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The mahout and the elephant — Universal Principles

The mahout and the elephant

Nisse Simonson, author of the Swedish book Varför mår vi så dåligt när vi har det så bra? provides a metaphor to help us control our sometimes rather unruly brain. (Freely translated by me.)

We may resemble how our brain works with a mahout – an elephant driver – riding on an elephant. The elephant is the unconscious part of the brain. The little mahout is the conscious part. The conscious part of us believe that it is in control, like the mahout thinks. But the elephant has its own will and follows the mahout’s governing only as long as it does not go against the elephant’s own will. If the elephant gets the feeling that a tiger is lurking behind the bend, the mahout will not be able to persuade it to move forward. And no one should believe that it is easy to tame an elephant. It requires many years of perseverance and wisdom. The mahout controls the elephant and the elephant controls the mahout. But in concert and cooperation, they can get a lot done together.

Mahout…and.. Elephant, by Ragesh Vasudevan


1 Henrik Jernevad { December 23, 2009 at 11:56 }

This quote is one of my personal favorites. It helps me thinking about my habits, and fight procrastination. But also, that sometimes you should just let the elephant decide.

2 Zen and the Art of Organisational Enlightenment « Think Different { August 8, 2012 at 17:53 }

[...] from the Mahout and the Elephant perspective: the reflective, self-aware part of our brain governs our ability to overcome the [...]