Posts tagged with ‘elephant’

24 may

Conditioned to Think You Can’t

JayForteA friend and I had a discussion this morning about what influences our perspectives. He reminded me of how a 5-ton elephant can be controlled with nothing more than a chain and a post.

When baby elephants are captured, they are restrained by a chain connected to a post, anchored to the ground. Because of their small size, they try to pull free but cannot. They then learn that when chained to the post, they cannot get away – and they remember this. So as they become an adult elephant, very capable of pulling free from the chain, they don’t think they can, so they don’t try. An early memory told them they can’t and now they never challenge it.

We are like elephants. We have early memories about something that influenced us and we bring that perception to today. It could have been a comment, a look or a response by someone that we knew or maybe didn’t know. It could have been an event that backfired like stumbling in front of others and we are now convinced we can never be on stage, in front of an audience, or lead a meeting. We are frequently chained to think we can’t – even though we can. Here is a personal example.

As a kid I had a terrible interdental lisp. When it was pointed out to me, I stopped speaking, tremendously worried that I would embarrass myself. As I started speech therapy I found I had an easy ability to learn a language and to articulate sounds – something I never would have known. I quickly learned a new way to pronounce an “s.” Today, I am a speaker. Imagine. If I had let the terrible events that introduce me to my speech impediment control me, I would have been like the elephant chained to a post, thinking I should be embarrassed about myself and stay out of the public. I would have never chosen my favorite work and my best fit – speaking to audiences about talents, passions and possibilities. I can imagine doing nothing else. I broke my chain. And I found a strength in the process.

Many of us remain captive to “I can’t” thinking, like the elephants chained to the post, because we don’t know ourselves well enough to know how capable and strong we really are. The more we connect to our unique talents, strengths and passions, the more we find our internal strength – the strength that helps us realize our futures are not dependent on our pasts. We are not limited by events that happened to us. True, they influence us, but we have attributes (call them gifts) that help build our courage and our confidence to break our chains and come through stronger, braver and better.

From my perspective, life events are placed as obstacles to help us stop, think about a better way, and get to know ourselves better. When we encounter an obstacle we can act like the elephant – to stand still and give in. Or, we can think our way through it and realize we are more capable than we imagined. And when you do this several times, you develop the courage to consistently do it and life becomes yours to invent.

To help you break your chains, consider the following:

- Think of one “I can’t” situations that currently limits you. Think back to the event that made you feel incapable, unworthy, unable, etc.

- Assess your talents and strengths. What attributes do you have that allow you to move past this limit – what attributes do you have that will help you break your chain?

- What is the first small step you can take to move past this limit – to see how capable you are and to develop your confidence?

- Try one, then another, then another. Then throw the chain away.

There are truly some situations where “I can’t” may be the right response. But we use “I can’t” significantly more frequently than we should because we are controlled or influenced by things said or done in our past. Today gets built today – there is no particular reason why it must be like yesterday unless you want it that way.

What is true for you today? What are your talents, passions and strengths, and how do they give you the confidence and courage to say “I can” instead of “I can’t.”

Jay Forte is a motivational speaker and performance consultant. He is the author of Fire Up! Your Employees and Smoke Your Competition, and the on-line resources, Stand Out and Get Hired, and The Hunt for Opportunities Success Manual. He has just completed his new book, The End of Average; Know Yourself, Find Your Fit and Transform Your World; chapter downloads will soon be available on his website. He works to connect people to their talents and passions to live fired up! More information at

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Posted by Jay Forte on May 24th, 2010 in Career, Diet and Fitness, Family, Finances, Global/Social Change, Health, New Directions, Personal Stories, Relationships, Spirituality, Teens | No comments Read related posts in , , , , , , , ,