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6 – Challenge The Rider and The Elephant

by Jill

“The human brain is a wonderful organ; it starts to work as soon as you’re born and doesn’t stop until you deliver a speech” – George Jessel.

Psychologist Jonathan Haidt wrote a book called The Happiness Hypothesis. He says that there’s two independent brains, “The two brains are like an elephant and its rider, The Rider can steer and pull The Elephant in a particular direction, but ultimately, The Elephant is going to go where it wants to go.”


There’s another book that takes that theory and really tries to bring it to our personal habits. It’s called Switch – How to Change Things When Change is Hard by Chip and Dan Heath. The book is from 2010. The book talks about The Elephant and The Rider, and how to bring them together for our own good. We’ll go through each of the different steps, they talk about taking each of the different personalities.

The Elephant

First, The Elephant, The Elephant is powerful, stubborn, and emotional. It gets scared. Think about that fairy tale about the mouse and The Elephant, it panics, and it runs away. It also really hates negative emotion, like fear, and it desires positivity, you can use urgency to make The Elephant move, but eventually it will tire of it and just leave. The Elephant really needs to be motivated or have the removal of negative motivation. It hates to fail. It also finds hope, as fuel. It has to know that it can do it.

Here are three suggestions for helping The Elephant work. First, find the feeling. It really wants to be successful. Whenever you think about leaders or speakers who are very positive and very meaningful to you, it’s because they’re bringing that emotion out of you. They’re inspiring you and it’s talking to The Elephant directly. Emotions motivate The Elephant. The second step is shrink the change. We think that big challenges are motivating. We like to accomplish big things. But in truth, we need the steps to be smaller. that will help The Elephant realize they can win. By starting out with those small steps and encouraging The Elephant to make it look easier. The Elephant will work in our way. The Heath brothers talked about milestones; they said their dad used a phrase instead called “inch pebbles”. Small steps! The next item is to grow your people. Get people excited about this change. Which means we’re not going to be down on ourselves when we fail.  We’re going to be positive. And we’re going to understand that ‘failure is necessary’ and that ‘you’re just starting out, of course, things were going to go wrong’. But in the movies, that’s when the hero comes back and wins the day.’ Try to encourage ourselves into having that positive outlook.

The Rider

Photo Of Person Riding An Elephant

Next comes to The Rider. The Rider is rational and loves to plan. And it tries to determine what the best path is. It looks for ways to move The Elephant, but it can’t really make The Elephant go where The Elephant doesn’t want to go. Then The Rider gets overwhelmed, stuck in planning and constantly looking for different ways and different paths and different methods to do it. It’s not very effective when you’re talking to an emotional being like we are. We would never train a dog by trying to appeal to the rational side. We always look for the excitement and the reward. We have to give The Rider some help in finding the right direction. Otherwise, they may spin, or they might go in the wrong direction. They talked about how there’s this positive/negative asymmetry. If we were to talk to a friend for a while, and they were giving you a critique about something. And they said some positive things and they said some negative things. We would only remember the negative things. If we get stuck with a problem, The Rider can get burned out and exhausted because The Elephant’s not doing what they want. And so that negativity really hurts The Rider and The Elephant,

To help The Rider they suggest first direct the rider and they call that by finding the bright spots. You’re driving on a road and you’re wondering if you’re going the right way. And you see the city lights off into the distance. Lights are always guides to where we want to go. I try to do it in such a way of thinking of what would a professional do or what would someone who I think is a great version of what I’m trying to do. What would they do? This person they lost a lot of weight or this person used to be out of shape, and they got into shape. And then I would try to figure out what they did and look for their bright spots. Then the next step they said to take is script the critical moves which just means that you want to make this familiar. You want to make this clearer. We always think that we love choice. And we like a lot of choices. We love to go to a grocery store and see 47 different kinds of jams. But what they found in psychology is it actually hurts our choice making, because we get overwhelmed with too many jams. And it actually doesn’t make us happier. This is where something called “Choice Architecture” comes in.  It really helps us define things down. So, if you’re that person who decides that you’re going to go to the gym. Then you stand there, in front of several hundred pieces of equipment. You might not really exercise, or you might not exercise as long as you could, because you’re just walking around trying to decide what to do. By giving yourself Choice Architecture, you will say, ‘well, it’s a day’s cardio day, either you’re going to get on the bike, or you’re going to get on the treadmill. Those are your two choices.’ That will help you to really motivate to do the right thing. We actually do better when we limit choices, instead of giving ourselves every choice. The last step is to point to the destination. And this is really my favorite step. They talk about “destination postcards”. If you were from the future, and you are going to send yourself a postcard about what it looks like when you’re on the other side of this project. What would that look like? Would you be standing there on top of a mountain in the Netherlands? Or would you be on the banks of Paris because you saved money for your vacation? How would you look when you achieved your goals? This is a lot of fun to try to think of ways to help you imagine what your future self looks like. They talk about the future self versus the present self. And we are always more concerned about our present self. We make choices for ourselves that are about today. And those choices don’t tend to be very good. We can look at the future self. And actually, bring it into today with these future postcards or these destination postcards, it’s really going to help us get there. Give us a way of seeing the vision for it. And what they said was “Don’t obsess about the middle. Because the middle is going to look different once you get there. Just look for a strong beginning and a strong ending. And that’s what you should focus on.”

Person Walking On Pathway Near Trees

The Path

Then the last item that’s here is The Path. And The Path represents what we want to change. But what we have to do is we need to make The Path work in our favor. The first step is to tweak the environment. That means we make The Path easier; we make The Path looks smoother. Maybe we make it easier for us to do the right thing by setting out our gym clothes. But they said is to make the right behavior a little easier, and the wrong behavior a little harder. And then they said, “When it comes to changing behavior, environmental tweaks beat self-control, every time”. Make it smooth. Make it downhill. Try to make your path as easy as possible. The next step is build habits. Habits are the cruise control of our lives. Once something is a habit, it becomes easier for us and we don’t have to focus on it. It really helps us to do things without burning ourselves out or burning out The Elephant. I’ve always been that kind of person who thought habits are boring. But in fact, what it does is it helps us take the things that don’t require a lot of mental energy and makes it entirely easier. Then we can take our focus on what’s important. And those fights that we have with our goals and habits will have more energy, because we got there through the power of habits. Think about cruise control in a car. Maybe that’s boring, but that’s also easier. It helps us go at a constant pace. The last step is “Rally the herd”. Behavior is contagious. When we see people doing something, we’re more likely to do it. How can we go ahead and try to change our behaviors? They talk a little bit about organizational change and trying to get people to join in on that. And in software as a trainer, I look for people that have a gleam in their eye, and maybe a little smile on their face. I go introduce myself to them, and I bring them on as my champions. They’re the ones that are going to help me sell this new behavior and this new activity to other people, because they’re excited about it, and their excitement will be contagious. It’s also true that if you have dissenters, they will also cause contagions inside your new system. Their quote is, “When change comes into conflict with culture, a new rule is no match for the culture.” Even if you order people to do something, they won’t do it if the culture goes against it. What you want to do for yourself, when you’re talking about your own habits, is trying to get people on board. Maybe it could be people in your house. Maybe they have different reasons for doing the things you want to do. I see people go for a walk with their kids outside, but I’m sure their kids probably didn’t really want to go for a walk. But maybe they did actually want to talk to their parents. Or maybe they just wanted to play Pokémon. But somehow, the parent who’s trying to get exercise is now walking with their kid and it’s encouraging the behavior. You can try to get people inside of your family to help you support your habit. Sometimes it works, sometimes it just doesn’t work. And then you have to find a different group of people to help support you. Maybe it’s a Facebook Group. Or maybe it’s a group of people in your reading club, who’s going to encourage you to get your books read. But whatever it is trying to bring people in because that behavior is contagious. Find the champions who will help you do what you want to do. You can’t find anybody, you can look online and try to find a group or become your own cheerleader and start talking to yourself, in a good way.

They also mentioned that “Change often fails because The Rider can’t keep The Elephant on the road long enough to reach the destination. changing behavior requires careful supervision by The Rider. And what looks like laziness is often exhaustion.” “And what looks like resistance is often a lack of clarity.” In these battles that we have with The Elephant, The Rider and The Path, try to make it clear to avoid resistance, and try to make it easy and have a nice path and try to avoid exhaustion.

Jill’s Take

Macro Shot of Pictures

I really liked this book, it taught me that I’m way too focused on The Rider. I really have to start speaking to my inner elephant, I tend to be a real Rider-focused person, I come up with plans. I spin forever with all these different scenarios and pathways left and right. I can just spin in the plan making mode. Not only that, I probably talked to my inner elephant by nerding out, The Elephant doesn’t care. The Elephant wants to see hope and vision and excitement. That’s where I really go wrong and that’s where this book really helped me to understand that I have to sell a different part of my brain, not just the intellectual side of things.

Some ways that I’ve worked on and trying to get my goals to work is I love the destination postcards. I do a lot of things in my house and at work to try to encourage me to meet these goals. I have bulletin boards filled with goals. I also have photo boards that are filled with me actually doing those goals. I have this picture with a coworker when we went to Hawaii and did the hike at Diamond Head. And when you stand at the bottom of Diamond Head, it is intimidating! But you know what? I was in shape enough that I could go up this mountain. It was just such a huge achievement to get up to the very top and get rewarded by seeing whales swimming in the ocean on the other side. That picture always motivates me. It’s on picture frames that I have inside my house. I also have digital picture frames. And at work. It just cycles through all these goals and places I want to go and places that I’ve been that really excite me so I can motivate to keep away from the snack room and remember to exercise. I also add inspirational quotes from books and podcasts. That’s why I create quote images on Instagram and Pinterest, for you so that you can also use them to inspire yourself. Then I also like to put these pictures on my phone so I can frequently look at them. I want to show myself the vision I have. I want to show the reward of all my hard work. I know friends of mine also like to bullet journal so they can see in this book, all the things that they want. The next thing I do is I love to think about my future self and who I will be and sometimes I even asked myself if you are an adventure who is going to go and climb the mountains of Norway. What’s the next best action I can do, or what’s the next best choice I can make? I also work really hard when something goes wrong, or I didn’t do a thing I needed to. And again, telling ourselves that we knew that this was going to be hard, reminding ourselves that we understood that, but we knew it was going to happen, and really giving ourselves self-talk to help that elephant not be so afraid of failure, ‘Hey, this is just how it goes’. ‘It’s okay, we got this.’ I used to be a part of a bowling team. And on the bowling team, I had a teammate on there, who at crucial times in the match would say, “You’ve got this!”. And I always think of that, whenever I come up with a tough time to just say that in my brain, “you got this!”


1. Make sure you entice The Elephant by making small changes, giving it those feelings that it wants to have a positivity and get some peanuts!

2. Help The Rider know which direction they should go. Put up some bright lights, so they know where the destination is located. help them plan, script the moves, reduce the number of choices that The Rider has to make, and help them by making the right choices at the right point by giving them guidance, then point to the destination. create these images of their future self so that they know what the destination looks like.

3. Shape The path – tweak the environment, make The Path as smooth and easy to travel on as you possibly can. And build habits so that we have a little bit of cruise control

4.  Build a community of contagious behavior to carry you through.


Find things in your house that you can create that would help The Elephant be enticed The Rider have a path and a way that you can show The Path as being easy. Come up with creative pictures that will inspire you to see the future you.

The Scarecrow Had a Brain All Along — The Beauty of Your Dream is the  Journey | by Michael | The Startup | Medium

Fun Quote

Now we’re going to have our fun quote of the day from the Wizard of Oz

“I don’t know. Some people without brains do an awful lot of talking, don’t they? Yes, I guess you’re right.”

And there are people who like to talk without brains. Try not to do that by engaging both sides of your brain.

Thanks so much for listening. Come to the website. If you want the transcripts of the podcast. You can find out ways of contacting me either on the website itself or in social media. Please subscribe. Please leave a review and tell your friends and have a great week.

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