goals and keep us stuck.
Most of us are all too familiar with this frustrating paradox. It’s almost as if there are two sides inside of us, raging war on each other — our practical side versus our emotional side. What we want versus what we do.
A psychologist named Jonathan Haidt came up with a mental model that explains why we do things that we wish we hadn’t – and how to take control to do the actions necessary to get what we want, finally.
“The image I came up with for myself, as I marveled at my weakness [of willpower], was that I was a rider on the back of an elephant. I’m holding the reins in my hands, and by pulling one way or the other I can tell the elephant to turn, to stop, or to go. I can direct things, but only when the elephant doesn’t have desires of his own. When the elephant really wants to do something, I’m no match for him,” explained Haidt in his book, The Happiness Hypothesis.
Human decision making is like a tiny rider on a massive elephant. The rider may think he’s in charge, but the elephant’s strong-will will always win. The Elephant, The Rider, and The Path are an excellent framework for understanding yourself and what drives you. All personal change depends on it.
Here’s Haidt’s mental model for creating lasting change in greater detail.
The Rider: is our rational and analytical side. The Rider is a visionary that can think long-term, to plan, and that is willing to make short-term sacrifices for long-term payoffs. The Rider loves to contemplate and analyze, has limited reserves of strength, suffers from paralysis by analysis, and relentlessly focuses on problems rather than solutions. Most crucially, the Rider is so small compared to the six-ton Elephant that anytime they disagree about which direction to go; the Rider will lose.
The Elephant: is made up of our emotions and instincts. The Elephant prefers the comfort and security of a well-trodden path, even if a new way leads to a better outcome – this is why it’s so difficult to change our habits. The Elephant has enormous strengths: love and compassion and sympathy and loyalty. The Elephant is the one who gets things done.
The Path: is our surrounding environment, the context in which the Rider and the Elephant operate. A rocky Path makes change hard, if not impossible, even when the Rider and the Elephant work together.
There are three steps to lasting change:
- Direct the Rider
- Motivate the Elephant
- Shape the Path
1) Direct the Rider:
Change begins with a plan, and it’s the Rider who comes up with plans. Direct your Rider to analyze what’s right, on what works. When you’ve lost weight and made progress towards your fitness goals in the past what worked for you? Focus on these bright spots rather than on potential problems related to your desired change. Once you’ve come up with a plan, move on. It’s essential to move quickly to avoid getting bogged down with paralysis by analysis.
2) Motivate the Elephant:
For the plans of your Rider to succeed, your Elephant must feel emotionally invested in the outcome. Find an emotional connection that you feel deep down concerning the goal. Don’t just think about why you want to achieve your goal – feel why you need to make your goal.
3) Shape the Path:
Make change easy. Reduce obstacles in your life, so that the new desired behavior is frictionless. Move the barriers between you and the actions that you want to take. Lay out your workout clothes the night before. Spend time in the morning to prep all of your healthy daily meals. Get a Certified Functional Aging Specialist to hold you accountable for showing up to your 30-minute workouts.
The key to effective change is getting the Elephant and the Rider moving together on a smooth path to success. Do this, and you’ll stop doing things that you later regret.
If getting into the best shape of your life is a current goal that you wish you could achieve then call or email us today. I’m here to help you direct your Rider, motivate your Elephant and shape your Path…and we won’t rest until your goal has become a reality!
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WHY would you want a Certified Functional Aging Specialist? Watch this Community Presentation on Functional Longevity to learn more https://youtu.be/Alnz1SaXv5M