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Why do people go solar? They’ve got their elephant and rider in sync!

Avatar for Dan Hahn
Published on 06/08/2010 in
Updated 03/04/2020

For the past 10 weeks, I taught my first college course: “The Psychology of Personal Decision-Making”. Surprised at how quickly I was approved to teach the course on short notice, I drafted a syllabus with one lofty goal: Arm all of my students with the rational tools they needed to make their lives better when confronted with decision opportunities.

However, in piecing together our course text, videos and articles, I realized one major shortcoming which needed to be addressed: We are not robots who can piece together the best probable outcomes for events and move forward. When confronted with major decisions in our life, we are a seriously imbalanced mash-up of ration and emotion. How do you get your emotion and rationality in sync, so you can most effectively decide?

A helpful illustration comes from Jonathan Haidt, who uses the metaphor of the elephant and its rider in his bestselling Happiness Hypothesis. In this example, the rider embodies our most rational, conscious selves and the elephant symbolizes our emotion. Even the most well equipped rider with a whole bunch of analytical tools will have one hell of a time steering that elephant anywhere unless the elephant is motivated to move in the requested direction.

Same goes for us over here at SPR doing our damndest to motivate you to at least get a quote for solar energy on your home. We can and have presented you with all the facts, figures, dollars saved, and payback amounts required, and many times this pencils out to a nice solid investment. We have and will continue to impress the hell out of your rider. However, as long as your elephant is unimpressed and continuing to swat flies with its tail, you aren’t gonna do much of anything with this information.

That’s why it’s so important for us to have you focus on envisioning what going solar really means from more of an emotional perspective. Many times, to get the emotional wheels turning, it takes some sort of visual kick in the pants. It’s the same reason why many charities infiltrate our minds with disturbing images of children without cleft palates, underfed puppies, or bug-eyed Ethiopians with dual xylophones for midsections. Even if our riders are shouting from the top of the elephant, “Whoa, whoa, we can’t possibly save every puppy with this charity, we shouldn’t give them money that could be much better used somewhere else”, our elephant is already quickly hauling ass off the path, through some brush, and whacking our poor rider across the face with branches and leaves.

Solar makes incredibly logical sense in many locations of the country right now. It will just be up to us to re-engineer how you interpret the message so your elephant and rider are in sync. More to come.

Last modified: March 4, 2020

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