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How to Break Your Self-Doubts, Not the Elephant’s Spirit

Updated: Dec 30, 2021

Do you know how wild elephants are tamed?

Elephant crushing is the practice of taming wild elephants after they are captured. There are various inhumane ways this is done, but a common one is forcing the elephant into a tight wooden enclosure. Over time, this magnificent animal is jabbed, poked, often deprived of sleep, food, water and of course freedom. This horrific process is loosely translated to “breaking the spirit” in some countries that still practice it.

In spite of weighing up to 4,000kg, the elephant will not pull when chained to a peg that’s merely like a toothpick to this animal. Why? Because it remembers the earlier pain as a young elephant, and thus will not break away. Thus, the trainers have not so much managed to tame the elephant, but rather, tame it’s mind.

They of course have a spirit and desire to live freely, and so do we. And we too are held back by our chains, enclosures and pegs of fear. We either let them hold us, or we even tie these chains around other people. Think of something that may have happened today, perhaps this week - you had an idea, you wanted to do something, but you held back. Unless that idea was some stupid tik tok challenge about eating tide pods, in which case, good on you for holding back.

But more often than not, it was likely something you really wanted to do and was relatively reasonable. Maybe you wanted to go to the gym but were afraid people will look at you, or didn’t speak up in a meeting for fear of being judged.

Thinking about overthinking

While your doubts will always make a guest appearance in your life - sometimes as guests that overstay - the problem sets in not only when you or people around you say these things, it’s when somewhere inside, you believe it. But please know, that doesn’t necessarily make it true. Mark Manson in his book, the subtle art of not giving a F***, sums it up real nice - “You have a limited amount of f***s to give. Very few, in fact. And if you go around giving a f*** about everything and everyone without conscious thought or choice—well, then you’re going to get f***ed.”

I have passed up on a lot in the earlier part of my life, because I was too chicken and self-critical. I regret it. Because that time will not come back. One day while washing my face, I looked up in the mirror and noticed strands of white hair near my temples. I’d been seeing them for a while, but today they were like, “Here we are! Behold!" And it hit me that I'm getting older - trust me, I don’t mind it - a part of me felt happy that this new stage of life was coming. I like old people.

At the same time, I realised there will come a day when I will no longer be how I am now and have the opportunities I have today. Nothing is forever, and I need to stop holding back waiting for the right time or the right moment that always feels just round the corner.

Wake-up call - if you want that moment to arrive, you need to walk towards it. There is no perfect timing, you need to start now. We have a saying in Hindi - kal kare so aaj kare, aaj kare so ub. Basically means, tomorrow's work should be done today, and if today, do it now. Instead of holding back with doubt and wondering what could have happened, isn’t it better to know and get past it? Regret is probably the worst feelings of all time because you’re upset over something that will never change.

It can turn into a vicious cycle where “what if” becomes your best friend. But more like a toxic best friend. But how can we battle self-doubt minus all the fluffy “believe in yourself” advice? Here’s 3 things that you can try:

1. Don’t tell people your plans

In a highly popular ted talk by Derek Sivers, he explains how various studies have shown that telling someone our goal, makes us less likely to accomplish it. Because our brains mistake the talking for the doing. The acknowledgement and hurrah you receive from telling removes the motivation to actually make it happen. Don’t advertise it until it’s done! This brings me to the second tip.

2. Watch your close five

Who are the five people you spend the most time around? These people due to time and proximity will have a strong influence on your life. According to Dr. John Kounios, your neural pathways can change even after a 20-minute conversation with someone. So the people you are around can have an effect on how you feel about yourself - if you’re walking feeling unhappy and less about yourself - not the best company. Find people who uplift you and you know they have your best interests at heart. If you’re in a situation where it’s tough to do this - then find inspirational figures, watch what they say online, read their books - make them your close five.

3. Write it and give it love

This is a variation of something I do. Whenever I have trouble deciding, I think about someone close to me and what I would tell them if they were in this situation. So, when you have doubts, write them all out - don’t judge - let it flow and then … (you thought i was gonna say let it go didn’t you?) .. anyway, jot it all down and then think of someone you love - your friend, sibling, parent, child - and see if they were thinking all these things - what would you tell them? Then extend that same support to yourself.

Snap your chains, your freedom awaits. And if you're keen to support elephants, then consider helping these organisations (please make sure you do your due diligence):

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