This is part 3 in the series How to Get Things Done.
The Elephant & The Rider
In my church background, if one kid could recite 100 memory verses, all the other parents would use that as proof that their own kid should be able to do it.
In your experience, maybe you’ve heard someone say: “I’ve been able to thrive at XYZ job/school/program, so everyone should be able to.”
But there are often many hacks, natural abilities or exposures to environment that give some people a leg up to help them get from A to Z.
Just because one person can do it doesn’t mean everyone else should automatically be able to. You may have more barriers than the next person, and that has to be acknowledged.
But with the right tricks and self-awareness, you can plan your way to a goal.
Chip and Dan Heath wrote an entire book centered around this analogy:
We all have two sides to our brain. The emotional side is an Elephant. The rational side is its Rider.
“Perched atop the Elephant, the Rider holds the reins and seems to be the leader. But the Rider’s control is precarious because the Rider is so small relative to the Elephant.
Anytime the six-ton Elephant and the Rider disagree about which direction to go, the Rider is going to lose.
He’s completely overmatched.”
Think about smokers.
The long-term effects of smoking are not motivating enough to our brains to stop us from smoking. But the immediate impact on our wallets can be.
The long-term effects of eating too much cake may not motivate me to cut down on sugar, but trying on pants that are too tight will.
“The Elephant’s hunger for instant gratification is the opposite of the Rider’s strength, which is the ability to think long-term, to plan, to think beyond the moment,” the Heaths write.
“If you’re contemplating change, the Elephant is the one who gets things done. To make progress toward a goal…requires the energy and drive of the Elephant. And this strength is the mirror image of the Rider’s great weakness: spinning his wheels. The Rider tends to overanalyze and overthink things.”
There was a time when I thought I was just supposed to know things or figure them out to somehow to get from A to Z. Become a successful CEO? Just do it! Yeah, not exactly.
As people often experience, there were many things in my life that were not modeled for me, that I was not exposed to. My parents did not go to college. They did not work in office environments. The way we spoke at home was not the manner in which people speak outside the home. I had to figure things out in new environments.
The book Switch helped me realize the power of crystal clear direction.
I needed to direct the Rider, my rational mind.
- Find the bright spots.
- Script the critical moves.
- Point to the destination.
For example, my doctor said I needed to exercise. I set one goal. Exercise on a Monday morning. I had to script exactly what I needed to do when I wake up. Imagine if I didn’t script the critical moves. You can guess what would happen if I crossed my fingers and hoped to do the right thing when I woke up in the morning with my lazy, groggy mind.
Decisions are draining. Always commit to and visualize your decision path before you have to carry it out.
I knew I would have to wake up, put on my workout clothes, go to the living room, pull out my phone, pull up a YouTube workout video, and cast it to my TV. I put my clothes out the night before and knew which video I would work out to. When I woke up, there was nothing to think about.
I visualized what to do.
Before this, I would wake up in the morning and waste time figuring out what to do. I made up excuses in my half-awake stupor and put off the workout.
Once the critical moves were scripted, I could work out without a hitch.