How to Ride Your Elephant and Change Your Direction

What happens when someone says something is going to change? Do you get excited? Or, do you cringe in fear? Likely the answer to that question is “It depends” Maybe both.

When I had our Real Estate office, my team would ‘cringe in fear’ when I returned from a conference or retreat. They knew I was going to come home with some new idea or system to implement. My eagerness and excitement to improve was not always shared, and I used to wonder what was wrong with everyone? Couldn’t they see the benefit of this new thingamajig? This was going to change our world and it would rock!

Africa Trip 2006
Africa Trip 2006

Don’t you hate people like me?

I was recently reading the book SWITCH and I finally figured out why I wasn’t getting any traction with some of the changes.  Just because something might make sense intellectually, analytically or realistically does not necessarily mean it makes sense emotionally. Emotion? What could emotion have to do with it?

Effective change will only take place when the emotional and analytic sides of our brain are in tune with each other. If you are like me, you know this is going to lead to conflict.  Heath quote’s University of Virginia Professor Jonathan Haidt from his book The Happiness Hypothesis. Haidt says our emotional side is an elephant and our analytical side is the rider. Just imagine a tiny rider trying to steer a huge animal like an elephant and it gives you some perspective.

I can think I would like to lose that extra 20 pounds or so but then I see the chocolate Chip Cookies on the plate and I hear the elephant say, “go ahead, one won’t hurt…… Oh you might as well have two. You can make up for it later.” With that kind of behavior, I am going to wonder if I will ever get to where I want to go because I tend to focus on the failure of that moment and become discouraged in my overall goal of losing 20 lbs.

This is just one moment on the timeline. A spot in time. What I will call a “dull” spot. Heath says we should not focus on the dull spots. When we collect data on what does not work, we are collecting True But Useless information. TBU.  Instead, focus on the bright spots. What is working. When we are looking to change something or overcome a difficulty, look at what has worked in the past and how to apply those same circumstances in consistent ways and achieve the change and success we desire.

So how do you do that? First we need to give some direction to the Rider. Find those bright spots.

The Recipe for Bright Spots

  1. Gather data on the issue
  2. Study the data to find the bright spots (Where did you find mostly positive results)
  3. Make sure you understand the “normal way” things are done.
  4. Next, study the bright spots to see what is happening differently in these areas.
  5. Make sure none of those practices are “exceptional” in some way. (need to replicate them consistently)
  6. Find a way to reproduce the practices of the bright spots in other areas.

Bright spots don’t have to be exceptional. They need just to be areas where there was success. My bright spot in losing weight is I have already lost 40 pounds so another 20 is really doable. Just replicate the areas where success was experienced before.

Once we have identified the bright spots we need to write a strategic script on how those bright spot actions will play out in the next 30-60-90 days. It is important to pick only one place to start. You can’t effectively change more than one thing at a time.

  • Does your script evoke emotion? Can you feel the energy?
  • Is your strategy do-able?
  • Are your proposed moves part of the bright spots you experienced before?
  • Will others connect with you on your plan?
  • Does it create momentum in your organization?
  • Does it rally your troops?

As the leader of my real estate team I could have affected so much more positive change by utilizing this principle. Instead of focusing on the rider and failing to support the elephant, I could have collected the data on what we wanted to improve, identified the bright spots, and sought the input of those who were involved in the success in our systems and developed an effective strategic script to bring about the changes desired.

Using this process will enhance the experience of change and get people on side. You will create momentum to carry over into other areas of our business.

A word of caution: It is important to recognize the importance of working on only one area at a time.   Whether in your personal, relational or business life, we are really only our most effective when our energy is focused in one area at a time. Once we have established correct habit (procedure, systems) these will then replace our need to use our self-control in these areas. If my personal habit were to snack on Apples then it will be easier to avoid the chocolate chip cookie trap. Habits/systems eliminate our need to exercise our will power over items we are trying to change. I hear it said once that habit’s (systems) eat willpower for lunch.

Question: Likely, you are considering a change in some part of your life. Remember you have a rider and an elephant. Are you more likely to give direction to the rider or do you feed the elephant?  Post your reply in the comments or one of our social media channels. 



One response to “How to Ride Your Elephant and Change Your Direction”

  1. […] Did I make a mistake? I think so. My failure was a direct result of not considering all of my options. We are able to put ourselves into jeopardy when we haven’t established a good methodology for making decisions. I had come to a conclusion and then convinced my brain that I was right. My Rider and Elephant weren’t in Sync! (See previous Post) […]

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