No seriously. Go ahead and check.
He might be distracted right now, telling you to feed him.
Or he might be thirsty for knowledge, and that’s why you’re reading this article right now.
Or he might be procrastinating on what you’re really supposed to be doing instead of hunting down blog posts from your favorite person ever. 😉
Either way, for the most part, your elephant is in control.
I’m stealing this metaphor from the book “Switch” (which you should read, by the way). The idea is simple: your emotions are an elephant – strong, loud, and powerful. Your feeble mind is the tiny Rider atop the beast, doing his best to direct these emotions.
Most of the time, the Rider loses.
That’s the reason you haven’t started that novel yet. That’s the reason you haven’t painted your masterpiece. That’s the reason you just can’t seem to get anything done at work.
Usually, your Rider can only do so much before the Elephant gets hungry or bored or wants to do something else.
Too many times people just “try harder.” They try harder to build a business. They try harder to write that hit song. But at the end of the day, they just can’t (or won’t) get their emotions on board.
I should know. I’ve been there – going round in circles but never getting anything done. But now I’ve made friends with my Elephant. I can’t make him write all the time, but there are a few tricks I play to get him cooperating:
1. Get up before the Elephant
This has been a huge trick for me. No, I don’t think everyone needs to get up early to have success, but for me, it works. I roll out of bed and start writing before the Elephant has a chance to say “Wait, we’re not a real writer! We’re just average joes. Let’s get eggs!”
By the time he does get around to pointing that out, I’m usually 750 words deep, using the momentum to roll on.
“But Todd, my Elephant hates mornings. There’s no way I could get up early and do work!”
That’s cool. Just get up early and read. Get up early and take a walk. Feed the Elephant with things he likes.
Do you know what I did to get myself in the habit of rolling out of bed? Played video games. No kidding. Once the habit took hold (and I finally beat Assassin’s Creed), I moved on to more career-related things I wanted to do.
2. Promise the Elephant a Reward for Performing
This is the oldest trick in the book – the old “Johnny, if you be good in the store, mommy will by you a treat” trick.
In the late 1960s through 1970s, Stanford university performed an experiment. They placed several children in a room with a marshmallow and told them they could either have the marshmallow at that moment, or they could wait and have two marshmallows at the end.
They found that those who were able to resist the reward right in front of them showed “better life outcomes” down the road (better SAT scores, BMI, etc.)
Delaying gratification is a critical part of the creative lifestyle. The Elephant wants to do fun things right in front of him, but if you convince him there are better rewards down the road, he’ll play nicely.
At least for a while.
P.s. – read this for a pep talk in delayed gratification.
3. Set a Timer
Again, a trick I use whenever I’m feeling particularly unmotivated. The trick is to start small. If you set a timer for, say, 10 minutes, the Elephant will think “well, fine, I can walk in a circle for 10 minutes.”
Next thing you know it, he’s done 6 laps around the track and you’re still going.
Do not underestimate the power of inertia – an object in motion tends to stay in motion.
Staying is easy. Starting is hard.
Remember, the key to creating more is not trying harder. It’s getting on the same page as your elephant. It’s truly wanting to do the work in the first place.
These tricks might not work. But if they don’t, I’d ask yourself if what you’re wanting to do is the thing you should be doing.
Because a Rider can only go as far as his Elephant wants him to.