In Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan, the story is told of how the main character, Christian, travels through a place called, ‘The Slough of Despond,’ on his way to the ‘Celestial City.’ On his journey Christian meets a man in an iron cage and inquires of him, “What art thou?” In response the caged man answers, “I am now a man of despair, and I am shut up in it, as in this iron cage. I cannot get out, O now I cannot.” The caged man goes on to say, “I am what I was not once.” That’s such a vivid and accurate description of what despondency is like; an iron cage holding you prisoner.

Despondency is the means by which animal trainers teach elephants to stay put and stop them from trying to escape. As an infant, the elephant is tied to a stake in the ground by securing a heavy iron chain around the elephant’s foot. Try as it might, the young elephant is not strong enough to break the chain and free itself. Eventually, after many painful attempts, the elephant becomes so discouraged that it finally succumbs to despair and gives up, never to try again. From then on, even as a fully-grown adult measuring around 11 feet in height and weighing up to 4 tons, the elephant can be secured by only a thin rope and it will never again try to escape, (too many painful memories!)

In reality, of course, a fully grown elephant could very easily escape if it really wanted to but the fact is, the elephant is conditioned to think that it can’t free itself and so it no longer bothers to try. In other words, the elephant doesn’t know any better. Don’t allow despondency to trap you into thinking you’ll never escape. You can and will. Just keep going.

R. Ian Seymour

R. Ian Seymour, excerpt from Maximize Your Potential