Changing Behavior: The Elephant and the Rider

A silhouette of an elephant with a rider in action in Ayutthaya province, Thailand.

I will never be the cheapest gym in town.
I will not spend $100,000 on equipment every year. I will not provide 24-hour keycard access. I will not provide towels or run a juice bar.
I sell coaching. Coaching is more than teaching, more than cheerleading, more than dictating. I don’t merely provide access to equipment; I deliver people from their current state to their goals.
Reaching their goals requires hard work. But before hard work comes motivation, and before motivation comes behavioral change. I can’t out-yell a bad lifestyle.
No goal is motivational enough to pull a client past every temptation, every late-night craving, every moment of weakness. None. The knowledge that “this is bad for me” won’t overcome “I want this right now” without practice.
That’s because logic doesn’t drive our behavior; emotion does.

Riders on the Storm?

Picture an elephant with a rider sitting on its back.
The rider is your client’s rational mind: the logical thinker, the planner.
The elephant is the client’s emotional mind: the irrational, easily distracted thinker driven by urgency and whim.
The rider sits on top of the elephant. It’s how our brains have evolved.
But the driver only thinks he or she is controlling the elephant.
The rider can see the road ahead. The rider can consult the map. The rider can plot a course. But in the end, if the elephant wants to stop to eat, it will stop. If the elephant turns around and heads in the other direction, the rider can’t really force it back on course. All the kicking, prodding and even whipping won’t force an elephant to turn around.
To keep our clients on track, we have to understand how to inform the rider and how to motivate the elephant.
What really motivates the elephant?
Fire. Mice. Immediate threats. Things that are urgent, not necessarily things that are important.
Luckily, elephants are trainable. The best way to keep an elephant from crashing off course is train it to stay on the path.
It’s not hard to train the rider: Just tell the person exactly what to do and why.
Training the elephant part of the brain is more difficult. In the next article in this series, I’m going to share our step-by-step process for training an elephant.
People do things for a reason. That reason is rarely logical. Most even know what they “should” do. My job is to make them want to do it for the rest of their lives.

Other Media in This Series

How to Change Your Clients’ Lives
How to Change Your Client’s Behavior
Behavior Change: How to Turn New Year’s Resolutions Into Long-Term Success
What’s Holding You Back?


One more thing!

Did you know gym owners can earn $100,000 a year with no more than 150 clients? We wrote a guide showing you exactly how.