We are nearly done with the second month of the new year, and some people who started out the year with a bang have already started to falter on their New Year’s Resolution.

elephant staked to the groundDon’t lose heart because today I’m going to tell you about a technique my husband Morty devised that dissolves the obstacles to achieving your New Year’s Resolutions or any goals.

But first I want to talk to you about elephants.

I recently read an article written by Jorge Bucay, an Argentinian psychologist.  He noticed as a young boy that adult elephants at the circus were held in place by chains that were staked into the ground.

What he saw didn’t make sense to him.

He wrote:

The stake however was just a minuscule piece of wood, hardly a couple of centimeters long. And although it was a strong thick chain, it seemed obvious to me that an animal capable of tearing a tree from its roots, could easily free itself from that stake and flee.

He asked many adults around him why the elephant would not free itself.  They told him that it had been “mastered.”

His reply was:

“If it’s been mastered, why do they keep it in chains?”

But no one knew.

Years later he found someone who had the answer.

Before I tell you what he discovered I want you to consider this question: Does it seem true to you that the elephant must be able to free itself when it’s only held in place by a chain and stake in the ground?

My husband Morty believed that sometimes a simple mental shift could allow a person to get unstuck in relation to goals just like the elephant could easily unstick himself from the stake in the ground.

He even taught a four-step process for getting rid of this “stuckness.”  He didn’t give it a name but I like to call it the “No But’s” technique.  Because it get’s rid of the “but’s” that keep many of us stuck.

How does the “No But’s” technique work?

First state your goal as specifically as possible.  Use numbers if you can.  For example, “I’d like to work out 3 times a week for 30 minutes.”

Second, state your but’s.  What seems to be in your way of achieving this goal?  An example: “…but I’m often tired and don’t always have the time.”  Notice how it feels when you do this.  Do you feel blocked or stopped?

Third, restate your goal.  I’d like to get the energy and make the time to work out for 30 minutes, 3 times a week.

Fourth, notice if you feel different.  Do you notice more possibilities?  Do you feel more hopeful or optimistic?  If not, look for another obstacle and go through the steps again.

How one person used “No But’s” to gain a sense of possibility

Janice felt overworked and wanted to take a vacation.  However, she owned her own business with several employees.  She felt she could not get away even for a week.  She felt chained to the business and in despair.  It just seemed impossible.  As she described her situation, she had a kind of tired look in her eyes.  I thought that she really could use a vacation.

Here’s how she did the exercise:

Her goal: I want to get away from my business for one week for a vacation

Her but: …but I don’t trust my employees to run things.

Her restated goal: I want to go on vacation for 7 days with peace of mind knowing that things will be well taken care of while I’m away.

After restating the goal, she looked brighter and smiled.  She said “Well, I don’t have the solution yet but I feel like possibilities are there.  I feel I could find a solution instead of staying stuck.”

Maybe you can do the same.

How you can make 2016 your best year yet

Do all four steps described above.

  1. State your goal.
  2. State your “but’s.”
  3. Restate the goal to include the “but’s” as part of the goal.

Post your results below.

And you may still be wondering why the elephant didn’t free himself from the chain staked to the ground.

Here’s the answer Jorge Bucay uncovered:

The circus elephant does not escape because it has been attached to a stake just like this one since it was very, very small.

So when the elephant was too small and weak to free himself, he tried and tried and failed to get free.  Eventually, it just gave up.  And now that the elephant is older and stronger it doesn’t realize that with a simple shift of weight it could uproot that stake and run away.

So in 2016, pull up your stakes and free yourself to reach your goals.

Please try this process now and post your results below.

New Year, New You

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By Published On: Thursday, February 18, 2016Categories: Goals9 Comments


  1. Ed February 22, 2016 at 9:08 pm - Reply

    I love this blog. Thank you Shelley for the new technique. Would stating the goal in the present makeba difference?

  2. Shelly Lefkoe February 20, 2016 at 3:01 pm - Reply

    Hi Carmel. Thanks for taking the time to write.

    Love, Shelly

  3. John B February 20, 2016 at 10:42 am - Reply

    This is most definitely an effective technique Shelly- thank you for sharing! I just applied it to two specific areas in health and career successfully. Reframing seems to completely change what we feel is possible.


    — John

    • Shelly Lefkoe February 20, 2016 at 3:00 pm - Reply

      Thanks for taking the time to write John. Glad you found it effective.
      Warmly, Shelly

  4. Terry Tillman February 19, 2016 at 10:23 am - Reply

    Excellent Shelley!

    I noticed that you still have my testimonial about Morty’s writing and work here on your blog page. You can add a big ditto for you, and substitute your name anywhere Morty’s is. All I said about him is equally true about you. You’re lovingly carrying on the legacy.

    As a very young boy, probably 6 or 7, I remember the Ringling Bros. Barnum and Bailey circus set up in a big field near our house in Eugene, Oregon. I loved it. I got to see the sideshow characters and carry water buckets for the elephants. I asked the same question about the elephant and chain, “Why doesn’t he just pull the chain out and walk away? That little stake isn’t strong enough to hold him.” I was told just what you write in your article. That metaphor has stayed with me to this day, and I often use it to illustrate and teach in much of my leadership work. Thanks for reviving the memory…

    • Shelly Lefkoe February 20, 2016 at 3:02 pm - Reply

      Thanks my friend. I love you!

  5. Jane February 19, 2016 at 9:01 am - Reply

    Great post. I’m gonna use it, thanks

    • Shelly Lefkoe February 20, 2016 at 3:01 pm - Reply

      Yeah. Thanks Jane.

  6. carmel malone quane February 19, 2016 at 5:01 am - Reply

    Hi Shelley,

    I hope you are doing well? This is so true, we all have these invisible barriers that come in all forms. All we need do is ask “why am I doing this”?

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