Wednesday, March 23, 2011

...dOn'T bE a CiRcUs eLePhAnt...

I loved taking my kids to the circus when they were very little. It was so much fun to watch their faces light up as they watched all the amazing stunts and shows and see them laugh at the clowns. We've been to a big circus and we've also been to a small traveling circus, so the acts and animals varied, but I've never been to a circus that didn't have an elephant. About a year ago, I learned how circus elephants are trained. When I heard the process by which they are trained...it made me kinda sad for the elephants...but it also helps me put some things in my life and in the lives of people that I train into perspective. I was reminded of this as I talked to a new client last night...disappointed that she isn't losing massive amounts of weight after two sessions in the gym. I could feel a sense of helplessness arising in her and as I reassured her, it made me think about the phenomenon of "learned helplessness".Obviously, elephants are very powerful animals...and much stronger than humans. They have the power to escape from the circus...it's just that they don't know it. The elephants are caught when they are very young and they are chained to strong stakes that are driven deep in the ground. They struggle and fight to free themselves but the chain is too strong. Eventually, the elephant realizes that it can't break free and it quits trying. From that day on, the elephant believes that it cannot free itself as soon as it feels any resistance at all. In fact, a circus elephant can be tied to a small flimsy stake with a thin piece if rope and it will not try to escape because it has been conditioned to believe that it is powerless. This is called "learned helplessness".Elephants are not the only creatures that can be conditioned this way. Humans can as well. If a person is told how worthless they are...over and over and over again...soon they will believe that they are. If people tell you that "you can't"...or shouldn't...enough times...eventually you won't even try. I wonder to myself, "Can those elephants ever be untrained?". I wonder if it's possible for them to realize their strength and their ability to go where they want to go. My guess would be that it isn't possible after a certain amount of time.I grew up feeling like I couldn't...like I would fail. There were things that I went through that hurt me...times when like that baby elephant...tied to a strong stake...I truly was helpless. So I became conditioned...trained if you will...and many times...even after I was grown and able to make my own choices and have power...I behaved like a circus elephant. I have the power to tear free and do whatever I want to do, but I rarely tried because I worried that I would fail. As soon as I faced resistance...I felt helpless. I worry that I have been conditioned to fail..to lose...to give up...but I will say this...as sad as that may sound and as hard as that cycle is to break...I have become so much better than I use to be...than I thought I could ever be. When I began training with my friend, he brought things out in me that surprised me...glimpses of strength...moments of feeling like a winner. It was a priceless gift...a gift that I would like to pay forward to other people that I train.
I think that just like the circus elephant...I will always have some small form of "learned helplessness" that can hold me back at times. I can't change what has happened to me, but I CAN try hard to build other people up...to in a sense free them from the heavy chains before they learn to feel helpless. I want my children, the people that I train, and anyone that reads this to know that many times, the things holding us back...making us feel helpless are actually very small or even imagined. Just as the grown elephant can easily break free from the small stake, we have the power within us to make changes. I want to teach others and MYSELF never to give up or feel helpless because we each have the strength to fight against ANY resistance that comes our way.

7 comments:

  1. Excellent analogy.

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  2. De-train yourself through training.

    NICE!!

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  3. Bronwynne BlazelyMarch 23, 2011 at 2:01 PM

    Thank you...some things come along just at the right time and this post was that for me....

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  4. Great post. I too have some learned helplessness in me...Another good one to share on my FB page!

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  5. wow so true, thank you :)

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  6. Thank you for this post! I, too, am fighting my "learned helplessness" everyday. You are such an amazing inspiration!

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