How to Manage Thoughts and Emotions - The Elephant and the Rider

In “The Happiness Hypothesis,” psychologist Jonathan Haidt describes our emotional side as an Elephant, and our rational side is its Rider.

     “The Rider holds the reins but his control is precarious because the Rider is so small relative to the Elephant. Anytime the six-ton Elephant and the Rider disagree about the direction, the Rider is going to lose. You’ve experienced this if you’ve ever slept in, overeaten, dialed up your ex at midnight, procrastinated, tried to quit smoking and failed, skipped the gym, gotten angry and said something you regretted, and so on.
     The weakness of the Elephant, our emotional and instinctive side, is clear: It’s lazy and skittish, often looking for the quick payoff (ice cream cone) over the long-term payoff (being healthy). When change efforts fail, it’s usually the Elephant’s fault, since the kinds of change we want typically involve short-term sacrifices for long-term payoffs.
     The Elephants hunger for instant gratification is the opposite of the Rider’s strength, which is the ability to think long-term.
     But, what may surprise you is that the Elephant also has enormous strengths and the Rider has crippling weaknesses. Emotion is the Elephants turf-love and compassion and sympathy and loyalty. That fierce instinct you have to protect your kids against harm-that’s the Elephant. That spine-stiffening you feel when you need to stand up for yourself-that’s the Elephant.
     The Rider tends to overanalyze and overthink things. The Rider provides the planning and direction, and the Elephant provides the energy. So if you reach the Riders of your team but not the Elephants, team members will have understanding without motivation. If you reach their Elephants but not their Riders, they’ll have passion without direction. In both cases, the flaws can be paralyzing. Chances are, you know people with Rider problems: your friend who can agonize for twenty minutes about what to eat for dinner; your colleague who can brainstorm for about new ideas for hours but can never make a decision.
     When Rider and Elephant disagree about which way to move, you’ve got a problem. When Elephants and Riders move together, change can come easily.”
From Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard.