The Elephant And the Rope (Power of Belief)

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

Few things determine the course of life more than beliefs programmed at a subconscious level. Beliefs influence how we think, act, and feel. Beliefs are based on our interpretation of lived experience. They have everything to do with perspective. Beliefs are typically not “true” or “false,” they are simply more or less resourceful. What happens when an outdated belief from the past is no longer resourceful for meeting the challenges of the present?

Some of you are already familiar with the elephant-and-the-rope trope. When the elephant is a baby, the trainer ties a small rope around it’s leg and fastens it to a peg or tree trunk to keep it from wandering off. The elephant repeatedly attempts but fails to free itself to 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.

I think a lot of us are like that elephant. We are limited by old beliefs that do not accurately speak to our present capability. Until these beliefs are revisited, they will continue to reinforce the limitations on which they were based (or imagined to have been based). It takes courage to try where we’ve failed in the past. But sometimes that’s what it takes to generate new evidence without which the brain is loathe to revise old beliefs.

I’ve transcribed a short YouTube clip that elaborates on the elephant-and-the-rope illustration. (FYI, it’s a text-only video). I hope you find it as compelling and 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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