Hop on Your Elephant: How to Not Fail at Making Change

by | May 22, 2018 | Diet and Nutrition, Fitness, Health

One of my favourite books is called “Switch” by Chip and Dan Heath.

“Switch” is an incredible resource with practical applications of how to make changes in your life.

These changes can include

Eating better,

Losing fat,

Starting an exercise program,

Swearing less,

Spending more quality time with your kids,

Or reading more books.

Often times, we know what we want to change,

we have the desire to change,

and we know what we need to do,

But there is something holding us back.

Life gets in the way,

We weren’t as motivated as we once thought,

We get overwhelmed by all of the information,

And we try to take on too many things at once.

And the more we fail at making these changes,

The more “Goliath” the change becomes.

What was once a simple undertaking has now become a herculean task with insurmountable odds.

So, how do we go about making this change?

Well, let’s learn about the rider, elephant and the path.

The rider, the elephant and the path

Making changes like the ones discussed above can be likened to a rider on an elephant going down a path.

The rider

The rider is your analytical, logical brain.

The rider provides the planning and direction.

The rider loves making plans,

Deciphering the best ways of doing things,

And analyzing charts, graphs and numbers,

But the rider can get caught up in these tasks and forget to take action.

The rider is useful,


And without it, we would be lost,


The rider can only get you along for a certain amount of time.

When the elephant decides it wants to veer you off-course, the rider can fight back all she wants, there is no stopping the big, strong, powerful elephant.

The elephant

The elephant provides energy.

The elephant is your emotional brain that relies on feelings to guide it’s behaviour.

For example, I feel sad, therefore I should eat to feel better.

I feel tired, I should eat to wake up,

I am scared of dying young from heart disease, I am going to eat better.

The elephant is big, strong and overwhelming,

And it will take your rider wherever it wants to.

For example, your rider may be saying “go to the crisper and grab some carrot sticks”,

but the elephant is taking you to the pantry to grab a bag of Doritos.

When the rider gets tired or overwhelmed,

the elephant will often take over.

With the odd exception.

So, if your rider knows what to do and the elephant is not motivated, you will have a good plan with no energy and passion.

If your elephant is motivated but your rider doesn’t know what’s going in, you’ll have lots of energy and passion, but no direction.

Speaking of direction….

The path

The path is the environment you surround yourself with.

So, when we look at issues with making change, it’s not often a people-problem, it’s a situation-problem.

As in your situation is not conducive to your goals.

This could include:

The physical environment ie. your kitchen and the break-room at work.

Intellectual environment ie. fitness pages on Instagram

The social environment ie. your family, friends and co-workers

The cultural environment ie. Ukrainians eat pierogies.

The beautiful thing about the path is if it is shaped to be conducive to your goals, then the rider and elephant can simply follow that path.

The elephant can’t stray you off-course because of the big, triple-reinforced walls you put along the way.

How to make a change

A. Direct the rider

The rider likes to analyze, break things down and weigh out the best ways of doing things.

Although this may be seen as a strength,

It is also a disadvantage.

The rider can get lost in analysis and not take any sort of action because there is just too many things to think about.

So, here’s how you can best direct the rider:

i.Script the critical moves

Anytime there is ambiguity or a lack of clarity, the rider goes to work trying to analyze the best way of doing things.

Eliminate that tendency by giving yourself clear-cut direction on how to make a change.

For example, the hand-sized portion guide can be great for this.

Also, focusing on actions, not outcomes comes in handy.

An outcome like “eating better”, or “exercising more” or “losing 10 pounds” is vague and ambiguous.

Instead, focus on the actions that would be involved in each of those tasks.

For example, eating 5 fist-sized servings of colourful vegetables each day to “eat better”,

“Exercising more” by walking for 20 minutes each day after after the kids have gone to bed,

And “losing 10 pounds” by eating until 80% full.

ii. Find your bright spots

No matter what goal you have, I am sure you’ve done SOMETHING that was conducive to that goal.

Finding a bright spot is finding a time when you were successful with the action steps leading to your goal.

What was that action step?

What allowed you to be successful?

What conditions and environments enabled your success?

How can you do more of it?

For example, you notice that you eat less when you turn off the TV.

So, you put a reminder on your remote that says “NO EATING AND WATCHING”.

iii. Point to the destination

I love vision boards.

Having a destination of what you want to be,

How you want to feel,

And what you want to do

represented in visual images is so powerful.

Head on over to Pinterest and create a vision board today.

It not only will direct the rider where to go,

It will also charge up your elephant.

Motivate the elephant

i. Find the feeling

We just talked about this above but it’s important to mention again.

When you reach your goal,

How will you feel?

What will you do?

Who will you become?

Again, you can create this in a vision board or you can write this out.

You can also read the success stories of other clients.

ii. Shrink the change

At Fitness Revolution St B, we are all about making success achievable.

We often talk about the success snowball.

As in, you want to build success on top of success on top of success!

You want to accumulate wins,

no matter how big or small

as any win gives you hope,

And hope is elephant fuel.

For example, let’s say you want to start eating better, so you decide to eat vegetables every day.

You first decide that you can do 5 servings.

You could then ask yourself, how confident am I (on a scale of 1-10) that I can eat 5 servings of colourful vegetables every day?

If your answer is not a 9 or 10 out of 10, then shrink the change until you get to that 9 or 10 out of 10.

And do this with extreme disregard for what seems physiological appropriate.

I would not hesitate to try eating 1/2 serving of vegetables every day if that is what you’re 9 or 10 out of 10 confident you can do.

You can build on it later.

The goal is to accumulate wins,

To build that success snowball,

To gain some hope

And to feed that elephant.

Shape the path

i. Tweak your environment

Your environment might have the greatest impact on your behaviours.

We often look to others for cues as to how we should behave.

We often make decisions based on the information that we most recently put into our mind.

We often eat more if we use larger plates.

We eat faster if we eat with fast eaters,

We sit around and watch more TV if that is what others are doing.

We eat more “red-light foods” if they are available in our kitchen.

That’s why you need to structure your environment to be conductive to your goals.

The first thing you can do is find your red-, yellow- and green-light foods and do a kitchen clean out.

Here’s a fun one we did with one of our clients, Sean.

Next, limit the amount of fitness media you take in.

Focus instead on one strategy/method and STICK TO IT!

Also, use smaller bowls and plates to eat less,

and use smaller utensils (ie. chopsticks) to eat slowly.

Finally, join a fitness class and make some friends,

or find a meet-up group to join some folks with the same goals as you.


The rider can only take you so far,

Eventually, you need to bring in the reins on the elephant,

And you need to shape the path by surrounding yourself with the right physical environment,

The right media,

and the right people.

Use the strategies in this article to start making a change today!

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