Resolution Hiccups - part 2 of 3

Managing our behaviour has been likened to an elephant and its rider[1]. Whilst the elephant (emotions) are well fed and energised the rider (our willpower) can direct the elephant where the rider wants. If the elephant (emotions) becomes tired or distressed, no amount of willpower from the rider will stop the elephant setting its own path.

In part 1 of Resolution Hiccups, I suggested getting clarity on the higher purpose of your resolution will provide strong motivation when the going gets tough and the cost of behaviour change is felt. The second uncommon insight I offer is to develop and exercise emotional intelligence.

Emotional and cognitive intelligence are both required for success. Cognitive intelligence is a commonly sought power in behaviour management. We have logical, rational thoughts that with enough mental effort we can use to control unwanted behaviours and follow through on certain action commitments, and these thoughts are part of our cognitive intelligence.

However, reflect for just a moment on how many times emotional drivers (a tired, hungry or scared elephant) get the final say in decisions and actions taken (or not taken). When our energy level has waned and cognitive mind power has weakened, our resolution journey, it can seem nothing short of riding an uncontrollable elephant. Learning to identify our emotions, understand what triggers particular emotions, getting comfortable with the full range of emotions (even the ‘negative’ ones like anger, guilt, shame and sadness) in ourselves and others, and learning to express or respond to the full range of emotions in an appropriate or helpful way can immensely aid resolution success.

Try asking ‘What emotion is present for me?’ Listen carefully for every time you verbalise an emotion with phrases such as ‘I feel like….’ which is actually a thought (e.g. ‘I feel like being sick’ is a thought compared with ‘I feel really anxious’). When you identify a particular emotion or if you have trouble seeing value in feeling emotions, try asking yourself why we have emotions. Note that emotions are amoral, that is any particular emotion is neither right nor wrong – even Jesus experienced and expressed profound sadness and anger.

Next time, in the final part of this short series, I explore a battle that can seem to be of biblical proportions, the battle between our conscious and non-conscious decisions.

[1] Chip and Dan Heath ‘Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard’ or the original concept as proposed by Jonathan Haidt ‘The Happiness Hypothesis’ (,

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