Did you know that elephants are trained to stay where they are by tying a rope around one of their massive legs and attaching it to a peg in the ground? Can the peg and rope really hold back an elephant? Absolutely not!
Then why does it work? Because elephants grow up believing it will. Maybe they tried pulling away when they were young with no success. Maybe they were injured by their action. After enough failures, they stop trying. They no longer test the restraint, and confine themselves when tethered to the rope.
During the course of my life and career I have run into many people (and no doubt will run into many more) who are holding themselves captive with their own “elephant tethers.”
Cheryl, for example, one of my co-workers years ago, was limiting herself and her goals by always seeking approval from her mother before taking action. Cheryl was a grown woman with a husband, two children, and a nice career. However, she felt the need to filter every decision through her mother. She was still trying to play by her mother’s rules – instead of making her own.
I don’t think Cheryl realized her mother was the peg and rope preventing her from pursuing her own idea of a happy, fulfilling life. I mean, so what if Mom doesn’t approve of your kids eating hot dogs or staying up past 8:00 p.m. on a school night?
But following guidelines set by your parents isn’t the only “elephant tether” that could be keeping you from achieving what you want out of life. Maybe it’s one of these:
1. The Reactive Tether
The hustle and bustle of “normal” life often sets up the reactive tether. Your in-laws announce an unexpected visit, so you immediately change your plans to accommodate them. Your co-worker calls in sick on the day of an important client presentation, so you call the client and cancel. Whenever you notice that your car is down to a quarter tank of gas, you can’t concentrate on anything else until you get it filled.
These are just a few examples of situations that can make you fall victim to the reactive tether.
By panicking instead of taking control, you are sabotaging yourself. Is this a good time for the in-laws to visit? If it is not, simply tell them – and offer alternate dates. If your co-worker called in sick, decide whether you’d rather reschedule the presentation or handle it yourself. And if you’re always worried about running out of gas, all you have to do is implement a new routine of never letting the gas gauge go below half a tank.
2. The Full Disclosure Tether
It amazes me how often people feel they need to explain, in great detail, why they can’t do something or be somewhere. In both business and social environments, the person requesting an answer to an “Are you available?” question is really only looking for a Yes or No. If you give them more than that, what you’re really doing is making excuses to yourself.
The best response is either “Yes, count me in” or “No, I have a conflict.” And then go silent. If you can’t make it, the other person will likely suggest an alternate date and time… and everyone moves on.
3. The Shyness Tether
Business seems to be the one place where shy people can just as easily shake or shine. Many shy people (and we all have our shy moments) thrive in the business world because it gives them a “role” to play. As long as they are acting “on behalf of” or in the best interests of the company, they find the strength to do great things.
If the shyness tether is inhibiting your success, you can learn to push that discomfort aside. One way is to give yourself a mental cue – such as “It’s showtime!” – to legitimize the bold action you know you should be taking.
Test this self-imposed barrier. You might surprise yourself. Don’t retreat from any opportunity to discuss team projects or hold yourself back from networking at company events.
The power of “elephant tethers” to restrain you is only in your imagination. YOU have the power to free yourself from them to enjoy life and achieve your goals.