Training an Elephant (and the Link to Chronic Pain)

Do you know how circus elephants are trained? I had no idea until I was listening to a podcast the other day.

When baby elephants are brought to the circus, they’re wild. Obviously—they’re meant to be wild. But do you know how they’re trained? First a giant stake is driven into the ground. Then a giant chain is dropped around that stake. Then the elephant is shackled to the chain.

As you might guess, the baby elephant isn’t happy about this, and he struggles and struggles, thrashing back and forth, until he realizes that he can’t escape, and he finally gives up.

Fast-forward 20 years, and think about how an adult elephant is restrained. An adult elephant is restrained with a small stake and a tiny rope around their ankle. It’s simply tied tightly enough so the elephant feels the pressure.

Because of the restraints placed on the elephant at a young age, he now, for the rest of his life, believes a lie.

As I was listening to this podcast, I was thinking of you and me. I was thinking about what we are told in the early stages of our pain battles. I’m curious—what lies are you believing about your current state of health?

I believed the lies.

I believed I was broken.

I believed my health history would become my health destiny.

I believed I was out of options.

I believed I was hopeless.

Can you relate? I’m sure many of you can. You’re close to giving up. The future looks bleak.

Do you feel restrained due to your health? Perhaps you were told early on in the process: Don’t run! Don’t bike! Don’t swim!

Sound familiar? You’re the baby elephant being told, “Don’t move!” And guess what? Sooner or later, you’ll do exactly what the elephant does—you’ll stop moving.

But look around. Look at what’s holding you back. It’s time to realize that it’s only a tiny rope tied to a tiny stake. Break free of this motionless life that you’ve adopted. Loose the chains, pull out the stake, and be wild again!

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