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The Falsehood of Futility

Tips to Build Rock Solid Mental Conditioning

Having lived all of my life in Canada, I’ve only ever had the privilege of seeing an elephant in an enclosure. That’s a shame because they are incredibly majestic and beautiful animals. Massive in size, with impressive intelligence and developed social skills, you often wonder why they are becoming endangered.

It becomes even more curious as to why they can be controlled with a small stick.

You have probably heard the age-old story about how elephants are conditioned and controlled.

A baby elephant at birth can weigh as much as 350 lbs. They gain as much as 2 to 3 pounds a day, so at six months old, they have gained between 350 to 500 lbs

When you realize that the average human is about 190lbs, you can see how enormous even a newborn elephant can be.

So, when an elephant trainer first takes a baby elephant, the trainer’s primary goal is to condition the elephant to understand that the much smaller human is the one in control.

They want to break the mental will of the baby elephant.

They sink a large pole deep into the earth and tie the relatively small elephant to that pole. Try as it might, the little pachyderm cannot break free.

Every day, the elephant’s instincts tell it that it needs to pull as hard as possible to break free from its constraints.

It tries and fails.

It tries again and fails.

And it tries again and fails.

It continues this same unwavering cycle until, one day, it gives ups.

It has tried to escape and met with failure every time. The continued losses are reinforced in the elephant’s 9 lbs brain (3 to 4 times larger than a human brain). They realize that the fight to escape is futile; it will be 100% unsuccessful.

Once this happens, the trainer no longer needs to tie the elephant to a robust and fortified pole. The elephant’s brain (an elephant brain has 250 billion neurons; three times that of a human brain has) has made an association that the mere sight of a pole in the ground means failure. Instead, the trainer need only attach the elephant to a lightly placed stick into the loose dirt.

A full-grown African elephant can weigh as much as 2.5 to 3.5 tons. They are the strongest animals on the planet. They can carry up to 9000 kG or the equivalent of up to 130 adult humans. So how does a small stick stop the massive creature from walking away and enjoying its freedom?

The answer is mental conditioning.

You might think that an elephant lives on a fundamental, animalistic thought process; its only thoughts are eating, sleeping and procreating. So it wouldn’t be tough to break it and train it with a mind like that.

That is not the case with an elephant. Their massive brains are capable of various behaviours associated with intelligence. Those behaviours include grief, making music, art, altruism, play, tools, compassion and self-awareness. Elephants also live in a highly structured social order.

The world’s strongest creature, one that can show empathy and mindfulness, has been taught to give up.

Can you relate to what the elephant is experiencing? Most of us can.

It doesn’t take much for us to give up on our goals. We may try one or two times. We may even rethink our approach and attempt again, but in short order, we stop.

Part of it is due to the frustration we experience over our failed efforts. Sometimes we give up because we don’t want others to view us as failures. Sometimes we stop our attempts because we simply don’t believe enough in ourselves.

Here is the ironic part about the mental conditioning within the elephant brain. It’s completely false.

That simple stick can’t stop the elephant. The elephant could effortlessly walk away at any time, and the trainer could not stop it.

A mental obstacle is created that is nothing more than a mirage. It has no substance and is not based on anything tangible. In the case of the elephant and our minds, it was self-created, and we use feedback from past experiences to reinforce why we can’t go forward.

The elephant has created its mental cage( albeit by the hand of some draconian human measures). If it would only pull against that stick ONE MORE TIME, it would attain freedom.

For us homo-sapiens, our past mental conditioning gives us the same result as the elephant. We give up on goals and dreams we so desperately want because we assume that if we try again, we will fail.

So, how do we overcome that feeling of futility?

You try again, and again and again.

I suggest that you start by looking at your goal and noting why it’s so essential for you to reach it. How will it change your life when you get to the finish line? How will you feel?

Create a robust and compelling reason to keep pushing forward

Next, reexamine your goal or objective and see if there is a common trend as to why you are not achieving success. Can you think of a way around that roadblock? Can you take that roadblock out of the equation?

If you are still having problems getting there, consider asking for help. Look for someone who can provide a neutral point of view. You don’t need a “yes-man” who tries to keep you motivated by suggesting that your approach is perfect. You need someone who can provide some valuable info on what you can change to hit our goal.

Please, don’t keep trying the same thing and expecting different results.

It would be nice if certain aspects of our life were easy. For instance, weight loss is something that so many of us struggle with. So imagine how lovely it would be if we never had to worry about maintaining our ideal weight. As a die-hard chocoholic, I smile at the idea of being able to eat a box of my favourite candy without a worry, but then reality sets in.

Those struggles are put in our lives for a reason. It’s not to make us unhappy or convince us that life is tough. Instead, they are there to show us that we have the power to overcome anything.

Don’t give up. Don’t ever give up!

One final word about the state of elephant capture and training in the world today. What is done to elephants is harsh and cruel. There are 96 elephants killed every day in Africa; a great deal of it is done for the ivory trade. To learn more about how you can help the elephants, please visit

If you keep hitting the same roadblocks, consider the benefits that a coaching partnership can have in helping overcome your obstacles. Book a complimentary Discovery Call to find out more.

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