What Elephants Can Teach Us About Self Improvement

The strongest of creatures are held back by what they learn when they’re young. It’s true for elephants — and us.

We share something very unique with elephants. Though they’re one of the strongest animals on the planet, elephants can be constrained with the smallest sticks and ropes.

In Southeast Asia, elephants are still used as a mode of transportation. Tourist are often amazed at the fact that the elephant handlers use small ropes tied to the ground with tiny sticks to keep an elephant in place.

The reason this works is because the handlers tie the elephants to huge trunks with large ropes when they are young. The young elephants pull and tug and fight until they tire out, and they soon learn that they cannot move when tied up.

The handlers then use increasingly smaller ropes and sticks, but the elephants never tug at them. They’ve learned that they simply cannot move when tied up.

Imagine: one of the strongest animals in the world, constrained by something that the smallest child could break free of.

But, really, how much better are we? Many people live their lives being afraid to try something because they’ve been convinced that it’s too hard or because they’ve tried a few times and it didn’t work out for them.

Take music, for example. I know a lot of people who would like to learn how to play an instrument but are convinced that only musicians or people who are innately good can play music, with the end result that they never try…despite the fact that everyone learns how to play music (meaning that it’s a teachable skill).

Courtesy of Unsplash

I used to think I wasn’t creative because my older brother is much more natural of an artist than I am. He was gaining a lot of acclaim as a teenager for his drawing skills (and he’s a good musician, to boot), and at the time I couldn’t draw or play anything like he could. I “learned” that creativity was something some people (my brother) had and others (me) didn’t.

What happened that changed my outlook? I taught myself how to play guitar. Granted, I started when I was nineteen, so I may never be phenomenal, but I do pretty well. On some of my last visits home, I was able to hold my own with my brother.

Furthermore, although I still haven’t learned how to draw people and landscapes, I can sit down and illustrate designs and ideas by hand. Turns out that I am creative, just not in a way that I counted as creative when I was younger.

In other words, I’ve learned that small ropes and sticks can’t constrain the elephant within me.

Think about the limitations you’ve set for yourself or that have been set for you by others. Tug at the rope a little — you might find that it gives way easier than you expect.

And remember, you can shake your life up without breaking it apart.