Limits, like fear, are often an illusion

When you feel complete exhaustion, you reached 50% of what you can do”

We all know the old story of the baby elephant and the rope. Baby elephants were traditionally trained by tying one of their front legs to a peg that limits them from moving around. Since the calf is small, no more than a thin rope is needed. Naturally, they will try to move around freely and quickly learn the range the rope allows them and won’t try to move beyond it.   

Elephants grow to be strong and fairly quickly. Their big body is now so strong that the tiny rope isn’t really limiting them from moving; it can easily be removed with little effort. But, since they learned the rope could hold them from a young age; they’re conditioned to believe it can control them, so they never try to break free.

The rope is now connected to its brain and mentally tethering it to the peg in the ground. It’s resigned to moving beyond the rope because it doesn’t know it can change its situation. 

For humans, we too have some mental ‘chains’ that we are reluctant to let go of (probably because we don’t know we can); they might have been passed on to us from previous generations. Sometimes they’re self-imposed. When we grow up hearing from our parents, caretakers, and teachers about how difficult it is to be the BEST at something, most don’t even make an effort to try because they’re afraid to fail.  

So what’s the connection between baby elephants and Self-defense?  

Physical achievements are the fruit of a strong mindset. The first and frankly, the most challenging obstacle is starting something new. Once you start doing something uncomfortable, yet desirable like running, fighting, singing, or drawing, [or insert your discomfort zone here], we start to untether ourselves from old, limiting beliefs. 

Safe to say that Self-defense classes aren’t comfortable for most people, especially women. The concept of physical fighting is foreign and its visceral nature scares them. The risk of hurting someone or getting hurt or the feeling of practicing with someone we don’t know might be uncomfortable at first. All these “reasons” to NOT practice something you want to become good at, or NEED to get good at becomes an “emotional rope” that restricts you to stay in the same place, just like the baby elephant. However, you can, in fact, break free; it’s a choice not to make a change. 

Sometimes I use a reverse psychology method in training. I “allow” my students to give up, but it comes with a price. You can’t give up or not try unless you say it out loud: “I give up because I am afraid to try” “I give up because I believe I am too weak.” Most students (actually, all) refuse to admit it so, in the end, they do try and succeed! Even if they aren’t physically capable of completing the task, the fact they made an attempt is also a big success. It’s a massive step towards understanding the rope that ties you to the peg isn’t as strong as you thought it was. 

Another type of attachment we have is to be a “winner”;

If you take the opposite example, a person whose life experience is mostly positive has been told that they’re talented, a real “star.” The winner mentality is so established as a part of his identity that it, too, can become a mental rope. But, say his life circumstances change, for whatever reason, and he is no longer evolving, but that “mental peg” set him where he does not grow any longer and doesn’t understand that what worked in the past, is no longer working.

Who knows what kind of outdated conceptions and emotional hang-ups are holding you back? The key to self-growth is to identify those invisible ropes in the first place. 

From my experience of teaching tens of thousands of students worldwide, I collected a few common phrases that indicate you might have an “elephant-and-rope” mindset:

  • “I tried it before, and it didn’t work for me.” So what? You evolve, you change; circumstances change. Perhaps, you tried to start a journey in the past, but you couldn’t find the right person to guide you. So for a start, you can “interview” potential mentors, choose the one you feel understands you best. Many people have similar goals, but each can take a different road to get there. If you still wish to achieve it, you can revise the challenge with a “fresh mindset.”
  • “I can’t afford it.” Can you afford therapy after having to deal with the consequences of not doing it? Or, could you afford NOT going to treatment and just bear the pain of trauma?
    So in simple words, not only can you afford it, it’s more economical to do it now and be prepared for any struggle, be it mental or physical.
  • “It’s going to take too much time to master.” Well, yes, if you aren’t going to invest 2-3 hours a week in yourself to practice, it will take even longer. Give it a trial period of at least one month. When you know you have a time-cap on it, it’s easier to invest the time. Within that period, give it a fair shot. Not surprisingly, the sky didn’t fall–quite the opposite. In fact, safe to say that your fitness level has gone up, you’re sleeping better and feeling healthier.  
  • “That’s just too complicated.”
    It might be hard to do, but it’s worth exploring it. Let professionals guide you. If it’s not a challenging goal, it’s not going to change you for the better. And if too easy, it may not even be worth pursuing.  


We all should take stock of where we are and do a reality check from time to time. It is essential that we first identify what holds us back. Really listen to that inner voice that may try to talk you out of doing something because it’s simply unfamiliar. Is it fear of failing? Failing happens to be a great teacher! Fear of hard work? Hard work can be a reward in and of itself. But, even further, when that hard work materializes as a new skill that makes you feel strong and also gives you a confidence boost- that’s a bigger reward! It just takes getting over the initial challenge of taking that first step.

Sometimes, the reasons are hard to overcome and impose themselves on you like thick chains that can’t be broken. But if you don’t try and take that first step, you will never know. I invite you to make a change. It will change you in many positive ways and everything you gain in the process is yours forever.
If you don’t have enough time in your life for your own goal, make the goal your way of life!


Tsahi Shemesh