The elephant overpowering the rider

As a child, my favourite animal was the elephant. I don’t know why, I certainly don’t remember seeing an elephant in my childhood; they aren’t particularly cuddly, and I don’t suppose they make very good pets. But, when my BigLittleSister was collecting every kind of Frog toy or miniature every made, I started a little collection of elephants.
They’re beautiful creatures, old and wise looking. Perhaps that’s why they really seemed to speak to me. There’s an eternal feel to them; sturdy and very real.

Tomorrow is the start of a new beginning for me, the first day of the summer holidays, and a time I often think about New Year’s Resolutions. It’s more important this year that I make some concrete plans, given the changes that are coming about in September when the new term begins.

I am an avid self-help reader, and always looking for new ideas about how to change your life for the better. Today, I came across an article based on The Happiness Hypothesis (Basic Books, 2006). The book aims to explain that positive changes are usually so difficult because the elephant (our emotional side) overpowers the rider (our intellectual, analytical side). The rider can think long term and make sensible decisions, but he is smaller than the elephant, who prefers quick fixes and immediate gratification. This is why, I guess, that when I try to lose some weight, I get quickly persuaded that a few glasses of wine won’t do too much harm… and then find that I am still putting on weight. The trick, says the article, is to do a number of things. First, you need to accept that your elephant (if he is on board) will be the driving force of motivation and keenness. Second, that he needs very clear instructions to get there. It is not enough to say, for example “I must eat healthier”. you need to tell your elephant “I must eat more green vegetables, and fewer chips”. Thirdly, it is exhausting making changes, so you must trick your elephant into seeing how small and easy to manage the change is. Things like, I suppose, when you are giving up smoking, thinking: “I just won’t have this cigarette, now” – rather than “I will never smoke again!”. One of the main reasons people give up on their changes is because any change is tiring, and you become emotionally exhausted. This is why, I imagine, it is important not to change too many things at once.
So, whilst my resolutions include losing weight, quitting smoking, learning to drive, writing for at least 12 hours a week, seeing my friends more, drinking less, etc etc… I will start with only one. The main focus for the next few weeks is to lose the weight that appears to have crept on over the last few months, while I wasn’t working and perhaps because of the medication. I am officially overweight, according to BMI, and I’m not sure that’s happened before. Once I’ve sorted that out, my elephant and I are going to work on the rest.


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