The Elephant And the Rope (Power of Belief)

An adult elephant held back by a rope due to programmed beliefs.
A big elephant bound by a small rope..

Beliefs influence how people think, act, and feel; they are based on interpretation of lived experience and have everything to do with perspective. Beliefs are typically not “true” or “false;” they are simply more or less resourceful. Many beliefs that were once resourceful continue to exert an effect long after the circumstances that motivated them have evolved. Enter the elephant-and-the-rope illustration.

Some of you are already familiar with this story. When the elephant is a baby, the trainer ties a small rope around its leg and fastens it to a peg to keep it from wandering off. The elephant repeatedly attempts to free itself but fails due its small stature. Once the elephant is grown, it can easily break the rope and gain the freedom of movement that it craves–but it doesn’t even try. By then, the elephant has internalized the belief, deep-seated and uncontested, that the rope is stronger.

It takes courage to try where we’ve failed in the past. But sometimes that is the only way to create new evidence without which the brain is loathe to abandon old beliefs.

Today, I’ve transcribed a short YouTube clip that expands on the elephant-and-the-rope story. (FYI, it’s a text-only video). Reality or fiction, I hope you find it as thought-provoking as I did!


Failure isn’t fatal, but failing to change might be (John Wooden).

One of my friends was passing by the elephants and suddenly stopped. He saw that a huge elephant was held by only a small rope tied to his front leg. It was obvious that the elephant could break away from the rope but he did not. My friend asked the trainer why the elephant just stood there and made no attempt to get away.

The trainer said, “When the elephant was very young and much smaller, I used the same size rope to tie him. As he grew up, he was conditioned to believe he could not break away. He still believes the rope can hold him, so he never tries to break free.”

My friend was amazed. Like the elephant, how many of us go through life hanging on to a belief that we cannot do something simply because we failed at it once before? How many of us are being held back by old, outdated beliefs?


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