Got A New Year Monkey On Your Back?


It is exciting to dream; to pursue a goal. However the moment you do you inevitably encounter opposition from the people around you.


New Year!

You: All excited motivated and working towards a dream or goal.

Them: Pointing out all the faults, making insinuations about your past failed attempts or even pointing out other people’s failed attempts. Generally (either unknowingly or purposefully) bursting your motivational bubble.


Often it is because they gave up on what you are still holding onto hope for.   Sometimes they learned their “give up” posture from personal experience, sometimes it was handed down to them through their influences.

I cannot recall which John Maxwell book I read about this experiment in, but it has always stuck with me.

We are not monkeys.  But sometimes we act like monkeys.  Experimenters placed four moneys in a habitat. At the top of one of the poles there were some nice ripe bananas ready for consumption.  However whenever a monkey climbed the pole to retrieve the banana the experimenters would knock them off the pole with a blast of water. Every monkey gave it continuous attempts only to be knocked off ever time.  Eventually all the monkeys had given up and would no longer make attempts to retrieve the bananas.

Introduce a NEW monkey that had not been privy to all the failed attempts.  Interestingly as soon as the new monkey would start to make an attempt to get the bananas all the other monkeys would get really vocal, they would rush to the pole and pull the new monkey down until you guessed it … the new monkey stopped attempting to reach the bananas.  Note: this NEW monkey never had the negative reinforcement of the water blast.   Eventually the experiment introduced ALL new monkeys and completely replaced the four originally monkeys. All the new monkeys who had never experienced or even witnessed the water blast would no longer make attempts to get at the bananas.

The way I see it. As that New Year’s ball drops in time square ever year some of us monkeys get brave enough to make another go at that pole.  Even though the world has taught us that our attempts are futile we feel a little hope rise in us and we think this time might be different. The other monkeys sit back, fearful, stuck on old mindsets, convincing themselves that trying again will result in the same old, same old.  They see you dash for the pole and they think you are crazy!

“What you doing that for????”

“Have we not tried that already?”

“You remember what happen the last time?”

“I heard my sister’s friend did that and it ended horribly”

“Why don’t you just stay here with me, where it’s comfortable, I gave up on that a long time ago”

“Life is meant to be enjoyed, I do not need to go through the stress of another failed attempt.”

Hey to be fair some of the monkeys just have well intentions, they have been burned and they do not want you to get burned too. But would in not be awful for the monkeys to witness you climb all the way to the top and grab your prize without the interference?

What would that say about their choice to stay put?

How would they have to re-evaluate their choices?

If you were the monkey deciding to stay put it would just be easier if every other monkey decided the same thing as you.

Dreaming big, aiming high?  Don’t let that monkey on your back hold you back.  Distract them, change the subject and when they are not looking snatch those bananas and show them what is possible.  Don’t take it personal. They are just focused on all the ways it could go wrong, hence their decision to stay put.  So when someone starts trying to poke holes in what you are doing just knowingly nod. Ah…. another fallen monkey.

monkey pic


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