Happy 2018 – Day 246 – The Elephant and the Twig

A friend passed me their copy of Geoff Thompsons’ ‘The Elephant and the Twig: The Art of Positive Thinking’ recently. I’m only a little way in, but I’m loving in already.

With this in mind, here’s the story of the Elephant and the Twig:

In India, when the locals are training Elephants to be submissive, they tie the animals to a large tree from being very young. No matter how hard the Elephant tries to break free, it’s just not possible against the  weight of this huge, immovable tree.

Over time, following countless failed attempts, the ‘learned helplessness’ sets in and it no longer believes escape to be possible.

Even when the Elephant is fully-grown and mammoth in size, it can be tied to a twig without even attempting an escape.

And as a teacher, I encountered Learned Helplessness in children of all ages. I lost count of the number of children I’d met who for whatever reason – felt that there was no point in trying X, Y and Z – because their failure was already certain. They’re tied to the twig, even before they’re fully grown. It’s upsetting and frustrating to watch children give up on themselves in this way; to see their self-esteem diminish along with their wasted potential.

It’s sad, but not hopeless. In fact, I’ve always relished the challenge of turning a child’s fixed mindset into one of growth; of turning the “can’ts” to “can’t yets”. Though some children have fought tooth and nail to cling to the safety of their twig, the fact that they’re young, impressionable (and have super plastic brains) means that with a little patience, you can grind them down into believing in themselves.

For adults, this is a much tougher nut to crack. For an adult that developed Learned Helplessness as a child, you can imagine the thoughts and beliefs hardwired to the brain, and the daily action/inaction that reinforces this.

How many people accept a life of misery because they don’t believe there’s any other way?

Even for the ‘high achieving’ and successful types, there’s often some area of their life, in which they’re tied to the twig.


Ask yourself today: “What limitations have I placed on myself that aren’t really there? What twig have I tied myself to?” Once you’ve acknowledged what this is, you can begin to take the small (or big) steps away from the comfort of your imprisonment.

I’ll leave you with Geoff Thompson’s words:

“It is our thoughts that trap us – they make it so – but equally it is our thoughts that can set us free.”


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