How to Achieve Real Change – Part 1

It took me a long time to realize the limitations of logic. For much of my life, including a 20-year stint as a law professor, I relied on discourse and reasoning to understand and resolve problems. I believed that I should suppress feelings that could result in irrational behavior, and I had little patience for those who seemed to govern their lives by emotions.

Despite my intellectual resistance, life’s experiences forced me to accept the reality that the relationship between the head and the heart is much more complicated. Not only did I find that many people I dealt with were unable or unwilling to give up the demands and satisfactions of giving in to their feelings, I came to realize
how often my own behavior was dictated by those same feelings.

Understanding the elephant and the rider

In his excellent book The Happiness Hypothesis, Jonathan Haidt uses a memorable metaphor to describe the conflicting forces behind human conduct. He labels the conscious reasoning self as a Rider sitting atop an Elephant, the emotional self. The analytical Rider is constantly striving to direct and control the emotional Elephant. Dr. Haidt acknowledges that training the Elephant is possible and useful, but the larger and more powerful Elephant will sometimes go its own way.

This concept is also the premise of Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard, another very valuable book by Dan and Chip Heath. Haidt and the Heaths make a rational, convincing case that it doesn’t really matter how much my Rider thinks it’s wiser to let reason dominate feelings; it’s just not always going to be that way. The answer: learn how to work with the Elephant. I’ll talk more about this next time.

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I recommend visiting the website of the Heath Brothers, authors of Switch. There’s lots of good free downloadable stuff.

You may also want to see the two previous commentaries on change:
How to Change Attitudes and Behavior — I Can Do It and It’s Worth It.

Changing Self-limiting Beliefs and Bad Behavior

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Comments 4

  1. Pingback: COMMENTARY: How an Elephant Chose My Daughter’s College: Emotions are Stronger Than Logic 759.4

  2. Dear Mr. Josephson,
    Thank you for continuing to provide us timely lessons and guidance and thank you for allowing us to comment on them. In your post regarding the motivation of corporations to act ethically, your illustration of how subtle differences in our intentions can affect our decisions and the outcomes resulting from them is both appreciated and enlightening. Additionally, with the story of the elephant and the rider, I thank you for the challenging us to examine our intent to control or to cooperate with our emotions(?) and/or feelings(?). it is my belief there is a subtle difference between them and our intent plays a prominent role in being successful following our “gut” or “rationalizing” our direction.
    Gratefully, Ric Hales

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  3. Pingback: Leadership Insight: Kotter’s 8 Steps for Leading Change

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