Wednesday, April 28, 2010

How can I get the Elephant and the Rider moving together?

Most of us are familiar with the concept of left brain / right brain. One side is emotional and the other rational. In their latest book Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard, Dan and Chip Heath use the metaphor of an Elephant and a Rider to describe our thinking. The Rider is our rational side who can either direct or find himself at the mercy of the emotional Elephant. Here’s the way they describe it:

“The conventional wisdom in psychology, in fact, is that the brain has two independent systems at work at all times. First, there’s what we call the emotional side. It’s the part of you that is instinctive, that feels pain and pleasure. Second, there’s the rational side, also known as the reflective or conscious system. It’s the part of you that deliberates and analyzes and looks into the future.”

“Plato said that in our heads we have a rational charioteer who has to rein in an unruly horse that “barely yields to horsewhip and goad combined.” Freud wrote about the selfish id and the conscientious superego (and also about the ego, which mediates between them). More recently behavior economists dubbed the two systems, the Planner and the Doer.”

“But to us, the duo’s tension is captured best by an analogy used by University of Virginia psychologist, Jonathan Haidt in his wonderful book The Happiness Hypothesis. Haidt syas that our emotional side is the Elephant and our rational side is the rider. Perched atop the Elephant, the Rider holds the reins and seems to be the leader. But the Rider’s control is precarious because the Rider is so small relative to the Elephant. Anytime the six-ton Elephant and the Rider disagree about which direction to go, the Rider is going to lose. He’s completely overmatched.”

We all know what happens when the Elephant takes over:

“Most of us are all too familiar with situations in which our Elephant overpowers our Rider. You’ve experienced this if you’ve ever slept in, overeaten, dialed up your ex at midnight, procrastinated, tried to quit smoking and failed, skipped the gym, gotten angry and said something you regretted, abandoned your Spanish or piano lessons, refused to speak up in a meeting because you were scared, and so on.”

Here’s the big take away:

Change Can Come Easily When Elephants and Riders Move Together

Dan and Chip write:

“Changes often fail because the Rider simply can’t keep the Elephant on the road long enough to reach the destination. The Elephant’s hunger for instant gratification is the opposite of the Rider’s strength, which is the ability to think long-term, to plan, to think beyond the moment (all those things that your pet can’t do.) … To make progress toward a goal, whether it’s noble or crass, requires the energy and drive of the Elephant. And this strength is the mirror image of the Rider’s great weakness: spinning his wheels. The Rider tends to overanalyze and over think things. … A reluctant Elephant and a wheel-spinning Rider can both ensure nothing changes. But when Elephants and Riders move together, change can come easily.”

Switch is filled with examples of how to get the Rider and Elephant on the same path:

First you have to Direct the Rider:

  • Follow the Bright Spots - Investigate what's working and clone it.
  • Script the Critical Moves - Don't think big picture, think in terms of specific behaviors
  • Point to the Destination - Chang is easier when you known where you're going and why it's worth it.

At the same time you must Motivate the Elephant:

  • Find the Feeling - Knowing something isn't enough to cause change. Make people feel something.
  • Shrink the Change - Break down the change, until it no longer spooks the Elephant.
  • Grow Your People - Cultivate a sense of identity and instill the growth mindset.

And both Rider and Elephant move better when we Shape the Path:

  • Tweak the Environment - When the situation changes, the behavior changes. So change the situation.
  • Build Habits - When behavior is habitual, it's "free" -it doesn't tax the Rider. Look for ways to encourage habits.
  • Rally The Herd - Behavior is contagious. Help spread.

So if you are facing change - in your church or in your life - here's the big question:

“How can I get the Elephant and the Rider moving together?”

Monday, April 19, 2010

MS 168.7 - completed!

Achilles, the Greek hero of the Trojan War, was killed by a well-guided arrow to his heel (hence the prhase Achilles Heel). I thought about Achilles a lot yesterday and again this morning – after completing my first entire MS 150 - my Achilles tendon is killing me! (last year's ride was shortened due to weather)

For the record I completed an MS 168.7 – that’s what my odometer read. There was a moment yesterday when I recognized I had ridden exactly 150 miles – I could have stopped then – but there was still another 18.7 miles to Austin.

Saturday was the longer day – 98 miles with a few tough stretches of long rolling hills. But we had the wind at our back, overcast skies and cool temps – a perfect day for riding.

Sunday the hills got tougher – I did the “challenge route” through the state park and after lunch the wind seemed to be in our face every direction we turned - - but I finished.

I’m actually a little proud of the accomplishment.

A few things I learned along the way:

Some people simply should not wear bike wear. There are very good reasons for skin tight cycling jerseys and shorts – wind resistance and padding most importantly. They actually do make a difference – but only one person in about every 2,000 looks good in bike wear and some people simply should say "no." I’ve decided either they have an incredible healthy self body image or are completely fashion clueless. But they do serve an important purpose. Every time I start to think there too much of me to squeeze into my bike gear I see someone that makes me think – “If they can do it, I certainly can.”

People love being part of a community. The MS 150 is in a sense a two day ride with 12,000 friends. People stop to help one another along the way – fall down and or have a flat tire (gratefully I had zero flats or falls this year) and you are instantly surrounded with assistance. Spot someone squeezed into the same Clemson cycling jersey you are wearing (Ken from The Woodlands) and the next thing you know you are taking pictures together. Conversations come easily.

Part of what makes community easy is the sense that we were all accomplishing something together – raising support to create a world without MS. Communities form around common purposes.

Encouragement is essential. Part of what makes the ride from Houston to Austin possible is the constant encouragement you get along the way. I rode with a friend, Hardie, and riding with friends is the only way to go.

All along the route are people on the side of the rode – waving and cheering and blowing horns and shouting words of thanks and encouragement. Some are battling MS, others are their family members, some are friends and family of riders and sometimes its an entire community.

A highlight of this year’s ride was through downtown Fayetteville, Texas. Fayetteville is an amazing little community with 340 buildings on the National Register of Historic Places. The town has a population of just around 300 and they must have invited friends because every street was lined with people shouting encouragement to the riders. I especially loved the number of bubble machines next to white picket fences. We entered Fayetteville after an especially challenging part of the ride – it was just what was needed to spur us on to La Grange.

In both a smaller and larger way I had a similar experience along the challenge route on Sunday. The “challenge” is the hills in the Bastrop and Buescher State Parks – 3 very steep hills in particular. As I neared the top of the second another rider started encouraging us all with shouts of “Keep pedaling! We can do this!” I’m convinced that got me to the top.

Both in Fayetteville and along the challenge route the encouragement came from “strangers.” It was a reminder that anyone (and therefore everyone) can encourage someone.

Accomplishments need to be celebrated. As you approach the finish line in Austin (and at the halfway point in La Grange) the streets are again lined with shouts of encouragement. The last turn of the ride finds the finish line a hundred yards ahead with the state capital as backdrop and cheering crowds on either side. At that moment you know you’ve accomplished something significant and are ready to ride another 150 (well maybe not at that exact moment).

This week I’m going to focus on:

  • Celebrating accomplishments
  • Offering encouragement and
  • Living in community

And I won’t be wearing my cycling clothes – at least not for a few weeks. Then I’ll start thinking again about next year’s MS 168.7.

Anybody want to join me?

Saturday, April 3, 2010


In 1891 the Irish writer and poet Oscar Wilde published a one act tragedy, Salome. It’s based on the Biblical story of Salome, the niece of the tetrarch Herod Antipas who danced for the head of John the Baptist.

There’s a moment in Wilde’s story when Herod overhears Nazarenes talking about a Messiah who is raising the dead. Herod is filled with fear and protests:

I do not wish Him to do that. I forbid Him to do that. I allow no man to raise the dead. This Man must be found and told that I forbid Him to raise the dead. Where is this Man at present?

I love the answer from the Nazarene

He is in every place, sire, but it is hard to find Him.

Tomorrow morning we celebrate that He is every place and He’s still raising the dead no matter how much the Herod’s of the world protest.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Voices Carry

Some of you might remember the 1985 album released by ‘Til Tuesday, Voices Carry. The title track reached as high at #8 on the Billboard singles chart making the band a bit of an 80’s one-hit-wonder.

It’s a great song and voices do carry.

Earlier today I was told that during a faculty meeting yesterday our Grace teachers overheard someone standing outside the elevator loudly exclaiming: “every singe (blank) teacher….” (use your imagination for the blank)

Voices carry.

You can only imagine how a group of teachers felt hearing someone (they are still trying to figure out who) talking about “every singe (blank) teacher….”

Voices carry.

We all (myself included) need to be aware that our voices carry and that words are powerful.

Reckless words pierce like a sword, 

but the tongue of the wise brings healing. Proverbs 12: 8

A word aptly spoken 

is like apples of gold in settings of silver. Proverbs 25: 11

Voices carry.