How to ‘Untame Your Circus Elephant’!

I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” – Thomas A. Edison

The market place is a cut-throat competitive environment and will not be kind to you simply because you are a nice person. Anyone who has been exposed to prolonged painful experiences, economic crises, war, poverty, abuse, injustice or any other form of challenge or disadvantage – will have to deal with challenges posed by what I call the ‘circus-elephants’ in one or more areas of their life. This conditioning predicament has subtly and subconsciously taken place in the minds of individuals from leaders in homes, politics, business and any other area of specialty you may think of. As an example close to me, the record-breaking hyper inflation, political uncertainty, economic and social challenges experienced in Zimbabwe over the past decade or so, all have the capacity to rear quite a few ‘circus-elephants’, in the same way commands, ropes, hooks and whips are the tools used to tame elephants in the zoos and circuses.

I strongly believe elephants and other wild animals are happier and more fulfilled in the wild, than they are in a zoo or circus – just like a person will be more fulfilled when they are flourishing in their chosen area of calling or specialty – when they discover their purpose in life and they are excelling in their gifting, talent or competences. The same goes for a company that has found its space in the market. But, sometimes people will go through situations and challenges that will tame their gifts and calling, that they begin to act and live like ‘circus-elephants’. For you to effectively ‘untame’ your creativity and innovative aptitude, you must first understand how you have been tamed and what has tamed you in the first place. Ignorance breeds destruction, but knowledge empowers you to unleash your dormant creative abilities.

So, what are you going to do about it?

1. Identify Your Circus-Elephants

How do you know if your situation has tamed you? Sit down, reflect and check your life or business for the signs below:

a. You are docile – you are habitually inclined to submit to the wishes of others

b. You are bland – you lack the qualities that make you or your endeavors interesting – no imagination, adventure or inspiration

c. You are lethargic – there is no flow of enthusiasm juices in you and you are now forcing yourself or have to be forced to do what you are supposed to be doing.

d. You are subdued and moderate – something has removed the hunger, drive, spiritor energy from you or your organisation. You are now comfortable maintaining the status quo.

Invention is 1% inspiration, 99% perspiration” – Thomas A. Edison

2. Beware – The Commands

I have discovered and learnt that the elephant keeper uses at least 16 basic and simple commands to handle the elephant on a daily basis. These are programmed into the elephant’s mindset from a young age. These include words and phrases like ‘come here’, ‘up’, ‘rangu’, ‘steh’ and ‘lift’. For the trainer, the 3 key commands when training an elephant are Yes, No and Good. This is to make the little elephant know what it is expected to do, what it is allowed to do and what it is not allowed to do. Are you trained to be a ‘Yes, No and Good’ person? What were you taught, what did you teach yourself and how is that influencing things in your life or business?

a. What could have tamed you?

From the time we were born, our parents, family, environment, culture and society have all driven commands into our minds and these have conditioned us to what we now believe is expected of us, is allowed or not allowed. Reflect on your past and pick the commands and words that have been said to you or about you, that might still be influencing your attitude and behaviour. Do you remember you or others being referred to as ‘dumb’, ‘useless’, ‘wasteful’, ‘stupid’, ‘slow’, ‘weak’, ‘thief’, ‘beautiful’, ‘sexy’, ‘genius’, or told ‘don’t’, ‘No!’, ‘it’s dangerous’, ‘it’s too risky’, ‘impossible’, ‘you are not able’? Could this be contributing towards whether you are always pessimistic or optimistic? Did you grow up in an environment where adults around you were always shouting obscenities and derogatory words at each other? Do you still expose your own children or subordinates to the same? Or you faced so many challenges that it is difficult for your mind to picture happiness, success, ability or even abundance because of the pain, the lack, discrimination or sadness you were accustomed to. Do you have an idea of what could have tamed you, drained your desire, enthusiasm or creativity in life? Get professional help if necessary, as you might not be able to address some situations on your own.

b. Reprogram your Mind

If you have been exposed to negative and self-defeating commands in the programming of your mind and beliefs, the GIGO concept means the resultant attitudes and behaviour will also be negative. To ‘untame’ this ‘circus elephant’ of negativity, you need to code a new set of positive programs. Be purposeful in the choice of what you expose your mind to – what do you read, what do you watch, what do you listen to and what do you proactively choose to experience emotionally?

c. Change your Vocabulary

Words are powerful containers and faithful servants, everyday moulding your feelings, attitudes and behaviours. Flood your language with more positive, hopefuland gratitude-filled words. Become more encouraging, less criticizing and not overly cynical. For each identified ‘circus elephant’ in your life or business – ask yourself how you can start communicating in a language that releases yourself and others to be the best of what they can be.

3. Refuse to Be ‘Broken-In’

What limits you from setting more challenging goals and go beyond prevailing restrictions is the process of ‘breaking-in’ – just like it applies to taming elephants. The elephant is tied and restricted to a wooden frame or between two tree trunks. After a few weeks, the prolonged exposure to pain, fear and hunger eventually tires the elephant and robs it of the will to resist. It accepts its fate and submits to following the trainer’s commands. If this sounds familiar to you, then it will take self-will and resilience to march towards your success in the face of adversity. It might be the loss of a loved one, divorce, loss of a job or a business and any challenges that may be peculiar to you. To succeed in life you will need ‘spirit, conviction and hard-work’. Don’t allow the ‘hard space’ you may find yourself in, to turn you into a ‘circus elephant’. If being negative or being positive will not change your situation for the better – then you will not lose anything by choosing to be more positive! Be excited, greet people, make conversation, share a joke, laugh or sing, dance, say ‘thank you’, smile – whatever verbal or non-verbal language that is positive can help to untie the ropes and chains being used by your circumstances to break-in and subdue you. I know accountants who paint and do interior decor, judges who cook better than some chefs, physicians who can ‘dissect’ financial statements, so-called heathens with better conduct than so-called Christians and pastors who manage better than some corporate leaders – why not!

4. Get a Steel-Hide Against The Hook

The Elephant Hook is a sharp tool used to poke the elephant to induce enough pain for the elephant to obey a command. Life will poke you without pity, so you must have the ‘steel-hide’ emotionally and psychologically. When the command says ‘stop growing’ you can subordinate the thought and look for ways and means to develop yourself. Is the long term strategy for your business ‘steel-hide’ proofed, enough to enable you to grow and expand globally in the face of growing market competition and macro-economic challenges? Are you ready for policy-related hooks poking your business and causing your income statement to bleed?

5. Don’t Dance to the Tune of The Whip

The whip is long enough to reach any part of the elephant to reinforce a command, sometimes it does not have to touch the elephant – yet it will achieve its intended result in taming the big mammal. You were beaten once and now you are more than twice-shy, in a literal sense. If you want to break out of the limitations of mediocrity, then you need to start dancing to a different tune. Which whip is telling you not even to think about going back to school, launching another business, writing that book or having a go at another relationship? Change your wardrobe, your colours, type of music or do something more creative than your usual mundane comfort zone. Get out there and talk to potential clients. Whilst at it, apply the wisdom acquired from the past whip-and-hook-experiences!

“The human spirit, once stretched by an adventure of faith, can never return to its original limiting condition” – Unknown

Until next time – Identify Your Circus Elephants, Beware of The Commands, Get a Steel Hide and Be Careful of The Tunes Your Swing To. Be Conditioned For Success Because The Success Circus Awaits You!

Cut that Circus-Elephant loose!

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Disclaimer!The writer is not an expert in either Elephant Training or Psychology, but has been able to read wide and draw important life lessons from the training of elephants, thanks to – Shad Helmstetter’s book, “What to say when you talk to yourself” and Daniel Goleman’s “Emotional Intelligence”, among others.