You Kant Feed The Elephant

Written by David Pullan

You Kant Feed The Elephant

In my last blog I wrote about how our emotions are like a six tonne hungry elephant. Our logical mahout might think he’s totally in charge of decision making, but if the behemoth isn’t happy then there’s not a lot you can do.


Or is there?


Remember how the elephant loves stories because it creates context and feeling? Well this week I want to talk about how the stories we tell ourselves can fundamentally change our emotional well being, the way we operate in the world and the way we respond when communicating. For all of you logical mahouts out there, you’re going to love this.


Back in the day Immanuel Kant came up with a koan which goes something like this.

  • I see a tiger.
  • I think I am in danger.
  • I feel afraid.
  • I run away.

Now when it comes to tigers Kant may have had a point. But in every day life those suckers are few and far between. Normally we are dealing with an unresponsive audience, difficult feedback, clients who are demanding…you know how it goes. And in those situations we can feel useless, stupid, angry, frustrated, and behave in all manner of unhelpful ways.


So here’s how it works and how you can use a conscious and logical intervention in Kant’s Koan to change things for the better.

  • Seeing the tiger is the triggering event.
  • Thinking you are in danger is the thought.
  • Feeling afraid is the emotional elephant.
  • Running away is the behaviour.

Now you can only control what you can control. With the best will in the world you can’t control whether you come up against a tiger, an unresponsive audience, difficult feedback or demanding clients. And we've already established that the emotional elephant has a mind of its own.


What you can control is the thought you have about the triggering event, and that thought is the story you tell yourself.


I wonder what would happen if we were to think, ‘The audience is exhausted,’ ‘This feedback is being given to help me,’ or ‘The client is probably getting all manner of hell from their board?’


All of these thoughts are short contextual stories, and what these more positive thoughts will do is lead you to more positive feelings and behaviours.


Kant wasn’t the only one to talk about this. Epictetus got there first in ancient Greece, Shakespeare said, ‘There is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so’, and Gallwey used it as the basis for his ‘Inner Game’ theory. And the reason for that is because it works.


This week have a think about the stories you are telling yourself and see if you can feed the elephant some different food.





  • W B Yeats

    'Think like a wise man, but communicate in the language of the people.'