The Elephant Syndrome

The Elephant Syndrome

Have you ever looked at a circus elephant, or the ones which are tamed? Next time you get an opportunity look at them carefully, focus on their leg- you would see that there is a metal chain around the leg which is tied with the help of a belt with a wooden or metal peg that is inserted in the ground.

Does not sound interesting?

Consider the fact that this mighty hulk which probably weighs nearly 5000 Kg’s, can, with a sniff, pull it out, free itself and run away. But what does it do – nothing

Can you believe it – nothing??


The-Elephant-RopeIt’s because when the elephant was a baby, it’s trainers used exactly the same method. A chain was tied around it’s leg and the other end of it was tied to a metal stake which was inserted deep inside the ground. The chain and the stake were strong enough for the baby elephant, which wanted to go out, play, run and whenever it tried, the chain will pull it back. It would pull harder, excited to see the world, but the chain would cut into the skin on it’s leg, making it bleed and creating a wound that would even hurt more. Soon the baby elephant realized that it was futile, it can’t escape.

So what did it do – it stopped trying!

So now, when this mighty elephant is tied to the chain around it’s leg, it still has the vivid memories of the pain and the struggle it endured as a baby and therefore does not try to break away. It does not matter that the 100 Kilo baby has grown up to a mighty 5000 kilos, it does not matter to him that he is a power house which can uproot a tree , can roll over a bus-  The Elephant only remembers the self-limiting belief that he experienced as a baby, which has now overshadowed it’s true potential.

What’s true for this mighty Elephant is also true for us as Organizations, teams and individual, we all are suffering with the same old “Elephant Syndrome”, we all have incredible potential in us to take on the world, but we also have our own chains and pegs that hold us back. It could be an early childhood experience, a failure, a failed strategy. Our ears may still be ringing with those words which were said by our parents, well-wishers, colleagues, bosses, whom we think of in high regards. In all probability they were said with good intentions keeping our best interest in mind. When many of us grow up, we grow on a steady diet of words such as

‘Don’t do it’

“You can’t succeed”

“It’s not for you”

You can’t do it because….

So we stop, we stop from aiming high….we think, I can’t speak good English because I did not study in a good convent school. I do not have business acumen because I did not study from a good ‘B’ school. I can’t be a good facilitator because my boss said so. I can’t be a successful businessman because no one in my family has ever done business….and the list of our excuses goes on….the situation may have changed, however we are still tied to our self-limiting beliefs and can’t recognize the change. There are numerous examples of people living around us who have challenged their self-beliefs and made it large.

Look at MS Dhoni, from a state like Jharkhand, he has made it big by his sheer brilliance- well some self-limiting beliefs can crop in and we may account his success to destiny, however if we look at his entire journey carefully, we will discover startling facts of how he challenged his self-beliefs.

A man who when started as captain didn’t have the aggression of Mr Gavaskar, Perfection of a Dravid, Charisma of a Ganguly. Now, he has already been acknowledged as the finest captain India has produced and is right there up with one of the finest wicket keeper batsman that the game has produced.

Look at Thomas Edison, the man who invented the filament bulb, it is said that he failed 500 times; stories of his failures had become the talk of the town. Once a generalist interviewed him and asked him, why he doesn’t stop after 500 failures and he replied that he hasn’t failed, he has only discovered 500 ways of how this can’t be done. He finally, challenging his failures, his self beliefs invented the light bulb and today, has more than 1000 patents on his name.

In life we also play the role of an Elephant Trainer in our capacities as leaders, parents, teachers, colleagues, or friends. When that happens remember to handle your baby elephants with love and care!

Don’t be overly critical, don’t belittle them, and don’t chain them to a peg.

Remind them of their strengths, their potential.

Remember we all have the strength of the mighty elephant, to take on the world, to dream big and to fulfill those dreams. Don’t let a mere chain or peg hold you back. Introspect and recognize what’s holding you back. Remove the shackles, break the chains, and smash the peg to the ground.

Don’t allow the elephant syndrome to bog you down, break your self- limiting beliefs. Set yourself free – Unleash the Brilliant You.


Pankaj Wadhwa

Group Vice President



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