I was working with a client recently helping them to leverage on their emotional intelligence and strengths.
After a while, I noticed that no matter how I coached them there seemed to be little or no change in their thinking or behaviours. And certainly no difference in the outcomes that they were achieving.
Despite claims to the contrary, the client seemed reluctant to stretch out of their comfort zone or indeed, want to be helped. And it reminded me of a story I’d read about a wild mustang*. It goes something like this…
A wild mustang was captured and put in a fenced paddock bordering the open country where he once ran free.
During his first week of captivity, he demonstrated all the vitality and spirit that he had possessed in the wild. But, as the weeks passed, his rage and wilfulness abated. The hay and other fodder previously ignored became not only tolerable but agreeable. No effort was required, and food and drink were plentiful.
And, while it was true that he was a prisoner in his paddock unable to escape, nothing could enter, either. So those old days when he used to fear constant attack from predators were nothing more than an almost forgotten nightmare. His new situation seemed to him a kind of pragmatic trade-off and – all things considered – a pretty cushy one, too.
Some months into his incarceration, another wild mustang passed nearby and spotted his fat, captive cousin. With caution, he approached the paddock. “What on earth are you doing here?” he asked, checking for any signs of danger.
“I’m stuffed,” said the captive mustang between bites of hay.
Outside the paddock, the wild mustang took stock of the situation. He considered the state of the paddock’s woodwork. “This gate doesn’t seem all that strong. If we both lean hard on it together, it’s sure to give. You’ll be free. Come on, let’s go for it.”
“Don’t bother. I’ve already tried.” He was pawing the ground, arranging his bed of hay for a nice afternoon nap.
“Come on!” snorted the Mustang, his eyes wide and white, and his nostrils flaring.“This wood’s half rotten Let’s do it.”
“Thanks, but no thanks.” The penned mustang sighed as he lay down. “Believe me I’ve tried so many times to break out. If anyone knows the state of the woodwork it’s me. Trust me. It’s just a waste of time. Save your energy.”
The fire and spirit of freedom surged in the wild mustang’s veins. He reared high on his hind legs and brought his hoofs crashing down on the rotten woodwork. He smashed through three of the gate’s five wooden bars, leaving the path to freedom open. With contempt he roared, “When did you last test this gate’s integrity? Or your own?”
But the penned mustang wasn’t listening. He’d already slipped into a pleasant doze, dreaming once again of freedom, of running over open landscapes, grassy plains, wherever his strong heart chose…
*Source: More Magic of Metaphor: Stories for leaders, Influencers and Motivators by Nick Owen, Crown Publishing (2004)
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