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  • Writer's picturejon walker

Riding your elephant.

This quote is from an excellent blog post on motivation by Marie-Josée Shaar

“In his book The Happiness Hypothesis, Jon Haidt explains that our processing and decision-making abilities function much like a rider on the back of an elephant. The rider – representing our logic – can control the direction in which they are headed, but only as long as the elephant – representing our instinctive and emotional thought processes – wants to comply. When the elephant has desires of his own, whether the rider asks, pulls, begs, cries or shouts makes no difference: they are still headed in the direction the elephant pleases.”

Mindfulness helps you get a clearer picture of what exactly that elephant is doing. And that gives you a lot more agency in directing that elephant, without all the fussing and fighting. Even better, with cultivation practices like loving-kindness and self-compassion, you as the rider can get positive heart qualities to seep down into that elephant, and actually begin to change what the elephant wants to do. The whole rider/elephant system begins to align to your deepest aspirations, and a heck of a lot less energy is spent on that begging, crying and shouting stuff.

As an aside, Jon Haidt’s other book, The Righteous Mind, is invaluable for understanding why political polarization arises, and how we can try to cross that divide.

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