I’ve heard the example of the elephant and the wooden stake used several times to describe how we limit ourselves by our thoughts. A baby elephant has his foot tied with a rope to a wooden stake. When the elephant is small he cannot pull the stake out of the ground. Over time he becomes accustomed to not being able to move away. When the elephant is fully grown he could easily pull the stake out of the ground, but he is held fast by his belief that he cannot pull away from the stake.
Every time I hear it, I think what a great analogy it is and settle back in the comfort of knowing that I wouldn’t do that. Surely I am much too self-aware to fall into that type of trap. Apparently not so much! Lately I’ve been realizing that if I hear or read about something and the first thought that comes to my mind is “I don’t do that”, I need to stop and really think about it because usually “I do that” and don’t realize that I am doing it.
We all have routines and they usually make the things we have to do every day that much easier. We tend to do things in the same order so we don’t forget anything. Recently I realized that I was tied to one of my routines just like the elephant is to the stake. I usually floss my teeth at night before I go to bed, but last week I was too tired at bedtime so I thought I would do it in the morning. Oh the stress! I like to see what I’m doing when I floss my teeth, but I floss before I put cream on my face, which is before I put my glasses on. Conclusion: I can’t floss my teeth in the morning because I don’t have my glasses on yet.
I would probably still be in the bathroom trying to figure this out if the image of the elephant and the stake didn’t pop into my mind. The only thing that was causing me a problem was my attachment to the way I always do things. I realized that the world wouldn’t end if I put my glasses on to floss my teeth and then took them off to put cream on my face.
I know this is a very simplistic example of how we limit ourselves, but it illustrates how when we continue to do, or think of things, a certain way we create pathways in our brains. Once these pathways are created it is very difficult to think any other way. It’s like trying to get your bicycle tire out of a well-worn rut in the trail. The only thing in my way was my attachment to my routine – I can’t do this because I haven’t done that yet. I couldn’t see the very simple solution because the barrier I had created in my mind seemed very real to me.
I tell my daughter all the time to loosen up and not be so rigid in her thinking about “the way things should be”. Now hopefully I’ll start taking my own advice and ask myself if there is a real barrier preventing me from moving forward or if the barrier is self-created in my mind.