AKA “Three reasons why change is hard... and how to make it easier”
It’s the New Year again. Everyone is thinking about goal setting, resolutions, and how 2020 is gonna be the BEST YEAR EVER.
But if you’re being honest with yourself…
You know the chance of achieving your New Year’s resolution or meeting your goals this year is pretty slim.
It’s totally not your fault. You’ve just got some things working against you that you’re (probably) not aware of yet.
In this post, we're going to explain why your powerful “Elephant” is in control of whether you’ll hit your goals…
And we’ll also explain some things you MUST remember anytime you’re trying to create ANY change in your behavior.
So let us dive in…
The Two Parts of Your Mind - Thinking & Feeling
Everyone has two main parts of the mind.*
You can think of these as two separate “systems” that interact with each other…
But each system has its own personality, strengths and weaknesses… as we’ll explain in a second.
The first part is the Conscious/Thinking Mind…
In your brain, this is the top-most part (the neocortex).
This part of your brain is the “Executive Brain”... because this is where you plan, create your goals, think things through logically, etc.
So you create your plans and your goals using the Conscious Mind.
We all like to think that our Conscious Minds are in control of the show…
That we’re rational beings, in control of our emotions and masters of our own destinies.
That couldn’t be further from the truth.
Decades of research on human behavior shows us the OPPOSITE is actually true…
The fact is…
We’re emotional beings. And most of our behavior is controlled by unseen forces that we're not aware of.
See, here’s the important thing…
Your Conscious Mind isn’t in charge of whether you’ll achieve your goals or not!
That part is the Subconscious/Feeling Mind.
These are the lower parts of the brain... Sometimes called the “Emotional Brain”, but your Subconscious Mind is more than just your emotions...
It also stores all the habits you’ve formed, and the deep level beliefs about yourself and the world.
Ok, so here’s a fun analogy that puts this into perspective…
The Elephant & Rider Analogy That Explains (Most of) Human Behavior
This is a simple analogy we LOVE that explains most of human behavior…
This metaphor is originally from psychologist Jonathan Haidt.
Imagine your Conscious Mind is like a tiny little Rider, sitting on top of a huge Elephant...
...Your Subconscious Mind is the Elephant.
Do you think you’re more powerful than an Elephant?
The average elephant weighs about 6 tons, or between 12-13,000 pounds.
The average human... around 137 pounds.
So, doing the math…
Elephants outweigh us by about 65-90 times!
And yet, we still think our Rider (Conscious Mind) is in control.
So imagine you’re this little tiny, weak Rider… and you’re trying to guide your Elephant down a narrow path.
Suddenly, a loud sound like a gunshot goes off.
Your Elephant gets spooked, and starts running away.
You pull at the reins and kick its sides, trying to get it back on track…
But there’s no calming the Elephant down… it wants to get away from the danger.
Who’s gonna win that battle of the wills? The scrawny 137 pound human? Or the 13,000 pound elephant?
This analogy explains why we all have such a hard time making positive change in our lives…
We’re dealing with a mischievous, powerful Elephant that has a will of its own.
So you may make your goals with every intention of succeeding…
You feel determined to WILL your way to success.
You’re in the energy of that excitement… and you feel like nothing can stop you!
But something does stop you…
It’s your Elephant, and it has a different plan for your life.
If you want to create ANY change in your life, you’ve got to understand a few things about the Elephant.
Here’s a few important things to remember about your Elephant (Feeling Mind):
If you’ve ever given up on a habit, or failed to keep your New Year’s Resolutions…
It’s probably for one of these three reasons:
1. Your Elephant doesn’t want to change. It’s lazy. It doesn’t want to do anything that’s hard.
It will (usually) guide you towards the easiest thing, the path of least resistance...
2. The Elephant operates on autopilot most of the time. Your unconscious patterns (habits) are stored in the Elephant.
Your old habits are comfortable, familiar and easy to slip into.
New habits are hard to create, and we tend to fall back on our old habits when we’re tired, stressed, sick, etc.
3. Your Elephant’s number one job is to keep you safe. Period. End of story.
It moves you AWAY from experiences that are negative or harmful. It tries to avoid anything painful, challenging, difficult, etc.
The Elephant also moves you TOWARDS things that are positive. It prefers to do things that are fun, interesting, stimulating, etc.
As Tony Robbins always says... Pain and pleasure are the two driving forces of human behavior.
So if you’re trying to make a new change, and your Elephant is not on board…
You’re going to have a battle on your hands.
We’ll come back to this topic later when we discuss self-sabotage.
Once you understand the power of your Elephant, and how it thinks… Creating new habits becomes a lot easier!
NOTE: This is a series about why change is hard, and how to create new rituals that fuel your success.
Stay tuned for the next part of the series, where we give examples of some simple rituals you can use in your life.
*Note: Of course the idea of only having "two systems" in the mind/brain is simplified.
The brain is an incredibly complex organ that neuroscientists still don’t fully understand.
But this simple breakdown is still valid when looking at your behavior…
So is it an oversimplification? Yes.
Is it still true? Yes.
For more info on these systems, check out Nobel-Prize winning behavioral economist Daniel Kahneman’s book Thinking, Fast and Slow.
In it, he refers to them as System 1 (the Subconscious, Feeling Mind) and System 2 (the Conscious, Rational Mind).