Circus elephants are incredibly powerful animals, and yet they’re typically confined to a small area by nothing more than a tiny chain around their neck that’s connected to a stake in the ground.
As baby elephants, they were held captive in this way and were unable to break loose, no matter how hard they tried.
They soon learned that trying to break the chain or pull the stake out of the ground was pointless and quit trying. As they grew and got stronger, they became very capable of breaking loose, but no longer tried. What was the point? They already “knew” it was impossible.
Because humans are reasoning creatures, we don’t find ourselves faced with mental constraints similar to the elephant’s. (Or do we?) But here’s another self-limiting animal story with a much more insidious similarity to human behavior.
Full grown, it only stands three feet tall. Almost unbelievably, it is capable of jumping 10 feet high and can clear 30 feet in one bound. THIRTY FEET! Ten times its height. Whew.
And here’s the interesting part. If you put an impala inside a wall that’s only three feet tall, he will not jump out.
Why? Because the impala refuses to jump when he cannot clearly see where he will land. Since he’s not tall enough to see over the wall, he can’t see his landing spot, and he won’t jump. He certainly has the physical ability, but not the mental willingness.
This trait, of course, is a natural instinct and in the wild it serves him well. In fact, it is virtually essential for his survival.
When in danger, a group of impalas will explode in all directions, leaping, darting about, and even jumping over each other to confuse predators. At 30 feet a bounce, an impala has to be pretty careful about where he’s going to land or he could quickly find himself amidst a pack of predators.
On the other hand, it’s very easy to see how this instinct might limit the impala’s options, possibly causing him to freeze when he doesn’t see a good landing spot. He’s simply not willing to take any chances by jumping into unknown territory.
What’s the difference in the elephant and the impala? The elephant has been trained to believe that he can’t break loose. (“It’s not what I don’t know that hurts me; it’s what I know that ain’t so.”) The impala believes he shouldn’t jump into unseen areas because he doesn’t know what awaits him there. It’s a decision he makes using his instinct.
How willing are you to jump into unfamiliar territory?
While none of us will admit to the blatant self-limitation exhibited by the circus elephant, many of us are exactly like the impala. We refuse to take any risks, any chances, any gambles, simply because we aren’t certain of where we’ll land – the outcome of our decisions.
Now I’m not suggesting that you start taking lots of unnecessary or foolish risks, but if you’ve considered starting a small business, trying a new career or hobby, even skydiving – if fear of the unknown is holding you back – don’t buckle to the fear. Get nervous, shake, sweat, but DO IT anyway!
I’ve been singing in my church choir for 25 years, but I’ve never sung a solo. This year, I decided it was time, and in the Christmas cantata no less, the best attended service all year.
Nervous? Absolutely, but I did it! Didn’t pass out, didn’t miss a note, and after I was done, felt wonderful. That sense of genuine accomplishment was worth it… ALWAYS IS.
Maybe 2013 is your year for taking that chance you’ve been thinking about. Nothing foolish, of course, but if you decide to give it a shot, please share with us.